So Geoff's music posts gave me the itch to try posting here more often. Since he's doing music (and since most of the music I listen to is not even in English), I figured I'd jump on here and muse about something else you may have noticed I'm into if you follow me on Twitter: comic books.
This won't be super structured. I'm going to must on topics I'm thinking about or books that I'm currently reading. I'm neck deep back into Marvel mania, so I'll probably lean that way for a while. I may talk DC or indies in the future. Feel free to respond to any of it in the comments and we can discuss. Or bring up your own thoughts and opinions, so I can tell you that you're wrong.
This is the 5,000 pound rhinoceros in the room. Have you seen the movie? There's only one answer that will spare you from my M'Baku-level side eye and derision. It's the perfect culmination of 10 years of MCU storytelling, a global audience ready to take risks, and a director with something to say about history and the black experience. I could talk about Black Panther and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War all day, but I'm here to talk comic BOOKS, baby.
Truth be told, Black Panther wasn't a favorite character of mine growing up, not even my favorite black Marvel character. That honor went to Luke Cage (after Brian Bendis's rehabilitation), Blade, or the protagonist of Robert Morales and Kyle Baker's seminal book Truth, Isaiah Bradley, and his Young Avenger grandson Patriot. I love the writer's Christopher Priest and Reggie Hudlin, and appreciated what they did with T'Challa in his meandering years in the 90s and early 00s, but he was never really my jam. However, in the last few years there are a few writers and arcs that made the character finally click for me.
The first would be Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers run (aka Illuminati). The basic premise is that a secret cabal of Marvel geniuses and power players, including Tony Stark, Steve Roger, Mister Fantastic, Professor X, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Namor, and Black Panther, get back together to discuss a secret threat too frightening for the world at large to know: the multiverse is dying. A mysterious chain reaction is causing different universes to collide and the collision point is Earth. This leads to a horrible discovery: if both Earths are allowed to occupy the same space and crash into each other, each universe will be completely destroyed, but if one Earth is destroyed beforehand, the universes will pass each other harmlessly. The clock is ticking and the process is accelerating. This snowballs into a series of impossible decisions and dark bargains. T'Challa was torn between his roles as a scientist, superhero, mystic leader and Wakandan head of state. He was pitted philosophically and physically against other major characters like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Namor, and Reed Richards. Some were scientists, soldiers, spiritual leaders, or kings, but none of them were all of those things like T'Challa was, which brought his character into relief. The choices he makes, his successes and his terrible failures balancing it all, made the character finally come alive for me.
Al Ewing picked up the baton right after Hickman's run and brought Black Panther into his team book, The Ultimates. Ewing had just come off of my favorite team book of all time, his version of the Might Avengers. He put on a master class of writing characters of color with a team that was mostly black (except for She-Hulk and Sort Of Evil Spider-Man... long story). Al's a white Brit and this book is a testament to the idea that, if you put in the work, you can write rich characters of any background. The team up was Luke Cage, Falcon, Blue Marvel, Spectrum, Power Man, White Tiger, Blade, She-Hulk, and Doc Ock in Spider-Man's body (seriously, it's a long story). They were different ages, different class backgrounds, different ethnicities, and held very, very different political beliefs. Their discussions felt real, funny as hell, and totally unique to a group of this composition. Al brought that same energy to The Ultimates and T'Challa was better off for it as a character. He paired him up with cosmic heavy hitters like Captain Marvel and America Chavez and sent them off to break (then fix) Galactus. It was a wild book, if short-lived due to Marvel meta-shuffling.
The last transformative book I'll discuss is Ta-Nehisi Coates's recent run on the first solo Black Panther in years. While I love Coates's writing in The Atlantic, the run started a bit stiff as he learned how to transition from academic non-fiction into the science fiction prose of comic books. He adapted quickly, though, and the book loosened up through the second volume and is now a joy to read. Setting all that aside, Coates did something more important for Wakanda. He picked up the bits and pieces of Wakanda's mythology and history that had been rattling around for decades and reshaped it into something coherent, deep, and layered. When you sit down to watch the Black Panther film and see its treatment of Wakanda, what you're seeing is the work of Jack Kirby, Don McGregor, and Christopher Priest all tied together and filled in by Coates. It's pretty rare to see a writer have that kind of impact after writing comics for less than three years, but it was absolutely necessary for Ryan Coogler and Marvel to pull off what they did.
If you have any questions or thoughts about these books or Black Panther in general, start a chain in the comment section and we'll discuss.
Jon Hickman's New Avengers
Al Ewing's The Ultimates
Ta-Nehisi Coate's Black Panther
Must Read, Supremely My Shit:
Al Ewing's Might Avengers
What I'm Reading (Or Wish I Was)
I'm a fan of Greg Pak and his oddball creation Amadeus Cho, so I've been keeping up with Incredible Hulk. If you're into the movies, you met Amadeus's mother Dr. Cho in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was a nice bit of groundwork for the next decade of MCU. Recently, Amadeus has gone from Hulk and Hercules's best buddy to fully official Hulk and I'm both happy it happened and, I realized this month, glad its ending. While Hulking out felt like a natural conclusion for Cho, who, besides having angry friends, previously had a vague power set of being the world's 7th smartest person, playing a MacGuyver-like inventor, and possessing the uncanny ability to calculating complex physics on the fly (aka he could throw, catch, and nudge objects like a good guy version of Final Destination). He also became a demi-god for a while? Anyway, Totally Awesome Hulk / Incredible Hulk had some landmark moments, like the three issue appearance of Marvel's first completely Asian team last year. As I've said, team books with unique, unexpected groupings of characters is supremely my shit.
Amadeus!Hulk has since joined other teams and gone into space, but it's time for Amadeus to stop playing Hulk, which feels more and more like someone else's clothes, and get back to being Amadeus. I'd love to see him lead a team again as a strategist, maybe even bring back that short-lived team up with Jimmy Woo, Shang Chi, Silk, and Ms. Marvel...
Greg Pak's Totally Awesome Hulk Vol. 3
If you're reading superhero comics right now, what's a character you like reading but wish they'd change (or change back)? What's your vision for what they should be doing?