In what’s easily the most groundbreaking comics news this year, the New York Times announced Tuesday that Marvel has tapped Ta-Nehisi Coates to write its new Black Panther series. The move is part of Marvel’s “all new, all different” initiative—the same revamp that cast Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man and Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk. Coates will team up with illustrator Brian Stelfreeze on the new series, which is set to launch next spring. And although Coates is obviously more widely known for writing about race for The Atlantic, and more recently for his groundbreaking book, Between the World and Me, he’s indisputably a great choice to pen Black Panther.
To begin with, of course, Coates is a total Marvel nerd. His piece for The Atlantic about diversity in comics picked apart a fascination he’s had since boyhood: “When I was eight, the fact that Storm could exist—as she was, and in a way that I knew the rest of society did not accept—meant something. Outside of hip-hop, it was in comics that I most often found the aesthetics and wisdom of my world reflected.” A few months later, in an interview for New York magazine, he explained that, barring extreme issues in gender disparity, comics are an inclusive medium. Marvel comics are where Coates first found a mirror for his experiences, and he fully understands the power of that mirror.
Now that he’s been assigned his own title to write, we’re bound to see Coates’ deep understanding of the Marvel universe channeled in a new storyline. Black Panther, alias T’Challa is the king of an extremely advanced African nation called Wakanda. His first appearance was in 1966 in Fantastic Four #52; in that issue he invites the Fantastic Four to visit Wakanda and enlists them to help fight the villain Klaw. (Incidentally, it was Klaw who murdered T’Challa’s father.) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invented T’Challa and gave him super strength, super speed, genius-level intelligence (he’s the eighth-smartest person in the world), and a kick-ass battle suit.
T’Challa’s new year-long storyline, which Coates will write, is called ”A Nation Under Our Feet.” It draws from Steven Hahn’s 2003 book of the same name, which details how black Americans transformed themselves into a political people. According to the Times, the new Black Panther, “will find the hero dealing with a violent uprising in his country set off by a superhuman terrorist group called the People.” It’ll be fascinating to watch Coates, who grapples so brilliantly with blackness and identity, blend these two narratives in order to draw the story out.