It is unsurprising that we at Black Nerd Problems are here for Wakanda. We have well developed theories about it, have imagined our favorite barbershops and corner bodegas. Even those of us who aren’t walking comic book encyclopedias have a soft spot for it, not as it has always been portrayed — which, let’s be honest, has had a heavy dose of deepest darkest exotic AFRICA — but as it could be, as an imaginary place where the past and the Afrofuture live in harmony. It is this Wakanda, at its best and worst, that Black Panther: World of Wakanda brings us.
The entire frame of this series is that it brings the life of Wakanda, not from the perspective of the King or the Queen, the usual viewpoints, but from the perspective of two Dora Milaje, an experienced Captain Aneka, and an impulsive newcomer, Ayo. Starting before Queen Shuri’s “death”, the three opening issues run through Namor’s flooding of the Golden City and the invasion of Thanos’s Black Order, which is a lot of backstory to dig through in just a few side references. Roxane Gay tells a story that is strong enough that I care more about Ayo and Aneka’s story than anything else. The two women, fighting enemies and saving their countryfolk, develop a deep bond that is at times one of conflict — they rarely seem to see eye to eye right away — but that has become one first of lust, and then of romantic love.
You did know this was a Marvel comic that centers two Black lesbians fighting for their beliefs and for a better way forward for Wakanda, didn’t you? Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are. Their relationship develops along side, and is just as important as, the developing distrust between T’Challa and the Dora Milaje in particular, and his people at large. Aneka and Ayo are far from the silent Black women standing behind the throne, defending the King while they wait to be chosen as his Queen. They question everything. They debate and argue even as they follow orders. They repeatedly declare that while they are loyal, they are not blind. They are, in short, complicated, realistic characters whose burgeoning rebellion is as interesting as their growing relationship.
As issue #2 wrapped up, the Dora Milaje made an official declaration to T’Challa that he no longer had their trust. The consequences of this build in issue #3, as Queen Shuri and Queen Mother Ramonda are brought up to speed by Fulani, another Dora Milaje who has her own motives, and they aren’t good ones. The plot deepens in this issue, as it expands beyond just Aneka and Ayo. While the counterplot develops, Aneka and Ayo have their own troubles as they confront the reality of their relationship, complicated as it by their vows to Wakanda. The question remains if they should reveal their relationship to their superior, Mistress Zola, and the rest of the order, or if they will keep it a secret.
Now that’s a relationship ending moment. Their get-away does manage to patch things up between them, and they come back committed to each other and stronger than ever together. We know that their arc eventually intersects with Black Panther Issue #1 and beyond, but the journey from here to there is fascinating and worth following.
The art style takes a lot from Brian Stelfreeze’s work on Black Panther, but Alitha Martinez and team go their own way in this comic. Facial expressions, especially of desire, or confusion, are spot on. The backgrounds come and go, but when it is on, this comic is beautifully drawn and sexy as hell. And, this is crazy I know, there are Black women of different skin tones in the comic! With different hair styles (some of which I want to copy)? Different body types? It is as if when you let Black women draw Black women you get more realistic and varied representation! I know! Who thought of that? (#BlackWomenDidThat)
The big negative I will say about this comic is that it isn’t for beginners to the Marvel universe. If you don’t have a decent grasp on the Black Panther, and the basics of the Avengers, it may be easy to get lost. And it goes without saying that you should be reading the main Black Panther title as well. As I said, Gay and crew do a good job of summing up the high points, but it is a lot of ground to cover. If you can get into the relationships, and let the global stuff slide, you’ll do well.