Welcome to Queerness In Comics, a bi-weekly column by Avery Kaplan, which will explore queer representation in comics. This week, Avery is exploring World of Wakanda, released in 2016.
Writer: Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Althia E. Martinez, Afua Richardson
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg, Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Spinning out the excellent Coates run on Black Panther, the World of Wakanda spinoff (which ran five issues) aimed to further expand the world being explored in the main title. Coates, who is given a co-writing credit for the comic, continued to write the main Black Panther title while working with Gay and Harvey on the spinoff title. It is important to note that Gay and Harvey are the first black women to be credited as writers on a Marvel comic (the comic was released in 2016).
World of Wakanda focuses on two stories, each one about characters who might be considered the antagonists in a less nuanced tale. One storyline, written by poet Harvey and included as a backup comic for the first issue of the series, follows Zenzi, the metahuman leader who leads a revolution. In the other story, written by Gay, two characters who play a significant role in the main Black Panther title, Ayo and Aneka, meet and fall in love during their Dora Milaje training.
Ayo and Aneka
At the beginning of World of Wakanda, Ayo and Aneka are both members of the Dora Milaje, the elite force of bodyguards entrusted with the protection of themselves, their King, and Wakanda. The fact that each member of the Dora Milaje is able to provide protection and care for themselves but for others, as well, is an important element of the foundation of the romantic relationship between Ayo and Aneka.
Although Aneka is already a member of the Dora Milaje when Ayo joins their ranks, Aneka isn’t presented as having a more powerful position than Ayo. Rather, the couple’s romance grows because of their mutual respect: Ayo’s talent catches Aneka’s eye during their first training session together. As the two queer women work side-by-side and come to better know the impressive extent of one another’s abilities, their relationship grows deeper, as well.
Compare this to the power dynamics of the sort of cliched love interest who plays the role of a damsel-in-distress. While some comic book love stories allow one partner to essentially be a prop for the other, allowing the character to be reduced to a prize to be won, or at best, a reflection of the hero’s journey. In World of Wakanda, this sort of inequality in power is entirely absent: both Ayo and Aneka are powerful, competent warriors in their own right and neither need be rescued by the other.
Internal dialogue gives the reader a window into the character’s developing affections for one another. The dialogue highlights the romance in a way that would not be possible if the reader were not afforded these insights into the interiority of World of Wakanda‘s protagonists. While the characters may become antagonists for T’Challa in the main Black Panther title, their empathetic portrayal in this story fleshes them out to become much, much more than archetypical or stereotypical villains.
All the Stars
When Black Panther appeared in theaters, the chance that an adaption of the explicitly queer relationship depicted in World of Wakanda would appear on-screen. Unfortunately, while Ayo (played by Florence Kasumba) did appear on-screen in the movie, a scene that featured some suggestive moments shared between Ayo and fellow Dora Milaje member Okoye (Danai Gurira). However, that scene was subsequently cut, and the creative team of World of Wakanda was not included in the “special thanks” section of the movie’s credits, where shout-outs to the original creators who worked on the comics that inspired the movies are typically recognized.
Nevertheless, the on-screen Ayo could still be involved in a queer romantic relationship in the upcoming sequel to Black Panther, or it’s even possible that she could be involved in a romantic subplot for another MCU movie.
A Nation Under Our Feet
While World of Wakanda spins out of the 2016 run of Black Panther, it is accessible enough that even those who aren’t familiar with T’Challa’s adventures will be able to appreciate the stories about these women.
While they may be antagonists to the Black Panther in the main series, World of Wakanda establishes Ayo and Aneka as well-developed characters in their own right, and their personal story is engaging regardless of how one might feel about the larger Marvel universe. Even a reader who is entirely uninitiated to the Marvel universe will be able to follow and enjoy the story of the queer relationship at the heart of World of Wakanda.
World of Wakanda is available for purchase at your local comic shop and to borrow at your local library.