Week 4 World of Wakanda: A Continued Critique of Coates’ Critics

In class we reviewed how aspects of Black Panther acts as a response from Ta-Nehisi Coates to the criticism he receives as a writer. I thought it would be interesting to see if any of these themes are present in ‘The World of Wakanda’ authored by Roxane Gay, assisted by Coates.

Phil pulled out 3 critiques that Coates is often called out on:

  1. Too much pessimism.
  2. Shows no way out.
  3. Privileges personal struggles over collective action.

Some of the ways in which ‘Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet’ responds to these criticisms:

The contrasting ways in which Tetu and T’Challa go about asserting power or regaining control/peace within the kingdom can be seen as Coates showing a more optimistic view and a critique of current political systems. On one hand, Tetu seeks to manipulate and capitalise on the rage of the people in order to overthrow power. Whereas, T’Challa opts to grow personally to have a more transparent and open leadership in order to listen to the will of his people. It is sending the message that there are viable and hopeful agents of change and ways to improve political systems but it is the choice of the people to enact them (people including those who enter into power). In some ways we can see this as a critique on Tr*mp’s campaign where he preyed on hatred and anger, anything that would provoke an outraged response to gain votes over a hopeful message.

As was pointed out in class the title being ‘Black Panther’ focuses on the individual but the story focuses greatly on the people of Wakanda. In doing so we see Coates acknowledging the personal struggles, in a leadership that exists in an initially centralised bubble, within the context of a collective. It simultaneously centralises and decentralises T’Challa as a leader and titular character. I agree to a large extent with Coates that it is important to tell the individual’s story and struggles within a collective, it is both the story of the individual and the collective that make for an interesting, grounded, and well-paced plot, particularly in the case of BP.

Ways in which Black Panther: World of Wakanda responds to these criticisms:

** I just want to write a quick disclaimer that having read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay over 3 years ago and only starting to read Hunger a few days ago I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to pick up on critiques of her writing. However, something that she acknowledges herself in a few interviews/Twitter feed that isn’t necessarily a critique but more of a common theme in her writing is that she often has a lot of contradictions from ideals she holds vs how she feels/acts (mainly towards herself)**

Within the first few pages we see evidence of Gay’s theme of ideals vs actions, as Aneka goes to punish Ayo for her bragging/speaking-ill of the training facility. It is revealed that Aneka once too began her journey in the Dora Milaje as a more rebellious member despite now acting to punish Ayo and her out-spoken nature, we see throughout the entire series that Aneka increasing agrees with Ayo’s critical lens.

Additionally, I think the early-stage arguments and power struggle between Ayo and Aneka reflect the conflict of Coates dealing with the criticism of needing to show a way out VS pessmistic resistance. For example, Aneka ends her plan for the Dora Milaje on pg. 35 with “the better things will be” (i.e. follow this plan and we can find a way out) but Ayo responds with “I do not share such confidence” mirroring the pessimism that Coates places in much of A Nation Under Our Feet. In this instance Ayo is serving the purpose of echoing the opinion of the wider Wakandan people and their waning faith in T’Challa.

Later in the series Aneka accepts T’Challa’s decisions regarding Namor and the consequences of his flood because it is her duty, yet Ayo is heavily critical of this. We see that Aneka is priviledging the struggles of the individual (of both T’Challa and herself as she struggles with her loyalties) but believes she is acting in the best of the collective. This exchange amplifies the difficulties at the intersection of the 3 critiques of Coates when placed in the context of Black Panther. As the story revolves around a monarch, providing a solution or way out from an authoritative power is going to be based on the struggle of an individual (T’Challa) but that is inevitably going to evoke a pessimistic response from those that are critical of this single ruler system- which as it turns out most of Wakanda is or at least starting to become. The three are difficult to balance and throughout Coates’ Black Panther there is often compromise between the critiques in the plotlines that are chosen.

Overall, within the dialogue between Ayo and Aneka, coupled with the regret they feel in the latter stages of the story (trying to avoid any major spoilers… but I guess as it is a prequel it doesn’t really matter) from taking time for themselves outside of Wakanda, Gay explores how actions for the good of the individual(s) can be percieved or lead to guilt when they result in a failure for the collective. This is a parallel to T’Challa who is acting in what he believes is best for himself and his sister but is having a harmful effect on Wakanda. The difference being the ultimate power that T’Challa has and also the resolution in these separate character arcs. In the case of Ayo and Aneka they eventually reject the will of the monarchy whereas T’Challa begins to change within it to correct the wrongs he has neglected or (unintentionally) perpetuated in Wakanda.

I really enjoyed World of Wakanda, it is always nice to see more of secondary characters and be given more context to stories, particularly with a plot as detailed as Black Panther!

Week 3: Millennials are not Ruining Everything

Technopoly is frequently used as a plot device in Superhero comics and popular media, it is most often wielded as a critique on younger generations and their supposed co-dependency on the digital world. However, what I enjoyed most about Ms Marvel is how it flipped this on its head. Sure, it still used technology as a fear-mongering tool, but the outcome was not one that resulted in a far too familiar ‘gah, the youth today-eh?’ rhetoric. Instead, The Inventor was used to represent the underestimation of millennials who have become a go-to punching bag for older generations and their shortcomings.

The Inventor turning millennials into batteries was an enjoyable storyline to read based in the reality of how society exploits younger generations to fuel the needs -or greed- of their predecessors. We see it as a systemic problem that worsens over time, institutions make it harder and harder to enter into the workforce in any capacity or to be useful (as so many of the teenagers that had volunteered to be batteries claimed). We have a huge demand for work experience that overwhelmingly presents itself in unpaid internships and a multitude of forms of playbor that take advantage of a generation trying to get started in life. By including the millennial struggle through an intersectional lens Ms Marvel opened a more hopeful and inclusive dialogue on the prospects of youth in today’s climate.

Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed the similarities and contrasts of the villain and hero in these issues of Ms Marvel. Both have a goal that is for the good of society but there is a juxtaposition of scales. On the one hand you see an environmentalist with a goal of changing an entire system for the better but with corrupt means. On the other we see someone who is working to establish herself in her own community and do good on a local scale. In some ways this serves the America-centric Marvel universe but by having a female, young, and Muslim superhero they are at least taking a step in the right direction of better representing their diverse readership (I should note that I believe this change does need to continue and at a faster rate that it has before or is currently occuring).

Asides from class discussions…

I wrote down some quotes about Kamala that were said in class and one that stuck out to me was a character flaw that she is “dumb”. I feel like this is an unfair assessment of her, I would argue that instead of being “dumb” she is, on occasion, irrational in her decision making. This again feeds into societal criticisms of younger generations where inexperience is often equated to a lack of intelligence. Kamala exhibits a lot of intelligence and intuition as Ms Marvel; her spontaneous problem solving and ability to switch her logic from the massive to the microscopic (when she shrunk to destroy the wiring of The Inventor’s machines) is awesome! I think it shows a lot more intellect than what we see from other ‘pro’ superheroes like The Avengers who often manipulate The Hulk to go around smashing everything in order to solve an issue that maybe didn’t require so much destruction (a tactic Kamala could deploy with her capacity for embiggening but choses not to).

Secondly, I just wanted to add that I really enjoy G. Willow Wilson’s deconstruction of what it means to be normal and how Kamala struggles with defining her own normal. It is relatable to almost everyone as at some point in our lives most us feel abnormal. In reality, normal is subjective and an individual ideal. So often we see Superheroes perpetuating very narrow ideals of normality when in fact, there is ‘no normal’.



Week 2: Superman the Self(ish)less

Superman is an idealist, guided by morals that he owes in part to his adopted human father Jonathan Kent. As part of this idealism some may also attribute altruism to Superman’s adventures, that he acts with the selfless object of helping others (i.e. humanity).  However, in the moments that this altruism lapses we discover a more complex, human, and relatable character. For Superman his agenda behind certain decisions may not be nefarious but they are not always altruistic and at times selfish.

I want to focus on a specific plotline from All-Star Superman Vol.1. when he gifts Lois his abilities for 24 hours. I believe this act can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, it is, to a very large extent and most likely intended to be, a generous act that highlights a moment of vulnerability where he opens up to Lois and shares his world with her. However, in many ways this can also be seen to be a selfish act. Regardless of Superman’s intent and whether or not he has the ability to create longer lasting superpowers by giving Lois them for a temporary 24 hours reinforces the biggest gap within their relationship; his super powers/her lack of super powers. Furthermore, it goes on to reinforce the distance between Superman and his readers. It serves as a way of making him simultaneously more relatable (via the vulnerability of giving the gift) whilst making him more different (by reminding us that he is superhuman). In many ways it echoes the impact of Episode 1’s cover where he sits thoughtfully overlooking the world on top of a cloud, amplifying his superpowers but increasing the connection to the reader by repeatedley showing vulnerability.

Week 1: Introduction

In the first class we were asked who our favourite superhero is, a question I found pretty hard to answer. My knee-jerk response to this question is Wonder Woman, she is one of the more recent, badass, superheroes I have loved so this answer isn’t a lie. However, I also love many others; Spiderman, Hulk, Batman, and TMNT (according to many, many, many debate boards online the ninja turtles don’t count as superheroes… but I am going to leave them in my list anyway) to name but a few.

In creating this blog, and picking a name, I started thinking about when I was first exposed to superheroes. As far as I can recall, and I think this answer is common for a lot of people my age, my earliest memory of superheros was at the age of 7 watching The Incredibles. The film reminded me of one of the things I love most about superheroes and the worlds they exist in; background characters or heroes used as world building tools that could exist in their own right, but are instead used at maximum for a line of dialogue to provide context to the world of the titular characters. In the case of the The Incredibles Stratogale is mentioned for approximately 3 seconds, but she has a minor back story of her own including the ability to talk to birds (which, as an ecology major, I find pretty cool)!

I haven’t read comics in a while, recently my main form of superhero consumption is in videogames or film so I am excited to delve deeper into the world of a variety of superheroes from a more critical approach.