Popular Black Panther comic gets a companion

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • The world of the Black Panther, the Marvel Comics hero who hails from the fictional African country of Wakanda, just got bigger. Marvel last Friday announced a companion series, World Of Wakanda, to premiere in November.

Like the current Black Panther series, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author and a national correspondent for The Atlantic, the new comic will be written by newcomers to the industry: feminist writer Roxane Gay and poet Yona Harvey.

Gay said: "It's the most bizarre thing I've ever done and I mean that in the best possible way." Learning to write comics exercised different creative muscles, which she said she found exciting.

Her story, written with Coates, will follow Ayo and Aneka, two lovers who are former members of the Dora Milaje, the Black Panther's female security force. "The opportunity to write black women and queer black women into the Marvel universe, there's no saying no to that," she said.

The first issue of World Of Wakanda will include a 10-page second story by Harvey about Zenzi, a female revolutionary who incited a riot in the first issue of the Black Panther series.

Coates, who recruited both writers, said he thought it was important to have female voices help breathe life into these characters. "The women in Black Panther's life are very, very important," he said.

He recalled a conference about two years ago, where Gay read a zombie short story. "It was the most surprising, unexpected, coolest zombie story," he said. "When we started thinking about writers, she popped up right away."

Harvey is his friend and a chance to test a theory. "I have found that poetry is so correlated with writing comic books," Coates said. "There's just so little space and you have to speak with so much power. I thought she'd be a natural."

It is no surprise that Marvel would try to capitalise on the success of Black Panther. The comic book (above), drawn by Brian Stelfreeze, is a critical and commercial hit. The first issue, which was released in April, sold more than 300,000 copies. Issues 2 and 3 each sold more than 75,000 copies.

Having such a diverse group of creators, particularly women, comes at an important time. While superhero comics have been making great strides in the diversity of their characters, the same is not always true of their writers and artists.

This disparity was part of the discussion when Marvel revealed that Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black genius, would don Iron Man's armour. She was created by writer Brian Michael Bendis, who is white, and Brazilian artist Mike Deodato.

"Why should we be prioritising white male creators' takes, when a non-white, non-male character is put in the foreground?" wrote Mr Abraham Riesman, an editor who covers comics for Vulture, the New York Magazine website.

His conclusion: "Marvel just needs more black creators and women creators, period, doing all kinds of series."

Mr Axel Alonso, Marvel's editorin-chief, said: "I wouldn't be too quick to conclude that the online reaction" - referring to the debate over whether a white man should create Riri's tales - "is indicative of the fan response" overall.

Still, one of Marvel's goals, is to have its characters and their creators reflect today's world. Look to the Muslim Ms Marvel, the black Captain America, the Korean-American Hulk and the female Thor, for evidence.

But both Mr Alonso, who is Mexican-American, and Gay, who is black, understand why fans are impatient. "In general, people of colour are under-represented in most storytelling," Gay said.

Coates said he was aware of the arguments about gender and comic books. He recalled an editor at Marvel being asked why Captain Marvel, who once wore a revealing costume, switched to a more militaristic uniform. The editor said he wanted his daughter to be able to dress as the hero for Halloween.

"The idea is that the world of comic books, the Marvel universe, should be as open to his daughter as it is to my son," Coates said. "I think that's so important."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Popular Black Panther comic gets a companion'. Print Edition | Subscribe