I want to talk about the former Dora Milaje, the Midnight Angels Ayo and Aneka. These two Wakandan women are partners and seem to be influential queer characters in the current Black Panther series, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Current state of Wakanda: T'Challa is the only Black Panther and king of Wakanda again. His sister Shuri has gone missing, and might be dead, after the enemies and wars that were brought to Wakanda's doorstep by T'Challa's involvement with the Avengers and related events. The nation is in turmoil from within as a result of civil revolt and corruption stemming of Wakanda's recent wars and tragedies.
Issue 1: "Our forces are drawn from all the tribes, and forged into a singular emblem of the country. We are the blood alloy of Wakanda itself." — Ayo, Dora Milaje
Aneka is captain of the Dora Milaje. She is on trial for executing a village chieftain for sexually abusing the women of his village.
T'Challa's stepmother, Shuri's mother, Ramonda, is the judge and sentences Aneka to death, while expressing she doesn't like it, but has to hold to her duties and can't have mercy toward Aneka because she didn't hold to her duties as dictated by Wakandan tradition as an adored one. "You are dora milaje, champion of our nation. Celebrated in fable and song." But, even with this designation, only the men (fathers and brothers) would have had the right to judge and punish the chieftain committing acts of lechery.
Later in the issue, Ayo steals the two Midnight Angel prototypes, highly advanced battle armor, and breaks Aneka out of prison. When Aneka tries to tell Ayo that she shouldn't have come to her because it condemns her to death as well Ayo explains that a part of her is already dead and that she couldn't live without Aneka. This is when it's revealed that they are romantically involved. They express their disappointment in their king and proclaim that they will no longer follow the rule of one man.
Issue 2: We get to see the Midnight Angels in action. They have found another village with corrupt men sexually abusing women that they have forced into cages. Ayo and Aneka forcibly take them down. In issue 1, Ayo is vocal about her convictions, her love for Aneka, and her wishes for the stability of Wakanda. Here it’'s made clear that Aneka is the one with a plan. After rescuing these abused women, it becomes evident that they're already evolving from being two women making changes in vigilante fashion to two women leading a revolution for the benefit of the nation that they want to be proud of again.
Issue 3: The Midnight Angels are returning to where they left the women they rescued in issue two to find that they have been attacked. Aneka realizes that these women of Wakanda who have been abused and left to suffer will need to be an army because two Dora Milaje can’t protect them all alone. There's a clear sense of camaraderie here among these women and by the end of the issue, we see them working together to trap an offender—and in the process, revealing an army of Dora Milaje ready to take action to protect those who have been neglected.
Verdict: Issue one of Black Panther established that Ayo and Aneka, two queer women, will be an important part of this run. Three issues in, and they continue to be compelling, as they themselves piece together their role in their community and continue to have the agency to work towards making a difference.
There are a few other narrative threads happening concurrent to the story of the Midnight Angels and while they fit thematically together, in terms of Wakanda being a country in turmoil from within, readers are waiting to see how these threads come together. With issue 3, we see more of Shuri’s spirit, T'Challa's sister and the Queen of Wakanda pre-Secret Wars, in the Djalia, the plane of Wakandan Memory. Here she's being guided a maternal figure who says that she will teach Shuri how to harness the power of memory. Readers may not know what this means yet, but the imagery provided showcases a group of women who look similar to the Midnight Angels. My current prediction is that the Dora Milaje and Shuri with this new power will form a new Wakanda with a new matriarchal system, if T'Challa as Black Panther fails to handle the threats plaguing the once unconquerable nation.
After finishing three issues, I'm fully on board with this series. Nothing would be better than seeing queer characters like Ayo and Aneka play a big role in the state of Wakanda and go on to be prominent figures in such a high profile book. Now we just need to wait patiently for issue 4, which is scheduled for release on July 27.