Black Panther has been one of those Marvel characters (and there are many) that I’ve wanted to like more than I actually do like when I read the comics. Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Captain America; they’re all cool character concepts, but not often actually written well. And even when they do have good writers behind them, they’re often weighted down by too much Marvel baggage. But Black Panther taps into things I really like. Namely hidden civilizations and technological utopias. There’s a bit of The Phantom, a bit of Tarzan, a bit of all those lost cities stories. But it’s also refreshing for the king of the secret African city to be African and not some lost blonde European.
Issue 1 of the new Black Panther series has some of the problems that these Marvel (and DC) first issues always have. It’s set in the larger universe of ‘event comics’ and what have you. It’s a re-launch of an older title. So, there’s already a ton of history; a lot of stories in progress. Here we have T’challa recently taking back his throne. His sister, recently queen and wearer of the Black Panther name, apparently dead. The nation of Wakanda is in disarray. And things seem pretty bad. There are terrorists attacking, a disaster to recover from, and possible rot from within. So, there’s a lot of dramatic tension in the first issue. But I can’t help feel thrown into the fire, without nearly enough info see a way out. There’s a brief intro in the beginning of the comic, but I think I should have sat down and read Wikipedia for a few hours to find out what’s going on in the Marvel universe right now, so I could put it all into context.
And, being a ‘floppy,’ monthly issue, it’s darned short. There are a lot of reasons I wasn’t really into comics until the collected trades and graphic novels became ubiquitous, but the unsatisfactory fraction of a story you get in a monthly issue was up there. There’s only 22 pages of story here. It doesn’t even feel like a chapter of a book, or an episode of a TV show. Plus, being from Marvel (DC is as guilty), it’s also unconscionably expensive. Marvel has the resources and the print-run size to be able to charge less, but they charge more. You see it in their trade paperbacks, too. A book that would be $9.99 to $14.99 from a smaller company is $19.99 to $29.99 from Marvel. This is $4.99. Five bucks for 22 pages and some ads. I was finished reading the whole thing in what, maybe 10 minutes? Maybe.
So, issue #1 introduced a bunch of things which seem like they might be interesting. And for contemporary, mainstream, superhero comic art, it looks pretty good. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes comic book dialog competently (something that doesn’t always happen when a traditional prose writer tries to transition). But overall, I was left unsatisfied. Perhaps reading a full story arc would change that. Perhaps I’m just not interested in reading about a Wakanda and T’challa plagued with self-doubt and sadness. Time will tell.
-Matthew J. Constantine