Silence is Golden in Black Panther 169

By Ryan Desaulniers

Black Panther 169

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

All comics are silent comics. This is an immutable fact due to their very nature as a static, visual medium. This makes it all the more impressive that artists can imbue a page with a bevvy of techniques which trick our beautiful brains into not only interpreting some onamonpaeatic words as sound, but even suggest the sound’s quality in a way that we, as readers, hardly notice as we go. Black Panther 169 takes away the sense of perceived sound and employs a level of visual storytelling which this title had not yet utilized, making for a gripping read, one focused on two characters, in opposition, in a high-stakes sprint to their objectives.

Artist Leonard Kirk draws fifteen of the eighteen pages of story in silence due to a simple but effective plot mechanic: the sound-based antagonist Klaw uses his sonic abilities to such a degree to bring back his long-lost sister and transmute her neural profile into captured Midnight Angel Ayo’s body that all  of the diagetic sound in the base is canceled out. This leads to Ayo’s lover and former Dora Milaje, Aneka, to jump her guards to free her partner.

This heavy reliance on visual storytelling is a departure from this series’ established style, and Kirk pulls it off with aplomb. One of the first things he does to sell these silent scenes is intruduce the idea that, due to the intense power requirements of Klaw’s experiment, the lights flicker on and off. With this conceit, Kirk establishes a rhythm to the action:

Black Panther

Kirk’s page composition works hard to sell this concept, too. The page on the left sells the moments by giving us long, horizontal panels bleeding to the edge of the page stacked on top of others of the same — lending a stacatto beat without feeling rushed. Comparatively, the right page returns to more traditional panel gutters, with the panels becoming cramped, variable, kinetic, and much faster to read as Aneka’s ambush turns into the claustrophobic fury of one vs. one hand-to-hand combat. The different beats in her various fight scenes all capitulate with some beautiful, thematic moments when this black African woman literally uses the chains of her oppression against her white captors. Sometimes visuals can say just as much about a motif as any character’s sermon.

Writer Ta-Nahisi Coates also set this issue up to succeed brilliantly and simply. Klaw needs this experiment to work and Aneka needs to disrupt the process to rescure her lover. Both of these objectives are oppositional, effective, and immediate, dialing the stakes high and allowing this issue to be both concentrated and efficient. It also surprised me how complicated this made my emotional repsonse to the villain’s plot. Though his methods are dastardly, at the end of the day, Klaw just wants his sister back. It’s a savvy move to build some understanding between the reader and the antagonist without going so far as to build sympathy for the (white) devil.

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

One comment on “Silence is Golden in Black Panther 169

  1. This may be the best issue of Black Panther yet. Kirk deserves so,s o much credit for his moment to moment story telling, and just how well he sells the action. This book has never worked better on a scene to scene level, or with action. Kirk is amazing.

    But I also really want to praise Coates writing, especially as Ryan already did such a great job discussing Kirk. Because, this may be Coates’ best script. I don’t know whether he planned the fight beat for beat or just let Kirk off the leash, but regardless of what he chose, it was the right choice. If he planned the fight, this is the best structured script he has ever written. If he gave Kirk freedom, that is also good writing – Coates choosing to take advantage of the artist instead of doing things yourself is exactly the sort of choice to make.

    But the comic also works so well on a functional level. Big, showy uses of form like this are always disconcerting, because they can so easily be superficial and awful. It looks impressive to do a silent issue, but the use of silence needs to have more purpose than an excuse to show off. Form has to follow function, not be placed above it. Functional form is comics at its best, and leads to great things like Dauterman’s Mighty Thor. But when form is placed above function,you get garbage like Mister Miracle. And I was nervous half way through this issue that there was nothing to this issue except showing off. Until the final twist put everything in its place and recontextualisied the entire issue. Because the silence speaks to theme.

    The most famous example of a silent episode is probably Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Hush, an episode all about struggling to communicate. And communication is central here as well. Klaw’s strength comes from his ability to communicate. He has manipulated Wakanda merely with his voice. Hell, his superpower is literally sound. And yet, he chooses to surrender his power (which is another praise of this issue. Thematic, but thematic through the dramatic decisions of the characters. It is Klaw’s choice to make everything silent, and his choice to rob himself of his greatest strength is his downfall). By surrendering his power, everything goes wrong. Stripped of the power of communication, Klaw’s operation collapses. Not only does Aneka exploit the silence (note how many beats are about Aneka either exploiting the silence or the confusion because of the silence), but the final page reveal. Robbed of the ability to communicate, essential information has been hidden. Klaw’s compound is under attack, and by the time he finds out, it is too late. And entire narrative happened in this issue the reader had no idea of, because no one had the ability to voice it.

    In truth, this is a comic about the power of voice. To lose your voice is to lose control. To speak is among the most powerful tools you have, and to give it up is not only to lose, but to rig the game so against you that you don’t even know you are losing until it is too late.

    Coates may not have written a lot of dialogue this issue, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a momentous piece of writing. He truly found the best way to present the sheer power communication in his clearest, most articulate issue yet. Coates’ comic work so often disappoints, especially compared to his amazing essays. But this is a comic every other writer should be in awe of, in how perfect the script is. Few writers manage to write a comic that so perfectly presents the idea they wish to express than this issue.

    Both Coates and Kirk embarrassed everyone with how perfect of an issue this is

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