Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Daniel Acuña
Colors: Daniel Acuña
Cover: In-Hyuk Lee & Daniel Acuña
Published: August 22, 2018
Issue #3 of this new Black Panther run begins to answer some of the big contextual questions that have dogged the first couple of issues. Just as our unknown hero is unmoored from what he knows, so is the reader. The two lingering questions are when is the current action taking place, and is the T’Challa in the story the T’Challa from Coates’s previous Black Panther run. We know from the opening page of this (and the previous two issues) that two thousand years ago a group of Wakandans detached and started a colony among the stars that grew into the intergalactic empire of Wakanda. The opening pages of this issue are a conversation between the leader of the Maroon rebel group, commander N’Yami, and Nakia that begin to address the latter question. The commander asks Nakia if she knows the legends of T’Challa the King, T’Challla the Avenger, as scenes of his greatest moments flash in front of them. There is T’Challa defeating Klaw, Mephisto, and Namor, and of him greeting Ororo. Commander N’Yami tells Nakia that the man they found working in that prison, who has led them to many victories in the last three years (there’s a time jump), she believes is the T’Challa of legend but he does not remember who he is/was. This is a dangerous belief for both them and their enemy because of the hope it might bring. Hope is what prevents rebellions from being crushed and prevents those in power from wielding absolute control. This all occurs in the opening pages of the issue as a late ’title card’ arrives on page seven. If we think about this as cold open to a movie or TV drama, then the questions posed in it may not be answered for a few issues but are left to linger quietly as the readers consider their import. One question you might have (I did briefly, although the issue and a consideration of history address this) is whether it matters if this is or isn’t T’Challa. Before getting into the text’s response, the answer is that of course it matters. The history of people, of us, matters. We understand who we were and who we want to become or never be again. History has power, it can be used to manipulate and divide, to tear down and build up. It can be used to consolidate power or the spark that causes revolution.
After the ‘title card’ the next scenes shows us T’Challa and Nakia chasing up a shear cliff and carrying on a conversation. Nakia knows a way to get T’Challa’s memories back. She tells him that when the empire imprison someone or take over a planet they archive all of the knowledge and history of the people and place. They take everything, ideas, emotions, stories, any knowledge that can be used to grow their power. In the words or Nakia, “The Empire doesn’t destroy knowledge… They plunder it.” They take from those they have conquered and they build their empire on what was stolen. Ta-Nehisi Coates has written extensively about institutionalized racism, the criminal justice system in America, and the plunder of black bodies. Make sure to know that when Nakia speaks of plunder, this word is not used lightly. We might be reading a book with spaceships and superheroes, but what it’s actually saying is so much more important. If Coates’s last run on Black Panther was about governance, justice, representation, and faith, then it seems that this run is about empires, colonialism, violence, and the power of history (as well as some of those other themes). During their discussion Nakia asks T’Challa how he thinks the empire invented the Stellar Engine. It was technology built upon knowledge stolen by the empire and used to advance their greatness. But it’s a lie isn’t it? That’s the contradiction that festers at the core of any society built upon plunder, that what you have built is not evidence of your own skill or ingenuity, but of past (and present) moral failings. That is the answer the question of why T’Challa’s history, the history of every person the empire has killed or imprisoned, matters. Because history can stolen, plundered, and used to oppress. But it can also be used to tear down and bring a reckoning for that which was falsely built on top of it.
Nakia does not expressly state this, but there is power in T’Challa’s history. The power to expose and shine a harsh light on what the empire has done and what they have failed to do. That conversation will have to wait as the Maroon base comes under swift attack about half way through the issue. A swarm of imperial drop ships unload soldiers into the base and what follows is a frenetic battle through the halls of the base. Nakia and T’Challa remain outside fighting the invaders from the turrets and in the courtyard while the action cuts to the inside of the base where M’Baku and a small squad have been isolated in the halls and are fighting their way towards the hangar. As they continue to move they come across an immovable force that is revealed in the final page to be The Manifold. The action panels in the back half of this book are fantastic and bring back some of the elements from issue #2’s ship combat. There is a great sense of the narrow corridors that the soldiers are working through and frenzy surrounding them. There are great panels with hails of lasers and great plumes of red smoke and orange fire surrounding the fighter in a cramped space. The actions moves from intense combat to soldiers moving with pace through the halls and around corners as they head to the hangar. Then the lights go out and we get a number of great mostly black panels. There is a great one when the lights first go out and The Manifold appears in front of them as a mysterious silhouette. Then in subsequent panels his powers are represented in beautiful orange and red geometric shapes in mostly black panels. Daniel Acuña’s art has been amazing in all three issues, but we’ve had the opportunity to see how well he depicts action in the last two. It will be exciting to see what happens next with M’Baku down and The Manifold on the field.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8