Oh, I Just Can’t Wait To Not Be King

Guest review of Black Panther: A Nation Under our Feet (Issues #1-6) by George S., ‘17

comics_georgeT’Challa, the Black Panther, is a man of many accomplishments. He is a superhero, an Avenger, an Ultimate, and the king of Wakanda, a technologically hyper-advanced society somewhere in North-Eastern Africa. The primary plot in Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet does not focus on your average everyday superhero shenanigans. Rather, the story focuses primarily on the country of Wakanda itself and T’Challa’s role as king, which he has been neglecting in favor of the aforementioned superhero shenanigans. The story is an epic one about tradition, responsibility, and revolution, my personal favorite sub-themes being those of questioning whether it is more important to be yourself or be what others need you to be, and what it means to be king. Another interesting theme is tradition versus the future, as Wakanda seems to desire to maintain tradition in some ways but cast it off in others. While the country is up in arms campaigning for the replacement of the current monarchy with a democratic government since T’Challa is too busy being a superhero to be a good king, there is simultaneously a popular demand in the people to preserve their tradition and sense of cultural identity without it becoming compromised by the massive influx of technology. T’Challa is torn between being a hero saving the world and a king fulfilling his responsibility and duty for his country.

blackpanther_coverThe main story itself is powerful and compelling, but moved fairly slowly as a monthly ongoing series, improving a great deal when the arc is read in its entirety without having pauses in between chapters. This becomes more of an issue, however, when given that the first volume only collects the first four issues of A Nation Under Our Feet, and not collecting #5 and #6, which complete the story. This does not help the issue, and as a result, the “best” way to read it is to collect and read the 6 issues by themselves, which can be inconvenient for people who are mostly unaccustomed with comics. However, the story still remains a powerful and compelling one despite these accessibility flaws, and is definitely worth one’s time and money.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s writing helps the story’s excellence, conveying the majesty and significance of the nation of Wakanda and the events taking place. The characters speak in a simultaneously believable or realistic fashion and an impactful and dramatic one. This preserves the humanity and connection to the story at the same time as the epic tone and feel that this story of kings and rebellion deserves.

Another strong point of the work is Brian Stelfreeze’s art, which shines in several respects that make the story more fluid and appreciable. To start, the design of Black Panther himself is extremely good, remaining true to the classic design with a simple, sleek and powerful presence. It also has fancy tech stuff going on, which further highlights the blend between ancient tradition (the title of Black Panther) and the technological advances that augment it. The character design as a whole is uniform enough that they all look like people, but distinct enough both in physical characteristics and attire that each character is visually memorable and distinguishable from the others. Lastly, Stelfreeze’s backgrounds and scene art is consistently vivid and full of color, never dull or bland, always setting the scene fantastically, be it a battle, a meeting, or a descent into the ancestral Wakandan royal tomb, the backgrounds are never intrusive and yet without them, so much of the life and completeness of the series would disappear.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze is truly an absolute gem of writing, story, and art, that blends together into an epic story with modern and highly relevant themes and conflicts, and I highly recommend it to anyone reading this if they have the means to do so.

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Now available at the MA Library: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet.

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