Welcome to #1 Comic of the Week, a series where our comics editor, Susana Polo, tips you off to a neat new story or series that kicked off in comics this week â€” just in time for some weekend reading.
This Wednesday marked the beginning of a new era for Marvelâ€™s Black Panther with a new #1 issue, but donâ€™t be fooled: Ta-Nehisi Coates is still continuing his groundbreaking run. The renumbering is more a product of Marvel editorial pushes than anything else, but the new story is still definitely something new.
Previews and interviews had already hinted at the core conceit of this arc: the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda.
But Coates is doing another very smart thing with his new story. Heâ€™s decoupled it from the rest of Marvel canon â€” making it eminently accessible to new readers â€” and introduced the versions of classic Black Panther characters that folks who loved the movie will recognize and remember.
Case in point: Nakia and Mâ€™Baku, breakout favorites from this Februaryâ€™s Black Panther, were heavily changed from their comic book counterparts for the film, and were changed for the better. Nakia is a somewhat obscure character laced through with ideas about the Dora Milaje and the â€śbetrothed wifeâ€ť that are now pretty dated, and Mâ€™Baku, a villain known as â€śMan-Ape, the White Gorilla,â€ť pales similarly in the light of 2018.
For fans of the Black Panther movie who want to see more stories about either character, thereâ€™s not much to read â€” or at least not much that involves what they loved about Nakia, the brave, clever and principled spy, or Mâ€™Baku, the proud but good-hearted king of Wakandaâ€™s self-exiled tribe.
But here, in the strange setting of Black Panther #1, Coates has cleared the stage to echo more of the movie version of the characters than their Marvel Comics history. The issue throws us into a galaxy where Wakanda is the undisputed conqueror. How did this happen? When did it happen? These questions are not answered in a mere thirty-odd pages. Instead, weâ€™re drawn into the story of an unnamed member of the â€śNamelessâ€ť class of Wakandaâ€™s empire, a fierce fighter who bears a strong resemblance to the guy weâ€™re used to seeing as Black Pantherâ€™s main character.
Rescued from slavery by a group of rebels and their alien commander, Captain Nâ€™yami (the name of Tâ€™Challaâ€™s birth mother, a scientist who died before she could complete her plans to take Wakanda to the stars), the comicâ€™s Nameless slave becomes nameless no longer.
â€śOur handles are taken from the legends of our past,â€ť Captain Nâ€™yami explains to him. â€śSo that we, marooned in the empire, are nameless no more. And to you I give the name of a man who was born a king and died a hero.â€ť
Can you guess that she names him Tâ€™Challa?
Black Panther #1 is sparing on the details and heavy on the hints. Is there a relation between this Tâ€™Challa and the king of Earthly Wakanda? Are we in a potential future? Or are we in an alternate present? Maybe even a dream?
It will leave you with a lot of questions, but itâ€™s filling a vital gap: A book where people who loved the supporting cast of Black Panther can find some familiar faces. Iâ€™m certainly going to stick around to see the answers.