Black Panther has been shaking Marvel Entertainment to its foundations for the past year. Anticipation for the live action movie coming in 2018 is still at a fever pitch, and the debut run of Marvel's current run of the king of Wakanda's comic series - penned by Ta-Nehisi Coates - sold more copies than any other comic in 2016. All of this hype still has me confused as to why Marvel decided to cancel spinoff books like Black Panther & The Crew and World of Wakanda, co-written with award-winning author Roxane Gay.
Coates and illustrator Brian Stelfreeze's run on the comic has been going since April of 2016. In it, T'Challa the Black Panther is attempting to win back the love of the Wakandan people after a miner's strike - manipulated by sorceress Zenzi - pits the whole nation against him; it's an Afrofuturist utopia on the verge of collapse. Since T'Challa could still use some more love around these parts, I've decided to go through and pick out the best moments from the first arc of the series, up to the twelveth issue. Who wants a cheat sheet?
T'Challa spends the arc dealing with the country falling apart around him, but he's also become disillusioned to being king. The very last page of the first issue is a splash page that reveals that he's fighting to get his sister and Queen of Wakanda Shuri out of purgatory. One of the first images in the book is of T'Challa with a drop of blood on his head, kneeled in front of Namor the Submariner and a betrayed Dora Milaje, seeing him mourn his sister is a poignant image that establishes the series' stakes.
Speaking of stakes, we haven't even gotten to Wakanda's protectors, the Dora Milaje. Two of the group's unsatisfied lieutenants, Ayo and Aneka, get their hands on flying suits and go rogue as the Midnight Angels.The first time we see them in action, Ayo is breaking Aneka out of prison so they can join the revolution against Wakanda, and Stelfreeze's panels are a lush and gorgeous introduction. I love how intimate their romance feels when they're alone at night and they're both colored in black and red.
Shuri has been in a state of un-death where her mind roams Djalia, "the plane of Wakandan memory" where her spirit roams and learns stories of Wakandan ancestors. A spirit takes on the appearance of her mother Ramonda and shows Shuri the vast land in a splash page that almost made me shed a tear for Pride Rock. As far as spiritual journeys go, this is expansive and beautiful.
T'Challa has been diplomatic about the revolution up until this point, but a suicide bombing that injured his mother is that last tip over the edge. Issue 5 begins with T'Challa and teleporting hero Manifold (Eden) transporting to Alkama Fields to take out the team responsible for turning Wakandan citizens into walking suicide bombs. On top of looking awesome as hell, this scene is where T'Challa's compromised morality gives way to the grief-stricken rage he's been building over the course of the series so far; he takes hits from soldiers before wilding out on everyone.
After the raid, T'Challa winds up taking in a bomber named Kwabena. Kwabena had lost his village to Namor and his brother Kwaku to the Black Order and gives T'Challa grief for spending time with The Avengers and the "Weather witch" Storm. In response, T'Challa uses Kwabena's shame over Kwaku "begging for death" to appeal to his sense of national pride. This is just one of several times T'Challa proves just how desperate he's become to get more people on his side and is bathed in a luminous red glow that truly chilled me to the bone.
Even the mighty Black Panther needs help every once in a while. After T'Challa uses nanite technology to get arms dealer Ezekiel Stane to admit he supplied revolutionaries with weapons, The Crew - made up of Storm, Misty Knight, Eden, and Luke Cage - drop in to help take him out. It's a short-lived but intense action sequence, and I'll take as many excuses to see Misty Knight and Luke Cage trade one-liners as I can. It all ends in issue eight when T'Challa calls Storm "my best friend" and they share a tender and awkward moment.
Meanwhile, Shuri has been learning more about Wakanda and herself in Djalia. She's absorbed wisdom of the elders but before she can do anything else, T'Challa and Eden manage to breach Djalia and literally bring Shuri back to reality. After hearing the story of a woman who led the charge against invaders and recieved skin of stone for her "spirit of iron," Shuri actually manifest her own stone skin in what's probably the most stunningly badass moment of the series so far.
As Tetu and Zenzi's rebellion beings to lose steam, T'Challa and Eden summon the spirits of Wakandan ancestors for a final assault that leads to Tetu's capture and the royal Wakandan family reclaiming some sort of order. Just an epic moment to cap off an epic story.
Once that's done, Aneka of The Midnight Angels eventually forges an alliance with T'Challa so she can help the country start to rebuild. Ramonda eventually begins to recover from the bombing and gives both T'Challa and Shuri her blessing to rule however they want. Shuri re-takes her rightful place as the Queen of Wakanda. And after all of this, T'Challa has Eden teleport him to Storm so the two of them can make up for lost time. It's a satisfying end to a story full of political intrigue, intense action, and possibly the coolest version of the Black Panther costume ever conceived. The way his helmet forms with nanotechnology is just jaw-dropping and I wish they'd include it in the movie come February.