Marvel Comics has been promising more diversity in its lineup, both in characters and creators, and looks to deliver today with a long-stewing announcement. Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American writer and journalist for The Atlantic and well-regarded voice on African-American political and social issues, is writing Black Panther.
The new comic book launches as part of Marvel Comics "All-New All-Different Marvel" initiative, with new first issues across the entire line and books beginning for five or six months starting in October 2015. The announcement came from The New York Times after a couple of months of diversity controversy at the publisher.
For Coates, a self-proclaimed Marvel Comics "superfan," this came about thanks to him meeting Marvel editor Sana Amanat in his journalism role. Amanat helped create the current Ms. Marvel, a teenage Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, and pushes forward the diversity in comics conversation through her work, plus interviews in national publications and even an appearance on Comedy Central's The Nightly Show.
Thanks to that conversation and Coates' pair of books about the African-American everyday life (and struggle), he met with Marvel Comics on a creative side to talk about working on Black Panther's relaunch. He says he expects his Marvel work to be similar to his other writing.
"I don't experience the stuff I write about as weight," Coates told The Times. "I feel a strong need to express something. The writing usually lifts the weight."
His love for Marvel Comics included finding characters like Monica Rambeau, Storm, and James Rhodes in the 1980s. Those characters were "obviously black" but treated like any other member of their teams, the Avengers and X-Men. "It meant something to see people who looked like me in the comic books."
Of his story, he hasn't said much yet, aside from wanting "to make a great comic," and "trying to please 12-year-old me." Coates will be joined by an as yet unnamed artist, according to Marvel Comics, for a year-long story planned titled, "A Nation Under Our Feet." Black Panther will be in Wakanda for the story, dealing with an uprising instigated by a new terrorist group called The People. Marvel E-i-C Axel Alonso said the story will "reposition the Black Panther in the minds of readers. It really moves him forward."
Brian Stelfreeze joins the team as cover artist, having provided both the main cover and the hip-hop variant for the first issue, based on Jay-Z's "The Black Album."
After announcing hip-hop variants for all of the "All-New All-Different Marvel" launches, based on top rap and R&B albums from throughout the last three decades, some bloggers and fans accused Marvel of appropriation of Black culture without representation by creators. The variants, however, have been almost universally well-received by the actual hip-hop community, with the news reaching hip-hop sites and publications that normally don't cover comic books, and rappers celebrating their homage covers (and even asking Marvel if theirs will be picked).
Still, the number of writers from other than a "white male" category are vastly dwarfed by those within. With a character like Black Panther, whose roots are firmly planted in not just African heritage, but in the continent itself (depending on the storyline, he is the fictional African nation Wakanda's ruler or greatest warrior), fans have been hoping (and demanding) that a writer of African descent would handle the character.
Marvel Comics editor Chris Robinson (also African-American) tried his best to get in front of that sort of talk, of course, tweeting ahead of the announcement, "Huge announcement coming that will look like a reaction, but has literally been in the works for months and months and months."
Marvel's new line-up includes a relaunch of Ms. Marvel, plus a new Korean-American Totally Awesome Hulk by an all-Korean-American creative team, Red Wolf featuring a Native American superhero, Sam Wilson retaining the role of Captain America, and more.