Prolific journalist and new comic book writer Ta-Nehisi Coates revealed on Wednesday the Alex Ross variant cover for his upcoming Black Panther comic book series, showing its title hero mid-leap with five police-issued Smith & Wessons trained at him.
The alternative cover by Alex Ross, in his signature style — painted nostalgic realism — is a clear allusion to the Black Lives Matter movement. Coates, who is on staff at The Atlantic, writes in a blog post titled “Wakanda And The Black Imagination” that readers shouldn’t expect didactic comic books-as-real world situations for set dressing:
“T’Challa won’t be yelling, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” There will be no policy papers on the slave trade, nor any overly-earnest, sepia-tinged “Black History Month” style of story-telling. The culture and politics can’t be on top; they have to baked in.”
For reference, here is the regular cover by artist Brian Stelfreeze.
Coates sees Black Panther as an opportunity to show the world legends they would be otherwise unaware of. Acknowledging the long tradition of comic books mining history and mythology, Coates laments that some myths “are privileged over others.” While unfortunate, that has oddly worked to the advantage of anyone penning Black Panther’s monthly adventures.
“What does the broader world really know of Adowa? Of Nanny and Cudjoe? Of the Maji-Maji rebellion? Of Legba and Oshun? Of High John The Conqueror?” C asks. “T’Challa’s writers have always enjoyed access to a rich and under-utilized pool of allusion and invocation.” And Coates promises to capitalize. “Racism isn’t just morally wrong,” he writes, “it makes for poor story-telling.”
Black Panther arrives in comic book stores next April.