Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best writers working today. His non-fiction articles for The Atlantic are usually excellent, and in many cases (particularly "The Case for Reparations" and "My President Was Black") they are, or should be, required reading for anyone interested in the complex nature of race relations in the United States.
But as good a writer as Coates is, writing a comic book series is a whole different ballgame.
That isn't to say this first volume of Black Panther is a failure. Or, if it is, it is a very interesting and ambitious failure. I would describe it as more of an extended, and necessary, learning curve. Coates clearly has some great things planned for his characters and the country of Wakanda (which is a character in its own right), and I am willing to stick around and see what happens.
This volume is bursting with potential. The main character of T'Challa is introduced, a king who has lost his way, along with what seem to be his three main antagonists--Zenzi, the Deceiver who is fomenting revolution, and Aneka and Ayo, the renegade Dora Milaje (T'Challa's elite female warrior bodyguards). All three villains have logical motivations; they are, as good villains must be, heroes of their own story.
Unfortunately there is precious little in the way of a plot to be found here--it seems more or less one giant setup, and a rather meandering, disjointed one at that. I enjoyed the introduction of the characters, the exploration of the country itself (there's a map provided, and we visit several different locations), the various villain backstories, and some small side tales of Wakandan myths and legends. The art is bright and colorful for the most part, well suited to the various vignettes--which is all they are. They're not a cohesive story, which is this volume's greatest weakness.
Having said all that, the groundwork has been laid. If Coates can come up with a good story to match his appealing world, he'll have a winner on his hands.
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