It’s tempting to compare Malika: Warrior Queen from YouNeek Studios to Black Panther from Marvel Comics. Both feature a heroic leader, the inheritor of a royal legacy, attempting to bring security to their fictional African nation. Moreover, both the internal and international politics play crucial plot points in each narrative. For Marvel’s Afro-futuristic Black Panther, those challenges take the form of civil war in Wakanda and a ready-to-prey foreign despots; for Malika, the forces of the Ming Dynasty already encroach on the Empire of Azzaz, and murmurs abound as to whether a woman can rule.
Comparing Malika to Black Panther is natural enough: Both exist in a shared universe of comics titles, whether it’s the expansive Marvel Comics brand or the fledgling YouNeek Studios catalogue. And, each comic blends palace intrigue with high-action excitement, the intelligence of high-tech and innovative strategy with impossible superpowers and magics.
So, while juxtaposing Malika and Black Panther, with its New York Times Best Selling headliner Ta-Nehisi Coates and its mainstream Marvel cred, may feel natural, the brainchild of YouNeek Studios’ Roye Okupe has a far more apt and more illuminating partner comic by which to analyze it: Action Lab’s Princeless.
First, it must be noted that Princeless, by Jeremy Whitley and collaborators Mia Goodwin, Nancy King, Quinne Larsen, Kelly Lawrence, and Jules Rivera, is an all-ages title while Malika, on the whole, is not. Second, their differences not only in target audience but in art and storytelling styles cannot be overlooked, with Malika being more sophisticated and historically inspired than the principled romp that is Princeless. Malika is, indeed, aimed for a Black Panther-like demographic, while Princeless sits proudly beside works like Bone, Mouse Guard, or Castle Waiting.
Yet the bond that ties Malika and Princeless together, what makes both a fine tribute to the comics medium, is their values. Whitley dedicated Princeless to his inspiring mother, his wife, and his daughter, “for whom,” he says, “I had to make comics better.” Book One of Princeless is entitled Save Yourself – and those two elements are precisely what makes Malika a soul-sister to Princeless. Okupe on the YouNeek site, echoes the same sentiments as Whitley and the same flaw of the superhero genre. “As great as the genre has been for over 70 years, it can be better in terms of diversity. And when I say superhero comics can be more diverse, I don’t mean just add more superheroes of color. More of that is great, But I also think we need diversity in terms of more female superheroes, superheroes from places like South America, Asia, Africa and so on. It’s so amazing to see superhero stories told from the perspective of other diverse cultures from all over the world. And that is why I started this company.” Malika is where YouNeek Studios begin to repay that debt.
Black Panther may be attempting to promote strong women and to break through a Caucasian-male comics hegemony, but Malika and, for the all-ages set, Princeless are the brave titles that do the same without the blunt force of Disney behind them. Malika finds its strength in its overt links to African history, and it grounds itself in the dual principles of women’s power and African strength. Decades of Black Panther publication history force Coates’ title to contend with the debris of white male centrality before its path is clear; like Princeless, Malika is borne from a far less burdened birthright (though, ironically, the character herself is quite encumbered by her own). As such, the book pushes to the foreground as YouNeek’s most promising new title.
Ultimately, it does not pay to compare Malika: Warrior Queen to Black Panther, because it boils down to the same transaction, the indie also-ran of mega-conglomerate trademark. Link with Princeless, with Jason Reeves and Alverne Ball’s One Nation or with Robert Garrett, N. Steven Harris, and Walt Barna’s Ajala: A Series of Adventures. Follow these characters by being a heroic reader, as well. Do so, and this Queen will reward you.