A short critique of Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Black Panther.

2018/03/04

On a Black Panther-focused Facebook group, a number of questions about the current title penned by acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates were posed. His run on the comic is NOT widely acclaimed. Here were my responses.

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Q. Are you a fan of Coates’ work?

A. In a word, no. He’s a good world builder and I rather like the wordiness of his writing, but the world was built already. He doesn’t have a good sense of pacing. He does too much in the margins despite all the talkiness.

Q. Where do you want Coates to take the franchise?

A. I want him to write some cool superhero comic starring the man with the plans A through H. It’s taken two years of his run to even begin to feel like Panther is that guy. This is in stark contrast with every other writer of the character for the past two DECADES.

Q. How can Coates improve his work?

A. • Shorter arcs, please. The better he gets at writing tighter, the better he’ll be.
• More exposition. It’s rather intolerable that Shuri’s been back for a year of comics and we STILL don’t really know what all her new abilities are. Like, that’s basic superhero trope, exploring the new powers.
• More T’Challa. The thing about Marvel’s solo books is that they get into the title character’s personal life away from the city/world/universe/multiverse-shaking events and into some of the mundane (with smaller scale super-problems to deal with) and — this is MOST important — into the lead’s head.

How much better would the first issue have been had we gotten to see Wakanda as the Golden City for a minute? THEN, suddenly, we see the Renzi-Sparked turmoil? What if we got to see T’Challa dealing with the unthinkable happening in his nation instead of his lieutenants doing it off-panel?

We needed that moment we saw in the “Captain America: Civil War” movie where Tony Stark is confronted at the elevator by Alfre Woodard’s character. But Coates was too much a neophyte writer to do that.

Q. Can Coates improve? Give your thoughts.

A. He HAS improved somewhat. There are moments of brilliance, such as his use of Dr. Eliot “Thunderball” Franklin. The recent “three steps ahead of his friends” bit. But there’s his distrust and apparent deep disbelief in the very idea of Wakanda, the fabled Afrofuturistic vision of what might have been for the continent if not for imperialism and tribalism.

I think Coates is trying to write a T’Challa who is a far greater king than his predecessors. I think he wants BP to be the one who is NOT the colonizer/imperialist that Coates’ newly retconned Wakanda was. But, y’know, why tear down the nation to build Panther up?

I’m a ride-or-die Panther fan, so I will keep reading despite my misgivings. If only maybe to troll it LOL

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Since writing this a month ago, both I and Coates have seen the spectacular “Black Panther” film directed by Ryan Coogler, and I suspect that both of our perspectives on the character of Black Panther and Wakanda have been somewhat transformed. But only time will tell if it leads to a better Panther comic.

In the meantime, writer Evan Narcisse appears to be using the world-building Coates did on the main title to write one of the potential all-time great BP stories in his “year one” styled “Rise of the Black Panther” chronicling T’Challa’s early days as Wakanda’s monarch. The first two issues of the six-installment series are excellent.

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