Changing my mind and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Black Panther”

black-panther
Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Like many people, Tuesday left me at a loss. I think many people had it in the back of their minds that what happened could happen, but then convinced themselves that it couldn’t possibly. If the left gives people facts, those people will make the right choice; no rational person would cast his or her vote for such a buffoon–a plastic fascist.

Wrong.

It takes much more than that.

I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve learned as a history student. My mind is like a sieve. I cannot recall the recurrences and missteps that have led people to make catastrophic decisions. I cannot always remember that the arc of history is long and bends toward chaos unless we fix it.

It’s all cause for reflection. My reading urges are pushing me away from fiction and into history and philosophy texts. It feels right that I should. Eventually, my blog will reflect this.

But first, I felt like I needed to read something thoughtful, empowering, and creative at the end of this week, so I abandoned The Lady of the Rivers and the rest of the YA books on my list and bought Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther.

I’ll admit from the get-go that I have little experience with graphic novels and comics, but what I have read has changed my perspective on many things. I was intrigued by the idea that the National Book Award winner and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient would choose to turn his energy and talent to comic books. From the beginning, I knew anything he had a hand in would be great, and Black Panther does not disappoint.

For people like me who knew nothing about the Black Panther before reading this, it wasn’t a huge disadvantage, but it would help to have some knowledge of his and Wakanda’s past before starting. In the period leading up to the start of Volume 1, Wakanda has been through a series of attacks that have left the people feeling violated and unprotected at the hands of a king whom they sense feels the country is a burden. Rebellious factions repeat the mantra, “No One Man.” No one man should rule. No one man should have such power. No one man…

But the Black Panther’s one duty–his hereditary imperative–is to protect the people from dangerous forces, and he has failed at that. The same woman who reveals the Wakandan rioters rage to themselves in the beginning of the volume also reveals that the king is ashamed of himself and must face his failures daily.

Illustrator, Brian Stelfreeze, brilliantly depicts an old world African aesthetic with the sleek technological advancement Wakanda is known for. This visual duality mirrors the growing fault lines between Aneka and Ayo, the wronged Dora Milaje; Tetu and “the People”; and the king himself.

We don’t get much of a hint as to where the balance of power will shift, but we know that the Black Panther is about to unleash the full wrath of his soldiers against the militants, which could be his ultimate downfall. Coates uses the Queen Mother’s logic to offset her stepson’s traditional inclination toward physical and violent protection of Wakanda. But how does he achieve balance? It seems he banishes the idea of even trying after the Queen Mother is nearly killed in a terrorist bombing.

What will this denial of reason cost him in the future? Aneka and Ayo and Tetu’s forces will all but destroy him.

But most importantly this volume made me ask myself, “Where should my sympathies lie?” That, perhaps, is its most interesting function, because it isn’t immediately obvious.

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