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Friday, February 23, 2018

A Comic Book Spotlight on 'Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet'.

Okay, guys. I have to be honest. This was an article that I didn’t really want to do for a number of reasons. The first should be fairly obvious to anyone who knows me. I’m a second generation Scottish American who has lived in Richmond, Virginia for 20 years of his life and quite frankly, I have no right to lecture people about the importance of an African superhero to our world. But beyond that, Black Panther isn’t really a character that I’ve ever had all that much exposure to and what little I previously had was rarely pleasant. He was one of the main characters in the New Avengers book which bored me to tears, was a major player in the Secret Wars reboot event, which I hated, and was a figure in Civil War II, which underwhelmed me. In other words, I kind of went into this book with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. But luckily for me, A Nation Under Our Feet turned out to be a really good read and one that I would highly recommend. Even if it isn’t perfect.
The setup for the A Nation Under Our Feet story arc is surprisingly dense. After the events of the Secret Wars reboot, Black Panther once again finds himself on the throne of Wakanda despite abdicating in favor of his sister some time ago. Unfortunately for her, a battle with Thanos’ forces left her in a state stuck in between life and death, forcing him to reclaim the title. However, all is not well in Wakanda. The constant invasions of men like Doctor Doom, Namor, and Thanos have left the country weakened and the people disillusioned with the monarchy. Forces gather to take advantage of this growing uneasiness and T’Challa must quickly decide if he will become one of the very tyrants he fought against to preserve his monarchy or bend to the will of his people.
As you can tell this set up alone is something that immediately differentiates itself from just about every other superhero story out there. If there is one complaint that one could justly lob at the entire superhero genera it’s that it can be incredibly repetitive. The bad guy shows up, causes some problems, forces the hero to rethink his way of doing things for about five minutes before he pulls a victory out of his butt, usually ending with some kind of lead-in to the next story arc. And to be fair, Black Panther is by no means immune to this formula. The story does have its share of superpowered enemies and utterly evil people causing trouble for their own profit. For the most part, however, it doesn’t just focus on what these conflicts mean to Black Panther personally. Instead, the book focuses on what these conflicts mean to the entire nation as opposed to the usual small-scale hero versus career criminal villain that tend to flood the market.  In fact, the vast majority of the story revolves around T’Challa running his country and trying to figure out how best to do that with multiple revolutions on his hands. Ultimately, it’s this small change that makes all the difference and not everything is as black and white as one might think.
Despite the fact that the book does contain some truly horrific antagonists, not all of them are as clear-cut. When it comes right down to it the antagonists of the story are democratic revolutionaries fighting against what is heavily implied to be an absolute monarchy and it’s difficult not to see things from their side. At least two of the antagonists genuinely want to see Wakanda change for the better and take steps to secure this. Heck, even the genuinely evil characters bring up some very good points in their fight against Black Panther. In fact, there are points where the book becomes more than a little uncomfortable to read because of this.
At times the book can’t help but portray the revolutionaries as narrowminded terrorists who want nothing but power for themselves and portray the patriarchal, absolute monarch as the hero and it’s just…creepy. It doesn’t seem to be aware of how problematic this portrayal is and that it comes off as a borderline endorsement of those values. It does address some of these problems towards the end of the story and everyone seems to agree that the country needs to change. However, it’s not made clear as to just how much of the promised change will actually happen in Wakanda and what kind of change will it be and is the one area where the book falls short. Maybe this is better followed up in future story arcs that I haven’t read but this story is very wishy-washy about the whole thing. It can’t really seem to make up its mind as to whether or not the rebels were in the right as it keeps going back and forth, sometimes portraying them as saints and at other times as people who started out well enough but then let the power get to their heads and others as power hungry mustache twirlers who were bad from the get-go. But then again, that might have been the point
People tend to forget that revolutions against governments very rarely have clear-cut good guys and bad guys. More often than not they’re made up of various factions with very different goals, only united in their cause to defeat a common foe and often turn on one another after said foe is defeated. Post-WWII Africa has been littered with such revolutions and it’s more likely that this is what the creative team was going for. It’s just a little bit odd that they would tell this kind of story through the lens of one of Marvel's most popular heroes. But one cannot argue with the results.
Despite Marvel’s Post-Civil War II slump, the actual quality of the books hasn’t really changed as much as some people like to think. The majority of them are still very well written with likable characters, satisfying arcs and good professional artwork to tie it all together and this book is no exception to that. The plot takes several twists and turns. The main characters are all complicated and three dimensional and the actual ways that the conflicting factions do battle with one another is a lot more cleaver then you might expect. And much like the films, the storytelling is so tight and fine-tuned that is hard to imagine that anyone would have a problem with it. At times it might come off as a bit synthetic but you cannot deny that it does its job and does it well.
In the end, Black Panther: A Nation Under our Feet has a really good plot that manages to differentiate itself by being about ruling a nation as opposed to fighting a run of the mill supervillain and does a great job of portraying all the complexities of it. There are some cringe-worthy elements to it and some of its themes are ideas probably should have been handled a bit better but if you’re like me and Black Panther has never really been on your radar before now, I say that that this is a good place to start. Overall, I say give it a read.
           So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupSubscribe to us on YouTube and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, contribute a dollar or so to my new Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then, let's hope that Marvel Comics can get out of its current slump while still keeping its dignity.

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