I may never be able to hang with the big dogs when it comes to serious fandoms, but I very well will try. I have been on a mission for the past few months to educate myself in the mythology of superheroes. I’m still a novice and I haven’t fully embraced the idea of people with backgrounds in physics running around in leotards. But just as I was despairing that this superhero stuff is too over the top for a comic fan initiated by Punisher Max, I met my perfect match. Christopher Priest’s Black Panther is simply amazing. He’s the best dressed, most down to earth of the Avengers and has a back story to rival the best traditional Sci-Fi novels. When his father, King T’Chaka, dies in a nefarious twist of events, young T’Challa becomes king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. As an adult, he has ties to the Avengers as well as a nonprofit agency in New York, keeping him pretty constantly jet setting across the Atlantic. When he’s drawn away by a seedy transaction in NYC, the small nation of Wakanda falls prey to the evil devices of Achebe, a really toothy guy with an insatiable appetite for violence.
Perhaps one reason why Black Panther: the Complete Collection sustained my interest was its clumsily endearing narrator. Everett K. Ross, self-proclaimed whitest guy in the world, is assigned by the U.S. State Department to escort King T’Challa during his time in New York. He’s in for far more than he imagined and can do little but duck and run while the Black Panther takes care of business. Priest is great about introducing newbies to Avengers mythology, but he throws in a few good laughs whenever Ross explains characters’ superpowers by saying they “fell into a vat of Cream of Wheat.” Priest’s humor is on point, and of course so is the comic’s diversity. Not only is Black Panther the first black superhero, joining the Avengers in the 1960s, but the series has a host of formidable female characters (albeit they were leather bikinis, but the guys are pretty exposed too). If I have any criticism, it’s a slight one. I was so invested in the main storyline which takes place in Wakanda that I was mildly annoyed whenever T’Challa got caught up in dealing with the Avengers and their enemies in New York. But maybe that’s just my leotard bias talking.
If you’re still not excited about reading Black Panther, consider this: Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015 best-selling author of Between the World and Me long-time contributor to The Atlantic, is creating a new Black Panther series that will be released in April. It will be some time before the first run of the series is collected into a volume, but the first issue will be available to order in print from your local independent bookstore or online in digital format. While some die-hard comics fans are skeptical of a traditional writer taking up the graphic novel form, I’m all in favor of Coates. And even better, he’s taking the Panther home to Wakanda. I can’t wait to see what happens.