Black Panther #6
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
By every metric, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ take on the King of Wakanda has been a success to this point. In a time when readers are pushing publishers to create more diverse stories and characters and then a vocal minority decries those “politically correct initiatives” for ruining their favorite characters, it’s nice to have a book that almost everyone can agree on. Mixing political intrigue with superheroics and family drama is a good approach for Black Panther and stays very true to the old Marvel promise to bring readers “the world outside their window.” But not every issue is going to be a world-beater. Coates is joined by renowned artist Chris Sprouse for this tale, and while Sprouse’s work is excellent, the book's writer is not as good at juggling all of his plot threads with this installment as adeptly we’ve seen him before.
Much is made of writers jumping from prose or TV or film to the comic book medium, and usually there’s nothing to it, but this issue definitely sees some of Coates’ more longform tendencies on display. There’s nothing wrong with a good monologue, and I think that Coates very effectively has T’Challa talking about the dichotomy of his life and the roles he plays. Coates’ scenes flow well, even with brief check-ins on Shuri and the Dora Milaje. But once we get into the action bits, the book starts to feel somewhat anti-climactic - one sequence is overrun by Coates’ monologue (which even crowds the art a little bit), while the other is really over before it begins. Additionally, the book does lose a bit of momentum during the section that focuses on Shuri, and by the time we’re back to T’Challa, Coates really has to flex his muscles to reel readers back in. Luckily, even if this issue doesn’t totally grab you, there’s almost no way the final reveal won’t.
Chris Sprouse is a decent fit for Coates’ writing. He’s able to sell the smaller moments really well with nuanced expression work and an attention to detail that’s enabled by his thin linework. The standout scene in this issue has to be the Shuri sequence, where she and her mother Ramonda make it to the Blackbird’s Song and as they climb, Ramonda tells another story of the history of Wakanda. Sprouse gives the pages an open layout to set them apart from the main narrative. Laura Martin differentiates the present from the past by using faded washes of color on the latter that help guide the eye easily down the page. That said, when Black Panther gets into action, Sprouse fumbles a bit. It’s probably a veteran artist doing his best to give the writer (and letterer, honestly) the room to get their words down on the page. But the result are some awkward crops that cut action out of the panel and panels that look very static as a means to accommodate larger word bubbles. It’s good to see a team working together to play up each other’s strengths, but I think this script does Sprouse a bit of a disservice.
Black Panther is still an entertaining book, but as Coates goes deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, it’s going to be harder for new readers to pick up without doing their homework. I really like the team that was assembled for these issues though. A comic book is only as good as the sum of its parts, and it’s clear that this chapter’s narrative was important to Coates’ vision, so Sprouse and the art team do their best within those constraints. Now that might mean that Sprouse didn’t get to showcase his talents as much as we’ve seen previously, but it put the reader’s focus where it needed to be and that’s an important part of storytelling. Plus, given the big reveal, Coates is going to have no problem stepping back and letting his art team go wild in future issues.