Welcome to #1 Comic of the Week, a series where our comics editor, Susana Polo, tips you off to a neat new story or series that kicked off in comics this week — just in time for some weekend reading.
This Wednesday marked the beginning of a new era for Marvel’s Black Panther with a new #1 issue, but don’t be fooled: Ta-Nehisi Coates is still continuing his groundbreaking run. The renumbering is more a product of Marvel editorial pushes than anything else, but the new story is still definitely something new.
Previews and interviews had already hinted at the core conceit of this arc: the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda.
But Coates is doing another very smart thing with his new story. He’s decoupled it from the rest of Marvel canon — making it eminently accessible to new readers — and introduced the versions of classic Black Panther characters that folks who loved the movie will recognize and remember.
Case in point: Nakia and M’Baku, breakout favorites from this February’s Black Panther, were heavily changed from their comic book counterparts for the film, and were changed for the better. Nakia is a somewhat obscure character laced through with ideas about the Dora Milaje and the “betrothed wife” that are now pretty dated, and M’Baku, a villain known as “Man-Ape, the White Gorilla,” pales similarly in the light of 2018.
For fans of the Black Panther movie who want to see more stories about either character, there’s not much to read — or at least not much that involves what they loved about Nakia, the brave, clever and principled spy, or M’Baku, the proud but good-hearted king of Wakanda’s self-exiled tribe.
But here, in the strange setting of Black Panther #1, Coates has cleared the stage to echo more of the movie version of the characters than their Marvel Comics history. The issue throws us into a galaxy where Wakanda is the undisputed conqueror. How did this happen? When did it happen? These questions are not answered in a mere thirty-odd pages. Instead, we’re drawn into the story of an unnamed member of the “Nameless” class of Wakanda’s empire, a fierce fighter who bears a strong resemblance to the guy we’re used to seeing as Black Panther’s main character.
Rescued from slavery by a group of rebels and their alien commander, Captain N’yami (the name of T’Challa’s birth mother, a scientist who died before she could complete her plans to take Wakanda to the stars), the comic’s Nameless slave becomes nameless no longer.
“Our handles are taken from the legends of our past,” Captain N’yami explains to him. “So that we, marooned in the empire, are nameless no more. And to you I give the name of a man who was born a king and died a hero.”
Can you guess that she names him T’Challa?
Black Panther #1 is sparing on the details and heavy on the hints. Is there a relation between this T’Challa and the king of Earthly Wakanda? Are we in a potential future? Or are we in an alternate present? Maybe even a dream?
It will leave you with a lot of questions, but it’s filling a vital gap: A book where people who loved the supporting cast of Black Panther can find some familiar faces. I’m certainly going to stick around to see the answers.