Never underestimate the depth someone would go to make a point. Black Panther #11 is the best book in John Ridley’s run. If I can be honest, this run has been less than stellar. It is a brooding tale of a man who is struggling with his identity. Let everyone and their mama tell it, T’Challa knows who he is even if you don’t; so much so that they even had a run written by Reginald Hudlin asking the question who is the Black Panther? The trouble with identity is that in time and space, identity can be lost or reformed. I once sat across from a pastor who listened to me lament about just wanting to be happy. He told me simply that the perception of happiness is based often on conditions and circumstances. What he was getting at was the reality that you are “happy” when things are ideal for you. The trouble is in life, that is a rare occurence. People talk a good game but most people struggle with life. You can try and simplify things in your life but in the heart, nothing is simple. T’Challa’s identity is connected to his warrior mentality. He is a fighter, physically and mentally. If he is able to win, it is based upon his skills and the “heart”shaped herb that gives him his powers. My brother always brags on Wakanda being a warrior nation. Well what happens to the warrior when the warrior begins to question the thirst for war? What happens when his brother from the west sees past the facade into the indictment of guilt Wakanda has? What happens when the Wakanda’s people herself begins to question not only the monarchy but what it means to be Wakandan? Filter these thoughts with this reality. What do you give the man who has everything? Take away something. He will begin to question anything. Ultimately, in the end, he will want nothing. Issue 11 of this run brings to a head the source of T’Challa’s pain. His life has always been about obligations. He isn’t king of Wakanda anymore but he still is obligated to Wakanda. He isn’t active as emperor of the Intergalatic Empire of Wakanda but he is still obligated. He isn’t with Storm anymore but his heart is still obligated to her. He is chairman of the Avengers but he is reluctant in his obligations there as well. Here is a man in grief, in need (thank goodness for Shuri, he would be even worse if it wasn’t for her) and faces threats on all fronts. His journey in this run has been one of despair. He is man with a broken heart. I do not care how strong you think T’challa is. A broken heart is a broken heart. Broken hearted people break relationships. Broken hearted people can be as dangerous as a wounded animal. Lashing out and driving away those who care about them. T’Challa finds himself in the space of question. There is nothing wrong questioning anything. The wrong comes when you shun the truth. Here is how issue 11 ends. T’Challa finds out that his best friend who he thought was dead is alive. All this time, all these tears, all this angst. Now what you gonna do T’Challa?
In observing this issue. I see something I had not figured out. Writers often try to make statements about life, people or the state of the world. It is up to us to kind of figure it out. We all may not see the same thing and its okay and that is allowed. The noise that Ridley interjects into his writing on Black Panther has drowned out any semblance of statement. However, I have come to realize that Ridley took 11 painful issues to make a point. The point isn’t about T’Challa though. The point is about us fans. It is about our fantasies about the most popular Black superhero in modern times. It’s about our illusions of the character that is T’Challa. No matter how much you love T’Challa, you really cannot relate to him. He is a dream of Black manhood, African manhood. We who live in the west, who have more in common with Jefferson Pierce aka Black Lightning or Sam Wilson aka Black Falcon, lol shun the truth of who we are versus what we want things to be like. T’Challa is dope, no doubt. Ridley’s deconstruction of him pierces us only because we know the truth and too many of us wont recognize it. Ridley’s writing has been attacked for its “western” viewpoint of Wakanda. Truthfully speaking, Wakanda is a western idea at best and a glorified What If story at worst. How do you think folks from Atlanta fix they mouth to say that Atlanta is Wakanda. We joking or are we playing? Not to worry Black Panther comic book readers, the story is arching upwards. The truth is not just out there. Its staring T’Challa in the face. In the beginning of the issue, the so called opposing forces coordinate an attack on three data centers. They take no hostages, their mission was simple. Deliver a word. That word was “Live Freely, But Live in peace. Or Else.” This message is cryptic for the oppressed but it is crystal clear for the oppressors. Ridley’s account of the president reacting to this message is spot on. Dude gets an A plus for identifying U.S. imperialism. This subliminal message sent by Jhai was really on behalf of Wakanda. Wakanda has emerged from the shadows and is on the public stage but now this will turn it up an notch. I just wonder whether T’Challa will give Jhai a pound or will try to smack the Black off him. When you train people to be killers do not be surprised that they kill. When you train people to spy. Do not be surprise when they spy and create their aspirations for building a better world at your behest. Yeah, you might want to stick around for this run. Cats like myself have said that Ridley is going somewhere. Grab a late pass. The train has left the station. -Richard J Wright