NYCC Black Panther Miles Morales Authors On Truth in Comics

first_img These days it’s tough to get a read on what Marvel thinks about diversity in general and specifically characters like Black Panther. Obviously, they want to make the character, arguably their premier Black superhero, a big deal following his appearance in Captain America: Civil War and before his solo cinematic debut next year. He’s a new playable character in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. And his main book right now is still being written by public Black intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates.However, the spin-off Wakanda books meant to capitalize on that buzz have since been canceled, and while two new spin-offs are on the way, we don’t know if they’ll keep up momentum after the movie has been released. Meanwhile, Marvel’s larger Legacy initiative seems to be about pivoting away from pushes for diversity and more toward a traditional status quo. After all, even though half-Black half-Puerto Rican Miles Morales has references in Spider-Man Homecoming, Spider-Man himself is still Peter Parker.At New York Comic Con, I attended a panel featuring a conversation between Coates and Jason Reynolds, author of a recent Miles Morales young adult novel. And it seems that while Marvel’s taste for provocative work may change with the season, these two are determined to get away with as much as they can.Coates said that although it may not seem obvious, he sees a clear throughline between his writing on race-related social issues in The Atlantic and his work writing comic books. He’s also been a comic fan since youth. “It’s where I got my literary sensibility.” But he had no desire to meet the creators. Your heroes always disappoint you.Reynolds meanwhile was more of a fan of comic book adjacent things like cartoons and toys. And it was only after being told the Spider-Man book Marvel wanted him to write was Miles, not Peter, did he consider joining the project. It was a character he felt he had something to say about.“There’s a hunger among Black comic book fans to see Black characters bust some ass,” said Coates. “It’s a power fantasy white folks get all the time.”But for Coates and Reynolds, working with Black Panther and Spider-Man, respectively, also presented political narrative potential that would be irresponsible to refuse.Reynolds compared his take on Morales to a young athlete from a tough neighborhood who suddenly becomes very wealthy. Kids like that who get power don’t immediately think about responsibility. However, as Reynolds recounts from his own life experience that he put in the book, people who get out of situations like that can also have a kind of survivor’s guilt that’s very much in line with Spider-Man stories. “Spidey Sense” in the hood is just how you keep on living.Coates is very much aware that his famous name is largely responsible for him getting the Black Panther gig. That’s why he’s working hard to make sure he’s more than just a name. It’s caused some challenges, like adapting his prose-heavy style for the more visually oriented comic book medium, but after I read his first major story arc I’d say he succeeded at his lofty goal of exploring the national psyche of a post-invasion Wakanda.Marvel and Disney, for the most part, have been good about letting these authors do what they want. And that trust is a two-way street. The writers respect the larger continuity, picking the pieces they want, and honor storytelling norms of comics, or in Reynolds’s case, honor those norms as much as possible in a non-graphic novel. Coates, in particular, loves how comics in the middle of a storyline don’t necessarily give background context for current events because that’s how life works. But when a hugely important character in the Marvel universe is named Captain America and wears a flag (before turning into a Nazi is a major crossover event) being apolitical is just impossible. Black. Panther.Reynolds recalled a meeting at Disney over champagne shortly after getting the Miles Morales gig where he improvised some early ideas for the story. He knew his history of writing about young boys of color made him a great fit for the character. But he also wanted to use the story to show mistreatment of minority youth in school and the school to prison pipeline. Fortunately, instead of telling him to downplay the charged contemporary themes like he feared, Disney encouraged him to push them further.But for all of their grappling with real-world issues, comic books ultimately aren’t the real world. They’re escapist. And as they get bigger, as evidenced by the gigantic crowds at events like Comic Con, Coates expressed concern that they may distract people from engaging with the real world and its real consequences. The Avengers movies keep earning more money while voter turnout is lower.That’s why political comic characters like Black Panther and Miles Morales, and political comic book writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jason Reynolds are so important. If the kids (and adults) are going to invest this much in something fake, we have to tell them some truth.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. 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