Aside from company wide cataclysms, unquestionably the biggest periodical comics event of ealry 2016 is The Black Panther b y Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze. It’s not too often that you get the most lauded intellectual of the moment to write a comic book, and when the subject matter and provennance combine – the greatest black superhero written by the author of the most powerful contemporary exploration of race in America – and you have something that could be important.
As I noted during my trip to Toy Fair, the Black Panther toys from the upcoming Captain America: Civil War looked amazing and it’s not too hard to predict that Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa will be the breakout character of the film. In the preview below, Black Panther uses a “tech mask” of the kind we’re used to seeing in movies, and that’s also reflected in the movie, while the panel in the comics is a bit of a nod to the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee original.
Coates writes about the experience of writing the series in his home base, The Atlantic. As a lifelong comics fan and nerd, it was a learning experience especially in working with Brian Stelfreeze.
Ideally, the writer offers notes in his script on how the comic book should look. This requires thinking with intention about what a character is actually doing, not merely what he is saying. This is harder than it sounds, and often I found myself vaguely gesturing at what should happen in a panel—“T’Challa looks concerned.” Or “Ramonda stands to object.” I was lucky in that I was paired with a wonderful and experienced artist, Brian Stelfreeze. Storytelling in a comic book is a partnership between the writer and the artist, as surely as a film is a partnership between the screenwriter and the director. Brian, whose art is displayed here, doesn’t just execute the art direction—he edits and remixes it. I decide the overall arc of the story, and the words used to convey that arc—but Brian ultimately decides how the story should look. The script for the second page of Black Panther #1 called for a big, splashy panel depicting a massacre. Brian drew that panel, but he also drew two other, overlapping panels that depicted T’Challa’s realization of the tragedy unfolding around him. Our partnership doesn’t end with the art, either. Brian’s concept drawings for Black Panther ultimately influenced the plot.
But Coates also connects the theme to the action:
And this, too, is the fulfillment of the 9-year-old in me. Reading The Amazing Spider-Man comic books as a kid, I didn’t just take in the hero’s latest amazing feat; I wrestled seriously with his celebrated tagline—“With great power comes great responsibility.” Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X‑Men wasn’t just about an ultracool band of rebels. That series sought to grapple with the role of minorities in society—both the inner power and the outward persecution that come with that status. And so it is (I hope) with Black Panther. The questions are what motivate the action. The questions, ultimately, are more necessary than the answers.
Along with the essay, a six page preview was provided, and it’s strong work.
Black Panther #1 lands on April 6th.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.