T’Challa and and the legacy of Wakanda is continued by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his recent Black Panther series. Being his first shot at writing a comic book, Coates was determined to provide a lush, vibrant story that would ensnare leagues of veteran fans and newcomers to the series. He also proved to stay authentic to T’Challa’s background and story by featuring Klaw, Luke Cage, Ororo Munroe and countless others into his arcs. Themes surrounding colonial theft, xenophobia and the struggles to stay autonomous within an increasingly ‘globalized’ world are discussed within the series.
It is vastly important for Wakanda to have a collective memory and purpose outside of the Western gaze. While Don McGregor did a considerable job with T’Challa, it is evident that when dealing with culturally diverse characters, it is best to have a person who is of that culture to spearhead the character’s development. While some dismissed it as a promotional tool to ramp up interest in the Black Panther film by director Ryan Coogler, Coates proved that he is a writing force to be reckoned with. In his run of Black Panther, we receive a more nuanced idea of what T’Challa’s reign as a King is. The strife, the complications, the love interests, the cultural context – are perfected with Ta Nehisi’s flawless sociopolitical insight. Here are some highlights of his amazing run.
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Writer), art by Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse
A personal favorite! In A Nation Under Our Feet, we are taken to Wakanda, where there are numerous problems coming to the forefront. Rebels have been wreaking havoc amongst Wakandans under T’Challa’s eye, which has seeded animosity towards the King. In a hyper-realistic scenario, Wakanda nationals angrily reject T’Challa as he arrives home. Heavy is the crown, is the message that is continuous throughout this story and it is probably one of his most grounded arcs so far. While we all think of T’Challa as being a stoic, regal superhero, in truth – he is just as human as any of the Wakandans. Being human means that we all have flaws that can limit us, and that truth is revealed as T’Challa faces the challenge of a lifetime.
After returning home to Wakanda after an extended stay of fighting alongside The Avengers, T’Challa is faced with multiple harsh realities. A man named Tetu, along with the seer Zenzi, are plotting to overthrow the Wakandan monarchy in the name of unifying all peoples of Wakanda. Shuri, who had ruled over Wakanda while T’Challa was away, was murdered as the plot ensued. Now the duo of Tetu and Zenzi have taken The Great Mound under siege, crippling the monarchy of its primary source to power – vibranium. In addition to this, Ayo, a former Dora Milaje member was sentenced to death for her murdering of a Village Chief. The Chief was wicked and had enslaved women and their daughters for his own sexual exploits. In rage, Ayo took justice into her own hands and freed the women from their kidnapper. Ramunda, the Queen Mother, took no pity upon discovering Ayo’s mistake. Ayo was condemned to death despite Aneka, Ayo’s lover, pleading her innocence. Tradition overruled the righteousness of Ayo’s crime and resulted in Aneka stealing the Midnight Angel suit and breaking Ayo out of prison. With the two warriors free, they plan to unite the people against a system that forgot about them.
T’Challa was nowhere close to being ready for the responsibilities of being a monarch. With rebellions being formed and his sister gone, what could the king do? This is what stands out the most for this particular arc. Everybody loves the idea of being a King, but do they truly know what it takes to be a leader? I am no monarchist, but T’Challa is a likeable character and I found myself empathizing with his struggles of control over his country. But, there comes a time when those who lead must hold a mirror up to their own faces and see what is reflected back. Was Ayo truly a bad person who must be killed for taking justice into her own hands? If she had come to the King with the issue, would he have listened? To what end does our morality fail us when we uphold tradition over nuanced situations that deserve prompt response? These are the questions that Coates interjects into the reader’s mind as they watch the drama unfold.
The bigger question is of the legitimacy of monarchies as a whole. If the Wakanda people have no say in the policies that are enacted in the country and are left with little to no protection, then is the country truly united? T’Challa recognizes this and the country moves forward to institute a constitutional monarchy that would implement the voices of the everyday Wakandan (in theory).
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, art by Wilfredo Torres, Jacen Burrows, Adam Gorham, and Chris Sprouse
Avengers of the New World brings the new constitutional monarchy of Wakanda to the masses, but a peaceful transition does not occur. Ras the Exhortor (The Invisible Man) appears to tell Wakanda that their Orishas are dead. Ras is notorious for being a pseudo Garvey-ite in the Marvel Universe. He is a radical and is dedicated to the cause of destroying tradition. For him to plot an overthrow of Wakanda by utilizing spiritual warfare is a refreshing take on intercultural conflicts that Black Panther allows within its universe. The reminders of colonial theft from the continent of Africa is centralized within the plot. Klaw is a notorious Nazi who was originally sent to Wakanda in order to secure vibranium for Adolf Hitler. Showing the fine lines of left and right fundamentalism, Ras and Klaw serve as a grim reminder of how far nationalism and fundamentalism can tip the scales. Luckily for T’Challa, he finds allies in old relationships, calling upon Luke Cage and Misty Knight for help in securing Wakanda.
The Adversary, a foe of the X-Men’s Forge, proves to be the real aggressor in the story, attempting to replace the Orishas are a ruler of Wakanda. In order to do this, he must defeat Shuri, who has received her Griot powers from her previous stint in the Land of of the Dead. Possessing the power of the Griot and the entirety of Wakandan memory, Shuri and Ororo are the true threats to The Adversary’s plans. In this particular volume, we are once again brought the threshold of Wakandan history and the efforts being taken in order to ensure its survival.
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, art by Daniel AcuñaChris Sprouse
The conclusion to Coates’ run of Black Panther takes Wakandans to space! Emperor N’Jadaka (aka Resurrected Killmonger), the ruler of Goree has no need to heed the mother country’s monarchy when he has a thriving space colony. This causes a rift between the T’Challa and the impervious overlord, reducing T’Challa to a slave and never to be heard from again. Of course, until he finds a way to escape and challenge N’Jadaka. With the assistance of Nakia, M’Baku and the Maroons (led by Captain N’Yami), T’Challa is freed after a failed attempt at escape. The Maroons in American History were a group of free Black people (some defectors of plantations) who waged war against slave masters during the American Period of Slavery. In the Black Panther universe, they are the saviors of The Nameless, the poor souls who have been condemned to mining vibranium in the intergalactic colonies. After being rescued and given a might pep talk to continue his legacy as the King of Wakanda, T’Challa becomes emboldened to topple N’Jadaka and free The Nameless. Oh, and to get back to Wakanda to ensure that it doesn’t descend into complete and utter chaos.
For this arc to be the end of the run for Ta-Nehisi is quite fitting. T’Challa is placed in a situation where he has no choice but to explore his purpose for existence. Though he is hesitant to accept the consequences of being a King, the fight against N’Jadaka forces him to come full circle about his identity. T’Challa was born to privilege and while he may wrestle with his very human reaction to such responsibility. he knows that he possess the integrity and power to fulfill his role.
What Coates has done culturally for the Black Panther story is also impressive. From history to religion, he has infused multiple African cultures into one imaginary one, a not-so-simple feat for a vast diaspora. The characters talk about their religions, which are based off of Traditional African Spiritual practices (like the Yoruba deities of Nigeria). In essence, this is the basis of how Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but Ta-Nehisi embraces a culturally personal touch to the character. While Coates was nervous about his debut as a comic writer, the positive reception from fans only resulted in expert story telling. Coates did such a good job that he provided consultation for the short-lived but dearly missed series World of Wakanda, a 6 issue series written by Roxane Gay. The project was the first Marvel publication that was spear headed by Black women and brought The Midnight Angels, Ayo and Aneka, to the forefront of queer comic characters.
Black Panther #25 was released this April, bringing in the end of an illustrious era for Ta-Nehisi, who has continued on into an incredible run on Captain America. Coates has earned his stripes and I am eager to see what other worlds he brings to our lives.