Into the Heartlands: A Black Panther Graphic Novel

Writer: Roseanne A. Brown
Artists: Dika AraújoNatacha Bustos, & Claudia Aguirre
Layouts, Pages 91-104: Geoffo
Colorist: Cris Peter
Letterer: VC’s Ariana Maher
Publisher: Scholastic/Graphix

Though Black Panther became a worldwide sensation only a few short years ago, the fervor for stories featuring the Wakandan royal has not waned. The fecund source material coupled with a renewed interest in this pocket of the Marvel Universe make stories related to Black Panther and his family ripe for exploration. For younger readers especially, the proliferation of media related to Black Panther has the potential to provide a positive outlet for adventures that deviate from the superhero norm. Rather than simply focusing on brawn and bravado, the Black Panther books contain plenty of room for readers – and younger readers especially – to emulate heroes who operate based on intellectual curiosity, faith, and love. 

It’s these central elements that provide the backbone for Into The Heartlands, a new YA graphic novel written by Roseanne A. Brown with art by Claudia Aguirre, Dika Araújo, and Natacha Bustos. Set in the heart of Wakanda, Into The Heartlands follows the perspective of Shuri, princess and sister to T’Challa – both a few years younger than when we see them in the MCU film – teaming up to combat threats both immediate and existential. 

When we meet Shuri in this graphic novel, she is an intern – the youngest ever – at the Wakanda Design Group. Though brilliant and in constant conflict with her brother, T’Challa, Shuri’s ego is, let’s say, a tad inflated. Nonetheless, her heart is in the right place and despite the squabbling with her sibling, Shuri is eager to prove her worth to her family and her people. Through the bickering, we also see the royal family’s dedication and reverence for Wakanda’s traditions, including Soul Washing Day, an important holiday that allows the generations to be in contact with another. Yet, the ceremony seems to go awry, as Shuri and T’Challa pay less attention to the significance of the holiday and more about annoying each other mercilessly. Immediately, the people of Wakanda start falling ill. 

Can Shuri and T’Challa put aside their differences and come together to heal their people? 

Well, I don’t want to spoil the book, but rest assured that valuable life lessons are learned, magical mysteries are introduced and overcome, and the arguments are put to the side. Well, maybe I’m overselling that item. 

What works best here is the rapport between Shuri and T’Challa, and the concept that Wakanda itself is a living, breathing entity. There is nothing that this land cannot see, and there is no soul who resides there who is neglected from the nation’s destiny. Every citizen of Wakanda, from the royalty down, has a special role to play, even if that role is unknown. It takes perspicacity and breaking one’s self-inflated sense of individual importance to understand their place in this singular land.

By having the main players be younger than their cinematic counterparts, Brown creatively explores the tribulations of growing up in a way where the idea of using superpowers is a secondary concern. Indeed, Brown’s approach to these characters is accessible and has a direct immediacy for readers whose knowledge of the Black Panther mythos doesn’t extend past the film. The adventure is fun, though not without certain elements of peril and the emotional beats are not exploitative nor cheap. Brown takes her time to acclimate readers into the fantastical components of Wakanda lore, while never forgetting that the heart of the tale is not ostentatious superheroics, but learning and emotional growth. 

That same expansive wonder extends the art, which is lush and bright, though never garish. Aguirre, Araújo, and Bustos illustrate a Wakanda that hums with personality and is a character all on its own. The palette pops with greens, yellows, and purples, displaying the connection between the royal house and the exuberant prospects that Wakanda offers to its citizens (and by extension, readers); the details in each panel are multitudinous and never boring.

Into The Heartlands is not a primer about Black Panther. Rather, it’s a remarkable standalone tale that reflects on the ideal that strength is not external fortitude, but the ability to find purpose from within. It’s a dynamic that, as displayed here, is magisterial when done so right.

Into The Heartlands: A Black Panther Graphic Novel is available now from Graphix/Marvel.