Meh, you say, I’m not into comic books, I really prefer something more serious. There’s a lot wrong with the world – do we really have time for colorful punch-ups and such?
Or maybe it’s the opposite: Hey look, I see all the craziness and injustice – I’m not trying to avoid all that – but at the end of the day, I could really use a good story. Yeah, a comic book here and there keeps my head up.
Either point of view is legit, and most folks will not fall squarely on just one side anyway. But what happens when you combine an Atlantic journalist, tell-it-like-it-is, National Book Award winner with a semi-underground cult superhero who’s about to make his big screen debut? You get some bitchin, unexpected literature.
In case you hadn’t heard, Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing a year-long Black Panther series for Marvel. He talks about what he’s doing in The Atlantic. Aside from the themes he’s addressing, what’s particularly interesting are the adjustments he has to make from writing journalistically to writing stories with pictures, in collaboration with an artist. And as to themes, you’ll have to read for yourself, but… “The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and from the character’s own long history. But it also pulls from the very real history of society – from the pre-colonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe before the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS.” There’s your colorful punch-ups.
If you’re not comic book savvy, Graeme McMillan will catch you up on the background of Black Panther, King of the African nation Wakanda – maybe the most advanced country on the planet in the Marvel world. And here is James Whitbrook’s iO9 look at the first issue, which came out in early April.
The most cool thing: follow Ta-Nehisi Coates’ own video recaps every month, with accompanying hip-hop soundtracks.
And if you’re coming from the comic book side, here’s a little something about Ta-Nehisi Coates. His Between the World and Me (National Book Award for Nonfiction) takes part of its inspiration from the first part of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a letter to his nephew about how to navigate the world as a black person. Coates’ book is a series of letters to his son with the same intention but with a far less hopeful outlook. With stories from his own life and reexaminations of assumptions about race in America, he sets a scene that sounds like a combination of National Geographic and science fiction: we live in an artificially constructed white society whose instinct is to kill us, and we have to find a way to survive. It’s stark and bracing. It’s not what we’re used to hearing.
Stories can carry insights, experiences and feelings from sender to receiver very effectively. Whether real-life stories or fictional ones with pictures, you can be sure Ta-Nehisi Coates will fill these stories with content that matters and a scalding truth.
Black Panther and Ta-Nehisi Coates is a team-up that could change more than one universe.