Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Ta-Nahesi Coates
Art by: Brian Stelfreeze & Chris Sprouse
Collects: Black Panther #1-12
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Once, he was best known primarily by comic fans as the preeminent African hero in the Marvel Universe. Now, he’s one of the most popular superheroes on the planet. He is…
Real Name: T’Challa
Affiliation: The Avengers
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966)
Hidden away in Africa lies the isolationist nation of Wakanda. Kissed by a meteor filled with Vibranium, Wakanda became the only source for the valuable, durable metal, and used this gift to become one of the most technologically advanced nations on Earth.
At their head sits their King, the Black Panther, and after the murder of the reigning King T’Chaka by the outsider Ulysses Klaw, that mantle was passed down to his son and heir, T’Challa. Having consumed the heart-shaped herb, T’Challa is forever linked to the Panther Goddess Bast who grants him a superhuman physique.
Now, as the Black Panther, T’Challa is usually prepared for any threat. His resources vast and his Kingdom nigh-impenetrable, T’Challa has always harboured a strong distrust for those from the outside world, but after a chance encounter with the Fantastic Four, the Black Panther has made efforts to open both himself and his nation up to the world, revealing their hidden glory and becoming one of the most popular superheroes on the planet.
In the years leading up to this run by esteemed author and journalist Ta-Nahesi Coates, the Black Panther and the powerful nation of Wakanda have faced many tragedies.
The troubles cited in this new volume of Black Panther can be traced back to the fifth volume of the series, released during Marvel’s ‘Dark Reign’ era. In this period, Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) was named America’s ‘top cop’, creating a S.H.I.E.L.D. replacement called H.A.M.M.E.R. and a team of ‘Dark’ Avengers made up of former supervillains. He also allied himself with a ‘Cabal’ made up of Loki, Emma Frost, Doctor Doom, Namor and the Hood.
Bringing things back to Black Panther, the series sees T’Challa turn down Namor‘s offer to join said Cabal, and incite the wrath of Doctor Doom. With T’Challa temporarily taken out of the picture by Doom’s actions, his sister Shuri is forced to step up and become the new Black Panther. Her first task is to bring down a Spider-Man foe called Morlun, an incredibly strong vampiric being who feeds on the life energies of ‘totems’ (Spiders, Panthers, etc) who has infiltrated Wakanda.
Doctor Doom’s machinations continue after his attack on T’Challa, as he uses his political influence to gain favour with dissidents in Wakanda and help them oust T’Challa and Shuri. The attacks on Wakanda by Doom are revealed to be a ploy for the Latverian dictator to gain control of the African country’s Vibranium deposits, and as the two countries teeter on the brink of war, T’Challa is forced to render all Vibranium across the globe inert, thus taking away Wakanda’s most valuable resource.
Years later, in an unrelated event, the Avengers and the X-Men go to war when they learn that the Phoenix Force is returning to Earth. In an attempt to destroy the Phoenix, Iron Man inadvertently splits it apart, forcing it to occupy five new hosts – Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor.
From there, the Phoenix Five tries to recreate the world as a Utopia, while simultaneously wiping out the Avengers, who keep interfering. T’Challa is housing the Avengers, but wants no part in the conflict, as he understands that, at their core, the X-Men are trying to do good.
Nonetheless, he is brought into the proceedings when Namor attacks Wakanda for harbouring Avengers, flooding the golden city and bringing it to ruin. In response, Black Panther vows to kill Namor, and also divorces his wife, Storm, due to her ties to the X-Men.
Wakanda and Atlantis go to war with one another.
Despite their mutual hatred, Black Panther and Namor are forced to work together against the threat of the incursions – multiversal events, wherein two parallel Earths begin to collide. If the Earth’s collide, both universes are destroyed. If one Earth is destroyed beforehand, both universes may live on. Alongside Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Beast, Black Bolt and Doctor Strange, T’Challa and Namor reform their ‘Illuminati’ to figure out a way to survive the oncoming destruction.
However, as they work, tension continues to simmer under the surface, and so, when Thanos attacks the Earth looking for Infinity Stones, Namor informs him that they are in Wakanda’s possession, leading Thanos to send the majority of his forces to lay siege to Wakanda.
The Illuminati fail to stop the incursions, but their task is taken up by Namor and his new Cabal, consisting of Thanos and his ilk. As a show of dominance, the Cabal destroys Wakanda completely and begins using the ruins as their base of operations.
But like the Illuminati before them, they too fail. The universe is destroyed, with the last vestiges of life in the multiverse bought together on one planet salvaged by Doctor Doom. As the remaining heroes fight against Doom’s absolute rule, T’Challa manages to reclaim an Infinity Stone and uses it to wish Wakanda back to its former brilliance. However, despite its restoration, the people remembered all that had happened (the ‘Secret Wars’ on ‘Battleworld’ excluded).
There is unrest among the people, and they have directed their anger at their king, the Black Panther.
As the sparks of revolution fly, how will T’Challa bring his country back together? Can such a thing even be done?
I confess I haven’t read a load of Black Panther comics. I’ve read a lot of comics with Black Panther in, but his solo series generally haven’t found their way into my reading list.
I’ve always thought of him as a character that’s not unlike Batman. Cool, undoubtedly, but not always that interesting to me. When a man is one of the smartest in the world, one of the best fighters in the world, and has the best technology in the world, I think some writers can struggle to make that character interesting. Superman is an oft-touted example of this, but I think Batman is more appropriate here.
But then there’s Wakanda. In many ways, the country is more interesting than the character. I certainly found that to be true in the movie (no disrespect to the sadly departed Chadwick Boseman, of course, I thought he was great in Civil War, so my issues with that film aren’t any fault of his).
And in many ways, this comic leans into telling a story about Wakanda more than it does the Black Panther. It introduces new characters and enemies, highlights their ideals; their needs and wants, and puts them on a pedestal alongside T’Challa, as it questions whether Wakanda, as a monarchy, still works.
And in doing so, it starts to make T’Challa more interesting (to me, anyway). I know the idea that Black Panther thinks of himself as someone who wants to be a hero, but is required to be the king, is not a new idea. But here, it’s paired with another idea – that the Black Panther we see is something of a front. A mask to shield himself from the perils of being royalty. But underneath, there’s something more, something deeper.
It’s an idea that works, and while it may take its time getting there over the course of twelve issues, this series does well to highlight that, while also delving into the wonder of Wakanda. It tackles every facet of the country’s existence, from its rich history to its scientific prowess and its healthy heaping of mysticism.
It gives you little maps and infographics, alongside interviews with musicians who have contributed in some way to Black Panther’s big push by Marvel in recent years. It gives you a whole world of stories to delve into, many of which spin out into their own series that we may get to at some point in the future.
This is just the start of a rather expansive run of comics, and while, due to the nature of the story, it’s not always the most exciting, it is at least mostly interesting.
The art, for the most part, is also pretty solid. While I think in some of the issues the inking doesn’t highlight the majesty and colour of some of the drawings, the drawings themselves are always good. The two artists styles mesh together very well, and they deliver a vibrant and beautiful look at the world of Wakanda.
My only other issue would be that when it comes to the ‘final battle’, the war between Wakanda and its dissidents, that’s been built up for ten issues, the action and scale are incredibly lacking. There are rarely more than five soldiers in any given panel, making the whole battle feel rather trivial, rather than the grand fight for Wakanda’s soul that it’s supposed to be. It seems like Black Panther and a few of his buddies are fighting against eight soldiers, who somehow pose a threat to the entire nation.
I don’t know. I’m sure the process is taxing, but it feels like less effort was devoted to that part of the book than the rest.
Still, if you want a comic that has a similar vibe to the film, but has the page count to go deeper and flesh things out further, then this is a good choice.
All-in-all, I give A Nation Under Our Feet a…
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