Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Guess why I read this one?
Like the rest of the world I’ve gone Black Panther crazy after seeing the new movie, but aside from thinking he was pretty cool as a kid in the late ‘70s reading Avengers comics I wasn't all that familiar with T’Challa or Wakanda. So this seemed like a good place to start.
Sadly, it isn’t.
Getting an acclaimed writer like Ta-Nehesi Coates to do your funny book shows yet again that comics aren’t just for kids any more, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff that draws on African history and culture. The art does a nice job of immersing a reader in the world of Wakanda. So just as a comic book it’s pretty good on the surface.
However, the problem is that Marvel has done a piss-poor job at making their comics accessible these days. You’d think with the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point that someone in charge would have realized that fans want to read more about these characters. Yet despite way too many reboots and retcons in the last ten years since Robert Downey Jr. put on the Iron Man suit they have failed miserably at cleaning up the continuity to the point that readers can pick up a book and know what’s going on.
This isn’t just limited to creating jumping-on points for new fans either. I’ve been reading Marvel off-and-on for going on 40 years now, I have the Marvel Unlimited subscription which gives me access to thousands of comics including newer stuff, and I have no clue what's been happening in recent years other than managing to slog my way through Secret Wars. (And that didn’t exactly help clear things up.)
That’s the problem here. This run of comics was released after Panther’s film introduction in Civil War and should have been a place for readers to start with or get reacquainted with T’Challa before his solo movie. Instead the story picks up after recent huge events have left Wakanda in serious trouble. I’ve read part of those stories, but even I wasn’t entirely sure of what was going on here. What chance would a kid picking up Black Panther for the first time have of making sense of it all? Plus, it doesn’t help that one of the best characters in the movie was killed before this book started. (But in true comic book fashion she is only mostly dead.)
So even though we’ve got a title with real potential the demands of continuity of the Marvel universe force all these other recent events into it instead of providing a clean starting point. It’s the dilemma of trying to balance all the history of these characters vs. trying to let new readers into the world. It’s such a problem that even though the MCU gave the Marvel comics about 14 billion reasons to streamline stuff it’s just never happened. I know one of the reasons I like the MCU so much is that it’s the only place I get stories about these characters these days where I understand what’s going on.
That’s the shame of this. I think if they’d have given Coates a mandate to do a soft reboot on Black Panther without worrying about fitting it into the aftermaths of countless crossovers that he might have hit it out of the park, but he was handcuffed by the same thing that makes new Marvel comics not a helluva lot of fun to read these days.
But hey! They’ve promised a new reboot with this Fresh Start thing that sounds like maybe they finally understand what they need to do. I’m sure they’ll get it right this time…….*cough*
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