Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's BLACK PANTHER #1


[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

WRITER: Ta-Nehisi Coates
ART: Brian Stelfreeze
COLORS: Laura Martin
LETTERS: VC's Joe Sabino
COVER: Brian Stelfreeze
VARIANT COVER: Brian Stelfreeze; Olivier Coipel; Felipe Smith; Alex Ross; Skottie Young; Sanford Greene; Ryan Sook; Disney Interactive
36pp, Color, $4.99 U.S. (June 2016)

Black Panther created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Rated “T”

“A Nation Under Our Feet” Part 1

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American writer and journalist.  This African-American commentator is also a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, political, and social issues, particularly as they regard to Black people in America.  Coates' second book, Between the World and Me (released in July 2015), won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.  In 2015, he was the recipient of a “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Brian Stelfreeze is an African-American comic book creator who has been writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and/or painting comic books for over three decades..  In the 1980s, he first gained notice for his stylized covers, particularly for his unique graphic interpretation of Batman.  Stelfreeze was the initial series artist on the DC Comics' Batman title, Batman: Shadow of the Bat, and also produced over 50 covers for that series.  Stelfreeze is one of the original members of Atlanta's Gaijin Studios.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is the writer and Brian Stelfreeze is the artist of the new Black Panther comic book series from Marvel Comics.  The other creative talent on the series include Laura Martin as color artist and Joe Sabino as letterer.

In the world of Black Panther, T'Challa is the warrior-priest-king of Wakanda, and he bears the ceremonial title of that position, Black Panther.  To the world outside Wakanda, Black Panther is a superhero, specifically an Avenger, and of late, a member of the Ultimates.  However, Wakanda has fallen on hard times during Black Panther's time away being a superhero.

Black Panther #1 (“A Nation Under Our Feet” Part 1) opens at “The Great Mound.”  Here, Black Panther is in the heat of a pitched battle with vibranium miners.  In “The Golden City,” capital of Wakanda, harsh justice is handed out.  At the Nigandan border region, an army gathers.  Sure, Wakanda has undergone a flood that killed thousands, a supervillain-led coup, and an invasion from beyond the stars, but there is more bad to come.

I have been an admirer of Ta-Nehisi Coates for the past few years, ever since I first saw him during an television appearance (on MSNBC, I think).  Since then, I have seen him speak on independent news series, “Democracy Now,” and I have read some of his work at The Atlantic's website.  Upon hearing that he was going to write a 12-issue run of Black Panther for Marvel Comics, I was excited, but I did not know what I could really expect; after all, Coates had no previous comic book writing experience.

That turns out to be a good thing.  His clean storytelling builds on the work of previous Black Panther writers, Christopher Priest and Reginald Hudlin.  He mines what for me has always been an obvious source of conflict-laden storytelling – how does a man be both a superhero and the king of a country with resources highly coveted by dangerous interests.  And, you know, I have to give Coates credit for writing a script that insists on giving readers the names of every important character with a speaking role in the first issue.  I am tired of reading vague, introductory first chapters and first issues in which the only characters that are recognizable are the ones wearing familiar costumes.

I have not followed Brian Stelfreeze very much, but I have admired some of his work.  One could make an argument that he is the star here.  His stylish art and vivid, energetic graphical storytelling are a delight.  His character, costume, and graphic design for this series is surprising, simply because I did not expect such a fresh approach that also retains classical Black Panther tropes.  Laura Martin's colors over Stelfreeze's stellar art create some of the most striking visuals that can be found in comic books at this moment.  Letter Joe Sabino and designer Manny Mederos also deserve a shout-out for making this Black Panther one of the best Marvel first issues that I have read in the last few years.

I cannot wait for the second issue of this new Black Panther.  It is more than I expected, although now I expect a lot.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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