Writer: John Ridley
Artist: Juann Cabal
Color Artist: Federico Blee
Cover Artist: Alex Ross
Publisher: Marvel Comics
T’Challa is many things right now: king, Avenger, and hero. Now all facets of the Black Panther are starting to converge as a surprise attack leaves Wakanda’s security and T’Challa himself open to exposure. In Black Panther #1, T’Challa begins a new mission to uncover this secret threat before they strike again.
There’s a lot of potential with this series and this comic continuously tips back and forth between the good and bad. It starts off fine with an opening battle between a team of high-profile Avengers led by Black Panther and some random monsters. It’s fun, has some nice action, and shows the team dynamics between the Avengers. It’s honest superhero storytelling, and then the comic transitions to the dull political side of Wakanda where it’s full of large talking dialogue bubbles left and right.
However, despite that there is a purpose to this contrast. Black Panther is in a special position at this moment in Marvel comics history. He’s many things to a lot of people, especially in the Marvel comic universe, so his time is split between various duties. He has responsibilities to the Avengers, Wakanda, the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda, and the comic illustrates that juggling them all is going to be an ongoing challenge for T’Challa to do.
After all of that, the comic establishes the main threat and stakes going forward as it kicks off a new tale where Black Panther dips into the espionage thriller side. Readers get a sense of what’s happening, who the new villains will be, and the capabilities of these new enemies showing what Black Panther is up against in this run. Not every part is executed well, but it all comes together well enough to set up what Black Panther is in for this run.
By this point, the plot goes into overdrive with the espionage thriller aspect, and this is where we get into the more troubling elements for this run.
So, the comic establishes that when Black Panther first opened Wakanda to the world, he embedded a small network of covert operatives in several nations. The problem is how underwhelming this plot element really is. See, instead of Wakanda having a global network of secret operatives, like in the MCU, T’Challa only sent out ten, you heard me, TEN operatives. This just feels so small. Granted, the comic hasn’t said where they’re all located, but it’s implied they’re in other recognized countries, probably the US.
The other problem is how oversimplified the comic is treating the plot’s subject matter. This is best demonstrated when T’Challa reveals the existence of the Ten to Shuri who then gives him grief for the decision. Not for the impracticality of only sending ten operatives, but for the same tired and oversimplified response of how “wrong” it ethically is when this type of situation is generally more complex than that. Plus, the irony is that T’Challa has every right to establish a secret network like the Ten when they live in a world with Hydra, AIM, Dr. Doom, Ultron, and God knows how many super-villain organizations that always manage to infiltrate and destabilize highly secure countries and organizations.
Heck, what Black Panther did is tame compared to what the likes of the original Nick Fury, the current black Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Steve Rogers Captain America, X-Force past and present, and many other clandestine characters have done in Marvel Comics. It just feels like John Ridley is forcing this to be an artificial source of conflict between Black Panther and other heroes. If Ridley handles this right, the book could be a fun, globetrotting Black Panther series.
Black Panther #1 by John Ridley does a fine job setting up a new adventure for T’Challa. It has a solid opening and establishes the new threat along with the emotional stakes for Black Panther going forward. However, some of the main plot elements were partly underwhelming, but the subject matter leaves room for a good storyline that can go well if handled properly in the series.