Today, the long-awaited launch of Marvel’s new Black Panther series hit newsstands, setting up a new status quo for the superhero and monarch. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze have crafted a tale of Wakanda, the Black Panther’s nation, in societal turmoil, with the monarch struggling with how to stem the powder keg of violence that threatens to ignite. The two have already set up a situation for a superhero who is long lauded for his fortitude and success to dig in like never before, and it makes for a visually and narratively-compelling yarn.
Black Panther editor Wil Moss spoke with me recently about why readers should give the new title a look, what makes the character so interesting, and what Mr. Coates and Mr. Stelfreeze bring to the Wakandan king and his world.
FreakSugar: The Black Panther is a character that has been around for quite some time, but he’s been getting more well-deserved attention the past few years, playing significant roles in New Avengers, Secret Wars, The Ultimates, and now in Captain America: Civil War. What is it about the character that makes creators want to take a stab at the character again and again?
Wil Moss: On a surface level, he’s cool. [laughs] He’s got a great design. Jack Kirby’s design is a sleek, cool look. A full mask always makes you interested in a character because he has some mystery about him. And there’s not a lot of other superheroes out there who are kings—and of as cool of a country as Wakanda is, no less. Wakanda is this fabled place where technology is beyond anyone’s imagination with this weird, one-of-a-kind metal known as Vibranium.
So, those are kind of the fun, big elements that appeal to people. But he’s also a way for people to explore issues of politics and class in superhero comics. Writers like to take a stab at that, with [new Black Panther writer] Ta-Nehisi [Coates] and Christopher Priest’s run. He’s cool and he has a hook that’s pretty rare. And, in addition, he’s the first black superhero. He’s the original. There’s a status there.
FS: How much will the character’s past stories inform what Mr. Coates and Mr. Stelfreeze will tackle in the new Black Panther series? Will it be new friendly, yet still giving a nod to older fans of the character?
WM: It’s definitely new reader-friendly. We know that, because of Ta-Nehisi’s profile outside of comics, will result in some non-comics readers checking out the book. So we definitely want to make sure this is something that anyone can pick up and read.
At the same time, Ta-Nehisi is a diehard comic book fan and can’t help himself but make this is a story that draws on stuff from the past. He’s done it in such a way that you read it in the story and you don’t have to get the references to appreciate the story. Hopefully, the references will make people want to dig into past Panther stories, but they’re not such that they will trip people up.
That said, existing Panther fans will definitely appreciate what has been poured into this title. It’s a continuation of the Panther’s story from the past several years. [Writer] Jonathan Hickman’s done a lot with the character in the past several years on the Avengers books. Ta-Nehisi picks up where Hickman left off a little bit. So it’s a nice blend.
There’s a lot of new stuff in here, too. It doesn’t just draw on the past. [New Black Panther artist Brian] Stelfreeze has designed a lot of new characters that Ta-Neisi is introducing; a lot of new bad guys, new supporting characters. It’s got something for everybody.
FS: I was excited that Mr. Coates has been brought on board to write the series. What does Mr. Coates bring to the character that has been explored before?
WM: He’s got crazy ambitions for the character. He wants the character to be as popular as Spider-Man. He loves the character. He doesn’t think anything is wrong with the character, but he wants to create a series that will elevate Panther in terms of popularity and so forth.
I think one thing Ta-Nehisi responded to in terms of set-up is that Panther is a very smart, modern man. As such, he would be aware that monarchies don’t really work that well in the modern age. He’s writing a Panther that’s more relatable and interesting to people than he otherwise might be. Yeah, Panther is a king, but he’s questioning the role that kings play today. Ta-Nehisi is creating a Black Panther who you can understand a little better in this story.
FS: Artist Brian Stelfreeze’s work in the first issue marries the serious with the sci-fi, something that’s been a hallmark of the character since his inception. You mentioned that he has worked on several new designs for the book.
WM: Stelfreeze is a master. He has the storytelling chops for a book like this. His pages are easy to follow, they’re visually arresting. He can handle anything. But he is a phenomenal storyteller. He has ideas of his own he brings to the table. It’s been fun to watch him and Ta-Nehisi really collaborate on ideas that become a big part of this run.
Brian has a lot of ideas about Wakanda’s technology. It’s always been said that Wakanda has crazy-advanced technology and so on, but everybody just pays that lip service to that. However, Brian has really thought about that technology and how it would really make the lives of the Wakandans advanced. He’s got a lot of great ideas.
For example: If Wakanda has this great technology, it’s hard to buy that the technology wouldn’t get out. Wakanda can be as closed off as it wants, but it’s 2016. If someone wants the tech, it’s going to get out. Brian had this great idea about how the technology in Wakanda is either derived from or powered by Vibranium, so it has to remain close to the Great Mound, where the Vibranium is mined. Brian’s idea is that the tech doesn’t work when it’s far from that mound. It’s a nice explanation.
FS: For folks who might be thinking of exploring a Black Panther book for the first time, what would you say to them to get them to pick up the new series?
WM: It’s pretty much guaranteed to be a great story. Ta-Nehisi has this great opening story planned out. If you’re interested, you’re going to enjoy this. Ta-Nehisi hasn’t published fiction before, but all of the elements that make his nonfiction work so great work here, too. He’s got a way with language, a dedication to what he’s writing about that really elevates his writing.
Beyond that, it’s just going to be a really interesting story. It’s got betrayals, it’s got upheavals, it’s got returns, it’s got other villains and guest-star heroes. We’ll see ramifications of this story in other Marvel books going forward. Black Panther is a big part of our Ultimates run right now, and we’ll see ramifications of Ta-Nehisi and Brian’s story there and in other places. It’s going to be something pretty special.
Black Panther #1, written by Ta-Nehisi with Brian Stelfreeze on art, is on sale now from Marvel Comics. Check out our 9/10 review of the first issue!