It seems that in one fell swoop, Marvel Comics has figured out how to relaunch the comic book series of one of their oldest characters while also bringing in a fresh voice to speak for it. As reported today (September 22) by the New York Times, the creative team for the upcoming relaunch of “Black Panther” in spring 2016 has been assembled. The series will be written by Ta-Nehisi Coates (an author and journalist for “The Atlantic”) and drawn by Brian Stelfreeze (“Domino”, “Matador”, “Shadow of the Bat”).
Ta-Nahisi Coates became a New York Times best selling author with his first book, “Between the World and Me”, which was released this July. Written as an extended letter to his son about the black experience in America, it has earned Coates a nomination for the National Book Award’s nonfiction prize. Although journalism may be Coates’ “day job”, he has had a longtime passion for comic books, which eventually culminated in “a fruitful discussion” with Marvel editor Sana Amanat. Coates plans a year long story arc for the comic inspired by the 2003 novel “A Nation Under our Feet” by Steven Hahn. It will see T’Challa facing a violent uprising within his homeland of Wakanda kicked off by a terrorist attack by a group called “the People”. Coates’ enthusiasm for Marvel Comics began in the 1980’s when he began reading the comics of that era – a time when Storm led the X-Men, Monica Rambeau was the new Captain Marvel, and James Rhodes had taken over as Iron Man. His goal is to take the passion which he has for the character and the Marvel Universe and translate it into a substantial story.
This comes at a time when Black Panther is gearing up for his big screen debut next year. Chadwick Boseman will begun his role as T’Challa in next year’s “Captain America: Civil War” before starring in his own film in 2018. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966’s “Fantastic Four #52”, the Black Panther was the first African superhero to appear in American comic books, predating many of his 70’s era contemporaries (such as Luke Cage, John Stewart and Black Lightening). The prince of the small but perennially independent fictional nation of Wakanda (which happens to be one of the only places on earth to find a fictional metal called “vibranium”), T’Challa inherited the mantle of Black Panther when his father T’Chaka was murdered by plunderer Ulysses Klaw. He went on to become a long standing member of the Avengers as well as a short term member of the Fantastic Four. His marriage to Storm garnered much fanfare in 2006 before being annulled six years later during “Avengers vs. X-Men”.
While this is not the first time a writer of color got to write Marvel’s first superhero of color – Christopher Priest wrote a heralded run on the series from 1998 to 2003 – it comes at a time when the entire comic book industry finds itself under the critical watch of a younger and more diverse group of readers and critics. Not even established talent is immune, as Mark Waid and J.G. Jones faced criticism for their recent series, “Strange Fruit”, for BOOM! Studios, due to what some saw as “awkward” takes on black history. There is a zeal to see more diverse voices within comics, and this move is a critical step towards that goal for Marvel Comics.