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Ta-Nehisi Coates gets a lot of praise for his recent runs on Black Panther and its various spin-offs, and it’s all true. His latest, Black Panther & The Crew brings in even more superhero star-power under his narrative wing. The story bands together T’Challa, Storm of the X-Men, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and now Eden Fesi a.k.a. Manifold, the mutant teleporter.
It’s a star studded cast, but Coates does great work in getting their various backgrounds and agendas on the same page. The Crew acts as defenders of the communities they come from. After an adventure in Wakanda, their attention shifts to Harlem after the death of community activist Ezra Keith.
Coates writes, with pencils from Butch Guice, Mack Chater, and Stephen Thompson, inks by Scott Hanna, Chater and Thompson, and colors by Dan Brown and Paul Mounts. Though known for his scholarly and social essays, Coates takes those themes here and expands them into the fantastical world of superheroes. Indeed, he takes the story of black superheroes in particular and explores its past.
Whether or not that fight ever achieves results is what Black Panther and the Crew are here to find out – and rectify.
As the issue opens, we get some background on Ezra Keith, the central victim and mystery of this arc. Keith actually founded a group of black superheroes in the 50’s known as the Crusade. With Keith’s recent death, the past and present are as relevant as ever in determining what nefarious forces lurk in Harlem.
From there, narration duties are taken over by Manifold. It’s great to see this character back in action, as he’s been less active since climbing the ranks from Secret Warrior to Avenger. Coates writes him superbly, a man out of place but at the same time finding new purpose in his new Harlem neighborhood.
Using his teleportation and bad ass Aboriginal spear to defend some kids out past curfew, Manifold is nearly taken down by the robot “Americops” patrolling the streets. Fortunately the Crew shows up in time, learning that they have a shared goal – solving the murder of Ezra Keith.
Pacing is as important as context in a story as layered as this, and Coates leans a bit more into the latter. The issue is action packed at the start, only to settle in around coffee and exposition once the team welcomes Eden. It’s a slow-down, but a necessary one to show the stakes they’re up against.
Wakandan intelligence ends up uncovering that Ezra’s super-team was funded by Hydra, unbeknownst to him or his teammates. Hydra’s goal then is the same as it is today – to take the rage of a people and bend it to their own ends. It’s a scary idea, and one especially resonant now with racial turmoil sweeping the nation.
Black Panther, Misty and the rest of the team ask the same question – to what end? To sow chaos? To vilify an oppressed group that only wants justice for their slain neighbors? These are important questions not just to our heroes, but for our real life neighbors, and I applaud Coates for asking them.
Part of working in this urban hub of activity means that our heroes need to keep a low profile. As a result, the art for this series takes on a more gritty, street level feel. No slick costumes or big power displays, mainly since the Crew needs to stay undercover to get the answers they need.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t great action. Manifold’s opening fight against the Americops in particular is a fantastic series of pages. Panels are shuffled as Eden jumps from street to mid-air in an instant, seamlessly teleporting around his foes.
The entrance of Storm, Luke, Black Panther, and Misty is a nice splash page, but tempered in that they all rock civilian clothes. The rest of the story unfolds around a coffee table, so there isn’t much showy art. It still moves the story well, with Eden explaining how he comes to Harlem and meets Ezra.
Each panel really functions as its own exposition beyond narration, which is an impressive feat. Eden comes to Harlem an Australian, a black man, and a mutant. As a result he sees kindred spirits all around him and slowly gets back into crime-fighting. Which, it has to be said, is a fight he has to take to both sides of the law.
Lastly, and this is the only downfall of the whole book, is character design. This is somewhat understandable, since the team is acting as undercover detectives more than outright freedom fighters (for now). Still, Misty’s awesome bionic arm only gets a silvery twinkle and Storm’s elegance and strength seem restrained.
But that’s a small point of contention in an overall great story. If you’re worried about the state of justice in this country, looking for a story of hope and resolve, than look no further. Head to Downtown Comics to learn more about the Crew today!