T’Challa is having a really good year so far. After Chadwick Boseman made a striking debut as the Black Panther in “Captain America: Civil War,” the character’s latest ongoing series debuted to over 300k in sales. It’s not the biggest debut of the year, but I don’t think that anyone was expecting a new “Black Panther” series to do this well. This means that a lot of people got to see what writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has planned for the title character as his kingdom crumbles around him. While T’Challa has often been presented as the smartest man in the room, whether he’s hanging out with the Avengers or the Illuminati, even he is having trouble dealing with villains who can manipulate the hate of Wakandans to their own ends and control the country’s vegetation and weather. He also has to contend with two former members of the Dora Milaje who feel that the system has failed them and their country and are now seeking to create a true democratic republic. Toss in the fact that his sister, Queen Shuri, is still in stasis after facing off against Thanos’ Black Order and enhanced human slimeball Ezekiel Stane is helping to back the bad guys, and it would appear that T’Challa is about to learn a very hard lesson about the limits of his abilities and power as a king.
Coates certainly wastes no time in throwing the title character in at the deep end when it comes to the challenges he faces here. It’s clear that the writer has a story he wants to tell about T’Challa, his kingdom, and his people, and he’s got a very able collaborator in artist Brian Stelfreeze. With all of the parts in place, I feel like I should be more excited about this storyline than I am. While I’m certainly not against superhero comics where most of the action is delivered in words rather than actions, most of the talking here is pretty straightforward and devoted to exposition regarding the characters’ motivations and ideas. This is Coates’ debut as a comic book writer, so we can probably chalk that issue up to the man learning the ropes of the medium. It still makes for a rather slow start to what is going to be (at minimum) a twelve-issue storyline. Honestly, these first four issues left me hoping that things will get better rather than excited by the prospect of two more volumes of what we got here. Even if he loses his kingdom, I’d still like to see T’Challa re-emerge as the smartest man in the room by the time this is all over.