Way back at SDCC when Marvel announced Black Panther: World of Wakanda, a comic spinning off of the popular and critically acclaimed new Black Panther ongoing comic, I was immediately pretty hyped. Then it was revealed that the major focus of the comic would be the history of Ayo and Aneka, the badass former Dora Milaje duo who fell in love and rebelled against what they saw as T’Challa’s misguided rule. Then it was announced that the series would be penned by queer Black feminist Roxane Gay, and my hype levels skyrocketed to unchartable levels. Add in an additional story co-written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Pittsburgh poet Yona Harvey, and you have a recipe for my money.
The first issue in the new ongoing series was finally released last week, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
Spoilers for the first issue below!
World of Wakanda #1 is divided into two stories, both of which almost entirely eschew the “Black Panther” part of the title, opting instead to focus on expanding the stories of three of the women who are crucial figures in the current Black Panther storyline. Two thirds of the book goes to Ayo and Aneka. In the first issue of Black Panther, we met these two women who deemed their love for each other and their country more important than loyalty to their king. However, until now, we have not learned any of their story. This issue begins with their first meeting, where Aneka is a headstrong Dora Milaje captain in charge of training the latest group of recruits, and Ayo is the upstart fresh blood who challenges her authority. We watch the new recruits train and find their niche within the variety of roles the Dora Milaje offers, and as Ayo and Aneka begin to find themselves thinking more frequently about each other. When the safety of the kingdom is threatened by an attack from Namor, the newly graduated women have to fly into action to defend their country.
Roxane Gay is the first Black female lead writer at Marvel—which feels like a shocking sentence to have to write in this, the year of our Lord 2016—and as a queer Black woman herself, she’s the perfect person to tell this story. With her input, we get a story with realistic wlw romantic tension alongside the fierce action of the fight training and later battle scenes. Meanwhile, Alitha E. Martinez, a Black comic artist who has worked on a variety of Big Two titles, joins forces with prolific Marvel colorist Rachelle Rosenberg to draw Ayo and Aneka’s story in a dynamic and expressive way that lends sensuality to their flirting without ever heading into cheesecake territory.
The only problem that I had with the story was less a result of Gay’s writing and more a major eyeroll at the Marvel Universe’s constant mega events, which seem to be increasing with the frequency and magnitude of Pacific Rim kaiju attacks.
In this case, Ayo and Aneka’s story (which is incidentally titled “Dawn of the Midnight Angels”, which might be the most badass thing ever) takes place prior to the current Black Panther arc, and instead of setting them against some threat from within Wakanda or some other Marvel-exclusive African country, the threat the newly minted Dora Milaje end up testing themselves against is a fight from the long-dead Avengers vs. X-Men arc from three or four years ago. It seems like an unnecessary callback to an event that has since been overshadowed by Infinity, Battle of the Atom, Death of the Watcher, Secret Wars, Civil War II, and, like, ninety other events past, present, and upcoming. It also feels a little exclusionary to people who don’t know or care who Namor is or why he’s attacking Wakanda.
The final third of the comic jumps us a bit closer in time to the current Black Panther arc with the story “The People for the People”, giving us some backstory on the mysterious and otherworldly Zenzi, the face of the other uprising against T’Challa’s rule of Wakanda. We see the difficult life she has led as a citizen of Niganda, the country directly to the south of Wakanda, to whom Wakanda has not been the kindest or most generous of neighbors. Her vendetta against the Black Panther is equally nobly motivated, as she wants to upset a system of rule that she feels endangers and is unfair to the Wakandan populace as a whole.
Yona Harvey in concert with regular Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, is, again, the perfect fit for this story. Zenzi is a complicated and angry person, but she’s also a visionary who wants to liberate Wakanda from the chains of the Black Panther’s rule. Harvey’s poetic touch adds the necessary heft to Zenzi’s words to elevate her from bitter and revenge-driven to driven revolutionary. They’re joined by Afua Richardson and Tamra Bonvillain as artist and colorist respectively, whose work lends a more mystical and dreamlike feel to the story than we saw in the more action-driven “Dawn of the Midnight Angels”.
Zenzi’s story is a one-shot, and the next issue, which will be released around Christmas, will return exclusively to the “Dawn of the Midnight Angels” storyline. However, the production team of the book has asked for reader ideas for other short stories, and I’m looking forward to seeing what suggestions pop up. Whatever happens in the comics, I’m hoping against hope that some aspects of this series appear in the upcoming Marvel film—Florence Kasumba’s badass, scene-stealing Dora Milaje character from Captain America: Civil War is currently credited as a character named Ayo on the movie’s IMDb page, so a girl can hope. Either way, this is a must-read for fans of the Black Panther series, although I’m not sure how accessible it would be to someone who hadn’t been keeping up with that.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!