Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Daniel Acuña
Colors: Daniel Acuña
Cover: Paolo Rivera & Daniel Acuña
Published: September 26, 2018
The action that kicked off in the second half of issue #3 of Black Panther continues here. The empire, in a desperate attempt to eliminate the hero/heretic named T’Challa, invaded the Maroon base. At the beginning of this issue the Maroon leader N’Yami orders an evacuation of the base and for all personnel to get into shuttles and rendezvous with the fleet above the planet. This issue is mostly action with a few moments during the fighting that show how the empire thinks about the people it attempts to subjugate. In issue #2 we got to see T’Challa’s prowess in ship to ship combat, and here we get to see him on the ground and what he can do with a knife in his hand. There are about three consecutive pages of T’Challa tearing through imperial soldiers, and you see why he has uplifted the Maroons and inspired talk about him being the hero of legend. He is athletic, ruthless and efficient in way that we expect from the Black Panther. But not to be outdone Nakia has her own moment to shine and show the empire that it has underestimated the Maroons. At one point she is put in a choke hold by an enemy soldier who says to her, “Now Bow.” We discussed in the review of issue #3 the way the galactic empire uses and discards the people it subjugates. They are disposable, mass whose only use is the energy they might provide to the machine. We explicitly saw slave/labor camps in issue #1 when the Maroons first broke T’Challa out of a slave camp, so the continued push towards subjugation is not surprising, but maybe its futility is underscored when in the next panel Nakia slices his head off.
Despite the valiant efforts of T’Challa and Nakia, the Maroons’ fight goes poorly elsewhere as a fleet of galactic fighters descend upon their space fleet and The Manifold continues to cause problems for M’Baku and N’Yami. There is a scene near the end of the issue, just as the Manifold appears to have overwhelmed M’Baku’s troops, when T’Challa rushes in to provide some relief. There is a brief moment of recognition between the two of them as T’Challa’s visual interface reveals the man beneath the suit. T’Challa can only muster a quick “What..?” from off screen before he is under attack. But this interaction or sighting sparks something in him as he immediately conjures the Spear of Bashenga which he uses to cripple The Manifold. This allows T’Challa, Nakia, M’Baku, and N’Yami to get to the shuttles and head for the fleet, but The Manifold is not defeated and manages to use a rocket to destroy the shuttle carrying N’Yami. This leaves a reluctant M’Baku in charge of the Maroons (Nakia insist that their leader must be one of the Nameless?) who warp away from the battle. The loss of N’Yami is huge blow for the Maroons, but also for the process of discovering who T’Challa is/was. She shared with Nakia in the last issue that she believed T’Challa was actually the hero/Avenger of legend, but this has not yet been confirmed. How he might have had (if this is true) his identity stripped from him has also not been uncovered. Remember there was a discussion between T’Challa and Nakia in the beginning of issue #3 about how they might use the imperial archives to recover this or learn what he had lost. This seems a logical next move for the Maroons, although the importance of learning who T’Challa is/was might not be high on new leader M’Baku’s list. After a couple of slower issues (only in terms of plot) the story definitely has some weight and direction behind. And this is without even mentioning the final page of this issue which sees the leader of the galactic empire kneeling before the panther god Bast and proclaiming that only one of his avatars may exist at a time. This would suggest that N’Yami was right about T’Challa and that he is the former Black Panther, Avenger, and leader of Wakanda, and that this fight cannot end until one of these two leaders is dead.
Daniel Acuña’s art continues to impress in this issue. In the last issue he created a certain tensity and claustrophobia in the corridor fight between The manifold and M’Baku, and here he continues the tremendous action work by giving T’Challa and Nakia standout individual moments. T’Challa tears through the galactic troops in a ferocious and precise manner. He hits where he intends, always, leaving fire and pain in his wake. This is contrasted with Nakia’s moment, which we discussed a little previously, who is a little more slippery but relentless. She stabs constantly and leaves a wake of blood behind her among the empire’s soldiers. Coates and Acuña’s have gelled extremely well since issue #1 and in these quick single character you see Acuña’s ability to expand a character’s profile and add depth in small meaningful ways. Another fantastic moment that needs mentioning is the final page reveal of the leader of the galactic empire kneeling before the panther god Bast. It’s a serene but somewhat unsettling moment as you see what the Maroons are up against. Acuña manages to depict it with this delicate balance between holy and alien in a panel that is probably best described as simply ethereal.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 7