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Black Panther has been a very popular character for many decades at Marvel Comics, but he hasn’t always been able to sustain an ongoing solo series. While there have been much loved runs such as those by Christopher Priest, there have been long stretches when Black Panther didn’t muster the sales for a solo series. That seems to be changing lately though, as the current Black Panther solo series is doing very well, and Marvel announced that there will actually be a second series in the fall called Black Panther: World of Wakanda.
It’s very possible that Black Panther’s resurgence is due in part to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There seems to be some correlation between the character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War, as well as his own upcoming MCU movie, with another from Marvel to launch a solo series for the character. Likewise, some comic book fans have become intrigued with Black Panther who have not been previously interested in him.
At the same time, Marvel Comics also made a bold choice with the writer behind the new series. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an award-winning African-American writer who has also written extensively on race. However, he had never previously written a comic book, so while Coates brings intellectual cache with him, it was still a risk on Marvel’s part. That risk, though, has really paid off, as the first issue of Black Panther was the best-selling comic book of April. Amazingly, it sold more copies that month than DC Universe Rebirth #1 sold when it came out. It has continued to sell well in reprints as well.
With the success of Black Panther, from Coates along with stunning art from Brian Stelfreeze, Marvel has been able to expand T’challa into a second series. This second Black Panther series gave Marvel the opportunity to right a wrong that recently been publicized. Marvel received criticism when it was realized that they had never had a series regularly written by a Black woman. They are ending that with the new Black Panther: World of Wakanda series. Like with Coates, though, Marvel made a daring choice by selecting Roxanne Gay to be the series writer.
Gay is a feminist prose writer who has also written on race. She doesn’t necessary fit the mold of most Marvel Comics scribes, but neither did Coates. Marvel seems to be hoping that Gay will bring the intellectual and social credibility to World of Wakanda that Coates brought to Black Panther. At the same time, they would like the series to sell well and are counting on some of the same buyers who have made Coates/Stelfreeze’s Black Panther a success.
The World of Wakanda series – which will feature art from Alitha Martinez, also a Black woman – will focus on Dora Milaje, the Wakandan Royal Guards (who are all female). The first issue will have a back-up feature co-written by Coates and poet Yona Harvey, with art from Afua Richardson. This too is a bold and somewhat unprecedented choice from Marvel. When Marvel has tapped the literary world for writers, they have been fiction or nonfiction writers. Offering a story co-written by a poet brings a number of fascinating artistic possibilities, though it is also presents some risk. There are likely not too many Marvel fans who are also avid readers of contemporary poetry.
In a short amount of time, Black Panther has become one of Marvel’s most interesting characters because his series do not seem to be bound by the conventional Marvel method of how to make a series. While there was some mixed reaction to the Marvel NOW! series and creator announcement, I think there are some great instances of Marvel taking creative chances lately. The two Black Panther series are great examples, and they could be things that push some other Marvel comics into new territory.