To many black comic book readers, the very idea of Wakanda has become romanticized. Once upon a time in Marvel, Wakanda is imagined to have been the only kingdom in all of Africa never to fall to European aggression. Even in the super-powered, cosmic scope masterfully articulated in a myriad of Black Panther-based titles over the years, Wakandan technology was the most advanced. Transposed onto the real world, it has always represented a fictional warm spot of Black exceptionalism.
Written by Roxane Gay, with pencils from veteran artist Alitha E. Martinez, who also does inks along with Roberto Poggi, and consultation from columnist and Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Panther: World of Wakanda is the blackest Marvel production that I have ever read. Most of the creators, and nearly all of the characters, are of the African Diaspora. Throw in plush and lush covers by immensely talented artist Afua Richardson and you see just what I’m getting at.
Though it is a Black Panther title, the story of Black Panther: World of Wakanda centers on Ayo and Aneka, two women warriors of the esteemed Dora Milaje – the traditional bodyguards of the Black Panther and the royal family.Traditionally, the Dora Malije are possible mates for the king. Although this has not happened in decades, some loyal members of the Dora Malije still see this traditional clause as one of their possible duties.
Much of the first issue deals with the relationship between these two characters. In the beginning, Aneka is a captain of the Dora Milaje who is attracted to Ayo, then a fresh new recruit from a distant village. The events in the first issue take place prior to Black Panther #1, around the time a Phoenix-infused Namor of Atlantis attacked Wakanda, flooding its Gold City in a horrific act of mass destruction back in New Avengers #7 (2013).
From a mortality standpoint, that wasn’t a good time to be a Wakandan warrior. When Namor attacks, Gold City is destroyed because there’s simply no way to fight a tidal wave, which is the scenario Aneka and Ayo faced at the end of issue #1.
At the beginning of issue #2, we find the noble Dora Malije heavily engaged in the recovery effort of the devastated Gold City, once the pinnacle of modern architecture. While Aneka is solemn but focused on the recovery effort, fiery Ayo decides she would much rather like to participate in the effort to hunt down and kill Namor, and show how the two women’s bond grow stronger through the crucible of training, combat and catastrophe.
Though their initial attraction has not manifest itself into actions, it did appear they were becoming closer. However, in her rage, Ayo rebuffs the notion.
Aneka feigns ambiguity to the reason for Ayo’s occasional outbursts to Mistress Zola, who points out there may be another reason for their volatile interaction. Aneka becomes suspicious when she and Ayo are assigned to Queen Shuri’s security detail after anticipating being assigned to her brother, T’Challa. Her suspicions are further stoked when a knife-wielding young man tries to storm Queen Shuri’s recovery rally screaming to speak with her.
He is trying to tell of T’Challa’s complicity in provoking Namor’s attack, but Ayo and Aneka allow her to continue engaging her subjects un-bothered. The man, a Gold City survivor who lost his wife, explains how T’Challa’s involvement with, and harboring of, the Avengers is the reason this destruction was wrought. After eventually giving into their attraction, Aneka regrets risking everything she has by giving in to her desire to be with her fellow Dora Malije.
Aneka would like to think it over and Ayo agrees to hold back, but makes it known that she won’t wait too long. It isn’t until a third of the way through the second issue that T’Challa is finally seen, when the two protagonists are assigned to a team to assist him in a classified operation. Upon arriving, Ayo shows her behind yet again by questioning the Black Panther’s plan and his allegiance to the Avengers in the same breath.
She again steps out of place when T’Challa reveals that Namor has been invited to desolate Necropolis at his behest. This is around the time Namor was attempting to recruit T’Challa. Then, they survive the attack of cosmic death zealot Thanos that almost destroyed the entire country. Throughout the book, from the moment they meet, their attraction and eventual love for one another is juxtaposed next to their dueling energies relative to loyalty to Wakanda.
By the end of issue two, Ayo and Aneka have done the unthinkable in relaying T’Challa’s meeting with Namor to Queen Shuri. He had indeed lost his way, using Wakanda as a staging base, but with thoughts firmly affixed in things and ambitions far, far away.
World of Wakanda is a very daring, interesting comic book. Many of the situations in this book have been resolved, or are still being resolved, in the title written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I feel like that makes it even more readable. Not only are the primary protagonists not superheroes, but themes of honor and duty over love, as well as the smashing of rejecting of stale traditions, are also prominent.
Much of these first two issues were written to build upon the relationship between Ayo and Aneka as much as to build the overall arc. All the artists on the book are practically young O.G.s, so all the art is on point. The color, as well. We’ll bring you our review of the next two books in an upcoming TSL Comic Book Convo.