Evan Narcisse has never written a superhero comic before, but you wouldn’t know that from this debut issue. Narcisse made his foray into comics with an excellent story on Kotaku back in 2016. He showed a deep love, appreciation, but most of all, understanding for the King of Wakanda that started him on the path eventually leadiing to this issue. It was always going to be a celebration of the Black Panther, but what Narcisse and the gang have created here is a damn fine comic book issue.
Written By Evan Narcisse
Illustrated by Paul Renaud
Colors by Stephane Paitreau
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
SECRET ORIGIN OF THE BLACK PANTHER Part 1 Just in time for the highly anticipated film, witness the early years of the man who will come to rule one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world! Wakanda has always kept itself isolated from Western society, but that’s all about to change. Young T’Challa knows he is destined to become king, but when his father is brutally murdered by outsiders, he’ll find himself taking up a mantle he may not be ready for. Experience never-before-seen drama from the reign of T’Chaka, the king whose death changes a nation’s history forever. Learn about the mother T’Challa never knew. See how the world learns about this wondrous nation for the first time. Will the power of the Black Panther be enough to keep his country safe? Journalist Evan Narcisse makes his comics debut alongside acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates as they chronicle T’Challa’s rise to the throne – and to the Panther legacy that made him an Avenger. Rated T
This is essentially a modern retelling of an origin story we’ve seen many times before. Nonetheless, Narcisse wisely avoids common pitfalls in a number of ways. First is how efficiently he gets us through the stuff we already know. We open on the face of Captain Steve Rogers being choked by the Black Panther. We end on a young T’Challa standing over his father’s corpse, murdered at the hands of Ulysses Klaw.
What keeps the story moving is how little time is spent on those scenes and what’s shocking is how hard they manage to hit. Writers love to redo the Cap visits Wakanda in the ’40s story; here the whole thing is effectively told in two pages and a big splash image. Veteran comic book writers struggle with such storytelling efficiency but Narcisse and Paul Renaud never make it feel rushed. That’s stunning.
The other brilliant move Narcisse makes is who he chooses to tell the the story. The whole story is narrated by Queen N’Yami, the mother of T’Challa, rarely seen in “Black Panther” comics. By shifting the narrative to a new voice, and working N’Yami into the story so effectively, the story of Wakanda in the 20th century feels fresh. The bulk of the issue is a love story between T’Chaka and N’Yami.
It’s so much more than that though. We also get some wonderful set up for the Wakandan space program, which featured in Jonathan Hickman’s “New Avengers” and which we last saw in Jason Aaron’s “Legacy” #1. We get a look at the Wakandan politics Ta-Nehisi Coates (credited here as a “Consultant”) has been writing so effectively in the main series. We get a thrilling battle between the forces of Wakanda and Hydra as led by Baron von Strucker, and some truly kick-ass superhero action. And let me remind you all of that lands in Narcisse’s first ever comic issue.
Of course, the issue wouldn’t exist without Renaud’s art, which is of a similar quality. I looked up Renaud’s body of work, and there’s not a lot I was familiar with. He drew some series that I will generously describe as cheesecake (including “Cavewomen,” “Vampirella,” and “Dejah Thoris”) before doing the odd job for Marvel. Renaud is fabulous at action, expression, faces. This is the kind of work you’d expect from a consummate professional with a vast body of work.
The one place where Renaud seems a little bit lost is the design work. In other Wakandan stories, and the trailers for the upcoming movie, we get a sense of the unique culture and fashion of the fictional nation. Renaud draws good people (and hair, the styles are varied and fabulous) but aside from the superhero costumes, Wakanda itself is a little bland. N’Yami does her work in a tank top and jeans, which seems to clash with the rest of the aesthetic. T’Chaka’s motorcycle is cool, but I expect more from the most advanced nation on Earth.Continued below
That’s all garnish though, and the main course is delicious. There’s a wonderful moment when Queen Ramonda is introduced, and you can feel her falling in love not with her future husband, but her future step-son. You understand how much the royal family means to her from the way she looks at them. When Klaw finally shows up, he’s haughty and disgusting, but seems like less of a cartoon than the live action version of the character. Renaud’s art brings Narcisse’s story to life.
A good family drama is hard to write. A family drama that we’ve seen before is even harder. Evan Narcisse and Paul Renaud could have just taken notes from Ta-Nehisi Coates and churned out an obligatory miniseries in time for a new movie. What they did was the opposite. They took a tired tale and filled it with new life, making the royal family and history of Wakanda more vibrant than ever before. This isn’t just a good superhero issue, it’s a fine example of the comic book medium. That fact that it’s the writer’s first issue blows my mind.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – The definitive telling of the rise of the Black Panther.