Marvel Comics’ 2017 event, Secret Empire, is not a series I like. It’s not even a series I dislike. It’s a series I loathe. I’ll freely admit that when I first heard of the plot: “Captain America, having been revealed as a Hydra sleeper agent, takes control of the Nazi-stand in organization and overthrows the United States, installing himself as the supreme leader, must now face down the heroes of the Marvel Universe who face the daunting task of defeating their iconic leader who knows everything about them”, I thought, there’s an idea that could work there. Absolute power corrupting. Cap being swayed to the darkside. What if our icons turned on us? Should we have heroes? Should anyone be granted so much implicit trust and power? There are some interesting questions in the premise that could have been asked. Nick Spencer’s mini series failed to deliver on any of the aforementioned potential themes.
If you’re a comic book fan, you might have heard that Marvel Comics’ Black Panther is poised for some very big things over the next year or two. Several months ago, Marvel’s first black superhero made his live-action debut in the so-completely-awesome-I-saw-it-two-times (and supremely better than the bleak n’ dreary mess that was Batman vs Superman) Captain America: Civil War. In the film, Chadwick Boseman plays the king of the fictional and technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda. Boseman brought a gravitas to the role that thoroughly impressed me (I was also impressed that he was given a satisfying character arc in the film). Meanwhile, in the comics, one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary writers on race issues in the US, Ta-Nehisi Coates, has been writing the new Black Panther series since April (you didn’t know?! Well hie thee to a comic book store or Comixology). Then there’s the much-anticipated 2018 live-action Black Panther film, which sees Boseman reprise his role as the African ruler in a movie that may well position the character as a major player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (a role he very much deserves). That’s not the only cool news involving the character though, as a recent panel at the San Diego Comic-Con revealed. November sees the release of a companion title to the Coates series, titled Black Panther: World of Wakanda. The book will be co-written by Coates, the Bad Feminist herself, Roxane Gay, and poet Yona Harvey:
Now, I tend to harp on the problems in Hollywood and/or the comic book industry bc I care. I care about movies. I care about comic book characters. And I care about racial and gender diversity in both. I want things to be better. I want greater representation (not just of women and PoC, but also queer and disabled people, and more still; but that’s a subject for a different post). Not just for my benefit. Not just for the benefit of others whose opinions align with mine on this subject. I also want greater representation bc it is important for future generations, as cultural anthropologist Michael D. Baran explains:
It is critical that children see all sorts of people playing both the good and the bad roles in media. Otherwise, they may take those absences as meaningful and it may affect how they understand social categories. And it is certainly important for kids to be able to identify with heroes that they feel represent who they are as people.
For very young kids, this might or might not fall out along racial lines and we must be careful not to impose our reification of race onto their knowledge. But we might as well err on the good side, by having a diversity of heroes for people to relate to – not just racially, but also in terms of gender, religion, body type, etc.
While Marvel Studios has much work to do in diversifying its interconnected universe, there are some bright spots on the horizon, and I think there is cause to have some degree of optimism that things are getting better (even if getting to better is like swimming uphill in a tar pit).
I’m optimistic because the Netflix series Jessica Jones was an intense, well acted, rollercoaster of a series that I loved from start to finish. Jessica Jones was presented as a strong, flawed, and three-dimensional character. The widespread acclaim of the show led to the quick announcement of a second season (speaking of which, I need them to announce *when*). On the big screen, I’m optimistic because 2019 sees the release of Captain Marvel, which will mark the first feature length MCU film with a woman in the starring role. Based on the Marvel Comics superhero (formerly known as Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warbird), this movie has the potential to position Captain Marvel as the premier female superhero of Marvel (in a way comparable to Wonder Woman’s position at DC). Though no actress has been cast in the title role, I am hopeful that this movie and this character will receive the respect they both deserve. Back on television, all 13 episodes of the Mike Colter starring Netflix series Luke Cage (which has been likened to the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire) drop on September 30. In the last decade, I’ve gone from ambivalence toward Cage to a fan of the character (writer Brian Michael Bendis may do a lot of things I don’t like, but his treatment of Cage has been exemplary). And then there’s the Black Panther, Marvel’s first black superhero. Seeing what Marvel has planned for the King of Wakanda between the comics and the big screen ought to please a great many Panther fans. I know I’m excited.
See that guy above? That’s T’Challa, aka the Black Panther. He’s a fictional superhero/monarch residing in the Marvel Universe. He’s the king of a Wakanda, a scientifically advanced African nation, a member of the Avengers, a scientific genius, and the first black superhero in mainstream USAmerican comics. In 2018, he’ll be the first major black Marvel Comics superhero (Blade is neither major nor a superhero) to receive his own theatrical film.
See that guy? That’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, a USAmerican writer, journalist, and educator. He is the National Correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social, and political issues, particularly where those issues intersect the lives of African-Americans.
Know what Black Panther and Ta-Nehisi Coates have in common? In a tremendous win for the company, Coates will soon be writing the adventures of the Black Panther in an all-new ongoing series from Marvel Comics: