Black Panther may not be the mightiest superhero on the planet, but he’s certainly among the coolest. Created in 1966, he was the first black superhero in mainstream comics. While his cape-wearing peers spend their off hours slogging away at mundane day jobs — reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper, say — the Panther is a king, the sovereign ruler of Wakanda, the fictional, technologically advanced African nation. And then there’s his costume: skintight and jet black from head to toe. His former wife, Ororo Munroe (Storm of the X-Men), can summon hurricanes.
Even so, the Panther has never enjoyed the popularity of many of his superpowered colleagues. That looks to change, however, thanks to a confluence of events that begin with the much-anticipated release, on Wednesday, April 6, of the new Marvel comic book series “Black Panther.”
Most comics don’t generate that much buzz, but then again, most comics aren’t written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the best-selling author of “Between the World and Me,” which won the National Book Award last year. One of the most celebrated authors about race in America writing about a black superhero who has pummeled Captain America and members of the Ku Klux Klan? The collective response from fans of comics and Mr. Coates alike: I’d read that.
The book arrives during the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther, who first appeared in issue No. 52 of the Fantastic Four (and yes, he beat them up, too). Next month, the superhero will make his big-screen debut in Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War,” with Chadwick Boseman (“42,” “Get On Up”) as the Wakandan royal. And in 2018, Mr. Boseman will reprise his role in the feature film “Black Panther,” to be directed by Ryan Coogler (“Creed”).
The Coates/Marvel collaboration stems from a 2015 conference hosted by The Atlantic, where the author interviewed the Marvel editor Sana Amanat in a seminar titled “What if Captain America Were Muslim and Female?” Soon after, another Marvel editor, Tom Brevoort, asked Mr. Coates if there were any characters that he might like to write for them. A lifelong fan of Spider-Man and the X-Men, Mr. Coates sent them some favorites. “Black Panther was not on my list,” he said with a laugh.
But when he learned that Marvel was looking to feature the character in his own book once again (his last one ended in 2012), Mr. Coates was immediately intrigued. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first dreamed up the Black Panther for Marvel, he was at the top of his game. Descended from a long line of kings, the Panther, a.k.a. T’Challa, had protected his country from everyone from neighboring tribes to alien shape-shifters. In recent times, however, Wakanda had taken it on the chin — flooded by Namor the Sub-Mariner and ravaged by a team of supervillains.
When Mr. Coates’s book opens, this latest version of the Panther is still reeling from these defeats. “As we get deeper into the book, there’s this whole question: Is T’Challa actually a good king?,” Mr. Coates said, speaking by telephone from his home in Paris. Throughout his history, the author noted, the Panther has spent much more time hanging out with guys like Iron Man and Captain America than handling affairs of state. “I’m not sure he actually likes being king,” Mr. Coates said. “This dude is showing up in New York all the time. It’s like, he always had something else to do besides being king.”