If you’ve never read a Black Panther comic before, Rise of the Black Panther is the one you should be reading now.
When it was announced last fall, Rise was billed as a story about the early days of T’Challa, the latest man to wear the mantle of the Black Panther. It would be a sort of prequel for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ bestselling Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. The first issue of Rise is something slightly more specific, but just as interesting.
In less than 30 pages, Rise of the Black Panther #1 begins with Captain America and ends with the moment T’Challa came into his inheritance, a span of three generations of Black Panthers and a perfect self-contained introduction to the character’s world. And that’s because telling the history of the Black Panthers doesn’t just give us what we need to understand T’Challa, but everything we need to understand his country as well.
In 30 pages, writer Evan Narcisse and artist Paul Renaud introduce Wakanda’s gods, like the panther spirit Bast, and its rituals, like the one day a year when any citizen may challenge the king in single combat for the right to the throne. We see the struggles of T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka, to maintain his people’s hard-won unity, brought about by his own father, Azzuri. And we’re shown the yearnings of Wakandan scientists for advancements beyond their imaginings, all derived from the country’s greatest natural resource — a massive mound of vibranium at its heart.
All of this history is hung around the story of the Wakandan royal family, narrated by T’Challa’s mothers — his birth mother, who died several days after he was born, and his stepmother. N’Yami’s and Ramonda’s perspectives give us a personal view of kings marrying commoners and foreigners against the wishes of their advisors; of T’Chaka risking Wakanda’s secrecy to barter with Howard Stark for medicine that might save his wife. There’s romance and tragedy in the story of Black Panther, not just history and strange science — and there are also superheroes, Narcisse and Renaud take care to remind us.
It might seem odd to begin a Black Panther origin book with a full-page spread of Steve Rogers, but the legendary meeting between King Azzuri, T’Challa’s grandfather, and Captain America doesn’t just show us the first time a white superhero gained the trust of Wakandan royalty. It shows the reader that one of the Marvel Universe’s clearest symbols of hope — the shield of Captain America — owes its existence to the grace and friendship of Wakanda.
And in that sense it’s a perfect moment to kick off T’Challa’s story. Narcisse has promised that Rise of the Black Panther will be all about how T’Challa decided that it was time for Wakanda to end its seclusion and reveal its existence to the globe, and the controversy that followed his decision abroad and at home. In a book about how the rest of the world reacts to Wakanda, making your first few pages about the massive effect Wakanda has already had on the history of the Marvel Universe is a strong start.