Ta-Nehisi Coates is tying the comic books of his youth and the political philosophy at the heart of his editorial work into a single comic book — Black Panther.
Coates explained his motivation and aspirations for the series, which turns 50 this year, in an essay on The Atlantic Wednesday, which accompanied a preview for the first part of the 11-issue run he’s authoring (with art by Brian Stelfreeze).
Despite the difference in style and practice of storytelling, my approach to comic books ultimately differs little from my approach to journalism. In both forms, I am trying to answer a question. In my work for The Atlantic I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther there is a simpler question: 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.
Though you may not see them — or see them a little too clearly — in many of Marvel’s more populist modern offerings, making comic books into a vehicle for pop philosophy is a classic approach. As Coates noted, many of Marvel’s iconic stories have carried socially conscious undertones.
Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X‑Men wasn’t just about an ultracool band of rebels. That series sought to grapple with the role of minorities in society—both the inner power and the outward persecution that come with that status.
The first issue of Coates’ run, Black Panther #1, hits stores April 6. You can check out the first six pages, and a video of Coates discussing the series further at The Atlantic.