The Black Panther film came out just eight months ago, injecting the Marvel Cinematic Universe with fresh life and building on the success of Thor: Ragnarok to invigorate an increasingly overburdened franchise. And while Ta-Nehisi Coates has been guiding T’Challa though far more than the originally planned miniseries, the rest of Wakanda hasn’t had much time in the spotlight due to the premature cancellation of World Of Wakanda. Shuri #1 (Marvel) changes that, bringing T’Challa’s younger sister to the fore after too long in her brother’s shadow.
Fantasy and sci-fi novelist Nnedi Okorafor finds an elegant balance between the film’s depiction of Shuri and work already done in the recent Black Panther comics. While the story is informed by events in Coates’ run on Black Panther, this Shuri has the youthful exuberance of Letitia Wright’s depiction on the big screen. Shuri teases her brother and demonstrates her superiority at every opportunity, and she’s flirty with Eden. She delights in her own achievements in a way that feels bold and bright but not selfish or narcissistic: She’s celebrating hard work and the positive impact her genius can have for the people around her rather than just crowing about her own successes. When her brother goes missing and danger threatens Wakanda, she doesn’t shy away from that responsibility. Okorafor isn’t the first novel writer or poet to work at Marvel, joining a new cohort that includes Saladin Ahmed and Eve Ewing along with Coates. It’s exciting to see incredible new perspectives at Marvel, but the shift from prose to comics has not always been as smooth as it is for Okorafor. Her dialog is snappy and sharp, and she appropriately trusts the art to do heavy lifting instead of packing every panel with excessive words.
The art itself is bright and colorful, cartoony in a way that feels a little bit off at first but is a good fit for the tone that Okorafor reaches for. Artist Leonardo Romero’s style is geometric and deceptively simple, with linework that isn’t crisp but instead retains some slight uneven quality that makes it feel textured. Opposite the detailed high fantasy style that has been featured in the main Black Panther title, it can be a little jarring. But the flashback that features Shuri saving T’Challa’s life is particularly well done, and the backgrounds in the market scenes are full of people and activity. Jordie Bellaire does excellent work on colors as always, bringing Wakanda to life with playful, brilliant palettes.
Shuri is in many ways a contradiction, a young woman who’s already been a queen and saved the world, only to die and be brought to life. Her nickname, “ancient future,” is a fitting one, and this first issue establishes not only her personality and those contradictions, but also that this is her story, not her brother’s. Okorafor, Romero, and Bellaire give her an exuberance and joy that’s hard to find in cape and cowl comics these days, and though it’s not exactly an all-ages title, it would be fitting for middle grade readers and older. For the fans who bought their own kimoyo beads and dressed up as Dora Milaje for the film, Shuri could fill an important role, including ramping up excitement for next month’s Iron Heart premiere. It’s a fun, heartfelt book that centers the agency and intelligence of a young black woman facing impossible odds, but prepared and powerful in her own right.