Black Panther, Vol. 1 TP: A Nation Under Our Feet
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Black Panther hasn’t had a solo book since 2012, so when Marvel announced that New York Times Best-Selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze were teaming up to bring T’Challa back in the forefront, the fanfare was loud and ready to get a hold of this book. In the past, you’ve had Panther face off against C- and D-listers, but this time around, it’s not exactly a standard superhero book. It reads more like political warfare instead of capes and cowls, and is honestly one the of the smartest books Marvel has put out in the last decade.
Stelfreeze and Coates have constructed a memorable arc and reintroduction to the character that has seen better days, but Wakanda is on the verge of a reconstruction, but with this new era brings new revolution to its soil. Here is the story of a nation and the man under the mask that whose birthright is to defend it, but even as long as his reign has been, T’Challa is still learning what it means to be king.
Collecting the first four issues, Coates spotlights T’Challa as a man and not just as the Black Panther, but as somebody who would die for his country and its people. There’s a sense of brevity when T’Challa addresses both his people and family, but with a flourish that almost comes across as Shakespearian in some instances. That’s important because we don’t actually get a lot of T’Challa here and it concentrates more on the people of the nation and those behind the scenes on the revolution that is creeping in Wakanda. With a title like “A Nation Under Our Feet,” there’s already a hint that this is a more ensemble book despite the one-man show appearance.
The setting is thick with political unrest, but every time Panther is around, you see how he feels with each page as his kingdom is being torn apart while he’s trying to keep it all together. There’s proper tension that T’Challa just by himself might not be able to keep his throne and mantle for long and by the end, we see that adaptation is the true path to survival here.
While Coates got a good chunk of media attention, and that’s understandable being a MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning author who made the transition to comic books should be headline news, but going in, I had never heard of him before this. On the flip side, Brian Stelfreeze has been a force to reckon with in the sequential arts for almost three decades. True, there were some speculation if Stelfreeze could keep a monthly schedule as his last attempt Day Men from BOOM! didn’t exactly go as planned. Nonetheless, what Stelfreeze adds to Coates’ dialog is beyond extraordinary. The story is told through the characters’ body language and even the quieter moments of T’Challa and his family are packed with an unparalleled style.
When the action starts, it’s heavy and full of drama that rivals any wartime thriller. Stelfreeze gives Panther graceful movements when fighting; there’s a smoothness, even when the impact being like a sledgehammer. It’s more silent than violent. In the parts where the political nature of the book unfold, Stelfreeze is able to elevate these moments to the next level with all the right angles.
Add in Stelfreeze’s former Gaijin Studios-mate Laura Martin on colors, and the artistic tag team is magic. Her handling of things from simple explosions to majestic desert landscapes leaves no question on who Marvel’s top colorist is. She helps set the mood and gets to play around with different settings even with Stelfreeze lays down the heavy ink. The scene between revolutionaries Ayo and Aneka is a perfect example of this. It’s romantic even if surrounded by the horrors of war.
Thrown in at the end is some behind-the-scenes looks and an interview with Stelfreeze about the book and some early designs, even a reprint of Black Panther’s first appearance in Fantastic Four #52. Black Panther and company are looking to leap onto the big screen in a few years and if Marvel’s goal was to get readers ready for his big time debut, they’ve done so ten fold. Black Panther, Vol. 1, gives a great introduction to T’Challa and his world that is ready to be accessed by fans old and new.