George Gene Gustines, New York Times, September 22, 2015
Ta-Nehisi Coates can be identified in many ways: as a national correspondent for The Atlantic, as an author and, as of this month, as a nominee for the National Book Award’s nonfiction prize. But Mr. Coates also has a not-so-secret identity, as evidenced by some of his Atlantic blog posts and his Twitter feed: Marvel Comics superfan.
So it seems only natural that Marvel has asked Mr. Coates to take on a new Black Panther series set to begin next spring. Writing for that comics publisher is a childhood dream that, despite the seeming incongruity, came about thanks to his day job. “The Atlantic is a pretty diverse place in terms of interest, but there are no comics nerds,” besides himself, Mr. Coates said in an interview.
His passions intersected in May, during the magazine’s New York Ideas seminar, when he interviewed Sana Amanat, a Marvel editor, about diversity and inclusion in comic books. Ms. Amanat led the creation of the new Ms. Marvel, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City, based on some of her own childhood experiences.
After that event, Marvel reached out, paired Mr. Coates with an editor, and discussions about the comic began. The renewed focus on Black Panther is no surprise. Created in 1966, he is the first black superhero and hails from Wakanda, a fictional African country.
“He has the baddest costume in comics and is a dude who is smarter and better than everyone,” said Axel Alonso, the editor in chief of Marvel. The character not only adds to the diversity of Marvel’s comics; he will do it for their films too: Black Panther is set to make his big-screen debut next year in “Captain America: Civil War,” followed by a solo feature in 2018.
“A Nation Under Our Feet,” the yearlong story line written by Mr. Coates and drawn by Brian Stelfreeze, is inspired by the 2003 book of the same title by Steven Hahn. It will find the hero dealing with a violent uprising in his country set off by a superhuman terrorist group called the People. “It’s going to be a story that repositions the Black Panther in the minds of readers,” Mr. Alonso said. “It really moves him forward.”
Diversity–in characters and creators–is a drumbeat to which the comic book industry is increasingly trying to march. Marvel recently announced the December start of “The Totally Awesome Hulk,” whose title character is Amadeus Cho, a genius Korean-American scientist who will find himself transforming into that emerald behemoth. The book is written by Greg Pak and drawn by Frank Cho, both of whom are Korean-American. (“My wife is Korean, so I scored massive points,” Mr. Alonso said.)