Apr 25, 2018

Black Panther, In Respect of Retrospect

Some of you may have noticed in our Black Panther Roundtable, the notable absence of one of our Roundtable regulars. It's not that Zulu LaMar Forte didn't have much to say; it's that he had a lot. LaMar is one of the Cube's oldest friends and first supporters, and he's not just a comics fan but also  a true student of African history. There was a lot to lay out there in terms of the movie, and so, I turn it over to him.

Black Panther, In Respect of Retrospect
(or “Light A Candle, It's About to Get Real Black In Here”)
by Zulu LaMar Forte

When I saw the final costume for T'Challa in Captain America: Civil War, I had a feeling that Marvel was on to something. The costume itself told a story, in that moment. And it made me think about the stories that could be told within the MCU framework, whether or not they would be told, and what sort of care and attention would be given to the particulars.

Seemingly for a number of the people that have or will see this movie, just getting a movie with an all-black cast that gives them a good reason to pay top dollar for stale popcorn and a week's worth of carbonated beverages is good enough; as an African raised in the diaspora of North America, the norm for me is trusting people that don't look or think like me, that aren't me, to do justice to who my ancestors were...and ultimately, to who I am. And as much as I thoroughly enjoyed Black Panther I would be irresponsible to not give thought to it here, and look at it outside of the popcorn n' pop soda perspective. To put a film like this, which I found to be a multilayered marvel generally, under the proper scrutiny that I have never had the luxury of avoiding, I pose 3 questions, in three parts:

• Who was the African before colonization?
• Who was the African during colonization?
• Who is the African, afterward (and now)?

I: Who Was The African Before Colonization?

I could answer my own question with something like “the original man” or “the mother and father of civilization,” and while both those statements are factual, they still don't do our history justice. One of the lasting refrains of my life has been “What has Africa really contributed to the world?” and if I can be candid for a moment, “just about everything” is a more than appropriate answer: humanity, ethics, writing, spirituality, science, mathematics (the combination of the last three in particular is unique, and found nowhere else but at its place of origin), law, and social order are all human achievements that have both origins and highly developed apexes in Africa. Even the most staunch deniers of these would still have to admit that the world's wealth was made on the backs of my people, only for us to be locked out of benefiting from that wealth.

No conversation about Africa, or Africans, is complete without bringing up the pillar of our nature, and social order: the concept of Ma'at. Ma'at is the embodiment of a multitude of concepts such as truth, justice, righteousness, equality, reciprocity, sobriety, harmony...but the head of all these is balance. As a living concept Ma'at (this is the part where I make it clear: contrary to popular belief, what most people call the “gods” of Kemetic culture are not actual beings that people worshiped, they were attributes of nature given a human form and used to tell stories and teach lessons, as there was no concept of religion or need an outside savior) takes the form of a Kemetic woman, because the aforementioned concepts are considered feminine traits.

The Dora Milaje are based on Kemetic warrior queens such as Nzingha, but also on Marcus Garvey's all-woman bodyguard squad and the warrior women of Dahomey

This is not a slight or an insult, because that balance that Ma'at embodies is a universal balance reflected on all planes of existence, and as such that balance was also found in the relationship between a man and a woman. There was no misogyny, sexism, or hatred of women, because it never occurred to anybody to think of a woman as being anything other than equally divine when put beside a man. This is something that not many people can actually believe, or even appreciate properly, because all most of us know is the inverse. And when I explain this I almost always get a “well it's not like that anymore” and it usually comes from those of European ancestry, because they cannot imagine a world or people that have no concept or hatred for women and if they could, it would have to be a thing of the past, as opposed to something that still lives in the people that created it.

The first concept of what we would call a “goddess” later on comes from the Congo, and just so happens to coincide with the origin of humanity. Nut (newt) is the personified concept of the universe, and her body consists of the universe in its totality. Usually depicted as reaching across the sky, the heavenly bodies came directly from her womb, and the sun itself died every night only to be taken into her mouth and reborn in the morning. Pepi II of Kemet said “The heavens are found between the legs of the goddess Nut” famously, and Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan, whom we call “Dr. Ben” lovingly, came along in the 20th century and brought it full circle: “Just as the heavens are found between the legs of Nut, on Earth heaven is found between the legs of the black woman.” You cannot have a concept like this and hate women, or think them beneath you, and likewise you cannot perpetuate a concept like this if you view men as being beneath you. This is what we call the dialectical law of opposites, and in African culture opposites are seen as divine instead of defined against a negative and corrupted structure.

This plays into Black Panther, being set in an African country that has defied colonization, and these concepts are clearly left intact because of it. It is the nature of Ma'at, and as a result the African, for the woman to be the giver of the ways, and the man to be the enforcer of the ways. Tehuti was the compliment of Ma'at and his role was to record events, and as such he scribed the 42 Negative Confessions as she called them out; his zoo-type was the ibis, because the long pointed bill of the ibis resembles a pen. T'Challa, a single and childless African man, has women around him that respect his position and in turn he knows and understands that his personal power comes directly from them. The movie did a fantastic job of laying a base for something that, for most people, is a foreign concept. Even the concept of the throne is born from the matrilineal system, as the throne is symbolic of the lap of the mother, and T'Challa's throne has the same configuration as ones we see in Kemetic reliefs and scrolls.

One thing that stuck out to me was the me'ri (love) between T'Challa and the women in the film. It isn't often that level of care is given to relationships between African men and women in films and television, and usually when it is done it's so heavy-handed and not well thought out. They had disagreements without yelling at one another, and never allowed these disagreements to interrupt or define their relationship. It was refreshing to see that, especially when we have other programs that show families, royal or not, at each others' necks so often. Not once did T'Challa call into question their capabilities, and even when he was defeated never did they consider deserting or berating him for it.

Ma'at is also shown in how the elders are treated. In the words of Baba John Henrik Clarke, “In Africa nobody had a word for “old folks' home” because nobody had ever thrown away grandma and grandpa.” Elders were-and are, despite the best attempts of a white supremacist patriarchal mechanism-revered and not looked at as dead weight. For example anybody that grew up in a black church knew that the oldest woman was known as “the mother of the church.” Not an official position, but the mother was given the highest respect and you'd get mangled for sitting in her favorite seat, in the least. The Wakandan elders were afforded the same esteem by everyone, even those not of royalty. One of the few ways I could come up with to make the film better was to have elders from out community in the movie; Winnie Mandela (RIP), Shaharazad Ali and Baba Dick Gregory (RIP) imparting wisdom to T'Challa, his sister Shuri, and even his mother Ramonda? Yes, every time and all the time.

I Photoshopped this pic of Baba Dick Gregory in traditional African garb

II: Who Was The African During Colonization?

The plight and struggle of the African today often makes for a tense and laborious discussion, mostly because of a failure or refusal to admit its genesis. The primary weapon of the conqueror, whether it be the European or the Arab before them, was a distortion and corruption of the greatest gift we gave to mankind. Despite the near-universal resistance to the idea, African spiritual concepts gave birth to what we now know as religion, and the fact that these concepts were distorted and used to attempt to destroy us is a violation that the English language has no suitable words for. Never mind that missionaries commonly worked as agents to “spread the word of God” in order to take away land from native Africans, often with death as an end result. Those details are typically seen as inconsequential or best left no discussed, as to not rile up people who may hear them and not take it well.

It isn't enough to say that colonization interrupted African progress; the conquering of Kemet halted human progress as a whole, because while Kemet wasn't the creator of most of these spiritual and scientific concepts, it was the zenith of them. We can attribute these scientific and spiritual concepts to both Kush (Ethiopia, and it's not a coincidence that 'ethics' has its birthplace here) and the aforementioned Congo.

Imhotep himself is paid tribute in the Hippocratic Oath, in the opening line. “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses” of course refers to Greek gods, and of those four gods only 3 are fictional. Asclepius is the Greek god of medicine, and is the name given Imhotep when they added him to their pantheon. Hippocrates himself declared “I am a child of Imhotep” due to him studying Imhotep's work, thousands of years after his death. Imhotep used what we consider modern medical tools, such as scalpels, as well as the first recorded prescriptions. 

I understood the mathematics involved with the Pythagorean Theorem because while I learned it formally in the 10th grade, I instantly recognized the theorem itself as being found in Kemetic mathematics-also knowing that Pythagoras studied with the Kheri Heb priests there. I always found it humorous that the Kheri Heb priests' curriculum consisted of 40 years of study, while Pythagoras, whom is considered to be one of the most intelligent people that ever lived, flunked out around year 22.

When looking at how Wakanda was depicted in Black Panther I immediately drew the parallel between it and both Kemet and Kush. Wakanda is a synthesis of the two, having Kemet's scientific pedigree while also maintaining Kush's spiritual and historic pedigree (Kush is one of the few African countries that was never conquered). I would imagine if Kemet was never conquered, it would look like Wakanda. I lamented with my nephew when talking about African history about what a sight it would be to see flying cars and trains zooming over and around the Great Pyramid of Giza, which would be in its original condition coated with white limestone. As excited as I am to go to Africa next year, not being able to watch the sun rise over the pyramids and have the light reflect off the limestone and across the desert is something that brings both a rage and bittersweet feeling I cannot describe.

The tribes of Wakanda are based on different African tribes.

Also I must state that there were several African dynasties and advanced cultures that were also destroyed, and while I can't go into detail here for lack of time and space, it's well worth the research.

The common line of thought, and this is why the language we uses matters, is that slaves were brought to what would later become the Americas and forced to work for free. But the fact is that doctors, artists, scientists, mathematicians, spiritualists and skilled people of all sorts were brought here and made slaves. This is an important distinction that must not be continued to be ignored or mimimalized.

III. Who Is The African, Afterward (And Now)?

Of the three questions posed, this one may be the most complex and the one most needing nuance. Of the many metaphors found throughout Black Panther the most continually referenced ones involve the relationship-and often battle-between African tradition and the contemporary circumstance that came with post-colonization Africans. We can go back to the early 20th century and see a great divide of perspective, most notable between The Talented Tenth and the followers of The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

The Talented Tenth, who counted intellectual luminaries like W.E.B. Dubois amongst their number, were called so because they were considered the representatives of the ten percent of America-born Africans that had the privilege of a top shelf education (if you can call it that), and as such were allegedly the best qualified to lead their people to their destiny. From this tradition came the black bourgeoisie, or what can be called the “black and bougee” today. While their combined skill and knowledge base cannot be denied, these superlatives were often accompanied with an air of superiority that kept them from reaching the common person in their neighborhoods. They differed from other brilliant African minds like the previously mentioned Drs. Ben and Clarke in this manner; the latter split time between gathering a knowledge base and working with and for their people in an intimate manner, as well as training the next generation to do the same.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey created what is still the single greatest African movement ever founded in the Americas, and he did it by engaging Africans all over with his formidable oratory skills and then following up with strategic organizing. He had a vision of creating self-functioning communities that would lead to a way out of America and back to Africa, for those that wished to go, or a path to the kind of self reliance that a nation within a nation needs to sustain itself. His concept of Pan-Africanism didn't involve hating Europeans, as is the common trope associated with these sort of movements if you let outsiders tell it, but a re-instilling of pride in those of us with a direct African origin. Dr. Clarke compared the history of a people to a clock that gives them their accurate time of day, and a compass to direct them in the way they must go. And we as Africans have precious little to go on, compared to the other people of the world, thanks to the slave trade and how it destroyed the African family unit.

The pose that is known now as the “Wakanda Forever!” is the posture utilized by Ausar, while holding his staff and flail, most commonly seen in busts and Kemetic sarcophagi.

As T'Challa represents the traditional African man, Killmonger represents the African man born in the diaspora, long ago cut loose from the physical shackles of chattel slavery but still bound by the same spiritual and mental chains that prevent a people from their original destiny, in turn taking up the task of carrying out his master's ways and being the reflection of him instead of his Great Mother that nursed the entire planet in her lap.

One thing I keep hearing from moviegoers is how they wanted to see Killmonger have a redemption arc that ended with him ruling at T'Challa's side. This would have been impossible. Throughout the movie, he had no qualms about enacting gross violence towards his people, but especially the women. He starts the film out being violent towards a woman, and even when he is shown with an African woman he seems to care about, he has no problem killing her when she has outlived her usefulness. Such an egregious violation of Ma'at would have been more than enough to get him executed. Then once he becomes the nessu (king) his first act as a regent is to enact violence on an elder (also a woman). This is the sort of spirit and action that you can't just happily-ever-after from in a matrilineal society. He was well beyond redemption and this is what made his last line just as much of a violation; he didn't call on his ancestors once the entire movie, until it fit his purpose. That moment showed he had no interest in being anything they were, and it recalls one of Marcus Garvey's most famous quotes: "I have no desire to take all Black people back to Africa; there are Blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there."

The film explores other African motif and imagery (not at all intended to be all-inclusive):
  • During the club scene the outfits of T'Challa, Okoye and Nakia mirrored the colors of the Pan-African flag.
  • In the final fight scene Killmonger and Black Panther fight on an underground railroad.
  • The elders of Wakanda are wearing actual African garb from different African tribes.
  • The pose that is known now as the “Wakanda Forever!” is the posture utilized by Ausar, while holding his staff and flail, most commonly seen in busts and Kemetic sarcophagi.
  • The Dora Milaje are based on Kemetic warrior queens such as Nzingha, but also on Marcus Garvey's all-woman bodyguard squad and the warrior women of Dahomey

To close, I'd like to thank anyone and everyone that stuck with this thing to the end. I hope you learned something, or at least found something worth thinking about. This is just a surface reflection of what I could go into, but I find that the subject of the history of my people is very rewarding when self researched.

Also I'd like to dedicate this piece to all my mothers, those both here in the now and transitioned. Peace be upon you, and may the universe be pleased with you. Ase, ase, ase-o.

Apr 24, 2018

An Interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates

In December of 2015, The Comics Cube received a huge compliment from Ta-Nehisi Coates, who said that the website had been helpful for him in getting started on his first comic. Four months later, he was writing the bestselling comic book of 2016, Black Panther. With the King of Wakanda taking the world by storm with what is so far the third-biggest movie domestically of all time, and with Ta-Nehisi Coates being named the next writer of Captain America, we thought we’d reach out to see how life has led Ta-Nehisi to this point, and what we can expect from his work moving forward.

by Duy Tano

Black Panther Volume 1 in Hardcover

DUY TANO: First of all, I want to thank you so much for the compliments you gave two years ago.

TA-NEHISI COATES: Oh, no, man. I know how it is — I know it’s weird, but you know, I started with this little blog that I had, and I couldn’t really make a living being a writer. And that was a long period, I guess. You know, people love things, and they want to write about things… I don’t know, you shouldn’t forget that. You should remember that. And so even once I got to the point where I could actually make a living, the love was very much still there. So I try to remember there are people out there who make their living doing other things — I don’t know how you make your living, actually! (laughter) —but you want to support people being able to write about things that they love. That’s the point I’m trying to get to.

So when you were growing up, it’s pretty clear that you were a big comics fan. Who were your particular favorites?

You mean heroes or writers?

We’ll start with characters, then we’ll go to writers.

Spider-Man was a big one, and then the X-Men. You know, the old X-Factor from the 80s. That was big. I was a Wolverine guy. This is before Wolverine became what Wolverine became. I mean, he was just getting big, you know what I mean? Like his first series started — not miniseries, the first series — I have Wolverine #1, and it was a big deal, but it wasn’t to the point where he had to appear in every book yet. They hadn’t quite gotten it yet. So I was a huge Wolverine guy.

In terms of writers, you know it’s weird, because back then, I know now who I followed and who I liked, even though I wasn’t aware, because you have to remember, I was a young child, man. I started collecting when I was like eight, nine years old. So I didn’t have awareness of writers. Then I stopped when I was like fourteen and got in high school and got into other things. But at the time, I was a big fan of that Ron Frenz/Tom DeFalco run on Spider-Man.


Loved that. Big Roger Stern guy, from his stuff on The Avengers.

Under Siege!

Oh my God, I loved that. Under Siege was incredible. I was talking to Ed Brubaker the other day and he was giving me advice on Captain America, and he told me to read Roger Stern’s Cap, and I said, man, you gotta read Under Siege. I mean, it’s just ridiculously good. Still. It holds up, you know?

It’s great. You ever read Roger Stern and John Byrne’s Captain America?

Not yet. Not yet. How many issues is it?

It’s like eight issues long, and then they got taken off the book.

That’s what Ed was talking about. He was advising me to go read that, and I haven’t yet, but I will. And also, the first comics I bought was John Byrne’s Fantastic Four. This was one of the first books that was in my collection. I bought that and a Teen Titans issue, but for some reason I just stuck with Marvel.

Is it possible because Marvel was the “cool” brand? In grade school, I remember I was a DC guy and no one else was a DC guy, so I had to get into Marvel too to play along.

Yeah, I didn’t perceive it that way. I think, rightly or wrongly — probably wrongly — I perceived Marvel as having a level of depth. I think back to that first issue I bought, and it’s the one where the Psycho-Man has imprisoned the Fantastic Four, and he’s manipulating She-Hulk’s fear. The whole issue is about She-Hulk getting over that fear and fighting the Psycho-Man. And if you’re nine years old, ten years old, eight years old, however old I was, that’s pretty deep. That has some weight. It’s not just some bang, pow, whatever. And it’s weird, because I think I should have been primed to be a DC guy, because I watched Super Friends a lot when I was a kid, but it just didn’t translate.

Speaking of writers, is there a particular writer you emulate or are inspired by?

At the time?

At the time, and now.

So I think back to all the things I liked when I was a kid, so I guess I was thinking of (Chris) Claremont when I first started. My comic book collecting life has gone through phases, so there’s a very young phase, when I was in elementary or middle school —started elementary, lasted till middle. I don’t think I was eight, I think I was nine or ten. And then there was an adult phase that began when I was about twenty-five, twenty-six, and that was because I found myself in a difficult place in my life and comic books kinda helped with that. And that continued intermittently up until the point when I started collecting. And so when I got the job to write, I had to look at it differently. I had to look at it like a writer. ‘Cause you know, the form changed so much.

Black Panther #9, cover by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin
So when I started Black Panther, there was one person I thought about a lot. It was (Jonathan) Hickman. Hickman’s ambition and imagination was just so vivid and huge, and even when all of the storylines didn’t connect and everything didn’t ultimately flesh out, I didn’t really care. I just liked living in his world. And that’s weird to say, but I liked being there. So I guess this is the beginning of his Avengers run, ‘cause I actually had to go back and read much of that Fantastic Four stuff. But the beginning of his Avengers run, where it’s, all sorts of crazy s*** happens. And it’s probably my favorite Avengers run. ‘Cause I think as comic book fans, a lot of the time, at least on the internet, we tend to be conservative, and we want classic renditions. And his was just so non-classic. And I loved it, so when my turn came to write, I wanted to do something ambitious and big.

Your journalistic and nonfiction writing tackles a lot about the state of current events, racial dynamics, and everything. How does that inform the way you write comics?

It’s usually the same questions. You know, I write a lot about race, right? And racism and white supremacy, but what I’m ultimately writing about is power, and this is the lens with which to see power that most interests me. But when I go over to Black Panther, it’s not about racism or white supremacy. But I’m actually still writing about power. It’s the same thing. And in Captain America, which won’t really in any direct way be about race, racism, or white supremacy either, it’s still about power. It’s still about power, you know? And that just is the most interesting thing to me. That really is probably the connection.

Your Black Panther run does cover a lot of intersectional demographics. You have black LGBTQ characters, for example, and it’s got shades of gray throughout. I was wondering what message it is you hope people take away from such a diverse group of characters and the power dynamics between them? Because quite honestly it could be said that Black Panther in your run isn’t necessarily always right.

Black Panther #12, cover by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin

Yeah, and I want to read stories like that. What made those Claremont books so great is that you weren’t sure Professor X was right. Maybe Magneto really was right. There’s an issue in Jim Shooter’s much-maligned Secret Wars where they think Magneto did something. And Captain America’s going after Magneto, and Wolverine stands up for Magneto. He jumps all over Captain America. He says “You claim to defend America, but we mutants are getting pushed into the sea, and where were you?” And so that always appealed to me about Marvel. That sort of shading. Well, who’s really right here? It’s the protagonist who I’m writing about, but I don’t know that the protagonist can necessarily be objectively, clearly right.

I mean, you’ve seen this debate with the Black Panther film. It’s one of the great things Ryan (Coogler) did, right? People are actually debating, was Kilmonger right? That’s incredible. That’s how you know when you’ve done good.

I feel obliged to ask, since I work in marketing, is there a particular demographic in mind for your target audience? Is it hardcore comics fans, fans who would not necessarily step into a store but would buy it in paperback, minority readers, or just yourself, the type of comics you would’ve wanted to read when you were younger?

I think that’s the answer. It’s twelve-year-old me. (laughter)

That’s the one who’s definitely gonna enjoy it! So in Black Panther, we noticed that you basically recreated the map of Wakanda. Previous maps have existed, but where once they said things like “Deep, uncharted terrain,” you’ve given them Wakandan names and a whole history. Can you elaborate on the importance of having done this?

The modern map of Wakanda

The map that I had seen before was Don McGregor’s map. And Don was the one who really created Wakanda as a world. So I’m in his debt for that. At the same time, it had been about thirty or forty years, so I felt like maybe I could update it a little bit. I wish I had more time! It’s one of the things I’m thinking about right now. We’re going into this intergalactic empire/Wakanda space. And if I could, man, I’m trying to figure out how to design star maps and stuff like that for the galaxy. I have the notes. I got the names for the galaxies that comprise the empire. And it actually took a long time in Photoshop to try to figure out that one map. I don’t have any skills in that at all. I did that myself.

That’s cool!

Yeah, that’s me! And then they went and had their office do the finishing touches and everything. But to figure out things like a star map, that’s the kind of thing I want to work on. Because I want people to feel like they’re immersed in a world, like you’re part of it, like this is a real ongoing thing.

Yeah, the only people right now who I believe are doing that are you and Jason Aaron on Thor.

Yeah, but it’s good. It gives comic book fans a sense of the world being real.

I gotta ask this, because I’m a big Thor fan. But you’re using a lot of gods right now. Is there any chance of a crossover in the near future?

Me and Jason talked about that! Actually, we talked about it with Avengers, because there’s obviously some commonality with Panther and Cap being Avengers. But maybe we should, I don’t know! I love Jason!

That’s great! I hope it works out.

Not a bad suggestion.

So what was it like knowing you were working on Black Panther, you’re the guy bringing it to life every month on the printed page and on digital… and all of a sudden this movie hits. And it’s this huge thing. What was that like for you? How much did it mean to you, for this character to be introduced to this wide new audience?

I would just describe it like this: I was on a plane, coming back from LA, and this stewardess gave me the Wakandan salute. You know, it’s this black woman with dreads, and she just gave me the Wakandan salute. I mean…

Did you tell her you write Black Panther?

She knew! That’s why she gave me that salute. It’s been surreal. I feel like I got an essay about what it was like. It’s been intense. It’s been really, really intense.

And it’s not stopping.

It’s not stopping! It’s not stopping. The best part though for me is how much it has upped the game for what kind of comic books I need to be creating. I gotta do better. I really feel like that. And it’s good to feel like that. It’s good to feel like I really, really got to do better. I mean, this script that I’m working on now, right? It’s like this space battle between these starfighters in the empire. I’ve never done anything like that. And I have to try to do that, to challenge myself to do that.

Ryan’s a great artist, so I haven’t just benefited from the film, but from his friendship. And so I was telling him about how the film has upped the standard of the comic book, and how I wanted to be, just a better writer of fight scenes. And he said to me, why don’t you just write twelve straight issues of just fight scenes? Write as much as possible. And that was just such a tremendous suggestion. To have somebody around you like that, to say something like that. It’s been huge, man.

Is there any directive from Marvel to make the comic characters more in line with the movie versions? I am, of course, thinking of Shuri.

No, not Shuri. I think you might see some spinoffs and limited series that take advantage of that. For the people wanting to see Okoye or wanting to see Shuri. No, on the contrary, there’s an issue out now. It did two things. There’s Okoye making her first appearance, at least in my run, and there’s the actual Wakandan salute from the movie. But that’s me and Leonard (Kirk). You know what I mean? That’s not Marvel saying, hey, Okoye’s really hot right now, you should really put Okoye in the book. It was, man, I saw Okoye in the film and I thought, oh my God, she’s incredible. Like to me she’s the best thing about it. In terms of characters she’s my favorite character in that film.

She’s my girlfriend’s favorite too. I just wanted to say that because she’s in the room right now.

Woo! She’s got the spear, she’s leaping off the balcony, and her dress is flaring. It’s beautiful. It’s really, really beautiful. So I felt more inspired by the film to write stuff and to be a certain way than I felt pressure from Marvel to do it.

That’s great, because I think some creators might feel annoyed when they change too much from the comics.

Nah, Ryan’s gotta do his thing, and it gives me inspiration, you know what I mean?

Moving on to Captain America, what does the idea of writing him mean to you, both as a writer and an African-American person? Because I think you’re the first non-white guy to be writing him as an ongoing, right?

Yeah, I think Christopher Priest did Captain America and the Falcon. So I think there’s some debate about what you consider to be first and what’s official, and all of that. I’m not so concerned about that. I think for me the big honor is… like I read Ed’s Winter Soldier arc years ago. When I was still on Twitter, I could not stop talking about that thing. It was revelatory to me. Not just the Winter Soldier arc, but the Death of Captain America. In a time when people kill off characters for shock value all the time – like I don’t think I’ve killed off anybody in Black Panther yet. And one of the reasons I haven’t is just that it’s done for so much shock value that I haven’t really done it. To actually kill somebody and make a story, a real story out of it, that’s one of my favorite comic book stories, period. That and Winter Soldier put together, those back-to-back arcs, it’s inspiring to be able to take up that character after that. I don’t know, it’s huge.

Like I said in my blog post, just the notion that people think this sort of dude is like Joe Blow nationalisme, you know what I mean? And he’s not. He’s not even that in the movies, if you watch the movies closely. Half the time, he’s fighting against the government, be that taken over by Hydra, be that folks trying to have a registration act, so I don’t know. I’m excited.

I’m very excited for you. Congratulations on that gig.

Thank you.

Captain America #1 cover, out in July, by Alex Ross

Do you find it difficult to follow in the wake of current events with Captain America? Because I think the Hydra storyline is still fresh in people’s minds. I know Mark Waid is trying to get rid of that, but just looking at the internet it looks like a lot of people are still focused on the Hydra Cap thing. Any pressure on getting away from that?

No, no, see, I love continuity. So for me, the fact that Cap was banished to this other universe and there was somebody else using his name, who led Hydra against these heroes and now he has to come back and be Cap, and he has to use that same name, that same face, that same uniform, and to not just regain the trust of his country, but his trust in himself? This is grit for me! This is good storytelling stuff for me. This is the little bits that you make gravy out of from the bottom of the pan.

So no, listen, man, this is a dude whose girlfriend — the love of his life — was sleeping with a clone of his for like a year! What kind of issues must they have? No, forget the issues they must have, what kind of issues does she have herself? You know what I’m saying? This is good stuff! This is really really great stuff.

So much of writing is not in the idea, but in the telling. So I don’t know, I don’t fear that at all.

I’ve noticed that people still call Captain America: The Winter Soldier the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and I think a lot of it is in the telling, like that twist really takes you by surprise.

Yeah it does. You’re exactly right. So many people like that twist. I would actually argue – and Black Panther will threaten this if it gets a trilogy – but to me, just in terms of competence in storytelling, the Captain America movies are probably my favorite.

It’s the best, top to bottom, isn’t it?

Top to bottom, one, two, three. It has an amazing level of consistency. It’s certainly my favorite superhero one, but I put it right up there with Star Wars. Star Wars is more epic, more sprawling, but I think just in terms of even quality of movies? One, two, three is pretty damn good for Captain America.

Yeah, I think the first movie is really underrated.

Oh, that first movie is hellaciously underrated. I watched it recently. It’s a really solid movie, a really, really solid movie. Perfect casting. Chris Evans, he’s got him. The first one is really underrated.

Chris Evans has got him in a way I don’t think anyone else has got their characters.

I would even say Downey on Stark. Downey on Stark is really good, but Chris Evans, he’s got him. He’s got him.

I live in the Philippines, so I definitely have to ask this for my Filipino readers. What’s it like working with Leinil Yu?

Oh man, Leinil is incredible. He’s incredible. I wish you guys could see some of his stuff. You’ll see it soon enough. I was telling him yesterday – he sent some pencils in. This is a pretty heavy storyline we’re trying to tell, and there’s this emotional weight and power that he brings. It’s beyond anything that I’ve worked with, I’ll just say that.

And you’ve worked with some very good artists.

Yeah, (Brian) Stelfreeze is incredible, he’s absolutely incredible. And I don’t want to be in the habit of comparing people, but weight is what I think of. Gravitas, almost, that he brings to these things.

Can you give us a short preview as to what things we can expect from your Captain America run? Which villains are gonna show up, which themes are you gonna tackle?

Well, I think the first arc is all about trust. Does Cap trust himself? Do people around him trust him? And does America trust him? What is America? What is he actually captain of? What is he returning to? That’s what I’ll say, ‘cause I gotta be careful.

And are there plans of a Captain America/Black Panther crossover at some point?

Um…we’ll see.

Thank you very much for the time.

No problem.

Apr 23, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Black Panther

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  Next, what is now the biggest movie domestically in the entire MCU, a true milestone!

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther

Black Panther was released on February 16,2018, and made $202 million on its opening weekend.  Its theatrical run is, as of this writing, at $676 million in the United States and $1.3 billion total worldwide.

KATHERINE: DAMN. This movie was so insanely beautiful, entertaining, thematically complex, inspiring, I could go on and on. I loved it and loved every character.

DUY: I think I can rank the MCU now, in terms of my favorites: 1) Avengers, 2) Thor: Ragnarok, 3) Winter Soldier, 4) Thor, 5) Captain America: The First Avenger, 6) Black Panther. Given that I was a Captain America fan going into the MCU and a Thor fan in general, I think that's high praise for Black Panther.  I have zero complaints about this movie. None. I think it's the best one since Winter Soldier. If I had any one nitpick, the only thing I could say is that the plot was predictable, which is just looking too hard for something to say about it. I think that Panther probably fits the description of "ticks the most boxes" for me, in terms of criteria. Like in terms of the stuff I look for, it probably doesn't hit anything the best out of all the Marvel movies... but it hits them all, whereas the other ones miss a box or two.

SAMANTHA: Black Panther definitely hit my Top 5, maybe even Top 3 — I have to sit and reevaluate! The cast as a whole absolutely crushed it at the tee. I was near tears for every freaking emotional moment.

TRAVIS: It was, in large part, what I wanted several of these to be, that just weren't. It stood on its own, as an epic story, without intrusive promos for future movies. No weak, pro forma lines, except for ones that are in character. And, visually, it actually looked stunning, instead of just recreating a YouTube video's one gag for 90 minutes, like Doctor Strange. And, y'know, I'm named for a panther and our family has a hereditary duty and the honor of caring for the dead. So, feels.

DUY: You're named for a panther?

TRAVIS: Red Stone Panther. My personal name. Got my legal name, personal, ceremonial...

MATT: Just finished it and holy shit, 2 points. 1) Serkis is Kilmer and 2), holy fuck the visuals. Wakanda is a real place and I want to go to there.

TRAVIS: I just liked Serkis not being a monkey or camp gay uncle. But, I can't see him as the Kilmer when so many actors were dominating. Gonna have to have a real think before I choose one.

PETER: “We must find a way to look after each other, as if we were one single tribe.” This is the line that gets to me.

RICH: I freakin' LOVE this movie. I think it's my favorite of all the Marvel films that I've seen so far. There is nothing about it I'd change. Not one thing.

DUY: Yay! You're making one of the roundtables! Now elaborate.

RICH: I thought the acting was superb right across the board. The cinematography was gorgeous. I loved that there were only two main characters who were white--and one was a secondary villain while the other was a secondary hero, with neither of them taking a "main" role. I loved that women in Wakanda were portrayed as the complete equals to men, and that the best warriors were female. I adored the music. And I found myself connecting with the characters' plights, which isn't always the case with superhero-based films. I also liked that the heroes were capable of being hurt, being wrong, and being humbled.

JEFF: There's a lot I like about this movie, the visuals are awesome, Kilmonger is a excellent villain and the action in Korea was thrilling but the back half of the movie felt too predictable after Klaw gets killed. I watched a second time though at home and actually enjoyed it more.

DUY: I also thought it got predictable as it went along, although the fact that T'challa goes against his elders is a nice twist to the usual trope. Is there something to be said for the fact that for all the debate between the traditional Wakandan methods and Killmonger's extreme methods, Nakia's methods are literally right there, just waiting for one of thse people to acknowledge her?

JEFF: Younger generation is usually the focal point of change though, T'Challa knew the worlds technology was catching up and the facade wasn't going to last forever. That was another thing I enjoyed during the scenes set in Korea, Klaw is telling the truth about Wakanda, and T'Challa who uses vibranium in his suit is like you're going to believe this criminal.

DUY: Really, the entire moral is that Wakanda had great power, and therefore great responsibility. That seems to be a common theme in Marvel movies....

KATHERINE: I’m extra excited now for Infinity War knowing that so much of it will be taking place in Wakanda! And realizing that M’Baku is right here on the left fighting with T’Challa, Cap, and Bucky!  Also just realizing upon seeing this badass picture that this literally represents the casts of Black Panther + Winter Soldier banding together. Best team ever.

DUY: I understand people thinking that maybe this movie is going to be rated more highly than it should be due to its social relevance, but I do think in a vacuum it's a great movie. It may not be the best Marvel movie, and that's what it's gonna be elevated to, I think, but that doesn't stop it from being great on its own. (And it is up there, as one of the best.) For comparison and reference, I do think that Wonder Woman is a really good movie whose social significance elevated it to great.

TRAVIS: I do wish that Roy Thomas had not introduced the hardline isolationism, and that the movie had not played it up so strongly, but it made for good drama.

DUY: I'm honestly surprised at how much calling out of racial tension they were able to do.

KATHERINE: So many rich, complicated problems were being discussed, it was pretty amazing they could even do it for such a big budget four quadrant movie. But at the same time it felt like it had to be done. In this current political climate it felt so important. They all had good points and T’Challa had to acknowledge that Erik was right about the problems in the world, but the solution had to be something other than colonizing and destroying, which is what had been done to them. I hope some world leaders take his line about how the wise build bridges and the foolish build barriers as a direct slap in his face.

DUY: What's "four quadrant" mean?

KATHERINE: It just means they’re trying to appeal to all demographics, reach adults and kids alike, which is what the blockbusters all aim for. Typically the four quadrants are Men over 25, Women over 25, Men under 25, Women under 2.

DUY: So you also pointed out to me that the fact that black women have been the demographic to most overwhelmingly vote liberal in the last few elections, which is really kinda living up to that in the movie.

KATHERINE: Some people still find the Clinton/Trump breakdown to be controversial, but also consider this statistic from Alabama when the race was between a democrat and a known racist credibly accused of multiple counts of child molestation. 98%!!!! They literally had to save Alabama from the worst parts of itself. They are the Dora Milaje.  The lesson is to listen to the black women and allow them to lead progressive causes because for whatever reason, more than any other demographic, they know what’s up, then they show up and do the work. Loooove that there were so many strong women in this movie but they also showcased a variety of ways to be powerful.

DUY: I actually felt like this would be more empowering to women than Wonder Woman was. I hate to keep comparing it to Wonder Woman, but they're both culturally significant, so...

KATHERINE: My favorite part of Wonder Woman was when she was with the Amazons, and this movie got to stay with their Amazons and keep that magic going the whole time!

DUY: I truly enjoyed how it had something huge to say, not even just about race and colonialization, but also about tradition vs. progression. Everyone is right. And everyone is wrong. My favorite bit about that is that T'Challa completely breaks from tradition, tells his elders that he believes them to be wrong, and even shows empathy towards Erik.

KATHERINE: I saw someone make a really great point comparing Black Panther to Captain America’s speech about planting himself like a tree and saying “no, you move.” In contrast, Black Panther’s strength is recognizing when things have been done wrong and wanting to do better. I thought that was a fascinating observation, especially since I think they’re both doing the right things in their respective situations. Maybe it speaks toward American/Western individualism vs. cultures that thrive through collectivism. Neither is “wrong” necessarily, but they make for interesting differing viewpoints.

I freakin' LOVE this movie. I think it's my favorite of all the Marvel films that I've seen so far. There is nothing about it I'd change. Not one thing. -Rich

SAMANTHA: Michael B. Jordan did an incredible job. Happy to add Killmonger as one of the greatest MCU villains ever. I wish he would be around for future movies but his ending line was so damn poetic and iconic.

BEN: Michael B. Jordan has been in two of my pantheon TV shows, The Wire and Friday Night Lights, and I don’t think he’s ever been better than he was in this.  He set the screen on fire to the point where you kind of wanted him to win.

DUY: Erik was my favorite character, and his last line was my favorite line. Chilling.

TRAVIS: I really rolled my eyes at the last line. Takes a special kind of ego to compare his situation with... that other situation.

SCARLET: God, I want to say something about "wasted potential" and "internalized white emo nihilism".

KATHERINE:I loved the poetry and emotion of that line, and personally, I think it’s also part of the point that he’s wasting his potential on ego-driven martyrdom. He’s an extremely sympathetic and tragic villain, and part of the tragedy is the extremity of his thinking. He’s right that the rest of the world can benefit from Wakanda, but he’s wrong that it can only happen by giving them all weapons so that they can terrorize their former oppressors and take control by force. There’s a middle ground that T’Challa finds (and even offers to him in the moment) that he rejects, which is a damn shame because I think they could’ve done some great things together.

DUY: Yeah, that's the thing. He is self absorbed and ego driven. But as T'challa said, a monster of their own making.  I legitimately thought T'challa would cure him and then put him in his cabinet.

MATT: Yeah, I knew the ending going in, but they didn't have to choose that way. They could've Loki'd him. That is one of my actually quibbles with the movie, killing a gray villain with potential for future uses.

DUY: I could go either way on that one. Remember, Loki is basically a full on good guy now who teases turning evil. No bad guy has ever been brought back.

SCARLET: Absolutely. I'm hoping there's still a chance for Lokization in the inevitable sequel.

MATT: I read the wanting to be buried at see as a call back to the throw away of him graduating USNA at 19, being a SEAL and having no regard for tradition. I would expect the next we see of him is in a Wakandan crypt with a statue or something.

So many rich, complicated problems were being discussed, it was pretty amazing they could even do it for such a big budget four quadrant movie. But at the same time it felt like it had to be done. In this current political climate it felt so important. -Katherine

MATT: Here's another thing I'm interested in comparing/contrasting: Killmonger's visual introduction is, I think, pretty atypical. When you first see him, he is effectively presented as a nerd. Baggy clothes, glasses, pretty stereotypical not a threat nerd-vibes. Granted, this fades quickly once the heist is obvious. I'm trying to wrack my brain for other antagonist intros and except for Loki in Thor I and maybe Stane, do other MCU villains get as curve ball an introduction? The reason makes narrative sense, I just think few of the movies choose to go the route of making their primary antagonist less 100% first look threatening.


MATT: That's a good one. I haven't seen Homecoming yet, so not sure how Vulture is introduced, but I'm thinking he's a bit easier to not immediately upon sight declare supervillain. It's also mostly true in Winter Solider, though the true nature of what's going on takes some time to become obvious.

ANTONIO: Vulture was just this blue-collar stiff trying to pay his mortgage. The government screwed him out of the investment he’d put into upgrading his salvage company to deal with the aftermath of the NY invasion. He actually seemed like a pretty decent guy.

DUY: I don't want to say Stane, because how does no one see that coming.

MATT: Well, if you try to go into it cold and not seeing any of the promo materials, Stane doesn't seem like the initial villain. We first see him in PJs on a FaceTime. His visual isn't that of say Ronan or Thanos, stereotypical villain looks.

JEFF: Donald Pierce in Winter Soldier.

MATT: Winter Soldier is a slow burn as to WTF is going on. And who thinks Redford is ever a villain?

KATHERINE: My first impression of his entrance wasn’t “nerd,” it was smart, cultured, hip, modern, global millennial. And not millennial in a bad way, just that he seemed like a young guy that belongs in today’s world. Not the immediate read of a bad guy, but certainly an intriguing character. It’s a contrast to T’Challa who is many of those things, but feels traditional and on the outside seems like he belongs more to an older world.

TRAVIS: The Dragonball Z connection people are making with the one costume is too entertaining. I do think, without that early harmless nerd facade, the audience might have a harder time *remembering* how creepy smart Killmonger is. They played him, not as a posing supervillain, but as the underestimated young guy in a heist movie, and that was smart. Panther is a lot more Heat than that Batman movie they were comparing it with a few years back.

SCARLET: This just pisses me off even more that he didn't get a redemption arc.

DUY: Killmonger: idealistic extremist, or guy who justifies his own personal issues by conflating it with larger global issues?

MATT: I think a bit of both. He becomes the thing he railed against, but primarily because of dynastic killing issues.

(Killmonger) becomes the thing he railed against, but primarily because of dynastic killing issues. -Matt

MATT: Did your screenings have any fan favorites? Shuri was definitely the one at mine, with good reason.

PETER: Monday morning at the office and of course we're all talking about it. And I can happily report that Shuri is everyone's favorite character.

SAMANTHA:  My greatest wish for the MCU moving forward is that when Tony Stark dies or retires, that Shuri takes his place and becomes the next Iron Man/Woman. She’s a brilliant, gorgeous, wise-cracking, tech-whiz billionaire philanthropist warrior princess. And think of all the extra enhancements that could be made with their vibranium tech! My pain at losing Tony would be immediately relieved.

ANTONIO: I’ve seen a few conversations revolving around Shuri being smarter — or just as smart — as Stark.

TRAVIS: There's been Shuri as Iron Woman fan art already, it seems. I'd be way more excited for Infinity if she's in there actively.

KATHERINE: Honestly if the next MCU phase is trying to be more balanced and inclusive (which is not only the right thing to do, but would be smart business-wise), this would be a brilliant move. And people already love her, they would accept it.If Shuri does become the next Iron Man (I'm going to talk about this as if it's already a thing and a possibility, I have no idea if there's any validity to it at all) and Bucky becomes the next Cap, they'll already be great buds and have a wonderful working relationship because of all the time they spent together in the African savannah. Also, if Bucky is not going to be with Natasha and if Shuri is not an actual teenager (I wasn't sure how old she's supposed to be!! The actress is in her early 20s, but she does look young, I don't know if she's playing her as 16-18... and if she is pretend I didn't say anything!!), I'm low-key shipping them too. Is it just me or was there some chemistry? Or maybe it's just that Bucky's smoldering eyes makes it feel like he has chemistry with everyone.

DUY: She's a teenager in Black Mirror, so I assumed she was a teenager here. Yes, I know that doesn't follow.

KATHERINE: Okay this is pretty awesome: Disney is opening a STEM Center in Oakland after the success of Black Panther.

DUY: That is insanely awesome.

KATHERINE: Shuri and T'Challa's dynamic is funny but it’s also a legitimate character development thing that I really enjoyed. And it felt real and familiar because that’s how family is. "Yeah, you’re a badass superhero and a celebrity and a king and whatever and I love and respect you, but you’re also my brother, sooo I also know that you’re a total nerd and a loser."

ANTONIO: I love the moment Shuri flipped him off. Oh, and the sandals scene. Our theater erupted.

Monday morning at the office and of course we're all talking about it. And I can happily report that Shuri is everyone's favorite character. -Peter

DUY: Check it out, apparently some Filipino design went into the Dora Milaje costumes.

TRAVIS: It seems like they pulled from a lot of "world cultures" for design aspects. But, that goes all the way back to Panther's initial development. I wonder if Panther's strength coming from not-kalo... that sort of thing, bothers some purists. Hanuman and Bast.

MATT: The River Tribe elder had one hell of a green suit going on there.

DUY: This reminds me, and I know this can sound patronizing, but I legitimately thought of Zulu LaMar Forte throughout the movie. I can't even imagine what it would be like to see my culture, my race idealized and treated with that level of care and quality to an audience that large. It was legitimately moving and gives me hope for representations of more cultures in the future. But then you have people bringing up Blade to discount the cultural significance of this movie and they miss the point. It's like if you're a Pacific Islander seeing Moana and being happy that your culture is being portrayed, and then someone goes "But didn't you see the Fast and the Furious with Dwayne Johnson?"

MATT: The but there was... crowd is tiresome. It's been a while since I've seen Blade, does it hold up?

TRAVIS: Blade still kicks ass. Blade 2 and 3 depend on how entertaining you find 2's director and 3's Deadpool. But, it's not Black Panther any more than The Bride Wore White is Guns of Navarone.

MATT: Yeah, from my recollection, it's a good 90s superhero in the pre-Matrix era. Who doesn't like vampire rave parties?

TRAVIS:  Snipes doesn't make bad movies, only movies that wouldn't be as good without him.

KATHERINE: Aside from the whole thing about Black Panther being an all-black cast and actually immersing you in African culture, the comparison is still kind of like apples and oranges. Blade is an R-rated vampire antihero. He might be badass but he’s not presenting himself as a hero for kids.

DUY: It would be like if they made a Filipino-centric movie and then telling us we shouldn't celebrate because Rufio existed. Also people saying Wakanda is an alt right paradise. They call out the lack of diversity and the fact that Wakanda hides itself and doesn't interfere with the rest of the world. There's nothing that can be done about the first point, but did they all miss the part where T'challa says the isolationism was wrong?

MATT: How is Wakanda not diverse? If I'm correct, and call me out if I'm not, but the five tribes featured in the film basically represent a wide swath of African cultures. It would be like saying a movie isn't diverse because the cast only has people from Asia, but it's Turks, Indians, Afghans, Japanese, Filipinos, and on and on. And yeah, there is a literal line that says people are dumb for building walls instead of bridges, so no again.

DUY: There's something to be said for the Wakandan baddies — Killmonger and his dad — choosing the ways of the oppressors on the basis of race and skin color as well, while Nakia and eventually T'challa don't make those distinctions.

MATT: I was listening to the Slate Spoiler episode on this, and they make a good point that Nakia and Erik are really only separated by their methods. And that the film makes both view points understandable and relatable. Erik, being the villain, goes too far, but their end goal is the same: help the oppressed.

DUY: Their methods and their definition of who is or isn't oppressed. Nakia may, or may not, put black people at the forefront of that list, but Erik explicitly does. "People who look like us." But that's also a huge component of Erik and his search for identity, I think. Erik is also the type of villain who, yes, means what he says, he wants to help the oppressed. But he means it less than he is using it as a cover-up for his own childhood trauma. He's conflated the world's problems with his own, and he wants revenge more than justice. Ross saying that everything he did after getting to Wakanda - overthrowing T'challa and burning the garden - are all just part of his training, so he did become what the world made him.

TRAVIS: Can we talk about how there's a lot of white people in this movie? Nothing against, but even South Korea had three black people doing stuff, background Asians to open a door or pour a drink, but every other active person is white. I was just surprised.

DUY: Really? I just remember Bilbo, Smeagol, the female curator in London, and Stan, to be honest.

TRAVIS: Stan made us laugh. But, the "entourage" were two black people and several white, background of South Korea had more white folks, and London was largely, which I guess makes more sense than the unusual concentration in Korea. Not a bad thing, necessarily, though I did think Ross got way too much screentime.

How is Wakanda not diverse? The five tribes featured in the film basically represent a wide swath of African cultures. -Matt

TRAVIS: Is this the first superhero of color in the MCU whose shtick isn't being less good than a white guy? Falcon, who is generally great, is literally introduced with a joke about how he can't be that good. Rhodey's deal superheroing is that Tony lets him. Is it not embarrassing that the MCU had to, today, make the same kind of jump the comics did over 50 years ago?

KATHERINE: The "being less good" thing is unfortunately just part of being a sidekick / supporting character, isn't it? Until the character becomes the lead like Black Panther, their shtick is generally that they're not quite as capable as the star (especially when the lead has super-serum on their side). Unless they have phenomenal cosmic powers in a supporting role, like Heimdall, who can literally see everything in the universe.

TRAVIS: Yeah. I don't mean that anyone sat down and decided, consciously, "If we have black people in these, they should be second stringers." Nick Fury puts the lie to that. But, Nick Fury isn't a superhero.

DUY: Yeah, it's funny how before T'challa, the one supporting cast member you could say was on par with the lead in one way or the other was the omniscient Norse guy who doesn't want to fight so much. And now this movie has three female supporting characters who in their own ways are better than the main guy.

ANTONIO: Falcon’s pretty cool in the movies. Helps soldiers with PTSD.

TRAVIS: I like movie Falc. I like and respect comics Falcon a lot. Just saying, he's introduced in the movie to be the guy who shows us how fast and strong Cap is. It's not him as a person, but his role in communicating things to the audience. Panther... is a different animal, even in other people's movies.

ANTONIO: I...suppose? But there’s also a connection between old soldier and modern soldier. Falcon knows why Steve wakes up so early. I mean, I feel like the running thing is a very small part of his introduction. More just the build-up to their introduction.

MATT: Yeah, I read Falcon as more a cipher so the audience can see how Steve needs to adapt to the new time, like introducing him to Marvin Gaye.

TRAVIS: I love Falcon's intro. I think it's the best scene in that movie. But, there is a dynamic, and I think Panther is really the first MCU superhero, maybe really the first MCU character who isnt white or an alien, to fully escape that dynamic completely.

MATT: Do we need to talk about how Valkyrie is Killmonger's girlfriend? In other news, I just watched Creed.

KATHERINE: LOVE Creed. If you’re a new Michael B. Jordan fan, also watch Friday Night Lights. One of the best moments in that show was with his character and it will give you a lot of Killmonger feelings.

This just pisses me off even more that he didn't get a redemption arc. -Scarlet

MATT: Two completely nonexistent quibbles, how did they miss out on the scene of 2 Human Torches in the same place at the same time? And Klaw's fake hand looks really bad. Especially considering how beautiful everything else looks.

TRAVIS: It was a cheap copy of better Wakandan tech. How good should it look?

MATT: Good point, but I was hoping with his billions he could afford some better fake skin.

“We must find a way to look after each other, as if we were one single tribe.” This is the line that gets to me. -Peter
DUY: Is it the most visually beautiful Marvel movie yet? I'm partial to Ragnarok, but that's because they very specifically took 2-dimensional Kirby and designed the entirety of Sakaar around it, and I'm hella biased.

MATT: I was thinking about this today. I am of the mind that BP succeeded at what Doctor Strange was trying to do. It is a fully stunning and realized world.

DUY: Here's some interesting stuff about how much thought went into the visual symbolism:

TRAVIS: I actually love that he calls South Korea, "the Western world." Because nobody knows what that phrase even means, anymore, it's just a feeling you have.

MATT: That's pretty interesting. I realized watching, after his explanation, that Nakia is the Pan-African flag, red hair, herself, green dress. So much detail, can't wait to see it again (mostly like when it's out on Blu-Ray).

Shuri stole the movie, but also, no one could get a word in any time M'baku was there. -Travis

DUY: MCU Plothole or Smart Writing? T'challa in Civil War learns that revenge isn't the answer. In this movie, he goes after Klaue as an act of revenge.

MATT: He had the right guy this time.

ANTONIO: Yeah. Klaue deserved the death penalty for his crimes. And being a total dick.

KATHERINE: I think W’Kabi wanted to go after him for revenge and that partially blinded him and sent him on the wrong path for a while because he was so angry that he didn’t get it. T’Challa was trying to serve justice for his country. So I think there is a difference.

DUY: MCU Infinity Stone watch: The Soul Stone must be in Wakanda, because they can go to the spirit world

ANTONIO: Supposedly the director shot this theory down, but I’m thinking he’s just trying to throw us off.

MATT: I always thought Thanos was headed to Wakanda because it's the only organized place that could put up a fight. The Chiaturi overmatched regular humanity armed forces.

Do you vote for T'challa or Killmonger? -Duy

DUY: Okay, you're a citizen of Wakanda and it's for whatever reason now a democratic state. Do you vote for T'challa or Killmonger?

RICH: The truth is, until T'challa changed his mind about helping the world, I might have CONSIDERED voting for Killmonger. Maybe.

ANTONIO: I mean, I live in a secluded African nation and probably been taught all my life that the outside world isn’t my problem. So probably T’Challa, ‘cause Killmonger is just inviting trouble to my borders. Even if I agreed that a global uprising was necessary to break the cycle of violence and racism.

DUY: It's interesting, because I think one is right in his intent (Killmonger) and the other one is more correct in his methods (T'challa). Really, the correct answer is Nakia.

RICH: Absolutely, it is.

DUY: Which is why I left her out on purpose. Nyaah.

RICH: I'd vote for Black Widow.

DUY: Hey, I totally voted for Black Widow in Civil War. Widow was right.

ANTONIO: No way. "Reading the terrain" just leads to you getting screwed later on. Maybe farther down the road than Stark’s way.

DUY: Not if you screw them first. (And she did.)

ANTONIO: Because Cap refused!

DUY: You have to give the people the illusion that you're giving them what they want!

ANTONIO: That’s spy talk!

TRAVIS: Killmonger is too CIA for the CIA. T'Challa all the way. M'Baku if we're getting an open vote. Man-Ape is the greatest save of a touchy landmine of a character in Marvel cinematic history.

KATHERINE: Nakia 1000%! Or Shuri. Or Okoye. Or Queen Mother Ramonda.

DUY: Cheating! You gotta pick one of the two.

BEN: I'd do a write-in vote for Shuri.

TRAVIS: Movie-Shuri is too smart to lead publicly.

MATT: I would vote Shuri, but Travis is right, she’s too in your face for actually politicking.

DUY: You people are cheating.

KATHERINE: But if it’s between the two guys, T’Challa. Killmonger may be right in some of his principles but to me, it’s not enough to be right. If you’re gonna rule a country, you gotta have plans that will help tangibly advance the greater good and not just blow up the world to make a point.

Erik is also the type of villain who, yes, means what he says, he wants to help the oppressed. But he means it less than he is using it as a cover-up for his own childhood trauma.  -Duy

DUY: Who wins the Kilmer Award? I've decided my favorite character is M'baku.

MATT: I think you can make a case for Klaue, M’Baku, or Shuri with ease.

PETER: Shuri stole the show as far as I can tell. She was getting the loudest laughs at the cinema I was in and as I said earlier, she was the one everyone was talking about in my office on the Monday after opening weekend.

DUY: The memes saying Princess Shuri of Wakanda is their favorite Disney princess are hilarious.

TRAVIS: Shuri stole the movie, but also, no one could get a word in any time M'baku was there. She wins for the movie, he wins for his scenes.

There really is not a bad Black Panther solo run. -Travis

DUY: Comic recommendations?

MATT: I think a lot the aesthetic was influenced by the Ta-Nehisi Coates run if I remember correctly.

TRAVIS: Nation Under Our Feet, World of Wakanda, and really, honestly, any Panther solo comic. They're all good and each author really brings something unique. There really is not a bad Panther solo run. This is one where people almost can't go wrong just diving into something.

Apr 19, 2018

The Infinity Gauntlet: 3 Things That Should Be in Infinity War, and 3 Things That Shouldn't

To say that Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest event in superhero movies is a giant understatement. It's the culmination of 10 years of multiple sub-franchises connecting the first truly successful shared universe, which is pretty appropriate considering that the Marvel Universe is the first true shared universe in comics, integrated tightly by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and company in the 1960s.

The Infinity Gauntlet
3 Things That Should Make It to the Movie
And 3 Things That Shouldn't
by Duy

Marvel's The Infinity Gauntlet is the first comic book event I ever bought. It was widely read in my grade school, so the fact that Thanos was the villain led to a lot of teasing at my expense due to my last name. Despite that (or maybe because of it), it's what made me a fan of the Marvel Universe (I was already a fan of the DC Universe, and yes, you can be both). And it made me a gigantic fan of George Perez, who is to this day still my favorite artist of all time.

The comic sees Thanos wield the titular Infinity Gauntlet, which is really just his glove with the six Infinity Gems (they're the Infinity Stones now) attached to them. The gems control power (the Aether in the MCU), reality (Star-Lord's Orb), time (the eye of Agamotto), the mind (that thing on the Vision's head), space (the tesseract), and the soul (we have yet to see this, but it's gotta be in Wakanda, right?). Of course, power over all of these things kinda sorta makes Thanos, well.... in a word...

It's not a perfect comic, though. It's high-stakes, it's dramatic, and it's full of action, but it doesn't quite stick the landing and falls into some convoluted characterization that could at least be described as apropo in the comics, but would just be out of place in the movies. So with that, let's look at three things that should make it into the movie, and three things that shouldn't.



These introductory/transition effects blew me away as a kid and I think they'd look cool in the movie if they can execute it properly.

Look, after Thor: Ragnarok captured Jack Kirby so well, anything is now visually possible.

Okay, fine, that one's really specific to me, so let's go here.


In the Marvel Universe, the concept of a universe is a sentient being made of galaxies, stars, and planets, and his name is Eternity. There are beings that manifest the concepts of Love and Hate. And ruling over it all is the Living Tribunal, the ultimate judge.

This entire thing blew my mind as a child, and was awe-inspiring when my nephew and niece read it many, many years later. Infinity Gauntlet is a comic my family shares, and this is always one of the big "wow" moments. 

They don't need to actually do much, but now would be a great time to introduce them.


When all the gathered heroes fail, and only Captain America is left, he doesn't back down. Instead he stands up to Thanos, believing that as long as there was life, there was hope.

So basically, when this happened, I basically screamed "YEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH!" really loud at the TV.

And now, for the bad stuff.



Remember what I said about Marvel having personifications of concepts? Death is one of them, and in the comics she's Thanos' entire motivation. He's in love with her, and that's why he wants to kill half the universe.

It's an intriguing concept, but I would argue it's easier to pass off such a concept in two dimensions than in live action, and I would question their ability to establish this in such a way that the general moviegoing audience would accept it.

Unless they want to say he's in love with Hela, the Goddess of Death. I can buy that.


I don't think Warlock is getting into the movie because he has had no buildup past one post-credits scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but he's basically Thanos' arch-nemesis (sorry, Silver Surfer fans, we all know it's Warlock) and the main protagonist of Infinity Gauntlet.

The fact that he has no build-up may be a good enough reason to not put him in the movie, but really, you should keep him away altogether because Adam Warlock is a terrible character, a pretentious, condescending excuse of a hero who makes me want to take a white-out and pour it all over his annoying little golden face when I have a comic he's in. Did I mention I hate Adam Warlock?

But really, come on. This is a culmination of ten years of movies. It should be resolved by the characters who appeared in those ten years of movies. Maybe some of them die, maybe the torch is passed to the later generation like Black Panther and Doctor Strange and Spider-Man. But they shouldn't make way in this movie to a completely new character. That's not just unfair to the characters; it's unfair to the actors who built this thing.


Speaking of being resolved by the characters who built this, I really, really hope they don't introduce comic Thanos' character flaw in these. You see, in the comics, Thanos has an all-too-human weakness:

Man, Warlock's such a dick.

He wants to lose. He believes himself so unworthy of winning that he ends up sabotaging himself. It's relatable. It's fascinating. In the comics, it's an integral trait.

In the movie? It would be really annoying. Like I said up above, the culmination of ten years should be solved by the heroes, the characters we've grown attached to. This may be the last time we see Iron Man and Captain America some of them.

They shouldn't save the day because of a dogmatic adherence to the source material for the sake of being faithful. They should save the day on their own because at the end of the day, that's what will be satisfying to everyone who came on this decade-long ride.

They should save the day because they're the heroes.

Enjoy Infinity War, everyone!

Apr 18, 2018

Cassandra Nova Is Charles Xavier

There is something Gnostic in the number of evil sides of himself, that over the years, Professor Charles Xavier has had to tamp down or exorcise. Most media, most serial characters would be satisfied with one evil double, one gone down the wrong path version. There are the supervillain foils, his famous nemesis, Magneto, his bully of an older stepbrother, Cain Marko, aka the Juggernaut. And, there is always an excuse when some horrid monster crawls up from his mind, from his urges, takes a body and wreaks havoc. “He was psychically tainted by some heretofore unknown mental power of Magneto’s.” “There was a cosmic confluence that reached over galaxies.” “I think she is the first of a new, unforeseen species.” “The Shi'ar mystics call this a mummudrai.”

Cassandra Nova Is Charles Xavier
Travis Hedge Coke

My favorite thing about these evil sides, including the above excuses and explanations, is that we are, from the beginning, invited to disbelieve them. When the earliest of these evil sides attacks Xavier-proper and his school, it possesses him, he fights against it. It is seen as a clearly distinct being, called the Entity. However, the Entity is Charles Xavier, and even he eventually has to recognize this truth.

Onslaught, the seemingly all-powerful monster who seemed to be the death of most of the major superheroes in the Marvel Universe, was born out of Xavier, expressing his guilts and lusts explicitly, but later, we see that when he put Magneto in a coma, some evil creature, a seed of psychic energy, crawled up from Magneto’s brain into Xavier’s and clearly, that must be at fault.

We “see,” however, a memory, a replay from perspective. Memory is not reality, and in the Marvel Universe, memory and reality are not immutable or undeniable.

The Entity can stand proud, can conquer and rape in his conquistador helmet, with his working legs and his open condescension. Onslaught appears as a towering armored beast and as a wicked child, openly goading with guilt and promises of friendship. They don’t befriend and compromise, but command and disrupt.

So, we come to Cassandra Nova, a demonic inversion that is currently bedeviling Jean Grey in a new X-book just now. Cassandra is described by the Shi'ar, as a mummudrai, as an inversion of all that something is, a mummudrai is all that something proper, is not. Everything has a mummudrai. “The mummudrai of in, is out.” Up, down. Awake, asleep. Cold, hot. But, Xavier’s mind is so powerful, even before birth, that his mummudrai is also thinking and psychically-empowered. With that psychic power, and that awareness, she is able to have form in this world, and to act.

What the aforementioned Jean Grey and her colleague Emma Frost see in Xavier’s mind, amidst boobytraps and bruises left by Cassandra’s attack, are memories of prenatal Xavier attacking his twin sister in the womb, strangling her with her umbilical cord, causing their mother to fall down a flight of stairs and miscarry one of her children. It is a primal scene mixed in with cues of the primal scene. His spinal injury and a sense of castration are thrown around, his father becomes himself in a snow globe of semen, standing proudly beside his mother as if at their wedding. We understand that the weirder things are symbolic, cannot be real, but the vibrant and contained struggle of the twins? We take it for granted that it is true in a boobytrapped mind.

Later, we learn from other sources, that when Cassandra first gained consciousness, she made her body out of discarded cellular matter in a sewer. So, not a near-to-term fetus.

Still, most of the audience clung, and clings yet, to the fantasy that plays out in his damaged mind, because, well, Grey and Frost saw it, and we saw them seeing it.

It never happened. What we saw was memory only, or, if you prefer, it was presentation alone.

It was guilt and disassociation, which grew, by will alone, a physical, walking, talking, id-driven body, and then covered that body in armor and a pretense that it’s a living “not-me.”

Like Onslaught.

Like the Entity.

Cassandra is not a new species. She is not a magical demon from the nether realms. Not an abandoned, rejected twin fetus. She is an anxiety-fueled imaginary fiend. An intimate projecttion, a thought even a baby did not like having. Like the other evil sides we had seen, she is a subconscious rejection by Xavier, a thing of rejected feelings, rejected temperament, pushed away so strongly, by such a powerful mind, that they could pretend autonomy and act distinct from Xavier. But, she is still a projection, a willed being. She is still Charles Xavier, even if Charles made her up while still in his mother’s womb.

Cassandra Nova is not Charles Xavier’s twin sister. She is Charles Xavier.