Ta-Nehisi Coates Addresses the Political Pressures of the Marvel Universe

Ta-Nehisi Coates might’ve been forgiven if he decided to ignore preceding events in Black Panther or Captain America comics, and engage in retroactive continuity, or retcon, for those Marvel comics he’s writing. After all, Coates is somewhat of an outsider to the comics universe. The highly regarded writer and national correspondent for The Atlantic didn’t come up in comics, but in journalism. It might have been not just forgiven, but expected if he rewrote comics history.

Yet, as he explained Saturday, it seems that Coates’ training as a reporter has made doing research his modus operandi. Comics fans can expect to see the fruits of his research when his version of Captain America hits the shelves on July 4. In short, don’t expect Coates to dismiss the storylines of the past.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on March 10, 2018 at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.


Coates described his approach at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. During a keynote interview, he was asked this final question:

What are the political pressures of the Marvel Universe? Presumably it’s partly old-school comic book-ish, partly current. How do you synthesize all that?

Here was Coates’s answer:

I think in this way the comics connect to the non-fiction work because when you’re doing comics at a place like Marvel, you start with a story that’s already in motion, that’s already ongoing. So in order to write that story, much like writing a story for The Atlantic, you actually have to do all this historical research; you have to read all these other comic books.

“I love being part of some bigger arc and bigger story.”

You have to base whatever you’re writing — at least I do, other people don’t, they retcon or do whatever. For myself, I try to base it on what happened before. So any formulation I have of Captain America, will be based on whatever happened before and the research of that. I love that stuff. I think it’s really, really cool. I love being part of some bigger arc and bigger story. It’s a lot of fun for me.

With that in mind, how does Coates view Captain America? He’s like President Barack Obama, he said. “He’s like Barack Obama. I want to clarify that. I don’t mean that as praise or criticism. He’s somebody who believes in the ideal of America, really, really believes in it.”

So there you have it. It’s likely no surprise that Coates, worked under the late David Carr, a journalist who famously reported out his own life story, would opt to research first and write later.

See also: Ta-Nehisi Coates Hinted He Might Write ‘Captain America’ Back in 2016

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