The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art + Colors: Daniel Acuña
Cover: Daniel Acuña with Brian Stelfreeze
It needs to be stated up top that there are just a lot of unanswered questions after this first issue of new volume of Black Panther. The plot is rather straightforward(ish) but the trappings are unfamiliar. The context of this story is that at some point a group of Wakandans established a base at the edge of the cosmos. Two thousand years of isolation from their homeland later, and the Wakandan notion of self preservation (depicted in the recent Black Panther movie by complete isolation and literal invisibility) has become something else. It has turned them into a vast and conquering empire that preserves itself by eliminating all threats through subjugation. This more or less summarizes the narration that is provided in the first couple panels and sets the stage for the space that our characters will be moving operating in. On a prison/mining outpost somewhere deep in space, a man (who look similar to T’Challa) resists abuse by the guards. He takes quite a few down in close quarters combat before he breaks away from the facility, only to be shot in the shoulder as he escapes. News of this incident makes its way to a rebel spaceship which sets course for the prison/mining planet in hopes of fomenting revolt amongst the workers and bringing this unknown rebel into their cause. Two rebels (M’Baku and Nakia) land and start a prison break on the planet, and in the end the unknown hero is brought into the rebel fold and given the name T’Challa signifying that he will be one of their leaders.
The plot, as laid out above, is pretty straight forward with the mysteries and ideas swirling around around the edges being where the real interesting stuff is. The pace of this issue is pretty cracking with the unknown soldier being introduced, rescued, and made a leader of the rebellion all in this one issue. Considering that, it’s fair to say that writer Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t super interested in the prison break action. All of that is stage setting that establishes the (at least) two sides of this conflict, and that one is an authoritarian regime opposed by rebels. These two sides will undoubtedly be given more nuance and the origins of the regime will (probably) be explored later. But right now this is where most of the questions lie, how did a government that began in good faith with a rather simple objective become debased and transform into an unrecognizable entity. At one point the unknown soldier/T’Challa is fighting with a fellow prisoner and as he is being hauled away by the guards someone yells out to him, “They have stolen your name, your culture, your god. Do not let them steal your mind.” It’s not explained who this person is, but potentially they have witnessed the development of the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda and seen how the guiding lights of religion and culture have been stripped away as the empire grew to this point.
This character also hints at our unknown soldier’s backstory when they say, “They have stolen your name.” Maybe thats more a generalized statement as the prisoners are probably only referred to by their numbers, but it may also mean that the unknown soldier was T’Challa or someone important in Wakanda back on earth. It’s not specified when this story takes place and if its happening parallel to the present day or in the future or in the past. There is a lot still to uncover in this story, but the premise and inciting action suggest a really interesting story and comic book worth coming back to.
This new new of Black Panther sees Ta-Nehisi Coates teaming up with Daniel Acuña. The art diverges greatly from what Kirk and Martin were doing in the previous volume, instead having a more watercolors and painterly affect than a realistic one. It definitely fits the vibe of the unknown and strange situation that this issue drops the readers into. Rather than using very strong lines and lots of intricate details the backgrounds, the colors work to create impressions of the scene rather than being completely explicit. This isn’t to say the art is messy or not detailed (there are some great details in the back of a few panels) but the backgrounds let you fill in some of the details as well. Between the completely new art and narrative direction, this is a really solid first issue that is great starting point for new readers, but also satisfying for people who were already on board.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8