Ta-Nehisi Coates is probably the single most recognizable cultural critic in American public life at the moment. He's a long-time correspondent for The Atlantic, where his cover stories on the case for reparations and mass incarceration and blog posts on race in the U.S. have helped shaped the national conversation around racial justice in the past several years (he's also, for disclosure's sake, a former colleague of mine). His bestselling book Between the World and Me is one of the most talked-about books of the year.
And now, Coates is taking up a new kind of project: writing a new Black Panther book for Marvel Comics. The New York Times reports:
... Marvel reached out, paired Mr. Coates with an editor, and discussions about the comic began. The renewed focus on Black Panther is no surprise. Created in 1966, he is the first black superhero and hails from Wakanda, a fictional African country.
At first glance, it may seem odd for Mr. Coates to write a mainstream superhero comic. He has been lauded for his book “Between the World and Me,” a passionate letter to his son on being black in America. But he does not see anything odd about it. “I don’t experience the stuff I write about as weighty,” he said. “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 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.
The timing — and pairing — couldn't be better. Not only is Coates a long-time reader and lover of comics, but as Alonso notes, he's taking over the franchise at a critical time: Black Panther is set to make his theatrical debut in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, played by Chadwick Boseman.
“It’s going to be a story that repositions the Black Panther in the minds of readers,” Alonso told the Times. “It really moves him forward.”
With Black Panther's reintroduction into American pop culture at a tenuous time for both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and race relations in the U.S., there's no writer better suited to balance the complexities of Marvel's foremost African-American hero than Coates. We can't wait to see what he comes up with.