(Klaw Stands Supreme Part 4)
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Leonard Kirk
Colors: Laura Martin
Cover: Brian Stelfreeze & Laura Martin
Published: January 31, 2017
To make sure that everyone is across what’s going on in Black Panther post Marvel Legacy and really since the A Nation under Our Feet story ended in issue #12 (numbering for this book switched when Legacy occurred and technically issue #169 is #22 since Ta-Nehisi Coates started writing the book) this is a little refresher. T’Challa has been investigating the source of portals that are opening all around Wakanda and has discovered that some are real, and the originators have been returning through these, while others are fake. He has enlisted the help of his sister Shuri, who retains a strong connection to the spirit plane, and a prophet of the old gods, Zawayari, in order to determine why the old gods have abandon Wakanda and allowed the originators to return. The fake portals are creations of Klaw, who has returned to Wakanda and capitalized on the turmoil that is distracting T’Challa. He has gathered a number of T’Challa’s enemies (Zeke Stane, Dr. Faustus, Zenzi) and a large amount of reverbium in order to bring his sister back from the dead. Along with Shuri and Zawayari, Dr. Franklin and Eden have assisting T’Challa in his fight on both fronts. Finally Queen Ramonda has been dealing with the Dora Milaje, who have a rather tenuous relationship with the Black Panther right now, and trying to help them get Ayo and Aneka back. These two were trying to find T’Challa’s friend Asira, but were captured by Klaw and are now part of his experiment to bring his sister back. At the very end of the last issue we learned that T’Challa and Ramonda have created an army of drone midnight angels, which have just been deployed to rescue Ayo and Aneka.
This arc doesn’t appear to be rushing towards a conclusion with another issue focused largely on Klaw and including very little Black Panther. That is no way a bad thing and is arguably a reaffirming sign that Ta-Nehisi Coates really has the creative freedom to tell the exact story that he wants. The issue opens on the culmination of Klaw’s long term plan to bring his sister back from the dead using his “hard sound” technology. This plan was hinted at in previous issues but made explicit here, and is the reason he has gathered Zeke Stane, Zenzi and Dr. Faustus, who in return expect T’Challa’s head. We learned in issue #166 that Klaw’s sister endured auditory hallucinations, it’s not made clear exactly how they affected her, and that this condition made her the target of their father’s fits of anger. Eventually his parents decided to have his sister undergo a lobotomy in order stop the voices and then placed her in Antwerp Asylum. Klaw says in that issue that his love for her is the last link he retains to his humanity, that all other care, feeling, and empathy are gone. The detachment that he has cultivated is (he believes) the thing that elevates him to a god like figure. He has almost entirely left the world behind and is better because of it. In the review of #169 there was a discussion about the juxtaposition between Klaw and T’Challa in regard to their individual feelings about power. Klaw’s motivations and methods aren’t (at this point at least) particularly unique. He had abusive/angry parents, was a brilliant physicist, and at some point became so devoted to his search for further knowledge/power that everything else fell away. T’Challa’s power (and role as the Black Panther) has changed significantly since Wakanda replaced the monarchy with a constitution and constitutional council which removed so much power from a single person. He understands the flaws inherent with instilling one person with such power and has relinquished the decision making to the council, but the creation and use of a robot Dora Milaje/drone army without their approval undermines the new government. Has/Is T’Challa actually willing to relinquish governance to other people, or does he just have to be smarter about how he wields his power? And are Klaw’s ambitions of power perhaps similar to T’Challa’s, just much more transparent.
As was mentioned in the review of issue #168, this might be looking at what T’Challa and Ramonda did with the robot army in completely the wrong way, but it will be interesting to see how that plot line works itself out in the coming issues. The aforementioned robots descend on Klaw’s compound at the very end of the issue, just as Aneka and Ayo have shut down Klaw’s machine and freed themselves. The non Klaw half of this book depicts Aneka’s entirely silent prison break and rescue of Ayo. When Zeke Stane turned on the sonic machine it both drowned out any sound for most of the issue, and shorted the lights. Aneka, who is being transferred in a concrete mask that covers her entire head and face, uses this to her advantage. As the lights go down for the first time (depicted by an entirely black panel) she get into position and upon return of the lights delivers a number of brutal head buts (it almost seems like it was a terrible idea to have given her a mostly indestructible helmet that she could use against them). After defeating the first wave of guards she takes the helmet off, but it is still chained to her hands, creating a sort of makeshift chain flail. She runs into a few more guards and effectively downs them with her new weapon before rescuing Ayo. This disrupts Klaw’s experiment moments before its completion and just as the robot Dora Milaje descend. The symbolism of Aneka using the tools of her captivity as the means of her escape cannot be ignored as larger cultural and historical metaphor about the treatment of black and brown people and women both in the U.S. and elsewhere (and it relies entirely on the artwork). This review can in no way do the art in this issue justice (and I could go on about it for a while), but one specific thing worth noting is how Leonard Kirk uses the blackout panels to increase the tension of the action. The guards have these lightning batons, which are still illuminated when the lights go out, and in a few panels briefly illuminate the scene as Aneka wreaks havoc around them. It’s a great moment that not only looks cool, but demonstrates how dangerous she is.
The relationship between the narrative and artistic storytelling in this book has been strong from the first issue, but ability one issue to tell a great story with a powerful message and use so few words is amazing. Some of the effectiveness of course relies on developments in previous issues, but that does not diminish the enjoyment of reading this one for anyone who had been following the series.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8