Does the world really need another super hero? The answer, of course, is yes, especially when it's Coates' Black Panther. Coates is a critically acclaimed author and the creator of "Between The World And Me" so when Marvel Comics announced that he was to be the new custodian of their first black superhero, it was not only a graphic novel coup but a pop cultural milestone as well. The Black Panther is the kind of superhero who appeals not only to comic collectors and devotees, but also people who have never bought a comic book in their lives. Black Panther Book One was one of the fastest selling, and biggest grossing, comic books of all time, selling a very impressive 300,000 copies. It is also the first comic book series with a black superhero depicted by a black writer.
Although Book One, by definition, is the start of a series of adventures, the book still feels like a complete adventure in of itself. The story carries on where another adventure, "Secret Wars", ended. The kingdom of Wakanda has been invaded and completely devastated and the Black Panther's sister Shurisla has been murdered. Since Wakanda has previously been impenetrable this new status quo has been particularly traumatic for its people who have relied on their superhero leader, and his powerful technology, to keep them safe and uninvaded. They have quickly lost faith in their ruler as a result and the story begins with a citizens' revolt at the Great Mound, the source of Wakanda's all-important super metal. T'Challa quickly realizes that an unseen and unidentified foe is using mind control on his people and he and his soldiers fight back. They fight a little too strongly and several citizens are killed as a result. T'Challa attempts to find and identify his telepathic opponent but he finds this challenging because not only is he fighting an outside enemy but he is having to fight dissent amongst his own citizens as well. This is a new experience for him. This raises several questions that make this superhero comic unusual in the genre; the reader is asked to philosophize about what exactly it is that makes a leader; what makes a nation? What is a king's duty and where does his responsibility to his citizens end - if it ever ends at all? These questions cleverly highlight the main difference between the Black Panther and other superheroes. He is a monarch. He is not a vigilante crime fighter, or an ordinary Joe by day/masked avenger by night kind of guy. This makes his decisions more weighty and more difficult than those of his fellow forces for good. Sometimes, he has to use force against his own citizens for the greater good, not something that Batman or Spiderman have to worry about as they busy themselves fighting crime.
This book is also different from others of its ilk because other characters therein are also important. It does not just focus on its eponymous hero. The Black Panther often shares the page with a large selection of other characters, such as his wise old step-mother, his bodyguards and even his opponents, whose points of view are given just as much credence as his own. This is not just a comic book that posits good against evil, but shows the many shades of gray in between. This actually makes this comic book the most fascinating because it suggests that maybe - just maybe - T'Challa is wrong, and maybe his country is advanced enough that its need for a King and a monarchy is behind it. Familiar mainstream superheroes do not change the status quo but bravely maintain it. T'Challa's status quo is constantly changing.
The other unusual thing about this comic book is that T'Challa's former bodyguards are arrested and punished for the extraordinarily brutal execution of a violent rapist. Fortunately, his lover Ayo steals two prototype robotic suits and breaks him out of prison. They become the Midnight Angels, thereby introducing a second dynamic duo into the story, something that has not been seen before in superhero comics. For a first-time comic writer, Coates has produced a worthy first-time comic book which both makes enough references to previous comic books that existing fans will be happy, and also includes stand-alone storylines that do not isolate newcomers to the superhero or the genre as a whole.