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Monday, May 22, 2017

Ta-Neshi Coates Needs a Crew To Teach Him Superhero Comics

Ta-Neshi Coates career as a comic book writer has been a disaster. His Black Panther is considered the worst run in the character’s history. And his latest opus: Black Panther & The Crew was cancelled after the second issue due to poor sales.

All anyone has to do is look at Ta-Neshi Coates premise for Black Panther & The Crew why it’s a poor seller and how out of his depth he is as a comic book writer. While he can write a bestselling nonfiction book like Between the World and Me, he doesn’t know what makes for a compelling comic book story.

In Coates’ Black Panther & The Crew Harlem is patrolled by robot cops. And a robot cop kills a Black Civil Rights Leader. And in the aftermath, Black Panther, assembles a crew of Black heroes including, Storm, Misty Knight and Luke Cage and Iron Fist to find out who killed him before the city explodes in a riot.

That entire premise is fucked up. And anyone who understands comic and fantasy writing like myself can tell you where Coates went wrong. You’re gonna tell me In the Marvel Universe, a place filled with superheroes the City of New York is gonna use robot cops to patrol only a Black neighborhood. And when a robot cop kills a Black activist, Black Panther has to assemble a crew of super powered Black people and a “down” White boy to solve the case.

Even if we suspend our disbelief, the entire foundation of his premise is just ABSURD.

Coates says he’s trying to make a commentary about Police brutality and the Black Lives Matter Movement in the story of Black Panther: The Crew. Unfortunately, the premise he proposes to tell that story defies logic even in the Marvel Universe.

The robot cop concept just doesn’t fit organically in the New York City of the Marvel Universe, where police unions would definitely protest about robots taking their jobs. And the mystery behind who killed the activist doesn’t seem like the kind of threat Black Panther would have to assemble The Crew to get involved in. All those incredibly powerful characters getting involved to solve a mystery Misty Knight, Cage, and Iron fist could probably solve on their own? It’s a jumbled mess of a story that makes no sense.

When I read that synopsis it’s clear to me that Coates just doesn’t understand basic fiction elements like establishing a main character, what they want, and why readers should care. Nor does he understand how to develop a villain into a credible threat the reader can believe is dangerous. Generic robot cops seem like a way to not establish a villain and to create a stand in for the White cops he wants the Black heroes to beat on.

And the superheroes he puts in the story don’t fit into the story organically either. They’re just shoehorned in just because they’re Black. Why would the King of Wakanda CARE about a Black activist being killed in Harlem? Hasn’t he got his own problems to deal with Wakanda being in ruins due to Coates’ critically panned run? If anything that shows me how little Coates understands his own continuity.

And Coates shows me how little he understands his characters. Black Panther is a master strategist. He wouldn’t overpower a team like this. Instead he’d choose individuals who would be able to help him handle the threat effectively. I’m still scratching my head to how Storm fits into this Crew or how she’d be able to help deal with this threat. If anything, this seems like a threat Cage, Iron fist and Misty Knight could handle by themselves, and the Black Panther name is just tacked on the title as a cash grab. 

When I look at Coates’ Black Panther & The Crew it’s SJW/diversity writing at its worst. There’s no care to the story or care for the execution of the concept.  It’s all about ramming the ideology of Black Lives Matter down people’s throats.

Now I wrote a story similar to the one Coates uses in Black Panther: The Crew with Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess. And it featured the Black heroes of the SJS DIRECT Universe taking on an atheist Black scientist who used nanites to turn herself into a Cybergoddess who sought to murder Isis in the hopes of taking humanity in the next step of human evolution. And in that story I followed up on plot points established in Isis: The Beauty Myth, took Isis’ feud with Raheema Sanders to the next level, made a commentary on Darwinism vs. Creationism, connected the worlds of Isis and John Haynes, and gave readers an exciting action packed adventure in one 80 page story. So I know the premise Coates was trying to use works.

Unfortunately Coates just didn’t know how to execute the concept. Comics are about characters having fantastic adventures in amazing stories, not pushing political agendas.

Coates tries too hard to push his political activism in his comic book stories and it prevents readers from escaping. Comics and sci-fi are supposed to make a commentary in between the lines of the story, not put it in people’s faces. This is why his comics fail to resonate with readers.

It’s clear to me that Coates is just the wrong man to be writing comics at Marvel. While his background and his resume are impressive, he just doesn’t understand the medium of comic books. He needs a crew to teach him the medium of comic books, the story model, and how it works. Comics are supposed to be an escape from people’s everyday lives, not a platform for pushing the political narrative of Black Lives Matter. People buy comics to read about heroes kicking ass, not be presented with an editorial from the op-ed pages.

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