Back in early 2016, a little movie titled Captain America: Civil War was about to hit our screens. Excitement for the movie was incredibly high; movie fans, like Baron Zemo, couldn’t wait to see the Avengers come apart at the seams and wage war against each other. Some Marvel fans, however, were just excited to see one of their favorite characters finally hit the big screen: Black Panther. To coincide with the movie’s release, Marvel Comics saw it fit to publish a new book starring the King of the fictitious African nation of Wakanda, a new number one issue that was easy to find for anyone looking to learn more about the character, and a new volume for longtime readers to sink their teeth into. But while it would have been incredibly easy to go the safe route and hire an experienced comic book writer to deliver the Black Panther goods, Marvel instead hired renowned journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates — an experienced writer, for sure, but one wholly unfamiliar with the world of comic books.
In 2015, Coates was the winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction for his second book, the socially-charged and thought-provoking Between the World and Me. He has written for many reputable outlets like The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, TIME, and many others. For three years, he worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as one of its Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professors in writing. And if all that weren’t enough, you can also add “MacArthur Genius Grant recipient” to his already impressive list of achievements. Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t necessarily the first name that comes to mind when talking about who could write your favorite comic book, but thankfully Marvel was thoughtful enough to entrust one of their most beloved black characters to a writer as meticulous, smart and passionate as Ta-Nehisi Coates.
A few weeks ago, the first twelve issues of Coates’ Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet run were collected in hardcover format. The collection is a year’s worth of single issues that most readers had to wait month in and month out to get to the following chapter. Collected, read from start to finish like any book you would sit down to read, this hardcover forms a complete whole, a full story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It collects a story that can not only already stand with any of the most classic and masterful Black Panther works in Marvel’s library, but also one that can – and should – stand tall next to any essential political reading, fiction or nonfiction.
Obviously, A Nation Under Our Feet is a work of fiction, but its message, its soul, and what it ultimately teaches is very real. Even if you had previously read the monthly issues of Coates’ Black Panther, you would do yourself a favor by reading it once again, this time in one sitting. So dense and layered is the writing, so thought-out is the plotting, that you may have forgotten some early details. You may have even forgotten the ideas behind it all, the fires that burn inside the characters, old and new.