‘Shuri’ debut issue offers breezy ‘Black Panther’ spinoff

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

It was almost a no-brainer that Shuri, Black Panther’s genius sister, got her own comic book. One need look no further than Letitia Wright’s show-stealing screen portrayal or the runaway success of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Black Panther” series to see her popularity with Marvel fans, both new and old.

Nnedi Okorafor’s debut issue of “Shuri,” titled “Gone,” is the latest addition to the number of excellent (if sadly short-lived) “Black Panther” spinoffs, but one’s enjoyment of it hinges on one’s expectations of the titular hero. Readers looking for a deeper exploration of the wizened warrior of Coates’ comics might want to look elsewhere, while fans of Wright’s precocious scientist will doubtlessly be pleased.

It would be easy to dismiss “Shuri” as a jarring departure from Coates’ beloved series — in Okorafor’s comic, Shuri makes tongue in cheek references to “The Lord of the Rings,” where previously, she would make profound proclamations such as “A new sea is upon us, beloved. And we are unmoored. How shall we live in this new land, so far from our old ways, our old myths, our old stories?”

The answer to that question, Okorafor seems to posit, is “with a good dose of fun.” If one accepts that “Shuri” is largely geared for fans of the “Black Panther” film, then the series’ first issue works quite the charm — after a long period of entrapment in a “living death,” Shuri is overjoyed to have the freedom to tinker in her lab once more.

It’s difficult to be cynical in the face of Okorafor’s sincere ebullience — after all, at this point in Marvel’s continuity, Wakanda has just survived a dark period of internal dissent, and “Shuri” offers the chance to finally let loose. And if the comic’s tone and narrative were not enough to signal that “Shuri” offers a shift in tone from the previous series, then its art style certainly does. Artist Leonardo Romero and colorist Jordie Bellaire render a world that feels more playful than other, recent depictions.

But where the comic succeeds in crafting an entertaining tone, it stumbles in its plotting, ending on a foregone conclusion that lacks the drama that it presumes to be inherent. Additionally, a subplot about the mysterious identity of Shuri’s new pen pal underwhelms more than it intrigues. Later issues might offer exciting developments, but as it stands, one longs for Shuri’s days of battling magical insurgents and intergalactic armies.

Ultimately, the breezy feel of “Shuri” belies its relative significance for Marvel. The series comes off the heels of the cancellation of two “Black Panther” spinoffs — Roxane Gay’s “Black Panther: World of Wakanda” and Coates’ “Black Panther and the Crew.” The cancellations are a symptom of the highly speculative nature of comic sales and of course, some readers’ resistance to diverse storytelling. To make matters worse, Marvel has often struggled to integrate the popularity of its films into its comic book continuity, resulting in a string of massively unpopular reboots and ill-conceived storylines.

It would be unfair to burden “Shuri” as a panacea for Marvel’s many woes, but one hopes that it succeeds nonetheless. On both the screen and the page, the world of Wakanda is ceaselessly fascinating.

Harrison Tunggal covers comic books. Contact him at [email protected].