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The first issue of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther comic book was released Wednesday, offering the opening chapter of “A Nation Under Our Feet,” a complex storyline that explores all manner of themes and ideas inherent in the character’s mythology.
For newcomers to the character, however, the first issue might feel a little too complex, quickly throwing out references to the Dora Milaje and T’Challa’s dead sister amid the introduction to a plot about unrest in the nation of Wakanda. In case the one-page recap at the opening of the issue isn’t enough for those wanting to know more, here is a recommended reading list to help you get up to speed.
Fantastic Four Vol. 1 Nos. 52-53 (1966)
The first appearances of the Black Panther (by the Fantastic Four team supreme of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee) established Wakanda as a country that had advanced far beyond the U.S. in terms of technology (as well, arguably, in societal terms, although mileage will vary on that point). The “Golden City” of the new Black Panther series is a very different take on the tribal Wakanda as it made its debut, but the roots of what exists today were very clearly laid down in those first two comic strips.
Jungle Action Vol. 2 Nos. 6-18 (1973-1975)
The first solo series for the Panther came via writer Don McGregor, who used the opportunity to create a massively ambitious multipart storyline that not only built out the mythology of the Panther (and the world around him; McGregor and artists including Rich Buckler and Billy Graham manage to make Wakanda into a locale with its own history and atmosphere), but presented the character with a challenge unlike those faced by his peers: Returning to his native land after years in the U.S., he finds a Wakanda turning against him, thanks to a revolution being mounted by an enemy he’s not even aware of. Whether Coates’ “Nation” is a conscious echo of this storyline or otherwise, there are curious parallels to be found.
Black Panther Vol. 3 Nos. 1-12 (1998-1999)
The Dora Milaje play a significant role in the first chapter of “Nation.” They’re the all-female bodyguards of the ruler of Wakanda, and in days of yore, each one selected not only for their physical prowess, but also their availability to be a potential wife for said ruler. As Coates shows, there are obvious drawbacks to that tradition, but in reality, the Dora Milaje debuted less than two decades ago, making their first appearance in the opening issues of writer Christopher Priest’s fan-favorite Black Panther run. Don’t worry, Priest is well aware of how problematic the concept is as well.
Black Panther Vol. 5 Nos. 1-6 (2009)
Shuri, T’Challa’s sister is mentioned in the climax of Coates’ first issue. She was the hero’s younger sister, and for a brief time, his replacement as ruler of Wakanda and as Black Panther alike. Her first days in the latter role are revealed in these issues by Reginald Hudlin and Ken Lashley. (Her final days? Well, they didn’t go so well …)
New Avengers Vol. 3 Nos. 1-23 (2013-2014)
Although the lead cast for this series included a number of big names in the Marvel Universe — including Iron Man, the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards and Doctor Strange — Black Panther left little doubt that he was the true star of the title, weighing the moral pressures of saving the world and ruling his kingdom despite impossible odds … and arguably failing in both. The storyline that starts with these issues continues through a number of subsequent comics, leading to last year’s Secret Wars event and the re-creation of the Marvel Universe; consider Avengers Vol. 5 Nos. 35-44, New Avengers Vol. 3 Nos. 24-33 and Secret Wars Vol. 2 Nos. 1-9 as advanced study. (If nothing else, they reveal the sad fate of Shuri.)
Black Panther No. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze is available in comic book stores and digitally now.
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