Ta-Nehisi Coates brings back a pretentious Crew for a more politicized path
Coates, a National Book Award and MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant winner, became the most famous comic book writer in the non-comic-book-reading world last year when he took on the Marvel character. The storied publisher recruited him to revive Black Panther, the first black superhero in mainstream comic books. Black Panther, whose given name is T’Challa, is the ruler of the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, a scientist and an Avenger. Coates’ 2016 version begins with a rebellion against Wakanda’s monarchy. The first issue sold more than 300,000 copies.And what's it sold since? Little more than 45,000 copies, and even 300,000 is a very paltry sum. But, as always, they won't admit such receipts are pathetic. By the way, is the rebellion against the monarchy fueled by right-wing advocates?
Marvel has tried to widen its perspective from that of the white male creator in recent years with changes to its characters and, more slowly, its writers and artists. Priest’s version of The Crew has been called by critics “the blackest superhero story that Marvel Comics ever published” and dealt with issues like gentrification, poverty, religion and crime. Coates and Harvey’s version endeavors to be similarly ambitious.This points to a problem with how assignments seem to be handed out at Marvel now: are black writers being offered titles with white heroes and heroines to script as well, or are they just being offered titles where the spotlight is almost entirely on black protagonists? Nearly all signs suggest the latter, in contrast to the late 80s-early 90s when Priest (who then went by the name Jim Owsley) wrote/edited some titles with white stars. Not that agenda-driven writers like Coates seem to mind, so long as they can ply their moonbat trade at the expense of entertainment and escapism.
Why did you decide to do a spin-off about The Crew?This brings to mind that Jim Rhodes is one black cast member who's certainly not available now, because TPTB at Marvel decided to make him a sacrificial lamb in Civil War 2, proving even notable cast members of Black/Latino/Asian descent aren't immune to their wretched stunts. As for the series itself he's alluding to, which may have actually been an ongoing that didn't sell well, I'll bet he adored it, all because it used certain elements seen in 2003's Chomskyite miniseries, The Truth: Red, White & Black.
Coates: Christopher Priest wrote what turned out to be a mini-series that I just adored called The Crew. Black Panther wasn’t in the original Crew, but he was weirdly sort of related because an ancillary character of his series was in the Crew. It was a unique book because the majority of the characters were black. So when I came back to write Black Panther, I read a bunch of Christopher Priest’s stuff, and I wanted to bring it back.
I was going to try to do it with the same members that he had. But it became clear that certain characters would not be available for various reasons. So I decided to think about it in a different way and think about something new.
Now here's where the telling clues come up about where this is going:
The inciting incident of this story is an activist dies in police custody, and there’s an investigation. Why did you decide to use that as the jumping off point?Sigh. He's influenced by those awful movements alright, acting as though it's impossible to refrain from going so political. And I have no doubt there's a ton more of leftism going on in his new series than he's willing to admit.
Coates: This is in the air. It’s not like I looked at a Black Lives Matter protest and was like, “Hey, I want to write a comic about that.” But you’re confronted with it every day. So when I sat down to think about what is this story with four black protagonists about, and you start scribbling, that rises up. The events of the day are with me. It seemed like an opportunity to do something. It becomes clear in the first issue that the activist is not just an activist. There’s something more going on there.
How much do you think the events of the day being on your mind are because you are also a writer, a journalist, who is writing about social justice issues and race or interviewing President Obama?The only questions he's trying to answer - unsuccessfully - are how to maintain failed liberal politics. And for somebody talking about outsiders, how come it doesn't occur to him he's turning conservatives into just that? I don't think he was influenced by X-Men at all, so much as I do think he was influenced by leftist thinking. Some of which is alluded to in the following:
Coates: Those things don’t influence each other as much as you would think. These issues are all over comic books and particularly throughout the history of Marvel. What weighs on me is reading X-Men as a child. Those books influenced me so much. They were charged, they dealt with discrimination, they dealt with being an outsider. They dealt with the things that I was feeling.
The comics I’ve always read, have always had a philosophical thread. So when it came time for me to write comics, I just felt like that had to be. It’s definitely in the Black Panther books now. It’s not just a story about a king that’s trying to rule. I’m trying to answer other questions, philosophical questions, social questions.
Black Panther dealt very directly with questions of sexism, female empowerment and queerness, especially when it came to Black Panther's all-female guard.Oh sure he was careful. No doubt, he's really pushed it on everyone. But more eyebrow raising is what age he gave the guards. It's not clear from this interview, but if he did make the guards underage, that's ludicrous, suggesting he was willing to risk making T'Challa look like a pervert or something, employing a bunch of teens who may be too young for him!
Coates: [In some of the earlier versions, the guards] are like 16 years old. It's weird. I want to say that was a different time, but it was only 15 years ago. I think now, you have an all-female guard, you can’t just look at them strictly from the perspective of the teenage, male comic book reader. Like, when depicting a same-sex relationship, I was really careful. You don't want it to be a performance [for the reader.] You want the characters to own it. I don't know that we would have been having these conversations 15 years ago. It's good they're happening now.
To that point, you've said before that those plots were in part a response to a conversation online about the ways in which comic books failed to represent complex, powerful women. Now that you've written a whole series, do you continue to pay attention to the online debate about representation and feminism?Maybe they shouldn't do it without female co-stars, but how come they can't do it without the constant stream of leftist politics all over the place? And how come they can't admit feminism as conceived in the 1960s only wound up having negative effects?
Coates: I hope so. Yes, I am. You know, there were no women in the original Crew. And it just felt like you could not have a book like this without women. The moment it became clear I couldn’t do the original Crew, and I had to come up with my own, it just felt wrong to put together five dudes. These days, that’s not going to fly. So in its very conception, yes.
As if this isn't bad enough, they even invoke the exaggerated claim that past comics in the 20th century were inherently sexist and racist while speaking with one of Coates' co-writers, Yona Harvey:
How much did you think about the history of sexism in comic books before you started writing?But there is trouble abound...in the form of leftism. Some of which is leading to the increases in crime in whatever areas it takes place. Has it ever occurred to him that, as a result, there are people who feel they're in danger and, if they don't have the proper skills, need to be rescued? It never occurs to men like him, does it?
Harvey: Are the things that trouble women the things we see depicted in culture? Do we walk out the door terrified of mugged or attacked? I was thinking about these strong female characters, and how can I bring more subtlety or nuance to that idea. I think maybe for men when they write about women they're imagining this anxiety about the worst thing that can happen to as part of [the character.] But I don't think we step out of the house thinking we're in trouble or need to be rescued.
What are the challenges of dealing with racial issues in this format?If they don't deal with anti-white racism, then nothing's real in what they're developing any more than there's fantastical. They've already given telling signs this new series won't be free of bias or agendas, and that's why this is yet another modern product nobody should waste their money on.
Harvey: I think it's a good challenge because it gives people a touchstone for the current moment, but there's still this imaginative space where the story can unfold. There's a nice tension between those two things, the real and the fantastical.