Black Panther: Sins of the King Blurs the Line Between Life and Death

Black Panther: Sins of the King Blurs the Line Between Life and Death
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Though Serial Box’s Black Panther: Sins of the King audiobook is set firmly outside the continuities of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and its comic books, the new narrative drama is coursing with the same epic, politically charged energy that first made T’Challa and the nation of Wakanda some of the most iconic myths to spring from the house of ideas.

Sins of the King — written by Ira Madison, Geoff Thorne, Tananarive Due, and Mohale Mashigo, and narrated by The Good Place’s William Jackson Harper — tells a tale of Wakanda that focuses on an important inflection point in the secretive nation’s history. After spending centuries living hidden in the shadows and making vast technological strides toward the future thanks to Wakanda’s Vibranium deposits, the country opens itself to the rest of the world under the leadership of T’Challa, the latest in the long line of Black Panthers mystically empowered by the Panther Orisha Bast.

Like its MCU counterpart, being in the public eye for the first time presents all sorts of cultural questions for the Wakanda in Sins of the King, and like the comics, this world is positively littered with empowered beings hailing from all across the globe. It’s by pulling in narrative elements from Wakanda’s past depictions across various media that Sins of the King is able to craft a story that feels like an organic evolution of the Black Panther.

While there’s no shortage of jaw-breaking action and superheroics meant to get your heart rate up while experiencing the story, the book makes no attempts of shying away from the socio-political element of the character’s mythos that became much more pronounced in the wake of Ryan Coogler’s first Black Panther film. Rather than digging into another round of conveniently-packaged “Killmonger Was Right” discussions, Sins of the King instead turns the complex, moral questions raised by Wakanda’s history of isolationism into a spiritual crisis the country’s leaders are still grappling with.

Simple as it would be for T’Challa to keep venturing off to save the world with the Avengers, Wakanda’s newfound openness puts the nation and its king in the difficult position of having to decide how much of its vast institutional knowledge to share with other countries who would sorely benefit from it. Though the difficult reality goes unarticulated clearly until deeper into the book, what T’Challa and some of those close to him — including Shuri, and to a much lesser extent, Okoye — understand is that even though Wakanda’s involvement in the affairs of the outside world is new, the country’s historical inaction beyond its borders was a choice that influenced how the world outside it developed.

To T’Challa, who’s most at home when he’s in the thick of action, the idea of sharing weaponizable knowledge with nations like Rudyarda — a nearby country relatively recent in its break from an apartheid system — is essentially the same thing as inviting supervillains to wreak chaos and destruction. Capable as T’Challa is at making difficult judgment calls, his worldview’s upended by constant attacks from villains, and the sudden resurrection of an important figure from Wakanda’s past whose presence only makes it harder for him to make sense of the situation at hand.

The presence of death throughout the book immediately makes Sins of the King feel like a work that understands and wants to acknowledge the passing of actor Chadwick Boseman, and how the realities of mortality have a way of shocking people no matter how much they steel themselves against it. As a whole, listening to the story is an interesting experience because of the way it can conjure visions of the movies and the comics in your mind (if you’ve seen them). Jackson Harper is uncannily excellent as T’Challa in the sense that his casting for that character alone feels like a no-brainer, but it’s in the ways that Sins of the King brings T’Challa into contact with other Marvel characters like Vision and Misty Knight that the book’s writers really show off their skills in crafting stories set within this fictional space.

Much as Sins of the King puts its titular monarch back into the spotlight, the book’s yet another example of how the Black Panther stories always emphasise how the hero’s strength is tied to the personal relationships he’s forged with those close to him. The concepts at play aren’t all necessarily new within this chunk of Marvel’s lore, but the book presents them in a way that demonstrates how much more there is to Wakanda to be explored across a variety of mediums that aren’t all visual.

It’ll be fascinating to see how much of the energy present in the book goes on to pop up in future Marvel projects involving these characters, but for now, Black Panther: Sins of the King is a cerebral story worth giving a listen just for its own sake.