As a superhero of colour, Black Panther is one of the most significant characters in the Marvel Universe. In anticipation for the film, I decided to learn more about T’Challa and his world by buying Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book One. Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze, the graphic novel features T’Challa trying to keep his kingdom from falling apart. Wakanda has lost faith in its king and rebel factions are looking to take control of the people and usurp Black Panther’s position. The graphic novel features themes of political anger, race and identity, which makes it a relevant story for today’s political climate.
Having recently returned to Wakanda, T’Challa finds his home in turmoil. A terrorist group called The People have sowed unrest among the citizens and the Wakandan royal family have a rebellion on their hands. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, gave her life to prevent Thanos’ Black Hand from destroying the country. With Wakanda no longer trusting Black Panther’s leadership, he’s become known as Harum-Fal, The Orphan King. Despite the odds, T’Challa takes the fight to The People in order to save his home from destroying itself.
Within The Golden City, T’Challa’s mother is doing her best to keep things together. She oversees the trial of a woman called Aneka, who killed a village chieftain to protect a group of young girls. A member of the Dora Milaje, Ayo, pleads for Aneka to be spared, but The Queen Mother chooses to do her duty. In response, Ayo breaks Aneka out of prison and it’s revealed the two of them are lovers. Believing the royal family have lost its way, the two set out on their own quest to bring justice to Wakanda. Calling themselves The Midnight Angels, Ayo and Aneka gather an army of disfranchised women who oppose Black Panther’s leadership.
“When I was a boy, my uncle S’yan ruled Wakanda in my stead. And when I was of age, he stood aside as I was crowned. He did this happily. Too happily. I believed his happiness a mask for intrigue and scheme. Only with the crown upon my head did I come to understand. ‘Heavy is the head.’ They say. The proverb does no justice to the weight of the nation, of its people, its history, its traditions.”
“The day after I became king, S’yan offered a single piece of wisdom. ‘Power lies not in what a king does, but in what his subjects believe he might do.’ This was profound. For it meant that the majesty of kings lay in their mystique. Not in their might. Every act of might diminished the king, for it diminished his mystique. Might exposed the king’s powers and thus his limits. Might made him human. Breakable. And so some amount of my might I have kept from the world…allowing legend and myth to fill in the gap.” – Black Panther
Meanwhile, Black Panther’s efforts to stop The People come up short. Feeling as if he’s failing in his duty, T’Challa turns to his mother for advice. She advises him to give himself fully to his country. Black Panther walks among his people at a public meeting, only for a bomb to go off in the streets. T’Challa’s mother is badly injured and many innocent lives are lost. Strengthening his resolve, Black Panther chooses to go to war with the terrorists, promising that there will be no mercy.
Coates captures the complexity of T’Challa’s personality. He’s a king who believes he’s devoted everything to his people, but still feels that it’s not enough. The reader feels the struggle and weariness that Black Panther goes through on his journey to save Wakanda from itself. Yet what makes the story even better is that it doesn’t just focus on its protagonist. It widens the scope to feature Black Panther’s family and his subjects.
The women of Wakanda are truly powerful. T’Challa’s mother is old, but she’s still fighting to keep her home together and isn’t afraid to make the hard choices. Ayo and Aneka’s relationship is one of the best parts of the story. They believe a single man shouldn’t hold all the power and their viewpoint is a reflection of real life.
Stelfreeze’s art is stunning and he infuses plenty of colour and beauty into Wakanda. There’s a mixture of grand technology set against old world vistas, which makes the African nation one of the most vibrant locales in the Marvel Universe. Coates and Stelfreeze go into depth about Wakanda’s history and you’ll be able to gain an insight into how the country works.
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book One is a celebration of black culture, but it’s also a timely story that speaks for the rest of the world. Reading the graphic novel helped me to gain a greater appreciation for the character and made me even more excited for the Black Panther movie. You can buy it on Amazon now.
To see Black Panther’s story told through music, be sure to read his edition of The Pop Culture Playlist.
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