March 15, 2016

Marvel’s “Black Panther #1” Looks to Change the Game

Black Panther

Black PantherWith the cinema debut of comics’ first black superhero just around the corner with CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, Marvel Comics is primed to re-intro Wakanda’s Champion with his new series, BLACK PANTHER “A Nation Under Our Feet.”

Coming with it is a new chapter for not only the character, but for the perception of heroes of color in and out of comics.


Black PantherBLACK PANTHER #1 written by national correspondent for The Atlantic, MacArthur Genius, and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) and illustrated by living legend Brian Stelfreeze, BLACK PANTHER “A Nation Under Our Feet” is a story about dramatic upheaval in Wakanda and the Black Panther’s struggle to do right by his people as their ruler.


The indomitable will of Wakanda — the famed African nation known for its vast wealth, advanced technology and warrior traditions — has long been reflected in the will of its monarchs, the Black Panthers. But now, the current Black Panther, T’Challa, finds that will tested by a superhuman terrorist group called The People that have sparked a violent uprising among the citizens of Wakanda. T’Challa knows the country must change to survive — the question is: will the Black Panther survive the change?


Exclusively revealing with The Atlantic, Coates proposes a simple question that fueled his script for BLACK PANTHER, “Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? Research is crucial in both cases. The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and 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 toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of ISIS.”


“For centuries, Wakanda has been sending would-be conquerors home in body bags.  Now, it is about to face its biggest threat — and it comes from within,” says Marvel Comics Editor In Chief, Axel Alonso.  “Under Ta-Nehisi’s unflinching gaze, the Black Panther will grapple with a threat that can’t simply be beaten into submission, one that raises questions about life, liberty and honor that are especially relevant today.”


Choosing Coates is a signature move by Marvel, given the author’s status and visibility not just with Atlantic readers and African-Americans, but also for his role in political commentary on the 2016 Presidential election. His critique in The Atlantic over Bernie Sander’s stance on Reparations for African-Americans for slavery put him squarely into the election year debates over social justice, economic disparities and racial inequality. Given the traditional “wall-of-the-artist” aspect of comic creators, Coates’ public activism represents a huge change for Marvel creatives, especially given Marvel CEO’s Issac  Perlmutter’s at least partial public support  for Donald Trump.


Black PantherAlso in play is the desire by many to see a mainline success for a heroic character of color both on-screen and in print. T’Challa has been in the hands of multiple creatives since his 1966 debut and has at various times, been more and less visible as a standard bearer for diversity in comics. The need for a well-written, engaging character of color has been long overdue. The fact that the book has hot, provocative talent behind it is a plus. The buzz for BP’s screen debut will do nothing but boost the book’s profile.


However, one of the tough truths of the  BLACK PANTHER reset is that Marvel and DC have had trouble supporting and maintaining characters of color in the marketplace. BP has never been a huge seller as a solo book character despite the presence of many talented writers and artists over the years. Marvel specifically has experienced mixed results with other mainline non-white characters, with the Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales/Spider Man becoming solid sellers while T’Challa’s on-again, off-again love interest Storm and urban hero Luke Cage’s books failed to find an audience.


DC’s record is even more uneven given their ongoing problems in steadying the entirety of their line. Despite a well respected creative team, DC’s most visible black hero, Cyborg, seems to have another make over in wings with the newly announced “Rebirth.” Green Lantern Jon Stewart seems to enjoy a floating popularity with fans, but has been away from the New 52 mainstream Earth in recent years. Dozens of other characters of color seem to wait in the wings. A opportunity perhaps stands ready in this Crisis (sorry DC fans, couldn’t resist) for the comic reading public to embrace BP as never before.


My hope is that T’Challa gets both needed respect and gravitas at the hands of Coates and Stelfreeze and some also needed love from the marketplace. It would be a refreshing development if 2017 has Wakanda’s Finest step away from the shadows of his fellow Avengers and prowl afresh in the imagination of the comic buying public… A hero strong, proud and for perhaps the first time,  unapologetically a commercial success.


About the Author

Jason Stewart
Jason Malcolm Stewart is a Northern California-based author, journalist and public relations/marketing professional. He holds degrees in Political Science and Comparative Religion, but can have a conversation without starting a small war. When he's not writing or reading, J. Malcolm spends his weekends talking about how to avoid being in a real-life horror movie. add blog


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