It is a truth universally known that Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin’s Black Panther is one of the best comics of 2016 thus far. I will admit to finding myself a bit lost from time to time, having not read any of the previous runs, but I’m definitely invested enough to delve back or hold and have patience, whichever is more appropriate (if anyone knows, please do pass the info along) and I am one hundred percent invested in this incarnation of T’Challa.
We find our erstwhile King attempting to resolve a quandary: there is a villain he needs to stop but the last time he encountered Zenzi, she used her psychic abilities to turn a miner’s strike into a riot, during which T’Challa was, tragically, forced to kill some of his subjects in order to subdue the violence. The same subjects he has sworn to protect.
When a second opportunity to confront Zenzi arises, T’Challa takes it. Alone.
His mother, the queen mother no less, and Akili, one of T’Challa’s generals, council him against this solo outing. She fears for an already unstable Wakanda if the Panther is incapacitated. Akili is concerned about Zenzi’s psychic powers and the fact she has already used said powers to manipulate T’Challa into violence against innocent people.
T’Challa disregards the advice of both advisors.
I am sure I don’t have to tell you that things go poorly for Black Panther.
Are his intentions good? Yes. Are his concerns about reality being warped around an entire army that might be driven to madness valid? Sure. He doesn’t want to send others into danger he himself isn’t willing to face. Noble.
Here’s where it gets sticky, though: T’Challa, despite evidence to the contrary, despite the blood on his claws, remains absolutely certain he can eliminate the threat solo.
This is the line between confidence and pride and it is a line that must be trod very, very carefully. Pride, in this case, isn’t the lovely feeling one gets from a job well done. Pride here is an excess of surety in one’s own abilities, an inflated sense of responsibility that evolves, eventually, into an entirely unproductive, and often fatal, martyr complex.
It is the precipice upon which one stands as one gains so much confidence in one’s self, he loses all confidence in the abilities of others.
No man is an island, however, not even T’Challa, king of Wakanda. No one can do all the things and do them well. When a man begins to believe it is so, he loses himself to obsession, forgets to consult perspective, forgets to parse events, to accept evidence of his own shortcomings.
Confidence, generally speaking, is a positive trait. It gives us the sense of self-worth we need to believe we are worth the time and effort of others and of ourselves. It tells us we are worth protecting from danger. It allows us to take reasonable risks that may bring thrill and reward. To make friends, to try new things, to reach for the next branch on the tree. To leap the canyon and know there’s a decent chance we may make it to the other side of the ravine. We need confidence. Our children need confidence to pass through the stages of development, to explore, to test the world around them, to find themselves. There is always a chance of failure, but confidence imbues us with the ability to try again or to move on to what may prove the next great success.
You should be proud of your accomplishments and theirs. They should be proud of all the things they have learned and done, the individuals they have become.
T’Challa, however, has gone beyond that and exists in a dangerous place beyond being proud, to the absolute dependence on self to the exclusion of everything, and everyone, else. A place in which the Panther is isolated, depressed, and hurtling toward an inevitable failure so profound it can’t even couched as a learning experience.
Everyone needs help. Everyone. Not always, but at least occasionally. There simply aren’t enough minutes in the day, enough neurons in the brain, enough patience in the soul, for one individual to accomplish everything. There is a reason people tend to pair up, settle near one another, to congregate, divide labor. Everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses and to ignore the fact, to take so much responsibility onto yourself you forget it, is to court disaster. Not all advice is worthwhile, nor is all assistance, but if your pride drives you to ignore it wholesale, you may miss something really good. Something useful.
T’Challa has people willing to advise, to assist, to watch his back but he cuts them off without every hearing what they have to say. That they end up being correct about the outcome of his mission is important but incidental; that he decided to disregard their words before every they opened their mouths is the vital bit.
What good does that do his troubled nation? His people? His family? T’calla himself?
The old cliche is apt here both literally and figuratively: pride goeth before the fall.
Check out the cover from issue #2 again, along with the final pages of the same issue:
The Panther’s symbols are, literally, being torn down by people who once loved him. As to the man himself, does he look confident? The hunched shape in the doorway? Does he look like a man who can save a nation? A people? His sister? Himself?
Confidence bring success. Pride brings fatal error. It makes for a good story, an excellent fiction, a fantastic redemption arc.
And a very unhappy life.
Be confident. Be proud. Teach your kids to be both. Bear them up. Make certain they know their worth.
And while you’re doing so, help them to test their limits. Where the security fence is. It can always be moved, but having it imbues them with a sense of security and faith.
As with all things, there is such thing as too much.
And we have already had too many martyrs in our history.
What we need now are leaders. And real leaders are both confident in their ability to make choices and wise enough to know when to seek the advice, the assistance, and the strengths of others.
It’s a small world we live in. Let’s live in it together. Not as one–we aren’t one, and if we were, it would be a very small, boring world. Let’s live in it as a puzzle, each piece in its unique place, coming together to form a beautiful whole, amazing parts and something even greater in the sum of them. Let us know we are in the right place, at the right time, joining with the other pieces to create something of which we can all be proud.