Black Panther is a character I’ve always been a fan of but honestly never read an ongoing series as it was happening. My experience with Black Panther has been mostly through reading back issues of his series on Marvel Unlimited and as part of various Avengers and Fantastic Four rosters. When I heard that John Ridley was going to the writer for latest Black Panther series I immediately added the comic book to my pull list. Ridley is a writer who I’ve become a fan of from his work on The Other History Of The DC Universe and The Next Batman. His work on those titles for DC Comics made him a writer I will follow and at least try any comic book he is working on. Adding in Juann Cabal as the artists for Black Panther just made this series’ first issue a must buy. How does the latest Black Panther #1 turn out? Let’s find out with Black Panther #1.
Writer: John Ridley
Artist: Juann Cabal
Colorist: Federico Blee
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In Skútustaðahreppur, Iceland Black Panther leads the Avengers against an alien invasion. Black Panther quickly figures out that the invaders likely teleported there and tells Doctor Strange to find the portal to send them back. Doctor Strange is able to find the portal and uses his magic to send the alien invaders back to their dimension.
Before going off their own ways Black Panther and Captain America talk about T’Challa’s current responsibilities as Emperor of the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda. Black Panther confirms he still will continue to act as the Avengers leader.
Later at the new Parliament Building of Wakanda all of the representatives for the country discuss different spending and tax measures they must make a decision on. Hearing all the arguing T’Challa comments to Prime Minister Folasade about how unending the deliberations are when a king’s business is to get things done so he will let the “people” continue their discussion. T’Challa then leaves the parliament conference room.
Akili catches up to T’Challa as he is leaving so they can discuss how things are going with the new democracy set up for Wakanda. As they talk Akili mentions that T’Challa can still be Wakanda’s greatest defender but does need to adjust his methods to adapt to the way they’ve set up people’s freedom. T’Challa thanks Akili for his valuable insight.
In Santiago, Chile a couple named Jhai and Omolola reunite at an outdoor café. Omolola comments how she feels she is cheating by meeting up with Jhai. Jhai says things will be okay.
Just as their server is bringing Jhai and Omolola their food the server’s head is blown up. Jhai and Omolola immediately know they are being targeted and run off to hide. Before they can get to safety a car explodes next to them. Jhai is able to protect Omolola with his body but his back is heavily burnt.
Omolola helps Jhai get to an alley to try to heal his wounds.
Red smoke suddenly covers the area. Jhai and Omolola immediately change into their armor as they are confronted by a group wearing masks with unique red patterns. Seeing that they are overwhelmed Jhai tells Omolola run and find T’Challa. When he knows Omolola is running Jhai activates a bomb to take out their attackers.
Back in Wakanda, T’Challa is contacted by Omolola to inform him that Jhai is dead. T’Challa asks for Omolola’s location and says he will head to her soon.
Sometime later T’Challa meets up with Omolola in Santiago and immediately has her take him to where Jhai’s body is being stored. At the funeral home’s autopsy area T’Challa is shown Jhai’s body.
T’Challa leaves after confirming it is Jhai to emotionally take it in.
Later, T’Challa speaks with Omolola in a park where she reveals that she was in a relationship with Jhai. T’Challa reminds Omolola that he instructed her and all his agents to not communicate with each other. Omolola says that was never going to work and that she and Jhai were specifically targeted. She goes on to say that some of Jhai’s last words to her were “They know.”
Remembering how Jhai was like a brother to him T’Challa gives Omolola a safe house to stay at while he gets things arranged to find their attackers.
Back in Wakanda, at Shuri’s Lab, T’Challa asks to talk in private with his sister. Shuri creates a bubble so no one can hear their conversation. T’Challa then reveals that Jhai is dead. Shuri says she knows this as Jhai died in accident a long time ago. T’Challa reveals that accident was to fake Jhai’s death so he could make Jhai one of his secret agents. T’Challa goes on to say that Jhai was one of many he faked deaths for in order to create a network of sleeper agents around the world that he could deploy for the purposes of deal with all forms of political and military threats to Wakanda in secret.
Shuri calls out her brother on how this all makes T’Challa sound paranoid and like a dictator with his comment about countries having one ruler. Shuri then asks T’Challa why he did Jhai die. T’Challa says he is not sure and cannot rule out anyone, including the Avengers, being responsible for his network of sleeper agents being targeted.
Shuri agrees to help her brother but says that he in order to fully fix things T’Challa will eventually have to reveal the truth about his network of sleeper agents. She then goes on to suggest that T’Challa set his priorities in order to properly help his people.
Later Black Panther meets with Captain America to tell him that he is renouncing his position as leader of the Avengers and temporary leave of absence from the team. Captain America calls out the fact that the Avengers deserve Black Panther’s attention. Black Panther says his priorities have changed and he would not do this if it wasn’t to protect people. Captain America says that Black Panther has the Avengers trust but does wish he got more of a commitment from Black Panther.
Later in Moscow, T’Challa meets up with Omolola in secret so they can begin their secret mission. Omolola asks T’Challa if he is ready for this.
We see flashes of the future with Black Panther Omolola meeting Storm and the X-Men, a fight against Captain America, and the pair being surrounded by the Dora Milaje.
In the present T’Challa tells Omolola he is ready because he lives for this.
The Good: Black Panther #1 is all about set-up for what this series will be about in the early stages and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. John Ridley and Juann Cabal understand that they need to welcome as many readers, new and old, to the series as possible. At the same time, they make sure that previously established continuity with Ta-Nehisi Coates Black Panther run and Jason Aaron’s Avengers run isn’t just done away with. Everything that has gone on in Black Panther’s life the last few years is all at the forefront of the story.
For as much as I don’t know about what’s been going on with Black Panther in recent years I do appreciate when a writer doesn’t betray continuity established by past creative teams. Ridley and Cabal do just that with the entire presentation of Black Pather’s character and world. Specifically, Ridley embraces both the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda that Coates established and Aaron positioning Black Panther as the leader of the Avengers to great effect. Using both these two creative runs actually gives the world around Black Panther feel lived in rather than just being a blank slate that ignores everything.
Embracing the continuity of Black Panther allowed Ridley to use this first issue to explore what T’Challa’s place in the world is now. Because Wakanda is no longer the closed off nation or ruled by the royalty as many know it from past comic books or the MCU. Wakanda has grown to act much more in the democratic way that European countries, specifically the UK, are run.
Which leaves T’Challa in the uncomfortable status quo of not having completely power to enact rules and laws. The checks and balances now in place in Wakanda are a completely new thing that T’Challa needs to still get used to. Which makes the conversation that T’Challa has with Akili have great importance to what his character arc will be.
Through this conversation it is much appreciated that Ridley establishes Akili as a friend to T’Challa. Akili is that friend everyone needs that will give you a reality check that will ground you without coming off as combative. Akili is truly looking out for his friend with the advice he is giving. Which you can tell T’Challa appreciates and is accepting that he does need to adjust to better fit his views with the way Wakanda has transformed beyond what it once was.
At the same time, throughout Black Panther #1 we see that change or adjustments will not be easy for T’Challa. As much as he understands the advice that Akili gives him T’Challa was raised to be a King and that is a hard thing let go of if that has been your identity for so long. Ridley does a great job in showing this with the way T’Challa speaks to both Omolola and Shuri about his network of sleeper agents. T’Challa is in full belief that he did nothing wrong as he did what he had to do to protect Wakanda as King.
This brings back to how Ridley does a very good job having the people that T’Challa interacts with throughout Black Panther #1 stand up to him. As with Akili, both Shuri and Omolola speak their minds in different tones about what T’Challa did in faking deaths of his friends and his views on things that is honest. Shuri in particular stands out as she is not afraid of speaking to T’Challa as an equal. We see throughout their conversation that she directly calls out how T’Challa sounds like a dictator with some of his views. This works well to establish how while Shuri will be T’Challa’s most trusted ally in his new mission she will also be the biggest voice of reason in whatever direction this arc goes.
For as much as T’Challa is called out on what he did with his network of sleeper agents Ridley makes the explanation for why he did this make sense for the character. T’Challa was after all raised and was King for a long time when Wakanda was closed to the rest of world. Having experienced all the superhero events along with his duties as King of Wakanda would understandably cause T’Challa to think creating his own network of spies. There are too many dangers he has experienced as Black Panther to not have this sort of plan in place since he knows he has the resources to do so.
Which makes the fact that it is this very network of sleeper agents being discovered possibly bringing down everything T’Challa built so interesting. There are many reasons why protecting his network and discovering who attacked both Jhai and Omolola priority over all his other duties. This decision along with the visions of what will happen in the future creates a lot of intriguing directions for this arc to go in.
In quick fashion Ridley also establishes the clear connection between Jhai and Omolola as two of T’Challa’s sleeper agents that have grown tired of their work and just want to have some sense of normalcy. The interactions they have came across as genuine in the short time we saw them as a couple. This made Jhai’s sacrifice to keep Omolola safe from their attackers hit on the strong emotional note it needed to. It also set up Omolola to have her own reason to go along with T’Challa on the secret mission to stop their mysterious attackers beyond just being one of the sleeper agents.
Juann Cabal’s artwork was great throughout Black Panther #1. The artwork just popped the entire time. Whether it was big action sequences like the opening with Black Panther leading the Avengers into battle or the dialogue heavy scenes it all had a dynamic feel to it. Cabal also did a great job with each location we visit in Black Panther #1 to make the world feel big around the characters actions and conversations.
The Bad: Black Panther #1 is an exposition heavy first issue. That is something that Ridley could not avoid given everything the franchise has been through the last few years. That unfortunately leads to some of the things explained or shown like the Parliament Building of Wakanda not to be properly explained. It is just there without a new reader friendly explanation for why T’Challa lost so much of his power as King. Which could turn some fans off due to how overwhelming all the continuity heavy things that are so unfamiliar for the franchise are.
This also leads to T’Challa coming across as child rather than a leader during the Parliament meeting. Especially since all the Wakanda representatives are left nameless except for Prime Minister Folasade, who is barely given dialogue to get over her own status as a leader in Wakanda. Finding a way to balance in the greater Wakanda government structure in future issues will go a long way in setting up multiple strong angles for the direction of this Black Panther series.
Overall: Black Panther #1 is a good set-up issue that creates a solid foundation for the rest of the series moving forward. The focus on using continuity established by previous creative team runs added a lot of intrigue into what John Ridley and Juann Cabal are looking to build with the decisions T’Challa makes throughout this issue. It certainly got me invested enough to go on whatever journey this new Black Panther series will go on in the future.
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