Black authors imagine new tales in the 'Black Panther' world in anthology 'Tales of Wakanda'
You won’t need kimoyo beads for this trip to Wakanda.
“Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda” (Titan, 512 pp., ★★★ out of four), available March 9, is a collection of short stories from Black authors including Nikki Giovanni, L.L. McKinney, Sheree Renée Thomas, Tananarive Due and Christopher Chambers.
What sets this anthology apart from other works on Wakanda, the fictional African country, is that it’s a compendium of prose, not comics. There’s plenty of opportunity for the text to take you wherever it wants without constraint of an illustrated box, and the authors have distinct writing styles honed from their respective disciplines, such as poetry, blogging, neuroscience and YA fiction.
The 18 shorts in this collection seem connected by two defining themes: faith and family. Book editor Jesse J. Holland's tale, titled “Faith,” frames itself around bloodlines, religion and legacy.
The book isn’t solely built on the foundations of the 2018 film “Black Panther,” directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, though the collection is dedicated to Chadwick Boseman, who played Black Panther/King T’Challa and died in 2020 from colon cancer. Perhaps the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie served as inspiration for the writers, but these characters are more clearly drawn from their comic origins.
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But, comic fans, don’t expect this anthology to read like a text-only continuation of Roxane Gay’s excellent “World of Wakanda,” either. That 2017 Marvel Comics series focused on women in Wakanda, specifically two women who served in the Dora Milaje, the Black Panther’s all-female security force.
There are glimpses of lives lived by Ororo (X-Men’s Storm), Killmonger, Shuri and relatives of Wakandan citizens who left their native land long ago.
In "Legacy," by YA fiction writer L.L. McKinney, a young girl named Erika is preparing to visit Wakanda, where her grandmother grew up, for the first time with her family. The tiny tale is so fully lived, as we see Erika's sweet interactions with her mom and hilarious ones with her brother in their trip to the airport. We witness as she learns a secret about her grandmother and Wakandan history. The mystery that McKinney sets up could easily have been an action-packed novel on its own.
Poet Nikki Giovanni's "Immaculate Conception," a "What If?" Marvel alternate reality story, follows T'Challa in a coming-of-age tale as he finds his way to Wakanda after growing up in Oakland, California. He has never heard of the nation nor the Black Panther, and he goes by the nickname TC to avoid teasing for his African name. Giovanni's story about T'Challa's journey hits home in a way that other stories about him don't because of his American experiences before he finds out he is Wakandan royalty and his aspirations away from the throne.
The comic-book-related details may, unfortunately, be a barrier to entry for new or younger fans who came to Black Panther by way of the big screen. Some names may be unfamiliar, and some rivalries may not be understood without a quick Google search for those who haven’t at least glanced at the “Black Panther” comic book runs by Christopher Priest or Ta-Nehisi Coates.
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But many of the stories center on the author’s vision of T’Challa, the prince, the panther, but not always the hero here. T’Challa seems unsure in nearly each story, less the confident Avenger and more a royal troubled by his path and his actions, seeking deeper meaning in his ancestors.
T’Challa is viewed through a lens of judgment, or even rebuke for Wakanda’s failure to help Black people around the world for centuries. But his conflicts aren’t ever explored as directly as they could be, the stories simply hinting at them and then dancing into a fight scene. Leave us wanting more, I guess.
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It would have been nice to spend more time exploring the daily life of Wakanda, more tales from outside the royal family, about Wakandans who have had their vibranium blessings without the burden of the crown. What are their stories? Some of the most compelling plots in “Tales of Wakanda” involve those who left Wakanda or those whose descendants are returning. Maybe there are more tales to come.
For now, the best stories in this anthology should sate fans longing for the next “Black Panther” installment from Marvel Studios. Wakanda forever.