An Overemphasis on Action Leaves Everything Else Feeling Slight in Black Panther 2

by Spencer Irwin

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

With this new volume of Black Panther, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has thrown readers into the deep end of his story, giving us no clue how T’Challa came to be abducted by the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda, and very little reassurance that the T’Challa we’re following even is the same T’Challa from Coates’ previous volume. It’s a fun little mystery, and one where the fact that neither readers nor T’Challa know any answers has immense thematic parallels, but also one that really just hovers around the margins of Black Panther 2. Even as the mystery grows greater, this issue is an action spotlight, a car chase first and foremost. Continue reading

Compassion is the Greatest Weapon of All in X-Men Red 5

by Spencer Irwin

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

A few weeks ago in X-Men Red Annual 1, Jean Grey met a bigoted anti-mutant protester and showed him kindness and compassion, relating to the turmoil and abuse he dealt with in his home life and continuing to worry about him long after their meeting had come to an end. Compassion continues to be Jean’s weapon of choice in Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar’s X-Men Red 5, and it’s a weapon she’s more than capable of deploying against an entire army. Continue reading

Black Panther 1: Discussion

by Taylor Anderson and Michael DeLaney

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

Taylor: The other day I was in a tabletop game store and played a great game called “Clank!” It was so fun that I ended up buying it, but not before having to choose between the original version, set in a typical fantasy setting, and another version set in space. I went with the original because it suits the game better, but it reminded me that I’m a sucker for anything re-imagined in space. That being said, I was super excited to learn about a new Black Panther series set in outer-space and am delighted to say that after reading the first issue, it doesn’t disappoint. Continue reading

X-Men Red 4 Battles Real-World Threats

by Drew Baumgartner

X-Men Red 4

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

Comics have always reflected our real-world fears — from inner-city crime or nuclear panic — by heightening them to exaggerated extremes. Except, I’d argue, when it comes to the X-Men’s persecution. Sure, the X-Men’s superpowers would qualify as an “exaggerated extreme” of the types of differences that normally mark a minority class, but it’s straight-up not possible for writers to come up with more exaggerated ways societies persecute their minorities. From apartheid to lynchings to genocides, there’s nothing the X-Men have faced that real-world minorities haven’t already suffered, grounding even their most fanciful stories in sober reality. It’s a fact that Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar have leaned into from the start of X-Men Red, lending the series a “ripped from the headlines” approach that is truly unique in superhero comics. Continue reading

X-Men Red 3 Offers a Portrait of Our Time

by Drew Baumgartner

X-Men Red 3

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

…it occurred to me that instead of them just being heroes that everybody admired, what if I made other people fear and suspect and actually hate them because they were different? I loved that idea; it not only made them different, but it was a good metaphor for what was happening with the civil rights movement in the country at that time.

Stan Lee on creating the X-Men

That the mutants of the Marvel universe are reviled and oppressed has long made them an allegory for any number of minorities the world over, which in turn makes the X-Men an allegory for any number of civil rights activists. Much has been written about the MLK/Xavier and Malcolm X/Magneto parallels, but as the twentieth century churned on, those movements coalesced less and less around recognizable figureheads. These movements weren’t leaderless, by any means, but the leaders were no longer the household names they were in the early ’60s. X-Men comics responded in kind, broadening its cast and bringing in an array of perspectives to cover the more diffuse push for civil rights across the globe. This made the X-Men generalists in terms of their symbolic power — maybe they were drawing parallels to the gay rights movement, or apartheid, or even the holocaust. But that generalist nature may also have blunted any one of those parallels, limiting how specific any one of them can truly feel.

Or so I thought. I’d come to accept the X-Men as a broad comment on the nature of oppression and activism, but never turned to it for “ripped from the headlines” representations of discrete real-world events. Maybe I (and the rest of the world) wasn’t paying enough attention to real-world events to recognize them. Maybe those events weren’t being covered in the way they have been over the past few years. Whatever the case, I was completely bowled over by the unapologetic allegory for Charlottesville that Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar present in X-Men Red 3. Continue reading

Scaling Back in X-Men Red 2

by Patrick Ehlers

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

Last time we wrote about X-Men Red, Spencer and Ryan saw the series as somewhat foundational — asserting the attributes that makes an X-Men comic and X-Men comic. That means both the soapy sci-fi details of the characters’ pasts and the political commentary were turned up to 10. The scale for both was just huge — I mean, Jean addresses the United Nations and was framed for murdering the UK ambassador for crying out loud. X-Men Red 2 continues to engage in the same kind of character- and political-work, while scaling back to considerably more personal levels, and the result is almost intimate. Writer Tom Taylor and artist Mahmud Asrar have such a strong handle on these characters’ voices, the moments don’t need to be huge to make them impactful. Continue reading

Focus vs. Multiple Fronts in Black Panther 168

By Ryan Desaulniers

Black Panther 168

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

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box

Whether you’re writing an indie comic title or trying to pen the next billion-dollar Star Wars film, a great place to start is by asking, “What is the hardest thing for my characters to do?” True character, after all, is revealed through the most difficult decisions they’re forced to undertake. After a very interesting tangent in Black Panther 166 to meet the new Klaw, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates tries to pile on the challenges facing King T’Challa and the rest of his royal court of protagonists, but is it better to assault a character from all sides, or to offer one clear, powerful opposing force? Continue reading

The (Re)Introduction of Klaw in Black Panther 166

By Drew Baumgartner

Black Panther 166

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

There’s a lot to be excited by in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther run, but one we rarely comment on is that it’s bringing in new readers. As an already popular author and journalist, Coates has an established audience that is much, much larger than the typical comics creator. For evidence, we need look no further than his twitter followers, which number 1-3 orders of magnitude more than most comics creators — heck, he has more followers than most comics publishers. And, importantly, the vast majority of those followers (and Atlantic and Between the World and Me readers) aren’t comics readers. I’ve covered plenty of comics in our 7 years as a site, but tweets about Coates’s Black Panther represent the only times I’ve been asked “where can I buy this comic?” And that’s happened multiple times. Coates is bringing new people to the medium, and that’s something special.

Of course, it also puts him in a bit of an unusual place as a writer. T’Challa is a character with a rich, half-century-long history, and comicdom is notorious for fans who know every bit of that history. How do you reconcile the interests of those fans with those of total neophytes? From the start, Coates has struck an elegant balance, acknowledging many specific beats of that history while also creating entirely new mythologies for the character and his world. No one element represents that better than Ulysses Klaw, whose introduction at the end of last month’s issue crashed one of T’Challa’s oldest enemies into that new mythology. Continue reading

Superherodom Encroaches in Black Panther 18

By Drew Baumgartner

Black Panther 18

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run on Black Panther has always vacillated between concerns for greater Wakanda (civil unrest, history, religion) and more straightforward superheroics. It perfectly captures the multiple directions T’Challa is always pulled in, blowing up the typical Marvel interpersonal dramas into matters of state. In recent arcs, those two worlds seem even further apart, as issues almost seemed to alternate between these two concerns. The results have been fantastic — the previous two issues represent opposite ends of that spectrum, and are among the strongest Coates has written — but threatened to split this book into two series running in parallel. That is, until issue 18 reveals that everything might be connected, after all. Continue reading

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. Continue reading