Tagged: Between the World and Me

Martha Thomases: Black Panther Is Back And…

Black-Panther-1-Covers-by-Marvel-ComicsWhen I went to my local comic book shop on Wednesday morning, I did, as always, chat up my buddy on the other side of the counter. “Did you read Black Panther yet?” I asked him. “Is it any good?”

“Not yet,” he said.

“My editor wants me to write a review, and I’ve never read any other Black Panther comics,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “No one else has, either.”

Okay, I doubt that’s true. There have been comics with the Black Panther in them for five decades now. The character wouldn’t be used if he didn’t have a fan-base. That’s capitalism.

Speaking of, this new run of Black Panther has been getting tons of publicity. Marvel has done a terrific job, getting write-ups in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, among others. That’s because the writer is Ta Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award winning author of Between the World and Me, a book that changed my life.

Black Panther 1v1Between the World and Me was not written for me. It was written for the author’s son and, more broadly, for other African-Americans. That was one element that I found so refreshing when I read it. I don’t think this new Black Panther series is written for me, either. The only white faces I saw were in ads for other Marvel comics.

The story opens as T’Challa, the Black Panther, returns to the country of Wakanda, where he is king. In his absence, the country has been attacked, invaded, upended. His sister, who ruled in his absence, has been killed. His own people attack him, no longer trusting him to take care of them.

I found this opening to be confusing, perhaps because I’m a new reader. In the letter page, Marvel offers a link to their website with more information but the link wouldn’t open for me, and I had to rely on the Wiki.

This issue sets up the elements for a complex story of family relationships, warring political factions, the burdens of leadership and the quest for freedom. So far, I’m not too sure who T’Challa is or why he can’t speak directly to his people. I don’t like his mother. I don’t like this guy named Tetu, who tells a woman that what she feels “… was the agony of labor, Zenzi. It had to be done. It was the agony of birthing a new nation.” Because really, we needed him to mansplain childbirth to us.

Black Panther 1v2I liked the two women who defy the law to be together and help people. I hope they have more to do in future issues, and that we see T’Challa interact with more characters who have names.

Brian Stelfreeze has done a glorious job with the artwork. He manages to create scenes that are moody and exuberant at the same time. Laura Martin’s color work amplifies and expands the atmosphere. Wakanda feels like its on another continent, maybe even another planet, a mix of ancient tribes and technological wonder.

Coates’ first script is remarkably solid. He doesn’t rely too much on captions or exposition, letting the artwork carry the story.

He might just have a future in this writing business.

Martha Thomases: Listen!

Black Panther

Happy New Year! Or, if you were lucky enough to be invited to a wild New Year’s Eve party… happy Saturday!

We have 366 bright and shiny new days in which we can save the world, love our families, party with our friends, go to the movies and read comics. Time and space are great that way.

In the past year, despite Gamergate, there has been a trend towards including female characters and female perspectives in video games. In other words, the misogynist jerks who screamed about “journalistic integrity” made no difference at all in the gaming industry. In this case, I suspect the appropriate comment is, “Money talks / Bullshit walks.”

On the tale end of 2015, I read two things that really changed my worldview. The first was Between the World and Me by incoming Black Panther writer Ta-nehisi Coates. It’s a short book, but it took me a long time to get through it because it is painful to read. A letter to his son in the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, Cleveland (the list goes on and on and on), it is a window into the African-American experience that I had never seen.

In the middle, I read this essay on The New York Times website about, essentially, the same subject. The writer was trying to express the parts of black lives that white people don’t understand.

Naturally, he was trashed in the comments.

I don’t entirely understand this. In both of these examples, black men are writing about their personal experiences as Americans of color. They don’t say that they know every other African-American, nor do they claim to know every white person. They describe what happened to them, and what it felt like, and how it shapes their perceptions.

No one likes to be called a racist. No one likes to be called a bigot of any kind. And yet, we are all of us guilty of at least a few prejudices. There isn’t any way around it. We live in a society that was built on slavery, on sexism and homophobia and anti-Semitism and xenophobia. As a white person, I benefit from this, even though I never consciously made that choice.

A few decades ago I attended a weekend seminar on “Dismantling Racism.” I was surprised when the first day and a half was spent asking each of us to talk about ways we felt outside the norm. We might have been fat or non-white or non-Christian or disabled or foreign-born. Then, by Sunday afternoon, we were shown how to each use our differences to understand racism.

That’s a tremendous oversimplification. Nevertheless, it changed my life.

I often mention my Jewish upbringing. Being Jewish at an Episcopal boarding school was one of the defining experiences of my life. I was called names. I was required to sit through Sunday morning religious services during which they read passages from the New Testament that I knew had been used to justify the torture and murder of Jews through the centuries. When I would mention this, I would be told I was “too sensitive” and to get over it.

My experience is not the same as that of African-Americans. I can “pass” as Gentile, and I’m white. Still, my experience gives me a window through which to understand.

Black Panther is not a character I’ve ever followed. When Coates’ run starts, I’ll make sure to pick it up.

Let’s try to spend at least part of 2016 listening to each other.