I suspect that Rise of the Black Panther #1 will summon wildly varying opinions, many of which may differ from the final assessment of the series. That’s because this debut issue is essentially an extended prologue. The miniseries promises to provide the story of T’Challa’s first year as king, but that year only begins on the very last page of this issue. Rather than utilize flashbacks or a crammed summary page, Narcisse has elected to provide a history of Wakanda here, and the result is a mixed bag.
If you’re already a big fan of Black Panther comics, there won’t be much in these pages that surprises you. Between World War II and Ulysses Klaw’s invasion of Wakanda, this is the standard history. The value for the familiar is likely to be found in the small revisions and streamlining. Over five decades, plenty of contradictions have arisen, and this issue helps establish a clear stage. There are strains of X-Men: Grand Design to be found in its dedication to clear synopsis and cohesion, despite a lack of that series’ incredible elegance. Nonetheless, it is still nice to find such a clear history of a character and country packed with backstory.
That’s the element that reveals why this prologue approach might be necessary in order to make a Black Panther origin both comprehensive and enjoyable though. There is so much history that affects everything the Panther does that any new reader might need a tutorial. Narcisse’s approach is focused on the highlights, with his dialogue and action sequences spotlighting the most essential. There are plenty of moments of sweetness and even more explosions that lessen the slideshow effect. Some pages are bogged down in captions and word balloons, but this is likely a necessary evil of a superhero history.
What really allows that history to function though is the return of Paul Renaud to a monthly schedule. Renaud’s work sings when offering the big moments of this multi-decade saga. The splash of T’Challa’s grandfather holding Captain America by the throat is a momentous opening page. Renaud’s character-focused scenes emphasize faces, playing up the intense romances and relationships that define this story through some excellent acting. Action sequences are often staged in montages in order to best utilize the limited space of a summarized story. Multiple villains and heroes roll through the panels to great effect. He makes the packed layouts required by this approach seem bigger simply through selection and staging of subject matter.
As a one-shot history of Wakanda, this comic would be functional. As the setup for an actual story, it provides cautious optimism. Narcisse’s grasp of the key themes and elements of this saga are clear, but he has yet to start a real story. Renaud offers us glimpses of what makes this land and its monarchy so enthralling, but the characters themselves have yet to enthrall. It is good prologue, but the real challenge lies in the issues to follow. For now we have an excellent starting point for anyone preparing to read the comics or watch the film, and that’s not a bad thing.
Written by Evan Narcisse
Art by Paul Renaud
Colors by Stéphane Paitreau
Consulting by Ta-Nehisi Coates