Best Shots Review: BLACK PANTHER #3

"Black Panther #3" preview
Credit: Brian Stelfreeze/Laura Martin (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Brian Stelfreeze/Laura Martin (Marvel Comics)

Black Panther #3
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Wakanda is getting fed up with the Black Panther’s reign as king. And three issues in, I can start to see where they’re coming from.

Credit: Brian Stelfreeze/Laura Martin (Marvel Comics)

Granted, we’re also only three issues into Ta-Nehisi Coates’ comic book writing career, so we can cut the man a break. But Coates’ third installment of T’Challa’s struggles feels a little more than that — a struggle, as his leading man is becoming increasingly defined by his doubts and defeats rather than his compelling qualities.

Much of what this run on Black Panther has been about is King T’Challa accounting for his past sins — while he might be a superhero par excellence, the Black Panther’s moonlighting with the Avengers has certainly cost his kingdom plenty, ranging from Namor destroying the place with a flood in Avengers vs. X-Men, or Thanos and his Cabal wreaking havoc leading up to Secret Wars, or even the loss of T’Challa’s sister Shuri. Heavy is the head that rests the crown, but as one character says, not many kings have to worry about fending off interstellar conquerors and the destruction of the entire multiverse on top of day-to-day statecraft.

Credit: Brian Stelfreeze/Laura Martin (Marvel Comics)

Coates reminds us of all of these things as he begins this issue — even if new readers might be totally confused by his poetic opening sequence — but he unfortunately justifies his villains at the expense of his hero. From the moment we see T’Challa, he is a ruler plagued by self-doubt: “I feel blinded by the past, engulfed in a fog of all my defeats.” If we wanted to empathize with the insurgency going on in Wakanda, Coates is doing an excellent job — but he’s doing less well with having us root for the establishment candidate, the Panther himself. Given Coates’ politically-oriented prose elsewhere, I do get the sense this is intentional — that T’Challa will have a sea change as a ruler soon enough — but if we aren’t given sufficient reasons to feel engaged with the character, it’s hard not to see him as a floundering figurehead rather than as a king who deserves his throne.

And that’s where Coates’ supporting cast winds up hobbling him more than helping. The Midnight Angels, a duo of former Dora Milaje who have become fugitive vigilantes in their own right, are still the show-stealers of this book, but aside from a quick (but effective) vignette of them bringing swift justice to the White Gorilla Army, Coates’ narrative feels scattered. Shuri, meanwhile, doesn’t add a ton with her magical mystery tour of the limbo-like realm of Djalia, and while Coates spends so much time focusing on his villains, he never lets us inside their heads, making them feel disconnected and unrelatable.

Credit: Brian Stelfreeze/Laura Martin (Marvel Comics)

He also doesn’t give Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin a ton to do here — while Stelfreeze’s take on the Panther still looks sharp with his lush shadows, and the introductory sequence featuring a villain performing a tai-chi-style sorcery looks super-cool, plenty more of his pages look kind of cramped, particularly with the brief bit of action that the Panther actually engages in. (Unfortunately, that skirmish ends almost as quickly as it begins, with no real reason why they didn’t just kill the Panther and be done with it.) But the fun moments, while brief, show that Stelfreeze has such a strong sense of iconography and choreography — if only he was in a book that would let him use it.

Growing pains are an inevitable part of maturity, and in the case of Black Panther, it’s not surprising to see that happening here — unfortunately, in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, readers might not stick around while they wait for the King of Wakanda to catch his breath. Coates’ previous two issues felt like necessary exposition, but we’re now getting to the point where this lengthy narrative rollout might be too little, too late. There’s a lot of ambition to this book, particularly with its sprawling supporting cast, but there seems to be a lack of focus and excitement with T’Challa himself that needs correcting — and fast. Otherwise, the uprising in Wakanda might be nothing compared to the readership diaspora Black Panther might experience.

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