Ta-Nehisi Coates is relaunching Black Panther, accompanied by artist Daniel Acuña, and the new first issue stands in stark contrast to his comics debut from 2016. Where the previous Black Panther #1 examined the status quo of its character and setting, this issue puts everything into question. There is no sure footing as this adventure begins in media res with T’Challa among the stars, enslaved by an ancient spacefaring sect of the Wakandan Empire, and encountering new allies who share conspicuous-sounding names. Based solely on the events of this issue, it’s difficult to determine exactly what is occurring of what to expect next, but the action and arrangement themselves are more than enough to compel readers forward.
The central mystery of this issue is purposeful in its deployment. T’Challa finds himself entirely disoriented, without powers, prestige, or allies, and so it follows that readers should be equally shook. Every new character is a question mark with familiar names and symbols building theories about what might be happening. Only a few panels of opening narration are provided to ground the experience in the reality of Marvel Comics. This is T’Challa. This is a Wakandan Empire in space. Beyond those answers, everything else is a bit murky. It’s not a distracting form of confusion though, providing clarity to the action and excitement to each new twist instead.
Acuña proves to be a perfect fit for this approach. In the few scenes where motion is limited, it’s possible to take in a thoroughly considered extraterrestrial empire. The brutalism of slave quarters and close corridors contrasted with the grandeur of an imperial city decked in banners and lights (much like the Wakanda seen in the prior Black Panther #1). This world is well considered and each new details offers as much of a hint as those that purposefully wink towards the reader.
Where Acuña really shines is in the moments of action though. Providing his own colors, they blur with the linework itself to convey motion much more naturally than many modern effects applied in comics. Running and fighting result in purposeful cause-and-effect panel sequences, only sometimes twisted or obscured for emphasis. These action sequences are allowed to play out almost entirely in silence as well. Shouted orders are the extent of dialogue when two characters are in combat. It’s a rare restraint for comics in general, even more so when compared to the prior volume of Black Panther, but it pays off wonderfully. These moments are nothing short of stunning and the tension is notably heightened through the quicker pacing.
That action consumes much of Black Panther #1. The moments between fights are primarily utilized to build tension for the next breaking point. It conveys a sense of what T’Challa’s life is now, however it came to be this way. The only respite from the blood and waiting lies in momentary panels of Storm calling for her lover. These memories are just as much dreams, providing readers with a sense of grounding and T’Challa with a goal. They are a spark in the dark and Acuña’s soft coloring makes them a welcome respite.
With those images of Storm in mind and the brutality of this empire firmly established, Black Panther #1 possesses a lot of momentum, even with so many questions swirling. Even larger thematic issues loom. Coates and Acuña are addressing slavery, a slavery perpetrated by T’Challa’s own people, that will require a deft touch and raise far more difficult questions than those in the plot itself. Yet this issue assures us that the story is mindful of these issues. It addresses them in the first page and implies answers will come for everything that may trouble or perplex readers. For now we are only asked to experience and understand the world in which this story takes place, and it is quite the experience in this debut.
Published by Marvel Comics
On May 23, 2018
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Daniel Acuña
Lettering by Joe Sabino