King No More, Forever: Reviewing ‘Black Panther’ #15
by Scott Redmond
The latest volume of ‘Black Panther’ comes to a satisfying and game-changing conclusion with ‘Black Panther’ #15, wrapping up much of what has been built over the past fifteen months while also seeding plenty to be picked up upon for years to come by others. While T’Challa’s future is murky and a question mark, the future for Wakanda within the universe is quite bright creating some great forward movement in a medium often dominated by old status quos.
This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end. This classic song from The Doors seems quite appropriate now. Not only is this the end of this volume of Black Panther, but it’s also the end of the battle against Jhai and the sins of T’Challa’s past. Chiefly though, it is the definitive (as definitive as ongoing comics can be) end of T’Challa’s claim to any throne and his time in Wakanda as a whole.
Throughout this whole series, we’ve witnessed the sins of T’Challa laid bare, his decisions that he claims to have made in the best interest of Wakanda blown up in his face and the face of others. While the man fought back against this and dragged others down in his quest, there was only one place where this could end. Numerous times I mentioned in reviews wanting to see more time spent focused on T’Challa facing some sort of punishment or greater fall for his hubris and secrets, and well John Ridley didn’t disappoint. Wisely, Ridley saved the greatest blows to the former King of Wakanda for the final issues so that it stripped the character to the core, leaving him no choice other than to fight and stop Jhai to save the world and the country he still loves.
A country now allied with his greatest foe Namor, and a country he has now been exiled from.
There isn’t a ton of action within this issue because it’s all very much a character piece, and about showing us the aftermath of this whole story and where things go from here. It’s so perfect that some of the most action-packed panels aren’t actually in reality happening, but instead are demonstrations of what a fight between T’Challa and Jhai could look like if they actually fought. Perfectly faded and placed over the two men staring each other down as they talk, executed powerfully by Germán Peralta and Jesus Aburtov.
We see where these two men are, how their dedication and friendship still remain even in the face of what has been done to this point, and how Jhai tries to play to T’Challa’s desires to have the throne back. Except, that’s not what T’Challa wants. Ridley executes so many things here so well. We see great growth in T’Challa as he realizes that the loss of the throne and his exile is what is best for Wakanda and something he now has the strength to accept. Here we see the man grow and he forgives Jhai because it was, he who pushed Jhai to this point and made him into this. One of the best moves though was allowing Omolola to be the one that finishes Jhai, when T’Challa can’t because she did promise to take the head of the person who took the man she loved even if it was that man she loved that betrayed her so.
After this we got a lot of pages that are setting up the new format for Wakanda, which likely will be paid off with the new Black Panther series launching in June (from Eve Ewing and Chris Allen). Ridley does a lot of work to sort of shuffle around many of the toys he pulled out or created for this run, sending some off into the sunset. I really hope that some of these characters, and by all accounts, this issue seems to set it up, continue to play a part in the new series. Often a new creative team on a book means that little of what came before plays a part unless one is talking about Daredevil where creative teams have been building off one another’s momentum for most of the last twenty years (geez time flies).
Two last notes here before we turn back to the fantastic art. First, the interplay between Namor and T’Challa never gets old. Especially Namor pointing to the fact that keeping peace with Wakanda and therefore keeping T’Challa in exile is the cruelest thing he could do and therefore something he’s bound to do was delicious petty stuff. Secondly having the trio of former Objectifications rip a portal to actually throw themselves out of the issue/series talking about how Shuri should not call them unless it’s dire (as they also reveal they could speak English the whole time and would have earlier if someone had just asked) was a brilliantly hilarious way to just have them be swept off the board as the series closes.
Peralta just has such a beautiful style of artwork, one that slips and slides and exists right in that perfect space between smooth and rough in quality. Emotion is never hard to feel and see in the faces and in the body language of the characters, framed excellently in the panel choices, as a heaviness can be felt through the whole thing because of that roughness but also depth. There is the sense of knowing when to go all in on detail and depth but also when to pull back and let the moment speak for itself without needing to surround it with too many other things that could steal the focus. As I mentioned, the pages with T’Challa and Jhai facing off to talk with the inset panels of faded colors creating side flashes of a fight that could have been are just so well done.
There is an almost paint-like feeling to the artwork which works so well with the colors that Aburtov provides. There is enough brightness to befit this book being one that takes place in a fantastical superpowered realm with costumed characters, but most of the colors are of a more toned-down nature. This allows more of that darkness to come to the forefront but also keeps it a more real down-to-Earth sort of atmosphere because this is at its heart a character piece and a political thriller at the same time.
Together they are also able to create so many distinct vistas/settings with their own energies and tones since this issue bounces around from the siege of the center where Jhai is in Japan to various parts of Wakanda. Within the center, colors run a cooler tone with blues and purples and most of the panels are very much closeups (keeping us tight in on the various players) while the pages within Wakanda range from more ranges of vibrant colors for the city/chamber spaces and more natural colors for the open spaces with all those spaces using close-ups but also far wider establishing shots. We need those aspects in the first part of the issue because we’re meant to feel confined in that space with the two men and feel the coldness between them as they face off. In the later pages, while the sadness of T’Challa’s exiles looms large, the openness and brighter colors correspond to how the pages are setting up a far brighter and promising future for Wakanda now that the monarchy system has finally been fully dismantled.
There are a lot of words to get out in this issue, lots of things to wrap up and be said between various individuals, and it’s all woven so well by Wakandan mainstay Joe Sabino. We see the various bits of dialogue which are crafted in a way that makes them appear calm and collected at the moment but also done in a way where we can hear the pain and other emotions within every word as we read them. There is no mistaking the moments where various emotions take over, not only because we can see it on their faces but because the various fonts change or throw in little elements that help us to create the tone or volume in our minds.
This series has been quite a ride, with tons of rollercoaster-like twists and turns and highs and lows to go around. It’s one of those runs that I think could benefit from a full readback as a whole now that it’s complete. They’ve left T’Challa in a very intriguing space and I cannot wait to see where it goes from here.
Black Panther #15 is now available from Marvel Comics.