Ta-Nehisi Coates mixes superheroes, real world issues, and the past well.
As I often do with new series, I picked up the first issue of Black Panther & the Crew but it dropped off my radar. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer to watch — his Black Panther run is a must read — and given the crew of heroes he’s assembled in this title, it’s an exciting endeavor. The collection is out in trade paperback form this week in comic shops, which means time to read the story arc in its entirety!
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Manifold band together to take on a dangerous wave of street-level threats in a new series by co-writers Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York Times best-selling author of Between the World and Me and Marvel’s Black Panther) and Yona Harvey (Black Panther: World of Wakanda), and legendary artist Butch Guice! The death of a Harlem activist kicks off a mystery that will reveal surprising new secrets about the Marvel Universe’s past – and set the stage for a huge story in the near future! Fear, hate and violence loom, but don’t worry, The Crew’s got this: They are the streets.
Why does this matter?
Coates mixes history with superheroes as this collection reveals a team from 1957 that protected the Bronx. Nothing is as it seems however, and Misty Knight needs to do plenty of detective work to find out what happened to a man cheered in the community and how Hydra plays into all this.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
An interesting take on superheroes.
This collection has a slower pace, but for good reason. Detective work doesn’t work when it’s coming at you at a breakneck pace. Coates does a good job cutting between the past, the present, and the process of assembling the superhero team you see in the cover. The plotting requires that a new team member is added to each issue, which allows the mystery to percolate and come into its own. By the end your expectations will be tested and I guarantee you’ll be surprised.
There’s also a strong message at the core of the narrative. African Americans were not treated well in 1957 and there’s a story here about how things never change, those with power always want to keep minorities down, and at what lengths you could (and maybe even should) go to gain freedom and protection. This weaves into the Secret Empire story well, especially considering the fascist and authoritarian themes in that story.
Butch Guice draws much of this collection (with Mack Chater) with an assist on one of the issues from Stephen Thompson. Guice’s pencils work well for the street scenes with moody inks that bring out the reality of the streets. There’s a lot of talking in this book (detective comics kind of require it) and Guice’s work is realistic with good detail on close ups of Misty and the rest of the cast. It’s also fun to see Black Panther sporting a suit for much of the collection. The final battle looks great — this is where most of the superhero fighting goes down — and the rain adds an element of chaos and energy to the pages.
Don’t let power go to your head.
It can’t be perfect can it?
I can’t say the slower pace does this book many favors for much of the work. It’s possible the character Coates cuts to in the past isn’t established enough to really matter, which ended up making these flashbacks interesting for the plot but lacking an emotional tether to the bigger picture. I couldn’t help but want this team to be together more quickly — the introduction of each hero being at such a slow pace makes the dynamic between them all last all too briefly. I imagine this series was probably supposed to go on longer but was cut due to sales in which case the slower build makes sense. Unfortunately, I was left wanting more from the team as a whole due to their coming together way too late.
Is It Good?
This is an interesting read that mixes real-world problems with a complex mystery culminating in a book well worth your time. The pace hurts the overall enjoyment, especially with the team not coming together till late in the game, but overall it’s well worth a read.