Oppression Makes Strange Bedfellows in Black Panther 16

By Drew Baumgartner

Black Panther 16

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror’s territory is termed the enemy. The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror).

Kautilya, Arthasastra

Understood more colloquially as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the above sentiment was first recorded in a 4th Century treatise on statecraft. That is, while we might be most familiar with the concept as its used in interpersonal dramas or forming political coalitions, it was first composed to conceptualize a concept in city-state diplomacy. More importantly, Kautilya is quite specific in when this attitude should be applied — basically, only when the “conquerer” stands to lose nothing from the alliance. Such is the case when T’Challa approaches Dr. Eliot Augustus Franklin (better known as Thunderball of the Wrecking Crew) — T’Challa has nothing to lose, and Franklin has everything to gain from cooperating.

It would be easy enough to point to Fenris as the “enemy” in this case, and while they certainly manifest the enemy, I think the more meaningful reading is that the actual enemy Franklin turns against is racism. That the Von Strucker kids are so casually racist fits everything we know about them, and that the Wrecking Crew would be mercenary enough to not really question who they throw their lot in with fits everything we know about them, but when we pick up with Franklin, he’s already grappling with how race has affected his legacy.

Race

These issues are already on Franklin’s mind before the Von Struckers start referring to T’Challa and his soldiers as “monkeys.” Add to that T’Challa’s genuine reverence for Franklin’s research, and it’s clear that Franklin’s biggest enemy is the racism he’d come to accept as part of his life. It’s a tidy encapsulation of black solidarity, but points outwards to the messier, everyday racism that colors the world around us. More importantly, it makes race the text, rather than the subtext of a series that has ultimately always been about blackness. It’s the type of lesson that very few creators could tilt at, but Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chris Sprouse handle it thoughtfully and honestly, fulfilling the promise of a truly unique series.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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One comment on “Oppression Makes Strange Bedfellows in Black Panther 16

  1. Damn, I just want to talk about what ‘Black Bruce Banner’ means and why it is so genius.

    Most obviously, Dr Franklin does not get to have his own reputation, merely the palete swap of someone else’s. A black man’s reputation can be discussed only compared to another.

    But then there is the fact that Bruce Banner is not the sort of person you want to be compared to. Firstly, he is the scientist that messed up so badly that he ruined his life by becoming the Hulk. He is the great horror story of science. Pre-Wreckign Crew, anyone smart enough to be called ‘Black Bruce Banner’ deserves not to be compared to such a disaster.

    But then there is the dissection of wha tit means to be compared to Bruce Banner. Who is Bruce Banner? He is bestial. Monstorous. Or, to put it another way, he is what everyone says black people are to justify oppressive prison sentences/murder by police. As T’Challa says, the nation’s prisons are full of ‘Black Bruce Banners’

    And of course, the implied difference is obvious. Bruce Banner is wha tpeople say, while black people are merely described so in order to justify it.

    To combine all of this with a really strong arc for Dr Franklin, creating a fantastic arc full of the exact sor tof stuff that you wanted when you heard Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing Black Panther.

    As an overarching story, Coates is still struggling with the plotting and pacing. But honestly, it doesn’t amtter when he writes an issue like this. Maybe as an overall story, Coates’ Black Panther falters. But who cares, when he can so wonderfully speak about Black AMerica in an issue like this. Ultiamtely, all we need from Black Panther is issues like this. This is why we should read Coates work

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