National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates emerges onto the comic book scene with his highly anticipated Blank Panther series, together with veteran artist Brian Stelfreeze, colorist Laura Martin, and letterer Joe Sabino. Because he is both a ruler and a superhero, T-Challa’s technologically-advanced nation of Wakanda suffers from their lack of a full-time monarch. The Wakandan rebellion is led by a group of terrorist superhumans promoting violence, and separately, two ex-Shield Maidens, fighting against sex slavery and trafficking one village at a time, all while T-Challa mourns his sister, trapped in a stasis field and caught between the land of the living and the dead.
With Ta-Nehisi Coates, a well-awarded prestigious non-fiction author but first-time comic writer at the helm, as well as a black author and a black artist depicting the African superhero, this series generated a lot of excitement. There is a lot to admire about this first collection, from the majestic artwork, to the diverse ensemble cast that have legitimate reasons to doubt T-Challa, to the philosophical proclamations in the dialogue. A Nation Under Our Feet hints at being a subversive and brilliant comic.
The problem is, I think the subtlety is over my head. First, as a newbie to the Black Panther history who expected a story for a new generation of readers, I already feel left out. The comic drops the reader in the middle of the action, with no backstory. For this reason alone, it’s a challenge. I’m confused about T-Challa’s powers, the world of Wakanda, and all the new terminology. Because T-Challa neglects his people and his character is so distant from the reader, I am not sure why I should root for him over the rebellion. In addition, every character speaks in a succinct, powerful, philosophical prose that lacks distinct character voices, and is overwhelming in it’s abundance.
Recommended for fans familiar with the Black Panther universe who enjoy powerful prose on which to ruminate!