Issues in Comics: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda #1

A brief write-up that became less and less brief…

Black Panther: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda #1
by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Daniel Acuña, Marvel Comics

In recent years, we’ve seen untold relaunches & restarts from Marvel. Sometimes it’s been an attempt to reset flagging sales, and a core aspect of that is the apparently relentless, flawed logic that readers, old and new alike, want the feeling that they’re getting in on the ground floor. People crave those #1s slapped on the front, right?

Friend, lemme tell you, that is not what people come to periodical superhero stories for. Nobody asks for Eastenders vol. 1 on VHS for Christmas, they just tune in for the weird murder mystery where Phil always, always has something to do with it.

Another ongoing concern at Marvel is how to translate the unprecedented box office COIN that Marvel Studios is making into at least a little good COIN for Marvel Comics. Because the mainstream comics industry is broadly obsessed with questions of “What’s definitive?” and “What’s canon?” [SPOILERS: it’s the MCU, dorks], new series launched in recent times have always leaned very consciously towards ‘something for seasoned nerds which relies on having read each of the last sixteen Deadpool mini-series tie-ins by Cullen Bunn’ or conversely towards ‘this is new stuff for babies who need panels and names and powers and continuity and words and pictures explained to them’.

This new Black Panther #1, which marks the start of Season 2 of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing tenure for the character, is the first issue in forever to get it right. And as it turns out, navigating all the above actually becomes invisible when it’s handled so deftly. We get back to where suddenly you’re just staring into the gleaming promise of an amazing new sci-fi book.

The way in, here, is intrigue. Coates and Acuña are supremely confident in their storytelling harmony here, but it’s the mystery they’re setting up is that positions this book to be for everyone. Nobody has any kind of meaningful head-start: you might recognise characters or names from reading comics for years, or you might know them from the movies, or you might not know them. Regardless, welcome.

Let’s leave story deets out of this – not to protect ‘shocking’ turns or whatever, but just because it’s a completely fresh tale, best enjoyed whole. Craft though! Ta-Nehisi Coates has come such a long, long way from his first issue back in April 2016. He’s always been exceptionally strong on themes, but here it’s his beautifully simple world-building and arrangement that are most striking. When he dangles curious details, or he moves through exposition by means of character- and situation- appropriate dialogue, it’s with such obvious comfort and confidence.

Acuña meanwhile, shows up ready to build on the traditions of the character’s exceptionally rich artistic history, and to move into territories all his own. In a recent appearance, the artist paid loving homage to the likes of Billy Graham and Rich Buckler (the artists on the landmark Panther’s Rage) through fluid and poetic layouts. With his remarkable science fiction design work in this gorgeous opening installment, he draws on Jack Kirby’s distinctive sensibilities AS WELL AS running with the Afrofuturist aesthetics established in the recent blockbuster movie by Ryan Coogler. Acuña’s tightly-defined and noticeably selective colour palette then proceeds to take Wakanda somewhere it’s never been before. Extraordinary scenes.

A rare genuine point of departure for a legitimately new adventure, Black Panther: The Intergalactic Empire #1 is not just another #1. Hurry up and read it so I can talk about it with you some more, yeah?

Adam Karenina Sherif