“See Wakanda and Die” Tells You Everything You Need to Know about Black Panther

The Three-Issue Event Tie-In About Alien Invaders is a Shockingly Good Summary of the Warrior King

Comics Features Black Panther
“See Wakanda and Die” Tells You Everything You Need to Know about Black Panther

One of the Internet’s favorite features when a new comic-book movie hit theaters is the quick-and-dirty “Read These Comics if You Loved [Insert Film Here].” We’re guilty of it—it’s fun, it’s often easy and it might just help kick-start a new love of sequential art. Recent silver-screen stars like Spider-Man and Wonder Woman have no shortage of standalone tales that are easy to recommend to folks who may not be up to speed on Diana’s latest origin, or Peter Parker’s full cadre of arachnid associates. Suggesting accessible Black Panther comics, on the other hand, is as complicated as assembling working replicas of Shuri’s feline power-gauntlets.

Jack Kirby’s original interpretation laid the bombastic groundwork, but provided more raw material than definitive characterization. The Don McGregor-penned “Panther’s Rage” arc from 1970s title Jungle Action, which featured art from Black cartoonist Billy Graham, influenced the film’s plot (and helped pioneer multi-issue arcs) but much of it is as dated as the title “Jungle Action.” The gold standard T’Challa showcase remains writer Christopher Priest’s 60+-issue run beginning in 1998, illustrated by Mark Texeria, Sal Velluto and others, but it works best when read in full—no small challenge for a new reader. The subsequent volume, written by filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, starts strong with an origin arc before quickly falling off a quality cliff. Even the critically acclaimed and much-hyped current run by renowned author Ta-Nehisi Coates and artists like Brian Stelfreeze and Leonard Kirk is a dense, decompressed read, with a 12-issue initial arc heavily steeped in Wakandan politics and events from previous series. (The less said about that time Black Panther replaced Daredevil, the better.)

For the casual movie fan impressed with Chadwick Boseman’s take on T’Challa and interested in seeing more of the Black Panther in action, there’s only one clear choice: a three-issue event tie-in about alien invaders from a decade ago.

Black Panther #39 Interior Art by Jefte Palo & Lee Loughridge

Event comics, mega-crossovers that suck dozens of series into their plots like marketing black holes, are often anathema to accessibility. Series as popular and widely read as Ms. Marvel have been derailed by forced connections to events, and these tie-in issues are often glossed over as soon as the crossover ends. Not so with writer Jason Aaron, artist Jefte Palo and colorist Lee Loughridge’s “See Wakanda and Die” arc in Black Panther (Vol. 4) #39 through #40, which requires no wider knowledge of the event. Set during the peak of Secret Invasion, in which it was revealed that shape-shifting aliens known as Skrulls had embedded long-hidden sleeper agents among Earth’s mightiest heroes, “See Wakanda and Die” brings the invasion to T’Challa’s doorstep—and the king is prepared.

Aaron, now one of the industry’s biggest writers, was still on the rise at Marvel when he penned this tie-in, but even with just three issues and a mandate to include green aliens, Aaron shows off his ability to simply get characters. As soon as the Skrulls approach the walled-off royal city, they spot the heads of their sleeper agents waiting for them on pikes—a warning of what’s to come. When the Skrulls press on, T’Challa’s first response comes not on the field of battle, but from a war room, where the nation’s finest scientists (clad in tribal gear, a visual that reinforces Wakanda’s strong cultural traditions) use cutting-edge technology to hobble the enemy ships and deprive the Skrulls of projectile weapons. Even forced into hand-to-hand combat, the wrinkly chinned Skrulls expect to sweep the country with ease, but while it’s a tenuous claim these days, following a flooding attack from the Atlantean monarch Namor and a different intergalactic invasion, one of Wakanda’s key traits is that the isolated, highly advanced African nation has never been successfully invaded by outside forces. As the Skrull onslaught advances, a legion of Wakandans, clad in matching panther masks, join their king in combat outside the city walls, rallied by T’Challa’s inspiring speech. To face T’Challa is to face the full might of Wakanda.

Black Panther #40 Interior Art by Jefte Palo & Lee Loughridge

Artists Jefte Palo and Lee Loughridge handle the subsequent sequence, in which the Skrulls deploy their genetically modified super-soldiers, with a palpable sense of horror. What should be faintly ridiculous—a pointy-eared alien with Wolverine’s claws, Bullseye’s forehead logo and Iron Fist’s…iron fist…comes off as terrifying, as T’Challa spots his sliced-up countrymen before coming across the brute himself. Palo employs a deceptively simple style that makes expert use of angles, silhouettes and shadows, and in conjunction with Loughridge’s restrained palette, the duo render outer-space aggressors and a feline-themed kingdom with equal authenticity. (Palo, criminally underrated on Marvel titles like Taskmaster and Doctor Voodoo, now lends his talents to Lion Forge’s superhero line.)

Physically outmatched by the Super-Skrulls, T’Challa fights smarter, not harder, identifying the warrior’s tells and systemically taking out an elbow, an eye and a knee, ending the battle. All the while, the Black Panther’s then-wife Ororo (better known to most as Storm of the X-Men) pursues a separate mission. In both these earliest depictions of their romance and the recent Coates-penned issues, a defining characteristic of T’Challa’s love for Ororo is his respect and deference. T’Challa sees Ororo as an equal, if not a superior, when it comes to matters of state and battle. The warrior-king trusts his wife, which makes her seeming capture by a Skrull agent all the more shocking.

Black Panther #40 Interior Art by Jefte Palo & Lee Loughridge

We won’t spoil how the story concludes, as Aaron and company hinge the book’s final issue on a fist-pumping surprise twist, but it involves the same genius-level thinking and foresight that T’Challa displays throughout Jonathan Hickman’s complex New Avengers run, in which the Black Panther and a clique of the Marvel Universe’s finest minds debate impossible, reality-altering choices. In under 70 pages, Aaron, Palo and Loughridge display the regal composure, fighting prowess, tactical genius, homeland pride and hard-won heart that defines T’Challa as we know him—and include enough alien carnage to satisfy the most difficult-to-please readers.

Two other elements run throughout the three issues and come to a head in the final installment. Aaron opts to frame the story partially through the eyes of a Skrull commander who quietly despises the warrior life and seeks to finish this mission and then retire in peace with his wife. Aaron asks the reader to sympathize with the invading Skrull not because there are very fine people on both sides, but because this is the kind of choice T’Challa is faced with daily: how do you weigh the security of your people against the lives of others who are righteous in their own minds?

The other recurring theme throughout “See Wakanda and Die” is the human toll of war on the country, and on the Panther himself. “When I pray to the Panther God, I pray for my people,” T’Challa narrates. “For the wisdom to lead them. For the strength to crush our enemies. And I pray for the souls of those among us…who I know will not live to see the dawn.” T’Challa is right, and watches as dozens of his countrymen are slaughtered. He names each fallen comrade and takes personal responsibility for their loss, lamenting the squandered potential, the family members left behind. More than his royal duties, more than his Avengers membership, more than his warrior spirit, the Black Panther is Wakanda, with all of the awesome power and tremendous weight of responsibility that entails.

And as the Skrulls discover, you don’t fuck with Wakanda.

Black Panther #40 Interior Art by Jefte Palo & Lee Loughridge

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