Turns out Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic, and author of Between the World And Me is also a huge comic fan. Currently nominated for the National Book Award’s nonfiction prize, he’s also accepted the monumental task of breathing new life into Marvel’s forthcoming ‘Black Panther’ Comic. Created by writer-editor Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther first appeared in 1966 as the first black superhero from Wakanda, a fictional county in Africa.
George Gene Gustines for the The New York Times writes, “‘A Nation Under Our Feet,’ 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. It will find the hero dealing with a violent uprising in his country set off by a superhuman terrorist group called the People…”
My 14-year-old daughter, Cami, is the beacon of all Marvel Comic influence in our household, schooling me last year to how Disney’s Big Hero 6 (which later won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film) also brought with it the first “biracial” animated character in a lead role. So when news on Black Panther was announced through my twitter feed yesterday, I aimed to express my “coolness” by being the first to tell her.
“Yeah…I knew that already,” she responded with a slight smirk as if to say,- nice try, remember that I’m most likely going to know this sort of news before you will. Ok, fair enough.
She then added, “it’s good he’s doing it because the Black Panther is actually black and the character is from Africa.” My mind jumped to the recent backlash at Matt Damon for “mansplaining” diversity in Hollywood to a black female director this season on Project Greenlight. Even my kid could see how plot lines may be enhanced through those individuals with closer real-life experiences to them.
While my daughter schools me on the world of comics, I’m the ‘Ta-Nehisi Coates’ advocate at home. I read Between the World and Me in its entirety the weekend it released this summer. Thoroughly captivating, Coates allows readers (namely his son) to witness how his identity as a black man while inherently vulnerable, is also empowered by the life-events highlighted throughout the book. He shares his growth and search for “the right question” from the hardened streets of Baltimore to the intellectual Mecca at Howard University, to the insecurities of parenthood, to self awareness as a black man living outside the United States. Though he doesn’t believe in God, he’s honest about his potential limitations among other blacks who turn to spirituality in the midst of oppression.
Love him or hate him, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a profoundly relevant voice within 21st century American culture, notably compared to James Baldwin by Nobel and Pulitzer prize winning author, Toni Morrison.
His joining forces with the Marvel Empire at time in our history when the #BlackLivesMatter Movement makes national headlines protesting police brutality against African-Americans isn’t coincidence. It should be interesting to see the ways in which he will lend his voice to the comic genre. And of course, I’m most curious on how well it’s received by the public once published.