Ta-Nehisi Coates, ‘Black Panther’ and superhero diversity

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bestseller Ta-Nehisi Coates writing comic book series.

Having made a name for himself as an avenger of civil rights, it’s perhaps fitting that Ta-Nehisi Coates will soon spin the tale of Marvel’s Black Panther. Coates, whose open letter to his son, Between the World and Me, is a bestseller and National Book Award nominee, is collaborating with artist Brian Stelfreeze on a storyline about revolution, terrorism and heroism, inspired by the militant organisation founded in the 1960s.Ta-Nehisi Coates, the award-winning author and National Correspondent for The Atlantic, whose articles and publications on life as an African American have captivated millions, will join Marvel this Spring as the writer of a new Black Panther comic book series. The series is set to begin next spring, and the superhero also has movies lined up: a debut next year in “Captain America: Civil War,” and a solo feature in 2018.

The comics publisher’s editor-in-chief, Axel Alonso, said in a statement that Coates will tell the story of “the world we have created, and the world we want to live in,” the AP reports. As part of what’s been billed by the company as the “All-New, All Different Marvel” comic relaunch this fall, a number of titles have focused on characters of color. The year-long story line is called “A Nation Under Our Feet,” after the Pulitzer Prize-winning book about black political struggles in the rural South. A winner of the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, Coates is known as one of the leading American writers on race, with lauded pieces including September 2012’s “Fear of a Black President” and June 2014’s “The Case for Reparations” (both for The Atlantic). Written as a letter to Coates’s 15 year-old-son, the book explores what it means to be black in America in an age in which racially incited police violence and acts of structural racism still occur daily.

His work has also appeared in the Washington Post and The New York Times, and he is currently working as the City University of New York’s journalist-in-residence and developing a television project on the U.S. civil rights movement for HBO with David Simon. Taking on a fictional series is no small commitment for Coates to make to adult as well as teenage readers, who will no doubt look to the comics with the intention of better understanding issues of race today. In a historical moment where the nation’s attention is drawn to latent racial tensions, the time is ripe for a return by Black Panther, the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comics. Marvel’s announcement follows concern from many fans over the lack of diversity in Marvel’s forthcoming All-New, All-Different Marvel publishing relaunch, in terms of both race and sexual identity.

Black Panther will become Marvel’s fourth solo title featuring a black lead, following Sam Wilson, Captain America, the Miles Morales Spider-Man and new Blade series. But in many ways, he shouldered the gauntlet raised by the radical black nationalist group: the Black Panther (whose given name is T’Challa) hails from the fictional African nation of Wakanda, to which he returns during the height of a revolution. Additionally, the Devil Dinosaur & Moon Girl series features an African-American co-lead, and the company’s new Totally Awesome Hulk is Korean-American. In “The Case for Reparations,” a sprawling cover story published in the Atlantic last year, he details the long history of inequity between white and black Americans. Among Black Panther’s range of powers — from hunting to inventing to acrobatics — is the possession of the combined strength and knowledge of every Wakanda chieftain who has held the title of “Black Panther” before him.

Likewise, Coates’s writing draws richly not only from history but also from the literary style of earlier public thinkers, most conspicuously James Baldwin. It was this beautiful place that I felt pop culture should look like.” Three decades after Coates first immersed himself in the world of Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel) and James Rhodes (Iron Man), the comics world is increasingly starting to spotlight not only characters that look like him, but also others who have been largely absent from superhero casts.

In July, Wired published a piece questioning the validity of this industry-wide effort to promote diversity in comics, in which the author asked “whether mainstream comics has done enough to bring minority creators themselves into the fold.” Hiring Coates as a writer seems to be a concerted effort by Marvel to rise to the occasion, though—as well as a shrewd business decision, to boot. And prior to the release of Coates’s “Black Panther,” Marvel Comics will introduce a Korean-American scientist named Amadeus Cho as the the title character of “The Totally Awesome Hulk” this December. Critics and readers found the book to be profound, beautiful and—ultimately—nihilistic, with some bemoaning the fact that Coates does not offer advice or words of inspiration for black Americans. Notably, these works were produced by people within the demographic groups they represented, with the above comics created or written by a Muslim woman, a gay man and two Korean Americans, respectively. But Laura Hudson argued in WIRED this July that such public strides aside, much more still stands to be accomplished where minority representation behind the comics scenes is concerned.

Asian American comics creator Gene Luen Yang told WIRED, “[Publishers] really have to ask carefully, is this the right person to take on this project?” In Coates’s case, though, it would be unsurprising if racial identity turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg of what he shares with his superhero.

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