Black Panther #22 Review

by Charles Martin on March 25, 2020

Black Panther #22 Review
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artists: Daniel Acuña & Ryan Bodenheim
Colourists: Daniel Acuña & Chris O'Halloran
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I confess I don't follow this volume of the Black Panther from issue to issue -- not at publication time. I'm fully caught up on Marvel Unlimited, but that's delayed by six months. My last MU read on this title was #15, in which T'Challa got back to Earth and wasn't aware that N'Jadaka followed him. Not an ending, but surely, I thought, getting close.

Here we are six issues later, and the Intergalactic Empire story rolls on, endless as the tide. And like the tide, the story has its highs and lows.

The good news is, I think #22 is a high-water point. There's a long-awaited plot development, unleashed with a fair degree of grandeur. There's a thoughtful retrospective on past Black Panther developments. There's intense, psychological character work. There are two tasty flavours of high-quality art.

I was surprised by how easily this issue slid me into the status quo. Between the solid recap page and the exposition-heavy (but enjoyable!) first scene -- in which Bast and Zenzi plot N'Jadaka's downfall -- I was all caught up.

Which is not entirely a good thing. The fact that six issues' worth of development can be so neatly, briefly encapsulated speaks to this volume's chronically slow pace.

While Bast and Zenzi are scheming, T'Challa's role in the issue is standing up to harsh criticism from the spirits of Panthers past in the Djalia. They bring up a hall of shame of missteps for T'Challa to confront, from standing with the Illuminati to losing Storm.

On the art front, Daniel Acuña handles the Djalia scenes and Ryan Bodenheim handles the "real world" developments. Usually, when a comic puts two artists together and I like the results, I cite "harmony" as a key factor in the visual presentation.

That's not the case here; Acuña and Bodenheim have very different styles. But their combination works well to emphasize the stark difference between the two settings. The Djalia is perfect for Mr. Acuña's layered, painterly figures and abstract, vividly-coloured backgrounds. And sci-fi spaceship settings fit Mr. Bodenheim's hard-outline euro-style illustration equally well. Chris O'Halloran's colour work on the sci-fi sections helps emphasize the division, employing strong hues (particularly green) that are absent from the Djalia pages.

I believe that Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther has always had a complex, sub-textual relationship to the work of past writers, particularly Jonathan Hickman. That's certainly clear in this issue, with T'Challa's actions during the Incursion crisis serving as a tentpole in the past Panthers' critique of him. 

It is not that Mr. Coates wants to undo what Mr. Hickman did with the Panther. But he recognizes (and wants to explore) that the morally-shady steps T'Challa was forced through in those stories should have profound, long-term consequences for the character. 

Mr. Coates has done an excellent job illuminating those consequences in the past, and he does it well again here. This issue's retrospective on past Panther events is thoughtful and enlightening.

It also leads organically to a nice bit of plot development that should (I hope!) kick-start the story in subsequent issues.

The bottom line is, I think it's pretty clear this volume of the Black Panther is paced too slowly. But #22 demonstrates that the fault is not all-consuming. These creators can still bring together sharp language, bright ideas, and beautiful art to concoct a fully-satisfying chapter. Still waters run deep -- and strong.

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Charles Martin's picture
If you're a literature nerd, think of Ta-Nehisi Coates as the Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens of Marvel comics. Definitely brilliant, but highly prone to digression.