Required Reading: Ta Nehisi Coates' Black Panther
Comic books failed me time and time again during my childhood. I was always drawn to them; I loved the vibrant images, the potent plots, and alternate universes. But I’ve also always been a logo-phile and a literary snob, and so many of the popular comics are written poorly. The dialogue is choppy and cliche, the story arcs are morphed, and the character development is shallow unless you want to read a completely different volume of books focusing on a character’s origin. Even as a child, I ain’t have the time for it.
When I heard the author of Between the World and Me was writing Black Panther, I knew I had to read it. Toni Morrison called Ta’Nehisi Coates the new James Baldwin, and I don’t know of any stronger endorsements in black socio-political literature that a writer can have than Toni Morrison. Whether you agree with Morrison or not, Coates signing on for Black Panther is monumental. How many NYT best selling authors of not-comics go on to write comics? Finally, a comic I wouldn’t be deterred from because of its awful literary composition.
I had never read any of the traditional Black Panther comics by Stan Lee, but Mr. Coates’ version has me shook. The writing (as expected) is so beautifully crafted and poignant. Lead artist Brian Stelfreeze does an amazing job of bringing the words to life with his illustrations. What I’m most amazed by are the current social and political issues that Coates is able to shed light on through the use of allegory and metaphor in his version. Also, he is very deliberate in his portrayal of black characters and attention to black issues, which is everything we need right now. If 2017 is the year of #blackgirlmagic and #blackboyjoy, I would contend that this comic series is indispensable to the running count of unapologetically black spaces that we have created in which to flourish. I know many people are waiting for the Black Panther film (directed by Ryan Coogler) to drop during Black History Month of 2018, but I implore you to get an early start with Coates’ Comic.
Some of the themes and conversations that Coates so masterfully weaves into the comic series are:
A healthy love and relationship between two prominent woman characters that isn’t overly sex-ified or wrought with “male-gaze” (Coates enlists the help of Roxane Gay for some of the issues centered on this relationship. Do you have any idea how major that is?!?!)
A humanizing depiction of an internally warring African nation, the complex nature of insurgency and unstable government
Multiple prominent black women characters, their origins, their battles with violent patriarchy, misogyny, and against male privilege
A case study in the colonization of an African country by external powers
The depiction of an African country as a global power, rich in resources and also technologically advanced and well respected
A dynamic male-lead, who processes and expresses emotions, shows flaws and weaknesses, and exhibits conscientiousness for his peers and subjects that is completely anomalous for a king and superhero.
I never liked comics. But I love this Black Panther, for everything that it is, and everything that it can be to young boys and girls growing up in such a tense and troubling time for race relations around the world. Check out your local comic store and catch up on the issues that have been released thus far, or get the digital versions here.