Ta-Nehisi Coates brings a complex and compelling story to Marvel’s first black superhero
An African king visits a mine in his country of Wakanda and is met with hate-filled stares from the workers. The king’s guard brutally lashes out demanding respect for their king. A miner shouts “death to tyrants” and attacks.
Black Panther is not your average superhero.
As Marvel’s Black Panther is poised to open in theatres next week as one of most anticipated movies of 2018, the Black Panther comic books are a great place to get reacquainted with the character.
It is no coincidence that Black Panther, which first made his appearance in 1966 in the Fantastic Four, is enjoying a resurgence today.
In 1966 the Unites States was in the midst of a mass civil rights movement against systemic racism.
Fifty years later in 2016, the first issue of Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet was published as Black Lives Matter was still fighting against racism and police brutality.
Writing the new Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet is critically acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who rose to popularity writing for The Atlantic on racism and politics. His second book Between the World and Me won the National Book Award for nonfiction for his portrayal of life as a Black American.
Coates brings his narrative prowess to the comic, exploring the internal struggle of T’Challa who is torn between his family and his role as Black Panther and king of Wakanda as his country is in the midst of a civil war.
Coates’ vision of Black Panther puts us in the position of trying to figure out not only who the “good guys” are, but if there are any good guys at all.
Throughout the books he sets about interrogating the concept of how countries are ruled, or as the comic’s subtitle puts it how a king can keep “a nation under our feet.” Meanwhile, there is both a military and spiritual insurgency in Wakanda that threatens to destroy the old order, but it is unclear if what replaces it would be better, or worse.
Perhaps the most effective use of writing that Coates has in the books is the pithy internal dialogue of T’Challa’s thoughts that provide background and context in the small space available for text in the format.
For Coates, the vision of the strong African nation of Wakanda is as much of the story as T’Challa’s Black Panther, but it is not a simple vision of strength and technological advancement, it is one of strife and behind that strife are not just the villains of the story but also the weight of history.
While the history of Wakanda, which stays true to the Marvel Universe, is not that of the United States, Coates’ understanding of history not only as a collection of past events but as a force that shapes the present day informs his writing.
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet is a rich and complex story masterfully told with stunning illustrations from veteran comic artists like Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Sprouse and Laura Martin. As you get ready to see the movie, make sure to pay a visit to your local comic book store and pick up a copy.