Review of Black Panther: World of Wakanda
Spinning out of Marvel Comics’ current run of Black Panther, the new comic book series, World of Wakanda, is notable in that its writers, Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey, are the first female African-American writers to write for the publisher. Finally, in a field overwhelmingly overrepresented by white males, Marvel has begun to diversify not just their characters, but the people who write them. Marvel’s recent push for diversity in creators and characters comes at an important time when, due to election results, many minorities may be feeling delegitimized and marginalized. Gay, a professor at Purdue University, is known primarily as a feminist writer. Her most famous work is a collection of essays entitled Bad Feminist. Harvey is a poet and professor at the University of Pittsburgh. This is Gay’s and Harvey’s first comic book series.
The first issue of World of Wakanda is comprised of two stories: one written by Gay, with art by Alitha E. Martinez and Rachelle Rosenberg; and the other by Harvey, with art by Afua Richardson and Tamra Bonvillain. Both stories are lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino. Gay’s story, “Dawn of the Midnight Angels,” provides a backstory for two fan-favorite characters, Aneka and Ayo, introduced in Issue #1 of the current Black Panther series. World of Wakanda shows the beginning of their relationship, which began when Ayo joined the Dora Milaje (Adored Ones), the group of all-female soldiers tasked with protecting the ruler and royal family of Wakanda of which Aneka was a captain. Harvey’s story, entitled “The People for the People,” also provides a backstory, that of Zenzi, one of the rebel leaders in Black Panther.
As mentioned, World of Wakanda spins out of Black Panther, written by The Atlantic writer and Genius Grant recipient Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates’ series follows Black Panther, the superhero moniker of T’Challa, King of the fictional African country Wakanda, as he deals with recent challenges to his power incited by rebels. Wakanda, the most scientifically-advanced nation in the Marvel Universe, is a setting rich with narrative possibilities. Based on this fact and the growing popularity of Black Panther after his inclusion in this summer’s Captain America: Civil War film, it follows that Marvel should capitalize on this area of their universe.
In order to ensure a sense of continuity of plot and tone between the Black Panther and World of Wakanda, Coates is listed as a consultant for both stories in the issue and as a co-writer of Harvey’s backup story. Just like Coates’ Black Panther, both stories in World of Wakanda were driven by their socio-political commentary, providing interesting discourse on modern political systems and civic unrest. In contrast to Black Panther, which presents a top-down look at the politics of Wakanda, World of Wakanda shows the system from below, following characters distinctly not in power, yet still empowered based on their own actions. In Gay’s story, Aneka and Ayo assert their individuality amidst the uniformity of the Dora Milaje, while in Harvey’s story Zenzi, an oppressed refugee from a neighboring country finds empowerment within her connection to nature and in the cause of rebel leader Tetu. By creating engaging backstories for the three main characters with interesting plots, no story outshines another.
Although the series is a spinoff, understanding and enjoying it does not necessarily require having read the original series (though, based on its incredible quality, everyone should), or any other Marvel comic. There are events which occur in the issue which situate it within the broader Marvel universe, but the story is self-contained enough that new readers should not be intimidated. The story is likely to be most interesting to people who become easily attached to intelligently written characters. From the first issue, it is clear that the series is going to be a character-driven one, fleshing out and providing space for the voices and relationships of the intriguing female characters from its parent series. In doing so, World of Wakanda provides a fully engaging looks at an under-explored section of the Marvel Universe.