Here we take a look at the current writer of Black Panther, a much-heralded newcomer to comics: Ta-Nehisi Coates.
In the past decade, Ta-Nehisi Coates has emerged as one of the most influential and eloquent voices in American culture. He is a journalist and writer who has extensively examined cultural conditions and issues of race in the pages of The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Time, as well as many other institutions, and was awarded the MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2015 for his work. Coates only recently came to write comics with the debut of the sixth volume of Black Panther in 2016. In the past two years, Coates has continued writing Black Panther as well as various spinoffs like Black Panther and The Crew, World of Wakanda, and Rise of the Black Panther. He has also helped to bring in many more new comics writers from the worlds of journalism and literature, including Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, and Evan Narcisse.
In Coates’ first 12-issue arc, “A Nation Under Our Feet”, he introduces a slew of new characters, almost all of whom have stuck around. Wakanda faces rebellions in the North and South, both led by new characters. In the North are the Midnight Angels, rebellious Dora Milaje with superpowered suits. In the South are Zeni and Tetu, an empath and sorcerer fomenting violent rebellion. The greatest change within “A Nation Under Our Feet” is the alteration of Wakanda from a monarchy to constitutional monarchy. There are more subtle additions as well. Coates has delved into Black Panther’s motives throughout the decades, redefining him as a man who wants to be a hero, but must be a king. There is an emphasis on making all past actions coherent with current ones as so much change takes place.
How Ryan Coogler Went About Defining Vibranium And The Heart-Shaped Herb In Black Panther
Perhaps the most exciting element of Coates’ run is that he’s still actively adding to the Black Panther mythos. His current storyline, “Avengers of the New World”, is reshaping the origin of Klaw and assembling a core rogues gallery for future Panther stories. Klaw, alongside the Fenris Twins, Zenzi, and Doctor Faustus, is preparing to retake Wakanda via their modern colonial cabal. Coates is also expanding on the religious traditions of Wakanda. He has defined the country’s five central gods, and is in the midst of unpacking their history and predecessors. In addition to explaining there were earlier gods, Coates has also created five humanoid races that predated modern Wakandan society and who were banished from reality by them.
Throughout both of these stories, Coates has revealed himself to be a comics fan based on his love for continuity. He is actively engaged with refining the long history of Black Panther stories within his new additions. Everything from Killmonger’s initial insurrection in Jungle Action to Shuri’s death in New Avengers have been shaped into the current storylines. He is engaged with the many disparate threads of story left by creators like Kirby, McGregor, and Priest, and is assembling them into a cohesive metamyth.
Ryan Coogler recognized the importance of even the most minor of details in the making of his Marvel Cinematic Universe film, and as I learned about his approach when I had the pleasure of sitting down with him late last month during Black Panther’s Los Angeles press days. My first question out of the gate was in regard to how he went about defining the most special parts of Wakanda, including the incredible metal Vibranium and the mystical Heart-Shaped Herb — which is what gives the titular hero his strength. Coogler admitted it was hard work within building the script, but recognized that it was vital for his cast, and vital for his movie.
Coates’ run has not only revitalized Black Panther, but it has treated the character with a level of respect and intelligence not seen since Christopher Priest left the title in 2003. Since Black Panther was first introduced in Fantastic Four #52, there’s has been an inherent hypocrisy between the character’s role and his values. Coates has addressed the issue of a modern monarchy directly and altered Wakanda’s form of government rather than hand-waving the issue. More importantly, Coates addressed the complexities found in revolution, forming a new government, and admitting guilt. The problem presented was far greater than any superhero spectacle could resolve, and Coates emphasized that enjoyable spectacle could be wed to far more difficult work.
The significance of history has not been a simple matter of appreciating Marvel continuity either. There are obvious connections to Coates’ interest in Wakanda’s past and his non-fiction writing. The past is a constant force in his narrative, forming the basis of each new problem, whether it’s a new villain or systemic flaw. There are really no obvious villains within “A Nation Under Our Feet”, as Tetu’s grievance is moral, even if his methods are not. Coates has struck a balance between philosophy and action, in which character’s fights are given additional meaning by the debates between T’Challa, Shuri, Changamire, and others. Black Panther has risen to the role of philosopher-warrior-king, as his ruling duties are assumed by democratically elected leaders. It is a significant reminder that the history of superhero comics can be fertile soil for change and reflection.
Coates’ run thus far is important both for Black Panther and superhero comics. He has shaken some of the core assumptions about what makes the Black Panther work — transforming it into a much more philosophical comic that addresses issues of history and government. These changes could easily work their way into future films and other adaptations. The level of thought he has brought to the series also shows the potential support for superhero comics that strive for more than action and drama. Some of the individual lines in his opening arc are as smart as anything Coates has published in The Atlantic, making it clear that good writing is good writing no matter what medium it occurs in.
By James Braxton Peterson February 13, 2018 Three years ago the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag highlighted the racial representation problem in the entertainment industry—especially in film. But this movement was soon overshadowed by the onslaught of Donald Trump and his white nationalist movement that propelled him to the presidency.
Contrary to the vocal sloganeers who want to make America great (a.k.a. white) again, the Other America—people of color and white Americans who reject Trump’s bigotry—is hungry for a convincing narrative to oppose white nativism.
Enter Marvel’s new film, Black Panther. The movie, appropriately being released during Black History Month, offers a powerful counternarrative to Trumpism at a crucial moment in black American history.
What You Need to Know Before Seeing Black Panther
One of the most revolutionary aspects of Black Panther is its premise. Created as a comic series by Jewish American writer-artist Jack Kirby in 1966, the eponymous black superhero represents the resistance to settler-colonial forces—the kinds of forces upon which America’s nationhood was constructed. Black Panther’s name is T’Challa and he is king of the African kingdom Wakanda, a nation powerful enough to rebuff the forces of Western imperialism. Wakanda is independent, advanced, and resource-rich in Vibranium—the stuff that Captain America’s shield is made of.
The ‘Black Panther’ End Credits Song Will Make You Feel Like You’re Already In Wakanda
At the time of its creation (but today as well), Black Panther was one of only a handful of superhero comics with black characters for protagonists. And it was the first black superhero comic with a mainstream comic book publisher. Black Panther was one of a kind—a superhero from a fictional, utopian African country untouched by the evils of white colonial rule and exploitation.
‘Black Panther’ is a critical step toward representation in Hollywood
But like many superheroes of color in the Marvel (and DC) universes, Black Panther was relegated to the periphery of the pantheon of superheroes—most of whom were white male characters created by white men.
While it’s easy to overstate the importance of one film, the Black Panther release is a watershed moment in America’s cultural history. The movie boldly establishes the Black Panther not as a sidekick or gimmick character, but a superhero for all Americans to admire. Critics have almost universally praised the film, which is produced and directed by black men and stars a who’s who of black acting talent, including Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, as well as Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, and Danai Gurira. Kendrick Lamar, who has won 12 Grammy awards, oversaw the movie’s soundtrack. The film boasts an accumulation of black artistic talent unlike anything we have witnessed in recent cinematic history.
Director Ryan Coogler’s first priority with \”Black Panther\” was to make a good movie
This film has the potential to inspire not just the African American community, but also the broader black American community—including African, Caribbean, and Afro-Latin American immigrants—and even the African diaspora.
Free screenings of ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Get Out’ on Presidents’ Day
People have been and will likely continue to dress up for premiere screenings. This sartorial showcase goes beyond cosplay. Folks are rocking full regal and formal African regalia from a range of African countries. The sublime moment of the release of a black superhero film rich in black artistic talent has become a license for outward displays of black brilliance and black beauty.
Following the ugliness of the 2015 Charleston church massacre, continuing unchecked police brutality against blacks, and the 2017 Charlottesville fiasco, Black Panther offers a hopeful message for the future of black America. Most importantly, it serves as a potent reminder of black people’s great resource, our Vibranium—black film, black music, black art—black culture.
James Braxton Peterson is a media contributor, the host of The Remix podcast on WHYY, and the author of several books, including Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners.