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I’m not really into comic books. As a child, I sometimes got my hands on a few scattered issues of some of my older cousin’s favourite comic series. However, I was never given the opportunity to keep up with them, so I guess I just didn’t try. As such, I knew next to nothing about Black Panther before the 2018 film. That’s why I probably would not have decided to pick up Shuri if not for the fact that Nnedi Okorafor, an Africanfuturism author that I’ve come to greatly respect, is the pen behind it.
With as few spoilers as I can, I’ll share my thoughts on these this ten-issue series.
T’Challa, the Black Panther, king of Wakanda, is missing, lost in a mission to outer space. In his absence, his sister, Princess Shuri has big shoes to fill. While coming to terms with her brother’s absence, she must deal with the pressure to take up the mantle of Black Panther, and to save Wakanda and the world from dangers that, in some ways, are her own doing.
Dr Nnedi Okorafor did a good job with the material given to her. Apart from a two-issue reprieve, she wrote all issues of Shuri. Okorafor has always had a vested interest in African representation, which is as clear in this story as the others I’ve read from her. With African characters from outside of Wakanda entering the story and impacting Shuri’s internal conflict, I would say Okorafor has succeeded. I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I was to see Ororo Munroe (AKA Storm) with her hair braided instead of the wearing the flowing, European-esque hairstyle she is usually given!
I would be remiss, of course, to ignore the contribution of Vita Ayala to this series. While Okorafor’s focus has been Africa, Ayala brought Shuri to Brooklyn, New York, allowing us to see another Marvel character that I have never seen in comics, Miles Morales, Spider-Man. The change in author for issues 6 and 7 were not at all jarring, and helped propel Shuri’s story forward admirably.
Shuri is about a young woman’s struggle to find her identity in the midst of adversity. Though she has her own unique powers, Shuri has always been comfortable as the technological mind behind the Black Panther. Now, she has not only lost her brother, but her powers as well. Shuri is not T’Challa, and she knows it. She uses her intellect and compassion in ways that make her a very different character from her brother, even while others try to make her into a copy-pasted Black Panther. Shuri is Shuri, and apologetically so, even as she takes the time to figure out how to be Shuri amidst outside pressures.
The most impactful aspect of this story to me, though, was how African it was. As a member of the African diaspora, I lament at the lack of decidedly Black/African representation in sci-fi and fantasy. Seeing characters attempting inter-African unification, as well as a visual unification of Afrocentric clothing, mysticism, and modern technology made this a favourite comic experience.