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Coates, Ta-Nehisi & Brian Stelfreeze. Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. 2016.

Although I am a Marvel fan, I didn’t know much about Black Panther going into this book- all I knew was that he was the African king of the advanced nation of Wakanda and was married to Storm.  Hearing that the well -regarded author Ta-Nehisi Coates was penning this new series, made me excited to give it a try. I buddy-read this book with a co-worker and friend (TW!) because I wanted his trusted opinion on it , and to be truthful, I had so little time to read this week that I wanted to steal his observations and pass them off as my own!

Man, I struggled with this book. I so wanted to like it, but could not muster up much appreciation of it. It is not a long book by any means, but I kept putting it down because I was frustrated with it. Thinking it was just me, I was glad when TW said he was doing the same.  As a gateway book, it failed. The story assumed that I knew more and I felt dropped into an ongoing storyline that was confusing. The story began to rally and come together more at the end, but it was a little too late for me to change my opinion by then.

The deep themes of story were good, for T’Challa is not just a masked vigilante but king, so he sometimes has to make hard decisions that might hurt some of his citizens, but for the greater good. Other questions: What are the  levels of acceptable justice and retribution, as two former members of the king’s guard join together to fight rebels who are terrorizing the countryside? Finally, his opponents have some valid reason for revolt, so should his nation continue as a monarchy?  As this is the first time that Coates has written in comic book form, the way he artfully build stories in his novels, needs to be adapted differently in graphic novels. The artist Brain Stelfreeze touches on this in an interview question in regards to their collaboration, found at the back of the book, along with a lot of variant art and a reprint of the 1966 issue of when BP first appeared with the Fantastic Four.

While the storyline was not what I hoped for, I can only praise the artwork by Stelfreeze, for his work was outstanding. I felt Wakanda was a real place, and he captured the residents of this nation beautifully. There were little Easter eggs that he drew in small panels, that had Doctor Doom and Namor in it (first noticed by TW, not me), and a reference to Storm. I assume these characters will play more into future issues, so this was part of the world-building that Coates and Stelfreeze are working to achieve.

This book was a magnificent first attempt, that didn’t quite do it for me, but all the building blocks are there for the series to grow and improve in the future!

-Nancy

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