Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Nation Under Our Feet (Black Panther, vol 6, #1-12) Review



Issues: Black Panther, vol 6, #1-12
Date: 06/2016-05/2017
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates


General Black Panther Spoilers

- There is trouble in Wakanda as The People lead by sorcerer Tetu, the Revealer Zenzi, and with help from Zeke Stane begin massing an army to take the Golden City and dethrone T'challa. All while T'challa deals with the living death Shuri is trapped in.

- At the same time, the former Doras-- Ayo and Aneka-- take the Jabari lands and lead a revolution as the Midnight Angels. The outcast Changamire also helps in rallying the Wakandan citizens against the throne to institute new type of government.

- T'challa successfully kicks Stane out of the country with the help of The Crew as the MA and The People form an alliance. Changamire becomes disenchanted with the revolution as his former student Tetu is not a righteous man.

- T'challa with the help of Eden resurrects Shuri as she returns as The Griot. Shuri confronts and threatens the MA, who abandon their alliance with Tetu. T'challa confronts Changamire and convinces him to help Wakanda and stop the People.

- The People attack the Golden City but are eventually defeated by the combined forces of T'challa, Shuri, Eden, the Wakandan army, HZ, Changamire, and T'challa using his King of the Dead powers to summon an ghost army of dead kings and warriors. Tetu is captured while Zenzi flees and escapes with help from Zeke Stane.

- T'challa agrees to a new form of government which will be decided by the tribes and cities while he remains king. T'challa talks with Shuri and admits his failures to her and the throne and is re-assured by Shuri that he is a good and righteous King. T'challa makes some sort of deal with the MA after Aneka realizes that T'challa suffered more than any of them.


Importance to the Mythos

- The debut of the villains Tetu and Zenzi.

- The debut of Changamire, Hodari, Akili, and Kwabena

- Debut of the royals new, robe wearing, men bodyguards.

- The breaking away of the Midnight Angels and the Dora Milaje lead by Aneka and Ayo

- Resurrection of Shuri, introduction of her new title Griot, and a display of her new powers

- T'challa's enhanced senses were upgraded to Soul Stalking

- T'challa demonstrated the ability to resurrect a Force Ghost army via his King of the Dead powers.

- T'challa's vibranium weave now has to ability to redirect absorbed energy.


Other Thoughts
When I was a kid, Spider-Man was a star. Spider-Man was right under Malcolm X for me in terms of heroes. I would like Black Panther to be some kid's Spider-Man.
-- Ta-Nehisi Coates
Whew boy. What is that quote about shooting for the moon and if you miss you end up in the stars? Coates shot for the moon, and due to sci-fi movie magic, that shit got caught in the moon's orbit, sling shot around, crashed right back into the Earth.

What was produced on panel (not Youtube videos and interviews) is simply not a great comic. It has some good moments, maybe even great moments, but as a cohesive, year long, 12 issues story, it just simply doesn't hold up to the lofty standards set by Coates. I am not even sure it reaches "good" overall. Mostly because it utterly fails at many simple, super hero comic pillars:

(1) The action sucks, both in quality and quantity, (2) the villains are a big let down other than the cool designs by Stelfreeze, (3) way too much telling, not enough showing, and (4) he wastes time on stuff that really doesn't matter so he can use flowery, poetic prose instead.

Stelfreeze provided some absolutely fantastic Wakanda designs. The clothes feel African. The city is vibrant and unique. The design of T'challa's head gear and how it comes off and on is awesome. Tetu and Zenzi look wonderful. The look of the planes, spears, Necropolis are literally top notch. And Stelfreeze really nails the emotional talking scenes 100%.

But for all the positives and great aspects by Stelfreeze and Sprouse's art... their negatives were just as pronounced. I cannot stress enough how mediocre the action scenes are. You don't "feel" any of the hits. No one feels fast. No one feels strong. The panel-to-panel transition in the action is disjointed and non-nonsensical at times. It is just a buzzkill  issues. You get the build-up to the Crew and you read it and go, "meh." Final battle with the people and it fizzles out instead of being climatic. The action just feels like one of those little kid sticker books where you place them on the page and pretend they are hitting each other (with a few stars thrown in).

And the villains started off kinda well. Both of their designs are unique and on point. A pseudo-empath/telepath and a sorcerer were cool additions to the mythos. Unfortunately, that is all they were: a couple labels that amounted to "meh." Tetu did like four things (teleport, make it rain, roots, sink hole) in 12 issues. An interesting type of villain was added to the mythos and T'challa never even confronted him directly. At all. One root attack and one spear throw was the extent of their interactions. T'challa had more interactions with mini-boss Stane than he did with final boss Tetu. Zenzi existed just to strike a pose, have some green energy flow, and move on. She was the villain Eden.

The art and villain issues actually combine to create another troubling issue with this run: the utter lack of scale in regards to the threat. The People are such a threat that Shuri goes to the Midnight Angels and says they cannot fight both at the same time. The same Wakanda that beat back a Skrull invasion and beat back Black Dwarf. Even in a weakened state, The People have to be either very powerful (ie Tetu has to be a beast) or they have to have a large force. We got neither. The People amounted to 25 goons. T'challa could beat back a threat that size by himself.

Comics are a visual medium. You have to show us things. If The People are a threat, show us the size and strength of the force. If Wakanda is weakened, show us that they are struggling to put out too many fires. If Tetu is "more powerful than we imagined," he has to do more than make a sink hole after some Tai Chi.

One thing Coates had no problem showing was just how much of a mopey ass idiot T'challa was for much of the story. And as it came out month-to-month, I freaking hated it. My favorite iterations of T'challa are See Wakanda and Die (uber confident), MCU (uber confident), Priest (uber confident), EMH (uber confident), Liss (uber confident). So yeah, this sucked for me.

But, damn, Coates actually nailed this part of his story. 100% nailed it. The final issue beautifully wrapped the mopey ass, "I am no King" stuff up while putting a bow on Hickman's run as well. And when read all at once in one complete story, the mopeyness isn't nearly as bad as it seemed floppy to floppy. In #12 when he told Shuri he never should have left her and how he cannot make the decisions that Kings should make (ala "The Cry" in Hickman's run), it brought clarity to all the previous depression and uncharacteristic decisions by T'challa. Coates was not only concluding his first Black Panther story, but he was also emotionally concluding Hickman's story as well.

Shuri's stuff was Coates at his best and worst. The Djalia stuff was painful. I really thought if I read the run all at once that it wouldn't feel so pointless. I was wrong. It was way too long, way too flowery, and popped up at the worst times in the book to completely remove any momentum. When Shuri said at one point, "what is the point of this babble Mother," I was just like "yeah seriously what is the point of this?" This all needed to be contained into one issue or it needed to be told in a way that wasn't so wordy and boring.

But when Shuri returned, she returned as classic Shuri with a touch of wisdom. She stole the show every instance she spoke. She finally has a mantle all her own (Griot) with powers all her own. Her capabilities and powers need to be fleshed out (and who is Mother?) but there is plenty of time to do that in season 2. The journey was arduous and mind numbing but the end product was top notch.

In the end, Coates failed at his stated goal and this run simply wasn't my cup of tea. There is some potential in future stories thanks to some of the world building Coates did with some potentially interesting supporting characters added that he can have T'challa bounce off of. But, Season 2 T'challa needs to the feature a fully capable and confident T'challa I love. There isn't anything left to deconstruct. Let the King reign.

Some other quick thoughts that I couldn't fit in the overall review because I suck at writing...

- I barely mention the MA above because there story was kind of stupid and it was nonsensical. Nothing really fit together cohesively. A fit of rage turned into a prison break for love turned into liberating rape camps turned into making a country of their own turned into a no one man/revolution because T'challa sucks which turned into all men suck which turned into "oh fuck we are kinda dumb" which turned into... TBD.

- The Tetu poem issue was such a waste of time. Tetu needed that issue to flush him out or show off his powers and instead Coates tried to get cute and while I am sure it impressed his writing buddies, it left me wanting to throw the issue in the trash due to its uselessness.

- Having an issue where T'challa meets with despots which kinda backfires and turns into part of a revolution talks, so he spends the next issue injecting himself with nanites to record Stanes confession, only for that to amount to absolutely nothing as it was never brought up again was a very odd sequence of events. It is like Coates needed a reason for Changamire to become more directly involved so this is what he thought of.

- I like Akili.

- Hodari should have been Taku.

- I hate Shuri's new hair.

- Twelve issues is too much for one single story unless it is amazing ala Thor's God Butcher arc. This was simply too long with too many plot threads with certain conclusions fizzling out in the end. Hopefully, Coates trades are the more classical 6 issues and the stories last that long as well.

- I am not sure why Eden is still hanging around Wakanda. But if he is going to, he needs to be a real character, not just a magic teleporting Uber for T'challa.

- One of my other issues with Coates so far is that T'challa is surprpisingly human in regards to his powers. He himself, not his tech, never really did anything notworthy. Part of that is the shit art, but he never seemed to have enhanced strength, speed, agility... his combat prowess is lacking, his martial arts abilities are mediocre... he just feels street level-ish with his powers. I am hoping the new art fixes that aspect going forward.

- Ugh. Storm. Ugh.

- This story may have the best collection of covers ever.


Should You Read It?

- All Black Panther fans should read all Black Panther solo runs. However, if you are expecting a MCU/Priest/Hudlin/Liss variation of the character or an MCU/EMH variation, you will be very, very disappointing. If you are expecting an action packed book, you will be pissed.

It is a slow burn more focused on Wakanda and T'challa's supporting cast than on T'challa. It is not a great book, it may not even be good. Fans of McGregor's stuff  and world building in general may love it however.

In my Black Panther comic rankings, it falls pretty low on the list:

- See Wakanda and Die
- Priest
- Liss
- Gillis
- Hudlin
- Hickman
- McDuffie
- Coates
- Mayberry
- McGregor
- Kirby

10 comments:

  1. Love the review. Would you recommend this book to people who never heard of black panther and want to get into it? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As T'challa would say:

      Absolutely Not.

      And that only partly has to do with the quaility of the book. The book would make no sense at all if you don't know the history of Black Panther. Without at least Hickman's 4 year Avengers, New Avengers, and Secret War run, none of this run would make any sense.

      My basic "newbie" advice is usually Hudlin's Who is the Black Panther. Mostly because it is a 100% contained story that gets right to the point of who T'challa is and what Wakanda is. No other continuity is needed at all.

      The next self contained story I would recommend is See Wakanda and Die.

      If either of those peak the interest reader, I would recommend starting with Priest run. It is THE black panther run that re-invented the character for the masses and updated him to modern times.

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  2. Solid analysis that I agree with 99.9%.

    I say 99.9% because I believe Coates take on BP is the worst beneath even Maberry's and as such, should be bottom of the rankings across the board.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Do you think black panther was depowered during the first arc?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you mean actually depowered in a sense that he is just human: no. In fact, you could argue slightly he may have been powered up a bit, with his enhanced senses turning to soulstalking and his King of the Dead powers.

      If you mean depowered as in he wasn't properly depicted as "comic book peak human" then I would agree with that. Coates wrote T'challa "nerfed" instead of enhancing the villains threat.

      Delete
    2. Ya because when I read issue #3 I was confused on how was tetu able to stop him by a couple of tree branches

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    3. Dylan, many of us long time fans wondered the same thing.

      Bad case of nerfing the hero. Why not just make it so Tetu was a true sorcerer who didn't take 14 tai chi moves to do some magic?

      Delete
  4. Unfortunately, as spot on as this review is, I doubt Mr. Coates will genuinely take into account any valid criticism, and rectify where it was pointed out where he has messed up. His hubris blinds him to reality, and his extreme levels of general cynicism is all he sees as "being realistic".

    This book and "WoW" were a giant BUST, and were two textbook examples of "How-to-Squander-Upward-Momentum" As well as how the entire notion of "who you know" with regards to getting you foot in the door, isn't always a good thing. Coates book in general was a nice feel-good means of letting those who are perpetually shortsighted feel "woke" or "enlightened". To anyone with an ounce of integrity, this book (in particular) was a giant insult.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As soon as the first interviews came out and he was like, "wait why is Wakanda a monarchy?" I got super worried.


      I am not sure how someone who can't wrap his head around a comic book monarchy is going to wrap his head around the fact that a tiny country in Africa is protected by a God....

      Delete