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Black Panther: writer Ta-Nehisi Coates takes on his dream job

A review of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s Black Panther

The cover to Coates's Black Panther (Marvel)
The cover to Coates’s Black Panther (Marvel)
Marvel comics
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

What happens when a country that’s meant to be exceptional … isn’t? And what happens when you’re the leader of that place?

Those are the questions that writer and National Book Award-winner Ta-Nehisi Coates, together with artist Brian Stelfreeze, is tackling in Black Panther, the most anticipated comic book debut of the last decade.

Black Panther, who recently made his onscreen debut in Captain America: Civil Warhas been a prominent, regal character in Marvel’s comic books for the last two decades. But his story has always felt a bit compressed.

Many comics that have featured Black Panther have touched on the responsibility he feels in being tethered to his country — the nation of Wakanda — but they’ve never fully realized the complicated political situation he’s in or fleshed out the people he’s pledged his fealty to.

But Coates’s and Stelfreeze’s comic book does just that; they understand that telling the story of Black Panther is telling the story of his people.

The highlight of Coates’s writing in Black Panther isn’t the way he skillfully laces the comic with broader political themes about power (though he’s very good at that); instead, it’s his ability to give the book’s intimate character relationships a sense of humanity and dignity.

It’s perfectly paired with Stelfreeze’s art, which is crisp and expressive. He’s almost drawing a sleek space opera of sorts, since Wakandan technology is so advanced. The mêlées are exciting, rattling, Star Wars–esque sequences. But with a flick of the page, Stelfreeze is able to deftly shift into solemn drama, conveying weighty moments and relationships with the same precision.

Ultimately, Stelfreeze and Coates have woven a story that Black Panther deserves, and one that pushes the legend of the man forward into bold, exciting territory.