Ta-Nehisi Coates, who not-so-famously once told our own councilman Kevin Veldman to “stop calling me ‘Mr. Coates,’” will be taking over writing duties this summer for Marvel’s flagship character, Captain America. Coates has spent the last two years writing the world of Black Panther across multiple titles ahead of the character’s blockbuster film release (currently sitting at box office sales of $1.3 billion). With Coates on Captain America, Marvel is banking hard on the opinion journalist and author of Between the World and Me, who will be filling the shoes of, most recently, legendary writer Mark Waid.
Opinions on Coates are wide-ranging, as his political commentary is viewed by some as divisive, and his core Black Panther series has fallen from being the highest-selling book of April 2016 at 253k copies sold to a paltry 24k for March of this year. Though his work is well received critically and among many fans, those numbers give ammunition to his detractors who believe he is not only unqualified for this series, but also may be a veritable black thumb for Marvel’s garden of intellectual properties. Coates’ Black Panther and the Crew was announced as being canceled after having only released two issues, with the series ending on its sixth.
While Coates certainly has his detractors, others are excited to see him handed the reigns of one of Marvel’s oldest characters, dating back to their time as Timely Comics. Coates will be joining a minuscule stable of black writers who have been allowed to pen the character. Coates himself wrote in an extended editorial for The Atlantic, “I’m not convinced I can tell a great Captain America story—which is precisely why I want so bad to try.” This has made the rounds frequently since he announced his run on the book.
Much of the rest of this essay has been left out of the reporting—which is a shame. Coates’ editorial piece is an intelligent, unabashed breakdown of his complex feelings about what Captain America is and what he means to both fans of Marvel Comics and citizens of the fictional Marvel Universe. And, like his other works, it’s damn well written.
While many of what is often referred to as the alt-right of comics commentators on YouTube and Twitter may opine that this is yet another example of Marvel placing writers on characters which seek only to “force” their own political agendas (always liberal in their minds), Coates counters with this: “What is exciting here is not some didactic act of putting my words in Captain America’s head, but attempting to put Captain America’s words in my head.” Coates isn’t interested in changing Cap but rather in digging deep into the character’s stalwart nature and status as a “man out of time.” He’ll be continuing to tackle real-world events and politics by diving into the well that was last year’s polarizing event, Secret Empire.
Nick Spencer’s magnum opus on America’s current state was maligned by many with a wide disparity of reasonings. “I just want to get politics out of my comics” one group cried—absurdly—in regards to a book about a man who is a walking, talking American flag. Others viewed the run as an endorsement of some of the worst pockets of our country’s population in the wake of the 2016 election, with many calling Spencer a “Nazi apologist” and others simply decrying it as being tone-deaf and a story being told at the worst possible time.
Not everyone viewed it in this light, however. Many—myself included—saw it as the perfect time to tell the story. While the term “Nazi” gets bandied about with a higher frequency than reality might call for today, we are living in a time where actual, legitimate post–Neo Nazis have felt free to hold rallies, which have been met with opposition and even violence. For some, it is exciting to see Coates picking up where Spencer left off and touching on these very real topical issues within this fictional world, as we saw in the recently leaked pages from the upcoming Free Comic Book Day issue of Captain America. For others, it is a source of tension between them and Marvel, who expected a political palette cleanser after Spencer’s run. This is not to say Waid’s run hasn’t in and of itself been political. Our own Cheryl Gustafson has been covering that for this site. Of it, she writes:
As often as Cap is seen as an individualistic hero, everyone knows his real power is inspiring others. Cap’s been known to sacrifice himself for the greater good, so his true legacy is what the people left behind do in his absence. Between battles and fights, Captain America #700 reminds us building a democracy, or rebuilding it, cannot be done by one person. One person cannot be responsible for fixing everything, no matter how nice it would be if we didn’t have to take responsibility.
The epilogue issue of Secret Empire, Omega, featured a conversation between the “real” version of Steve Rogers and his more authoritarian counterpart, whom Rocket Raccoon dubbed “Stevil” during the event. For any who declined to read this issue due to their distaste for Secret Empire, I implore you to go back and catch up as it is clearly integral to this upcoming story. In it, Stevil informs OG Cap that the game has changed, claiming this new Hydra sees that their “rightful reign was denied to us, twice.”
“For everyone who says “Hail Hydra,” it’s no longer going to be about taking OVER the world. It’s going to be about taking it BACK.”
That quote chilled me to the bone when I read this issue; its real-world connotations struck deep for me in the first year of a presidential administration elected on the promise to make our country “great again.” So I was disappointed when Waid took the book over and decided to leave Spencer’s plot threads hanging by going in a different direction. With Coates taking over and the leaked pages available, my interest in Cap has been renewed.
Cap is now #Antifa? WTF, @Marvel? Why do you hate #CaptainAmerica so much? What on earth made you think for one minute that an America-hating racist like Ta-Nehisi Coates would do a good job with this book? pic.twitter.com/AWXdDNBBXL
— Boom San Agustin (@RoundUpBoom) April 18, 2018
Geez, we get it. You don’t like Coates. Go write a blog about it, bro.
In the leaked pages we see Cap standing on a rooftop, watching a rally unfold as a pro-Hydra group, clearly modeled after alt-right and white nationalist groups, stands ready for conflict with an anti-Hydra group made to represent Antifa, the self-labeled anti-fascists who have clashed with the supremacists and sympathizers at multiple rallies in recent months.
“So much has changed. The great wars are over, they say.”
It remains to be seen how reactions to this will play out, but the image of Cap not punching Nazis as he overlooks the rally hasn’t caused nearly the stir as his “Hail Hydra” reveal did in May 2016 and the ensuing months. Still, this run is likely to incite reactions if it leans in the direction it appears to be going. Add to this a Russian revolutionary layer…and this looks to be a complex tale.
AWWW YESS look at this FCBD preview of Captain America ♥ I love The way Leinil Yu draws Steve so much ;ω; pic.twitter.com/EtOmW2TJVc
— I AM STEVE ROGERS (@colonelrohjaz) March 1, 2018
We won’t know anything until Saturday, and even then we’ll have to wait and see how Coates’ run plays out. But for now, though, this reporter is crossing his fingers for more Stevil and for an enjoyable and topical run.
Dexter Buschetelli thinks he is really clever, but you know better; don’t you? Do you? I dunno, I’m not your mom. Dexter can be found here on DYECB writing reviews and opinion pieces as well as on the website for his podcast, Let’s Get Drunk and Talk Comics.