The first volume of Black Panther is hardly a superhero comic book. If you’re looking for a comic filled with people in tights punching other people in tights, you should probably look elsewhere. Brian Stelfreeze and Ta-Nehisi Coates have instead constructed a story about a nation and a king—a tale of violence, revolution, and politics. But Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 is a must buy, whether you are a superhero fan or not.
As far as the nuts and bolts go, this trade contains the first four issues of the new Black Panther run by Brian Stelfreeze and Ta-Nehisi Coates. It also contains a reprint of the first appearance of Black Panther from the pages of Fantastic Four #52 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. While it’s a cool addition to the trade, it does not add much to the story and the pages would have probably been better suited by the fifth issue of the current run. Still, any chance you have to marvel at some Jack Kirby art is worthwhile, so just soak up the awesomeness that is King Kirby and be grateful for it.
To reiterate, Black Panther is more about king T’Challa than it is a man dressed as a panther battling super-powered villains. Ta-Nehisi Coates crafts a tale around Wakanda and its struggles as a nation. He builds the cast and, expertly, relies on past Marvel events to make a case for the current state of political unrest. This first volume doesn’t spend as much time as it could with T’Challa, but since the supporting cast is so great, it’s a forgivable offense. Also, it ends with one of the most awesome final pages in a superhero trade ever, so huge bonus point for that bit of dialogue. Terror has a home in Wakanda.
That said, the real star of this book is artist Brian Stelfreeze. His line work is insane and beautiful, giving us a superb look setting and cast. His use of shadow and silhouettes is masterful, at time dropping out all character features and letting their body language do all the talking. His action scenes have grace and style, but it’s the smaller moments that sell this book, like the conversations between T’Challa and his mother, or the plotting of rebellious forces. Stelfreeze makes these moments shine when they could easily fall into visual boredom. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ dialogue is fantastic, but when combined with Stelfreeze’s hard lines, it becomes epic, next level stuff.
Laura Martin adds a lot to the book, too. Her colors lift Stelfreeze’s artwork and do much to shape the tone of the book. Often times, especially during action scenes, Stelfreeze will drop out background detail for Martin to carry with her smooth palette. She plays with reader expectations, too, often using reds and oranges for quieter moments and blues and greens for action. It gives Black Panther a look and feel that is all its own. You can thank Joe Sabino’s graceful lettering as well. Black Panther is a text-heavy comic and Sabino makes it feel effortless.
If Marvel’s goal with this new series was to capture readers who might be new to the character thanks to his recent big screen appearance, they have certainly accomplished that. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin make a hell of a team. There’s never been a better time to jump into the world of Black Panther.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 burritos.
Image: Marvel Comics
Benjamin Bailey writes for the Nerdist and can be found on Twitter talking about Godzilla, comic books, and hardcore music.