Black Panther debuts in the Marvel movie universe in Captain America: Civil War movie. So, what does that mean? Marvel Comics has to roll out a new Black Panther comic book. Synergy! Black Panther has had a rough go of it in the past. The character has his loyal fans but that has never translated into impressive sales numbers. Do I expect Black Panther’s debut in the Marvel movie universe to translate into larger sale numbers with his latest attempt at a solo comic book. No. Having said that, I am hopeful that this latest Black Panther title is a fun read. Black Panther is a Jack Kirby character so that means that I automatically like his character. Hopefully, Ta-Nehisi Coates taps into the awesome high concept Sci-Fi Kirby themes that are inherent to Black Panther’s character. That would certainly provide for a solid base of fun action-adventure stories that would appeal to a large percentage of readers. Let’s hit this review for Black Panther #2.
Words: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art: Brian Stelfreeze
Colors: Laura Martin
Story Rating: 3 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with the Shield of the Nation (The high level council of Wakanda that discusses and advises the King on all pressing national defense matters.) meeting in the Golden City. Hodari recounts the last issue’s story of Killmonger attempting to lead rebels in overthrowing the Wakandan government. Black Panther thanks Hodari for his information and convenient recap of the last issue for new readers. Black Panther says that he has tracked down the psychic woman who is behind the rebels and using her powers to defeat their enemies. That she is located at the edge of the Wakandan border. The Shield of the Nation members say it is too risky for Black Panther to go engage the psychic woman in battle. Black Panther overrules the members and says that it is his responsibility and that he has fought psychics before and, therefore, is the person best prepared to defeat her in battle. (This dialogue is about as dry and dull as it comes. I need to crack open a Monster energy drink to make it just past this opening scene. Please tell me the rest of the issue is not like this.)
We cut to the bandit compound in Northern Wakanda. (It looks like a pretty cool Ewok building in the trees.) We see a bunch of women being held captive in the compound. We see the bandits entering the compound. The bandits grab the women and get ready to rape them. Suddenly, Aneka and Ayo, the Midnight Angels, (That sounds like the name of an outlaw motorcycle gang. Their costumes are…odd. They have bug faced Deathstroke the Terminator masks, feathered Las Vegas showgirl wings that randomly appear and disappear and fishnets…all right. And their weapons look like a ChuckIt stick that you use to throw a tennis ball for your dog.) enter the compound.
Aneka and Ayo attack the bandits. The Midnight Angels say that the Golden City might be cowering in the face of the bandits but that they are not. Aneka and Ayo beat up the bandits. We then turn the page and see that Aneka and Ayo are now outside of the compound saying that this was too easy. One of them calls the other “beloved.” (Keep track of the use of that word. The number of times that it is used in the scenes involving Aneka and Ayo would make for a great drinking game. Take a shot each time I tell you they say “beloved!”)
Suddenly, more bandits come out of nowhere. One of the ladies says “beloved” again. (Take another shot!) The ladies prepare the battle the bandits. But, as we turn the page, we see that we skip over the battle completely as the panel on the next page says “Shortly…” (Oh, thank god! I am so happy Coates decided to skip over an action scene so we can get another boring dialogue heavy scene!!) The captive women are freed and they thank Aneka and Ayo for saving them. One of the women cries out that they do not care if they die. That they must make the Jambazi pay. (I am unsure who the Jambazi are. We were told that the compound was a “bandit” compound. I am guessing that the Jambazi are the “bandits.”)
Aneka and Ayo tell the woman that she deserved a Wakanda that cherished her. The Midnight Angels say that as long as they breathe that they will make sure that the Jambazi will pay for what they did. We then see some of the women lighting the ground on fire in the shape of the words “No One Man” and then they dance around the flaming words. (I…am unsure of the message that is being sent to me with the words “No One Man.” Is this a collection of women who are like Amazons who hate men? Is this a statement that Wakanda is bigger than just one man? Is it an anti-Black Panther statement? Is it an anti-monarchy statement? It makes no sense. And where did the women get the lighter fluid to write the words onto the ground so they could then set the letters on fire? And why did they do it? Who do they think will see these words of fire? They are the only people in the area? And isn’t there a better than even chance that doing this reckless action in the middle of a dry plains area mean that it will quickly spread into a massive wildfire that will rip through the plains? There is no fire department present to make sure that this is just a controlled fire.)
We cut to Ayo and Aneka having a private moment under a tree together. They are out of their identical costumes so it makes it easier to tell who is who. Ayo calls Aneka “beloved” (Take another shot!) and the Jambazi and other corrupt chieftains are all operating underneath the royal eye of Black Panther’s monarchy. Aneka says that she assumed that Ayo had a plan once she freed her from the prison. Ayo replies that she was only thinking of Aneka and that she does not have a plan. Aneka says that Ayo’s sweet words cannot save her and that they need a plan. Luckily, Aneka has a plan and suddenly a hologram appears out of thin air showing a map of various cults and tribes. (What? Where did this hologram come from?! There is no device in Aneka’ hand projecting the hologram. In fact it is not being projected from anywhere. It is just suddenly there up above the two characters.) Ayo asks what exactly is the holographic map. Aneka answers “This, beloved, is a plan.” (Take another shot!!)
We cut to the Nigandan border region with Black Panther arriving outside of the compound of the psychic woman. (Oh, god, please tell me that we finally get some action. Please.) Black Panther starts beating up all of the soldiers. The last soldier standing is a very large dude. Black Panther places one hand on the ground and blasts a repulor style ray out of the palm of his other hand to take down the soldier. (That’s a pretty cool new power! I dig. This cool action scene is, unfortunately accompanied with some bland and hackneyed inner narration by Black Panther on what it means to be a king. Probably could have done without even more dull droning dialogue. Sometimes the writer needs to know that it is not all about them and their ability to write dialogue and to get out of the way of the character and to let them shine in a cool moment.)
Black Panther busts into the compound and stands face-to-face with the psychic woman. Black Panther says that the woman cannot get into his head. The woman replies that why should she bother attacking his mind when she can devour his heart.
We hop over to a university where Baba, a professor, is reading a long quote (4 panels long) of John Locke about what is his remedy for the robber who has broken into his house. Baba asks his class to leave class and think about how the weak shall marshal justice against the powerful. The students leave and a guy with a large scythe enters. The man’s name is Tetu and he is an ex-student of Baba’s who left the university to join The Shaman.
Baba says he did not expect to see Tetu again. Tetu replies that in either science or mysticism that the quest for knowledge never ends. Baba says that he hears that Tetu now associates with evil and brutal men. Tetu says that what he does he does for a better country. (Sweet baby Jesus. Just when you thought Coates would be unable to deliver even more dry and boring dialogue. Somehow he manages to do so with this scene!) Baba says he thought Tetu was better than this. Baba asks why Tetu is here. Tetu replies that he came to talk. Baba says Tetu came here for Baba to tell him that he approves of what Tetu is doing. Tetu says that he has founded an order that fights to protect Wakandans while Black Panther slaughters them. (At this point, Tetu and Baba’s dialogue devolves into a bunch of full psychobabble about if Tetu has the answer or if his answers are just more questions. This dialogue is beginning to sound like the voice of a parent on a Charlie Brown cartoon.) Tetu ends his discussion with Baba with the final line of the Locke quote that Baba was just telling his students. (Jesus. Did we really just go through all of this pointless empty dialogue for two pages just to get to this “cool” symmetrical moment where the writer seems more impressed with his writing “skill” than the reader does?)
We cut back to Black Panther under the mind control of the psychic women. (Please. I am begging to all of the Comic Book Gods. Please let us get a scene that is at least remotely interesting.) Black Panther is being attacked by a phantom version of his “dead” sister, Shuri. (Yeah, I still have zero interest in Shuri’s character.) Black Panther realizes that none of this is real. He pulls himself free from the psychic woman’s powers. Black Panther narrates that the psychic woman pulls outside of people the awful feelings they have tucked away. In the Black Panther she pulled out might, shame and rage.
Once Black Panther beats up all the soldiers we see that the psychic woman appears to have escaped. (I am just guessing here. We are not told that she escaped. She is just simply absent from the scene.) Black Panther tells the civilians in the area that they are now free, that the soldiers will be brought to justice and that their king will provide for them. The civilians point to the defeated soldiers and say that those men were providing for them. (Oh, the moral quandary!!)
We shift to Black Panther at the Necropolis. (This was a really awkward scene transition. Kind of like a crappy amusement park ride that seems to do nothing else other than give the occupants whiplash and no thrills.) We see Shuri in a state between life and death. Black Panther says that Queen Shuri did not live and did not die. (Wait, Queen? How can she be Queen? Black Panther is the King. So, the only person who can be Queen is his wife. Shuri, as the Black Panther’s sister, should be Princess Shuri. This makes no sense. This implies that Black Panther is married to his sister. Gross.)
We then cut to Shuri surrounded by a white void. Some random woman touches Shuri on her shoulder. Shuri asks the woman “Where am I?” The woman points around them. They are no longer in a white void. They are now in The Djalia. The Plane of Wakandan Memory. End of issue.
The Good: Black Panther #2 was such a disappointing read. I was expecting far more from such a cool character. Especially one that is just making his debut in the Marvel movie universe. Having said that, there are some bright spots to this issue. The rare moments where we actually got some action were quite good. The high point of Black Panther #2 is when Black Panther takes on the psychic woman’s soldiers. This was the only moment where the reader felt excited by the story or engaged with any of the characters.
I also liked the Black Panther’s expanded power set. This is a smart idea and nicely plays off of the fact that Jack Kirby had Wakanda being the location of technology far surpassing that of the rest of the world. More moments like this that engage the reader’s imagination would have been appreciated.
Stelfreeze does a solid job with the artwork. The art is a bit uneven from panel to panel. Stelfreeze excels in the scenes with Black Panther in his costume and in action. I love the Black Panther’s costume. It is such a clean and sleek design. I am thrilled that Marvel eschewed the temptation of making the Black Panther’s comic book costume more like Black Panther’s cheesy Power Rangers styled movie costume.
The Bad: Think about the absolute most boring history class you ever took in college. Think about the most dry and dull professor you ever had delivering that class. That is exactly what reading Black Panther #2 is like. I am mystified by Marvel’s approach to this Black Panther title. It makes sense that Marvel Comics would try to create some interest in this comic in the wider audience who may have first been exposed to Black Panther’s character in Captain America: Civil War. But, in trying to appeal to a newer audience and one of a wider cross-section of readers it would have made more sense for Marvel to deliver a more action-adventure oriented story like what Marvel Studios rolls out with their movies.
Instead, Marvel Comics rolls out a Black Panther comic that appeals to a small niche crowd of die-hard Black Panther fans and to readers who just cannot get enough of comics dealing with the geo-political issues of fictional African countries. Focusing on the high Sci-Fi concepts of Wakanda and Black Panther in a more action-adventure styled story would have enabled this title to reach a much larger audience. Instead, Black Panther #2 succumbs to the same weaknesses of most of the All New All Different Marvel titles in that it seems destined to be nothing more than a niche title. Niche titles get small sales numbers and often get cancelled within a year or two. I see this Black Panther title following that unfortunate direction.
The dialogue is the literary equivalent of a rice cake. It is so dry and dull. The dialogue puts the reader to sleep almost from the very beginning of this issue. The dialogue reads like poorly written dialogue from a period piece where the writer is trying to mimic an older form of formal English. This makes the dialogue far too stiff and boring. Also, all of the characters are given the exact same external voice. Absolutely nobody has a unique sounding voice at all.
The problems with the dialogue are compounded by the fact that Coates performs little to no character work on anyone. All of the characters are presented in the same restrained and bland manner. The characters mechanically deliver their line with all the life of a department store mannequin. Characters are mere stereotypes at best or beige cardboard cutouts at worst. The poor character work and bland dialogue also make it so that there is zero chemistry at all between any of the characters. The reader only knows about the character’s feelings or their relationship to each other because Coates tells us. Not because the reader is shown this during the story. And certainly not because the reader actually feels it while reading this issue.
The stiff and dry dialogue and the lack of any character work serve as a one-two punch that prevents the reader from every getting engaged in this story. This is Black Panther #2’s biggest failing. The reader is never pulled into the story. The reader never becomes fully engaged by the story and gets immersed and invested in the various events and conflicts presented by Coates. Instead, the reader feels distant and kept at arm’s length while reading this issue. The reader never connects with any of the characters. The reader is never invested in any of the characters. This lack of investment means that the reader simply does not care about any of the conflicts that Coates is trying to deliver in this story.
The biggest disappointment is how generic the titular character is in this issue. Black Panther has no personality at all. Zero. Black Panther is such a cool character with so much potential. This classic Kirby character should be brimming with personality. Black Panther and his fantastic Kirby setting should be the source of some wildly exciting and imaginative stories. Instead, we get a Black Panther character that is about as interesting and exciting as a DMV worker.
The plotting and pacing are average at best. There are gaps in the story. Where did the psychic lady go? It was like Coates forgot she was even in the story. There were also clumsy transitions between scenes at various points.
Stelfreeze has some moments where his art looks a bit off. Some of the character’s faces are poorly done and look to rushed. I am also not a huge fan of the heavy painting technique with the inks. Also, while I like Black Panther’s costume, I am not sure I am crazy about Stelfreeze’s decision to draw the Black Panthers ears back like a cat that is angry or annoyed. This approach tends to make Black Panther look more adorable and cute than tough. C’mon, cats always look adorable when they pull their ears back. The more standard approach of just having the ears standing straight up would probably be a better direction.
Overall: Black Panther #2 was a disappointing read. I would not recommend this issue to anyone other than die-hard Black Panther fans. Once again, Marvel Comics misses the chance to make a title more mainstream by focusing on delivering yet another niche title under the All New All Different initiative. It is a shame that Marvel Comics is not trying to build on Black Panther’s debut on the silver screen with a comic that would appeal to a large cross-section of readers.