New York Times Bestselling Author Takes on T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther Alex Yarde is thrilled!
The indomitable will of Wakanda — the famed African nation known for its vast wealth, advanced technology and warrior traditions — has long been reflected in the will of its monarchs, the Black Panthers. But now, the current Black Panther, T’Challa, finds that will tested by a superhuman terrorist group called The People that has sparked a violent uprising among the citizens of Wakanda. T’Challa knows the country must change to survive — the question is, will the Black Panther survive the change?-Marvel Announcement
“If you don’t employ black creators, and then you purport to celebrate a black art form for profit (and props on hiring a few ferociously talented black artists for the gig!), people are going to ask why that aspect of black culture is worth celebrating but black creatives aren’t worth hiring.”
So when Marvel announced that next spring, one of the most prolific and unique African American voices in media today writer Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) will write a new BLACK PANTHER series, with legendary artist Brian Stelfreeze backing him up I was overjoyed! Adding the authentic African American voice of one of my favorite writers and thinkers to one of my favorite Marvel characters? This is a BFD!
My long time readers will remember one of my earlier pieces” It’s Time For Black Panther On The Big Screen” about the lack of big screen Black superheroes and heroines my kids can look up to. And though Stan Lee created Black Panther along with Jack Kirby, the writing over the years has run the gambit from exploitative and trite to social commentary as razor sharp as a vibranium tipped spear. Not to say white writers can’t create compelling stories for Black characters. The Black Panther vs. The Ku Klux Klan was written by a hero of mine who is a white man, Don McGregor. It was a follow-up to his classic “Panther’s Rage.” The Klan series was controversial enough that he was forced to make revisions and the series didn’t even manage to be finished because of low sales– it eventually was wrapped up in another title Marvel Premier. In Jungle Action #19-24 (Jan.-Nov. 1976), when Black Panther took on the Ku Klux Klan, not all at Marvel agreed with publishing Mc Gregor’s storyline because the Ku Klux Klan was a controversial subject at the time.
The “Jungle Action” stories rivaled any books of the time. To wit, African-American writer-editor Dwayne McDuffie said of the “Jungle Action” Black Panther features:
“This overlooked and underrated classic is arguably the most tightly written multi-part superhero epic ever” (Wikipedia).
Mc Gregor and artist P. Craig Russell also engineered color comic books’ first known interracial kiss, between the “Killraven” characters M’Shulla and Carmilla Frost, in Amazing Adventures #31 (July 1975). Three years earlier, McGregor and artist Luis Garcia had already presented the first known interracial kiss in mainstream comics (as opposed to underground comix) in Warren Publishing’s black-and-white horror-comics magazine, Creepy #43 (Jan. 1972), in the story “The Men Who Called Him Monster”. (Wikipedia)
It’s never been a superficial issue of quotas for us Geeks Of Color, bringing in a wider range of voices is simply a way of correcting a fundamental creative imbalance, one that clearly permeates the largely white, male world of mainstream comics. In an interview with Wired Magazine entitled “It’s Time To Get Real About Diversity In Comics” by Laura Hudson, C. Spike Trotman, creator of the long-running webcomic Templar, Arizona had this to say:
“Diversity of every sort—racial diversity, gender diversity, acknowledging minority sexualities—is experiencing an explosion of recognition and representation in comics. Diversity is legitimacy. It’s sincerity. It’s truthiness, to borrow a certain expression,” says Trotman. “Diverse storytellers mean diverse personal experiences being brought to the table, and more honest depictions of those experiences on the page in fiction. It’s not impossible for a creator to write about an experience they’ve never had; that would be a silly thing to say. But Cis Hetero White Male isn’t the default mode of human. Experiences influence creativity, and there need to be more than one set of experiences being reflected on the page.”
Now with Black Panthers imminent MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War and his reintroduction looming on the horizon, that such an esteemed African American writer is at the helm will build upon the legendary Wakandan rulers comic book legend and imbue the character with an authentic voice. A uniquely modern, intellectually sophisticated Black perspective, something sorely lacking in most mainstream comics today (I’m looking at you Luke “Sweet Christmas” Cage).
Mr. Cotes following quote about his take on the character gives me great hope for the new series-
“Wakanda is really the light of the world, in the Marvel Universe. And yet it’s a system of governance that has not advanced beyond the idea of blood-rule. It’s always seemed to me that T’Challa was aware of this discrepancy. Among the monarchs of Marvel –Namor and Doctor Doom for instance– T’Challa has always been distinguished to me by his discomfort on the throne, and with the problems of one-man rule. I am very much looking forward to exploring that tension.”
That tension is the engine of what I hope drives BLACK PANTHER #1 into a no-holds-barred adventure that will not only demonstrate why Black Panther is one of the most powerful & noble heroes in the Marvel Universe, but also demonstrate how keen and topical Ta-Nehisi Coates take on T’Challa will be. Best known for his book “Between the World and Me,” a passionate letter to his son on being black in America, some may question why “take a step backward” and write a comic book? he told The New York Times in a recent interview:
“I don’t experience the stuff I write about as weighty. I feel a strong need to express something. The writing usually lifts the weight. I expect to be doing the same thing for Marvel.”
“A Nation Under Our Feet,” the title of the yearlong story line written by Mr. Coates and drawn by Brian Stelfreeze, is inspired by the 2003 book of the same title by Steven Hahn. T’Challa coping with a violent uprising set off by superhuman terrorist group, The People.
“It’s going to be a story that repositions the Black Panther in the minds of readers, It really moves him forward.” said Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso to The Times.
“Ta-Nehisi writes brilliantly about everything from race to politics to fatherhood to modern culture, but he’s also a longtime Marvel reader. And combining his writing skills with his passion for and understanding of Marvel’s characters, paired with the captivating and engaging artwork of modern master Brian Stelfreeze, has led to a truly amazing story that we can’t wait for the world to read,” says Wil Moss, editor of the new BLACK PANTHER series. “This story will have all the political intrigue of the best episodes of THE WEST WING and HOMELAND, but it’s also going to have the trademark Marvel action and energy that Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (Black Panther’s creators!) built into the foundation of the Marvel Universe. Look for some fun and unexpected Marvel villains to show up in this story, as well as an appearance or two by T’Challa’s new teammates, The Ultimates.”
An example of what’s possible today in addressing the industry “Default Mode” of CIS Hetero White Male talent, Greg Pak and Frank Cho writing and drawing an ethnically Korean character Amadeus Cho for the new comic Totally Awesome Hulk series, marks the first Marvel series in history to feature a Korean American lead character, writer and artist. It would be great for one day that this kind of “first” wasn’t big news, but my hope is we get there in my lifetime. No one can accuse Marvel of this talented team being for “the optics”. Marvel continues to effect positive change to the creative landscape of the main stream comic book industry. As an advocate for diverse voices in pop culture and entertainment industry for years, it’s heartening these steps, though small ones, are being taken by Marvel. Let’s hope the leaky dam holding back fresh, culturally and gender diverse talent soon breaks and more ideas and voices are allowed to flow into the mainstream of both the big comic publishers and cinematic realms.
Ta-Nehisi Coates heading the new creative team on Marvel Comics’ BLACK PANTHER may be that dam’s biggest crack yet!
BLACK PANTHER #1
Written by TA-NEHISI COATES
Artwork by BRIAN STELFREEZE
Cover by BRIAN STELFREEZE
On sale spring 2016