"Marvel Action: Black Panther" #1 is an all-ages comic that tackles some real-world issues
Comics are kind of a crazy medium. With so many publishers, characters, and history, it’s often quite hard for new readers to jump in. Even for longtime fans it can be tough pinpointing stories or runs that hold up on their own, without the need to know what happened in the issues before and after the story you’re reading.
I’ve long held that, sometimes, the best place to find great standalone stories are all-ages books. Take the Batman and Superman animated series tie-in books published in the Nineties. The Batman Adventures had some of the best Batman comics of the decade, bar none, and Superman Adventures contains my second favorite Superman story of all time, as well as the best Lex Luthor story ever written. Given that each series was based on a show that stripped down their respective characters to their core elements, it allowed the comic writers to just write good stories that didn’t rely on too much continuity. More often than not, you could pick up an issue and jump in without knowing a single thing about Batman or Superman and still get a satisfying story.
IDW have recently started publishing a line of comics in a similar vein, falling under the Marvel Action banner. With a focus on different Marvel Comics characters, the series will allow creators to write easily accessible stories meant for readers of all ages. This week’s Marvel Action: Black Panther #1 is an excellent example of this model, with some incredibly solid work from Kyle Baker, Juan Samu, David Garcia Cruz, and Tom B. Long.
On its surface, this issue hits all the marks you would expect from a book for all readers: it has familiar characters, an easy to follow story, lots of action, and plenty of humor. What I didn’t quite expect, though, was how well it touches on some real world crises. The book opens on a drought in Wakanda that has led to famine and adverse weather conditions, prompting the King T’Challa to take charge.
That’s pretty heavy for an all-ages book, but Kyle Baker handles it really well. It’s the backbone of the story, as T’Challa vows to provide aid for anyone affected. You really get the feeling that T’Challa cares about his people and has the means to help, even as his press conference is interrupted by Shuri’s ringing phone. That the crisis at hand feels real and that “Let It Go” plays when Shuri gets an alert would feel like a conflict of tone in lesser hands, but it works really well here. The humor never undermines the drama, which makes the conflict all the more real.
Not to worry, though, as there’s plenty of comic booky greatness here too. I mean, Black Panther fights a tornado and dons modified Hulkbuster armor to save a downed jet, which are both gloriously insane and absolutely amazing. Props to Samu, Cruz, and Long for a legitimately thrilling action sequence.
I’m most familiar with Baker from his excellent Plastic Man series from some years back, so it’s no surprise that he’s able to tell a story that has real stakes but never feels oppressive. He ends the issue on a cliffhanger, so it’s not quite in the same “one-and-done” vein as the series I mentioned earlier, but it’s still a great jumping on point for anyone wanting to get into Black Panther. Marvel Action: Black Panther is an accessible read with equal amounts of drama and levity, and I can’t wait to read more.