Today, Spencer and Ryan D. are discussing Black Panther & The Crew 1, originally released April 12th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Creating any sort of real societal change can be next to impossible, not only because of the difficulty of enacting new laws or changing old ones, but because of how difficult it can be to convince people of the need for change at all. We all have our opinions and confirmation biases, and many people simply don’t want to believe they’re wrong, even when faced with compelling, truthful evidence. Such is the case for Misty Knight, who may be a bit too devoted to her fellow police to understand the damage they’re causing.
Despite the title, Black Panther & The Crew‘s titular Wakandan King doesn’t make a single appearance in this issue; in fact, despite a notable supporting role from Storm, Misty Knight is clearly the focus of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Butch Guice’s debut issue. This does raise some concerns about this series’ pacing, but it feels too early to really complain about that; instead, I’m choosing to view this as a deliberate declaration by Coates and Guice that, much like the other books in the Panther line, exploring weighty themes is going to be more important to this title than superhero action or even its main characters. Considering the themes raised in this issue, that makes Misty Knight an ideal protagonist.
After all, she’s a superhero but also a detective; she’s a cop, but also a black woman raised on the same streets she’s now protecting. Misty should have a perfectly balanced view of the situation at hand, but is, unfortunately, blinded by her devotion to the police. Notably, Misty throws both their union and her case’s victim under the bus when she asks the prison guard for information, instead insisting that they need to finish the job simply to honor their roles as police. Misty spends much of the issue pointing out in her internal monologue how suspicious the handling of this case — the sudden death of activist and “cop-hater” Ezra Keith while in police custody — is and how it’s destabilizing Harlem, yet when approached by Keith’s nephew, nearly dismisses them entirely because of one anti-cop sentiment.
That is absolutely putting her own pride before justice.
It feels important to note that Black Panther & The Crew 1 isn’t necessarily anti-police. Keith’s niece and nephew are more than ready to stand down if it can be proven that the police weren’t involved in their uncle’s death, and Coates, through Misty, even points out the positive impact the police’s efforts have made on Harlem.
The message here isn’t necessarily that the police are completely evil, corrupt, or useless, but that they’re at their best when they actually support the people they’ve sworn to protect, and at their worst when they become insular and worry more about saving face and perpetuating/covering up corruption. That’s the dangerous power-trip that leads to tragic situations like Ezra Keith’s.
Deep down in her heart Misty knows this, which is why so much of Keith’s case rings false to her, despite her natural bias against Keith. Storm acts as Misty’s superhero conscience, reminding her of her other life and the vows of justice she’s taken in a situation completely separate from the police. Likewise, Keith’s niece and nephew serve as Misty’s Harlem conscience, a reminder of where she came from and her responsibility to people, not an organization. That’s an important idea, because the Crew are not a “team” in the traditional sense, but simply a group of likeminded individuals who will band together specifically when their communities need them. The fact that this arc serves as a flashback/origin for the Crew, with this intrinsic quality of the group being inherited from Keith’s 1950s era incarnation of the Crew, means that Misty will eventually come to learn from this ordeal, and take what she learns to heart.
I’ve gotta think that’s the most vital aspect of this story. Readers will be able to learn more about social justice and police brutality in the same ways Misty does, and the fact that a character as cool, smart, and put-together as Misty Knight can still learn and allow herself to change means that readers have no excuse not to do the same. If Black Panther & The Crew can help educate, well, that’s a powerful purpose indeed.
Ryan, do you see the same message in this issue as me, or have you found something different to point out? You’re a bit more immersed in the Black Panther line than I am right now, so how do you think this new entry stacks up/works together with its other two titles? Do you have any thoughts on the art of Butch Guice? I’ve gotta admit that I’m most familiar with his work on The Flash from the mid-eighties, meaning I always immediately associate Guice with a more retro/classic style, and I think that works well for this story, which is specifically set in the past (even if the specifics of when it’s taking place aren’t all that clear). Still, I can’t help but notice that the other two Black Panther titles both feature artists whose work fall within the same wheelhouse as Guice’s. Do you think there’s any significance to that, Ryan?
Ryan D: Those are some brilliant points you’ve made, Spence, but I might disagree slightly on your last thought regarding the artists. I can see that Guice and the primary artists for pencils in Black Panther may share some overlap in style of lineation technique, but I find this number one to hold me visually in a very different way. While Stelfreeze and Sprouse from BP drew according to the wide, sweeping, story, being told about an entire nation of people, suffused with the epic and magical/folkloric, Guice here successfully tells the story of a woman in a distinct part of a city- considering the different kind of story they are telling from each other, I think it’s only natural that Guice’s style would strike me as immediately different.
To begin with, I think that Guice’s visual storytelling already pairs extremely well with Coates’ narrative style. Knowing the writer, there will be “talky” scenes- especially in this opening issue in which the world needs to be established for the reader, and so that the audience understands each character’s rhetoric/dialectical stance so that the story can progress accordingly- but we already see how Guice keeps the camera moving with obvious intent to keep the eye interested in what could be a visually static scene, highlighting certain key images. I feel like this intent displays itself very clearly as Misty catches up with her old…friend:
The caption box immediately tells the audience what the main focus of this next page or two will be: the neighborhood. The long-angle shots keeping the women speaking squarely within their environment- the exact community they’re discussing- feels like a great, purposeful change from the mid/close-shots of the diner discussion, wherein the characters’ dynamics played lead.
Another strength of Guice’s art shows itself in the form of the imagery he displays to quickly draw a reader into the world. The establishing shot used to show the Harlem of the “now” should seem familiar to anyone who watches the news:
Guice uses the stock images of protests which are endlessly recycled on the twenty-four-hour news cycle to the benefit of the comic. Utilizing these visual cultural reference points- some seeming timeless and others purposefully contemporary- proves to be an incredibly effective means of world-building to me, and a very interesting and volatile climate for what, at first glance, reads as a detective story.
I am so glad that Guice seems ready and capable to draw this story, because reading it makes me ask the question: is the creative team assuming some particularly large responsibility? While I would agree that the onus for large statements would not be on the creative team, any reader who does not live in the marginalized populace being portrayed here (read: urban and black) might be encountering this comic with very little frame of reference for these particular conflicts and conversations outside of the media’s report of protests or talking points for politicians; thus, I wonder whether this creative team might by trying to go so far as to bear a responsibility in the vein of photographer Gordon Parks and his work for LIFE magazine, notable in this case for humanizing a black Harlem gang leader. Fortunately, Guice displays talent in this first issue which including some panels which look like veritable portraits
and Coates writes a decidedly human entry point into this extremely polarizing environment which leaves me incredibly optimistic for the future of this title.
Black Panther: The Crew 1 already strikes me as a story being told which uses the superhero genre and the medium of comics to a specific end, as opposed to vanilla Black Panther, which sometimes read to me more like a tale with a deep thesis which happened to be in comic form. While this is only the first issue, I already feel as if it succeeds at being thoughtful without being overly cerebral. Who wouldn’t be excited to read Coates’s take on such a tumultuous but fertile landscape, and seeing how he further comments upon the para-militarization of the police, the traditionally dualist approach to black political identity in America, and the inherent Pan-Africanism presented by the composition of the Crew itself? And whether the purpose of this title is to educate, like you said Spencer, or to humanize, either way, the audience and Misty alike will have plenty to think about.
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I would go slightly further than Ryan is his description of the main Black Panther book, and say that the big problem is that it is deep thesis first, story second. Which is why I enjoyed Black Panther & the Crew a lot more than the main book. It is doing the same sort of thing, getting a honest to god genius journalist telling a story whose themes are about one of his specialist subjects.
But while philosophies of politics is something that Coates struggles to turn into a story, racism in America is a much easier fit for Coates. Possibly because it is less abstract – Trayvon Martin’s death is a story, complete with beginning, middle and end. If Coates’ problem is struggling to make an essay into a story, it is much easier to get a good product when the essay he’s writing is already a story.
Because yeah, misty wrestling with her loyalty to her old profession and the understanding of what is really happening is compelling. I love how it manifests both in obvious ways, and in her discussions about artisanal mayonnaise. And I love that it doesn’t find a simple answer, but acknowledges the complexities of the topic (‘I like mayonaisse, Misty. In doses’ says Storm). While also making sure that the things that need to be obvious are obvious – the Americops, Marvel’s walking metaphor for racist policing, attack Misty for drawing a very clearly holstered weapon.
Meanwhile, Ezra is actually interesting. His past as Lynx creates a figure that we instantly want to know more about, making him serve as more than just a symbol for the themes Coates wants to discuss. Which is both important because of the themes Coates is discussing – ultimately, the core idea of this is going to be about dehumanising others, which is why it is important that Ezra is a character, not a plot device – and because it creates an interesting story, full of superheroic tropes.
I honestly think this is going to end up the strongest of Coates’ Black Panther books, in the end. The storytelling isn’t perfect, but this is the closest to fulfilling the dream everyone had when they heard Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing Black Panther. This feels like the ideal Coates book.
Though since it was announced, I’ve had my doubts about whether this should be a Black Panther book, or if this should be disconnected from Coates Black Panther work. I’m going to be very interested to see how Coates brings T’Challa into this book, as so far, it really does feel like a book that should be about Misty, Luke and African American superheroes, not T’Challa