Patrick: It’s tempting to believe that we live in an era of non-localized revolutions. People may be demonstrating in Ferguson, but images of those demonstrations were tweeted and shared and broadcast all over the world. Through media (both social and vanilla), I am able to experience the revolution. That is privileged belief: at most, I can only pretend to participate by engaging with those television broadcasts and facebook posts. I can always offer myself an emotional distance because I am physically removed from the actual chaos and momentum of revolution. The people actually swept up in those demonstrations aren’t so lucky — energy of the revolution pushes them ever forward, without time to craft their think-pieces about the most effective way to express their dissatisfaction. Black Panther 1 finds Wakanda on the brink of civil war, and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze expertly propel the chaos forward, while constantly reminding the reader how badly the powers that be wish they were only dealing with static, distant images on a screen.
Part of those powers that be is our hero, T’Challa, the newly re-crowned King of Wakanda, and re-cowled Black Panther. We are introduced to T’Challa with three simple panels that express some of the defining relationships in his life: with his father, representing his legacy as a member of the royal family; with Namor, representing his history as a superhero; and with the Dora Milaje, representing his country. All three of these panels bleed through the upper gutter of the page, implying that we’re joining a the story already in progress.
Of course, we are. These formative events have all happened on pages of comics published years (and in some cases, decades) ago. The cover may say “#1” but we all know this isn’t the beginning. Interestingly, these three panels all terminate in this image of T’Challa hunched over on the ground. T’Challa doesn’t appear to be in any panel here, notice how the white from the gutter creeps in on the ground beneath him. Pay attention to that gutter — it plays a huge part in the storytelling in this issue.
How huge? Well consider that every page begins with the first panel violating the gutter and ends with the final panel doing the same. Those first panels are always coming in from the top or the left, and those last panels always go out on the bottom or right side of the page. All other panels dutifully respect the boundaries of the page that the gutter establishes — every single one. The result is that each page pushes into the space of the next, making the cause-and-effect of this issue feel as though it’s tumbling over itself to occur. This is the chaos — the non-stop grind — of revolution. I first noticed this during Ayo’s rescue of Aneka, because I thought the size and distribution of the panels was a little funky. Like, it struck me as odd that those two panels of Ayo kicking ass in the Midnight Angel costume weren’t next to each other.
The exact positioning of all the characters in those two panels would have been so much tighter if they were on the same line — as it stands, it takes a little extra work to make those non-adjacent panels read like they’re part of one fluid motion. But this does put a larger emphasis on that final panel of Ayo flying away with Aneka in her arms. Again, notice how the page starts as though it’s continuing a long strip of panels from the previous page, and goes out like it’s going to be continued off the page. This lends the sequence, and by extension the whole issue, an impressive momentum.
Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, and they come about in the form of computer screens. Throughout the issue, T’Challa, Ramonda and the citizens of Wakanda attempt to figure out what’s going on by consulting screens. No one’s watching the news or checking their twitter feeds, but screens show T’Challa fighting his own people, or delivering vital stats on the woman with the Aura of Chaos. Pages that start or end with screen-panels do not violate the gutter in the same way, which suggests a reduced amount of urgency when this revolution is viewed through the safe distance of a computer screen. Through the screen, Ramonda is able to judge Aneka’s act of killing the lecherous chieftain with a different set of eyes than she would have had she actually been there. Ayo tries to make that case to her mother: Aneka was swept up in the justice of the moment, and it is fundamentally unfair to judge her actions from a place of such safety.
There’s another parallel here in the pronounced shapes of the windows in Wakandan government buildings. In Ramonda’s palatial judgment chamber (or, whatever that room is supposed to be), there’s an enormous and bizarre window.
It’s like there’s an artificial frame around her view of the outside world. LIKE A SCREEN PERHAPS?!!? I can appreciate that this might be a little bit of a stretch, but the idea of the window is reinforced later when Aneka is in prison.
It’s telling that the only way Aneka gets involved in the revolution again is by having Ayo physically destroy the wall that supports this window. The window, or the screen, signifies distance, and the only way to close that distance is to demolish those barriers.
Ryan, I might be a bit too enamored with the comic-craft that went in to this issue, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t really mention what happened in this one. Hey, I’ll leave plot and character to you! I like the idea that the Midnight Angels could be superhero-esque leaders of the revolution, but I feel like any of the revolutionary themes are a tad undermined by the implication of mind-control. I assume that’s what “Aura: Chaos” means, but who the hell knows?
Ryan: You’re right that the mind control aspect of the plot could de-legitmize the rage of the rebels. Given the recent traumas and the evil that has grown up in its wake, it’s also easy to see how the revolution is merely being hastened by Zenzi’s powers.
Coates does an excellent job showing us a few angles on that revolution through multiple storylines. I want to get into the rebels, but, first, another screen! In addition to visual language of screens, they also play a concrete narrative role in the issue. The screen forms a literal barrier between T’Challa and Ramonda as they discuss the unrest in Wakanda.
T’Challa is approaching the impending revolution like a solider, as Ramonda notes. T’Challa can’t hear what his step-mother is saying to him and the screen acts as a visual cue to reinforce the lack of clarity in their conversation. While he may be back on the throne, T’Challa is still treating the nation’s unrest like a super-hero. If he can vanquish the woman on the screen, he can restore the faith of his people.
The issue uses the origin of the Midnight Angels to demonstrate T’Challa’s shortsightedness. There are no signs in the issue that Ayo and Aneka are under Zenzi’s control. Instead their desire to change Wakanda comes from personal experience with the failures of the system. Aneka murdered a chieftan rapist who was otherwise protected within the confines of the law. Ayo rescued the woman she loves from an unjust death sentence. T’Challa could dispatch Zenzi and stop her from fomenting any more skirmishes, but the agony that she exploits will not go away.
Ayo and Aneka state their philosophies and reasoning for revolution in a series of panels that take them from a tender moment to battle stance.
I was a bit thrown by the paraphrased Kanye lyric in the first panel, but Coates does an excellent job in justifying the women’s decision to don the suits and fight for revolution. They see the injustice of Wakanda and decide to transcend their lives and fight as if they are beyond death. The phrasing in the last panel as the Midnight Angels vow “to act as a dead woman should” works not just as segue into Necropolis but as a judgement as to T’Challa’s behavior in the final scene of the issue.
T’Challa is trying to defy death itself to return his sister to life. Wakanda has fallen apart. T’Challa’s choice to devote his energy on the resurrection of one woman rather than heal the fissures is indicative of his inability to function as a king rather than a super hero. Heads of state don’t have the luxury of spending their evenings trying to save a single person. Instead, the weight of your entire population lays on your shoulders.
T’Challa establishes himself as a capable fighter and detective as well as a scientist in this issue. These are great skills for an Avenger, but a king needs to address problems on a macro level. Coates uses the women in this issue as a chorus, speaking to T’Challa’s inability to see the problems that are leading Wakanda toward a bloody and destabilizing revolution.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?