A new era for T’Challa and Wakanda begins in November 24’s Black Panther #1 (opens in new tab), the launch of a new run by writer John Ridley and artist Juann Cabal. This new creative era comes as Black Panther’s mainstream popularity has reached rarified – almost deified – air, while in comic books he’s evolved to become not just the leader of the African nation of Wakanda, but the leader of a Wakandan space empire, and the leader of the Avengers.
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But all that changes by the time Black Panther #1 ends.
Spoilers ahead for Black Panther #1
Although Black Panther #1 begins with T’Challa leading the Avengers into battle (as he has for years through the main Avengers book), the comic book ends with the Wakandan king stepping down as Avengers chairperson – with Captain America even thinking at one point that he’s leaving the team entirely.
Ridley and Cabal’s Black Panther #1 is unpacking the massive societal change that the previous run by Ta-Nehisi Coates set about – specifically that Black Panther is no longer the ruler of Wakanda. Over the course of the Coates’ five years on Black Panther (opens in new tab), Wakanda grew from being a monarchy to being a constitutional monarchy (similar to the United Kingdom), with an elected parliament running the nation while the Black Panther remains ‘monarch’ in name, but for more of an advisory role.
As November 24’s Black Panther #1 demonstrates, the new political dynamic takes some getting used to by T’Challa – especially when some previous actions when he was the unqualified ruler of Wakanda are coming back to haunt him.
“You have been Wakanda’s greatest protector. There is no need to be otherwise. Only to adjust your methods,” one of T’Challa’s advisors, Akili, says. “The people are like adolescents. They need to assume their freedom while being looked after by a loving but firm adult who knows what’s best.”
T’Challa agrees with that analogy initially – but then re-learns what that can lead to.
Black Panther’s secret service
It is revealed that after Wakanda stopped isolating and hiding from the world and attempted to integrate itself into global geopolitical and economic affairs, T’Challa had reservations about the formerly-secretive nation becoming a public target. To that end, he created a secret and as-yet-unnamed group of Wakandan sleeper agents that integrated themselves around the world waiting to, at a moment’s notice, execute “infiltration, destruction, and assassination against anyone or any nation that threatened Wakanda.”
T’Challa kept this a secret from everyone, including his sister Shuri, by faking the deaths of several Wakandans – only to later assign them as agents in this Wakandan sleeper outfit.
The Black Panther’s secret is spoiled however when two of his agents, Jhai and Omolola, are attacked while secretly meeting each other in a public place. Jhai is killed in the skirmish with unidentified soldiers, but Omolola is able to report back to T’Challa what happened along with the fact that they had seemingly been specifically targeted – which would mean the secret is known to at least some of Wakanda’s enemies.
T’Challa is alarmed by this apparent breach (and the death of Jhai, a family friend), to the point that he loops in Shuri to his secret in an attempt to get her help in finding out who is attacking them. After some much-deserved chiding, Shuri agrees – but warns him that this needs to be his only priority.
Black Panther quits the Avengers leadership
“I’m sorry… what did you say?” Captain America reacts to the decision. “You want to quit the Avengers?”
While T’Challa assures Captain America he’s not quitting the Avengers, he does take a “temporary leave of absence” as Avengers chairperson – despite just re-affirming he would be able to handle it at the beginning of the issue.
“Circumstances change. They often do,” T’Challa argues.
“Responsibilities never change. Leaders put other people first,” Captain America responds. “You’re a king. You should understand that.”
Black Panther pushes back but asks Cap to trust his decision and the merits behind it.
“You have our trust. You always do,” Rogers says. “I just wish we had a little more of your commitment. Do what you have to do. I’ll tell the others.”
What’s next for Black Panther
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While Shuri puts her technological prowess into figuring out who is attacking T’Challa’s sleeper agents, the Black Panther himself sets out with Omolola in the field to find them the old-fashioned way.
“T’Challa… you’re going into this blind. You have no idea who or what you’re after,” Omolola warns. “Are you ready for what comes next?”
‘From a preview page at the end of the issue, ‘what comes next’ includes a confrontation with his former wife (and now the ruler of the X-Men-annexed Mars) Storm, as well as Captain America, and even Wakanda’s elite guard, the Dora Milaje.
The story continues in December 22’s Black Panther #2 (opens in new tab).
While you wait, make sure you’ve read all of the best Black Panther stories in comics.