Black History Month Graphic Novel Spotlight: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Yona Harvey, and More
There are neither enough Black superheroes or Black creators in comics. That’s mindboggling considering the popularity of characters like Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Cyborg, Jon Stewart, and Black Lightning. And we have creators like Christopher Priest, Kevin Grievoux, Karl Bollers, Amanda Stenberg, Reginald Hudlin, Mildred Louis, and Bryan Hill. But two of the best Black creators in comics or any medium is Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, and in 2016, they worked together on the great but short-lived World of Wakanda.
Coates has been writing Black Panther since 2016, and is now also writing Captain America. He also penned brilliant social commentary books such as Between the World and Me. Gay is pretty new to comics, but has some fantastic works like Hunger and Bad Feminist. Shortly after Coates started his Black Panther run, he and Gay teamed up with poet Yona Harvey, and artists Alitha E. Martinez and Afua Richardson for Black Panther: World of Wakanda.
Gay and Harvey Made History at Marvel Comics with World of Wakanda
(Image: World of Wakanda #2, written by Roxane Gay, art by Afua Richardson, et. al., Marvel Comics)
Before Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey started writing World of Wakanda with Ta-Nehisi Coates, there were precisely zero Marvel comics written by a Black woman. After 70+ years, they were the first. Marvel Comics has a complicated history with diversity and representation. In their comics, writers and editors always promoted equality and diversity. In fact, Marvel has recently been reprinting Stan’s Soap Boxes from his days as editor-in-chief, some of which are shockingly political, considering comics really were for children at the time. But as liberal as Stan and the many writers, artists, and editors that came after him were and are, the Marvel bullpen was very…white. Not just white, but white men. The first Black creator at Marvel was inker Billy Graham, who worked on Hero for Hire in the 1970s, Luke Cage’s original title.
There is some debate, however, if Gay and Harvey were the first Black women to write for Marvel, or if Nilah Magruder, who wrote a digital one-shot about Rocket Raccoon counts first. The answer—who cares? Depending on the announcements, when they were contracted, how long it took to create the comic, and a dozen other factors, the fact remains that before 2016, not a single Black woman had ever written a Marvel Comic. And there still aren’t enough. Sure, Nnedi Okorafor is writing Shuri, but it would be great to see writers like Tomi Adeyemi, Temi Oh, and Nalo Hopkinson write for Marvel too. Or hire other Black women in comics, like Concrete Park’s Erika Alexander, or (H) afrocentric’s Juliana Smith.
Roxane Gay Tells a Classic American Story—Wakanda Style
(Image: World of Wakanda #4, written by Roxane Gay, art by Afua Richardson, et al., Marvel Comics)
At the heart of World of Wakanda, Roxane Gay tells a story of love vs. duty. But since this is a superhero comic set in Wakanda by a brilliant LGBTQ writer, it’s a little more than that. Two of the most interesting characters that came out of Coates’ Black Panther run are the Midnight Angels. Here, we see them before they leave the Dora Milaje. Ayo and Aneka love their country, but they also love each other dearly.
However, the rules of the Dora Milaje makes this a problem. Every woman who serves in this elite force not only protects the King, but they have to be available to him as potential wives. If that feels a little skeevy, that’s because it is. Ayo has no problem breaking tradition, but for Aneka, it’s harder to go back on her pledge, even if she doesn’t want to be with any man.
World of Wakanda is also about questioning our leaders, and what isn’t more American than that? The series takes place through a span of events that profoundly impacted Wakanda. Most notably, Avengers Vs. X-Men, when Namor, an X-Man at the time, flooded the Golden City. Many of the Dora Milaje held King T’Challa responsible since Namor attacked the city because the Avengers were using Wakanda as a base.
Then the events of Infinity nearly destroyed them again, and T’Challa was nowhere to be found—but he was working with Namor, which did not sit well with his personal guard. As the country spins further into chaos and Queen Shuri dies at the hand of Thanos’ Black Order, the Dora Milaje are forced to question if they serve a King who lost his way, or the country itself.
Yona Harvey Brings Her Poetry to a Superhero Short Story
(Image: World of Wakanda #1, written by Yona Harvey, art by Afua Richardson, et al., Marvel Comics)
Just as Gay and Coates introduce us to the Midnight Angels, Yona Harvey’s story in World of Wakanda introduces us to Zenzi. Zenzi is the survivor of experimental treatments, and can amplify the emotions of people around her. She’d later become the leader of “The People,” but here, she’s just a lost woman looking for direction. She finds this by helping the people of Wakanda after Namor’s attack, learning that instead of relying on King T’Challa, they need to rely on themselves. This short story drives the point that Gay makes in World of Wakanda—community above a figurehead. I wish we had several issues in this volume focusing on Zenzi. She’s an incredible character, and Harvey writes her wonderfully.
Rembert Browne Brings Back a Classic Black Panther Character
(Image: World of Wakanda #6, written by Rembert Browne, art by Razzah, et al., Marvel Comics)
Though Kevin “Kasper” Cole might not be the most recognizable superhero in comics, he played a vital role in Black Panther lore, using the Black Panther mantle to take down organized crime in New York City. This was after he lost his job as an NYPD officer. When Black Panther returned, Kasper became the White Tiger, using an alternate Black Panther suit. But he has a lot going on in his life. He’s back on the force, but behind a desk and not making enough money to support his family…and then T’Challa asks him for a favor. The mutant villain Vanisher is smuggling raw Vibranium into New York.
While Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey’s stories in World of Wakanda are in Wakanda, Browne’s takes place in NYC. This gives a much broader definition of World. It’s a reminder that Black Panther has an impact all over the world. The character spent a lot of time in New York City, after all, so a piece of Wakanda will always be in NYC. Browne widened the scope to show Wakanda’s influence beyond its borders.
However, we still get a character-driven story. Kasper doesn’t want to be the White Tiger anymore. He literally can’t afford it. But even though Wakanda isn’t his home, Kasper still wants to help. He might not be the most famous superhero, but White Tiger exemplifies what makes the best kind of superhero—the ones who are there, in the background, or as a side character, and yet still as heroic as the “A-Listers.”
Marvel Needs Roxane Gay To Write More After World of Wakanda
(Image: World of Wakanda #5, written by Roxane Gay, art by Afua Richardsonet al., Marvel Comics)
Though Roxane Gay is featured in the recent Marvel Voices, World of Wakanda is her only series at Marvel. Marvel canceled this series far too quickly. They needed the movie to create buzz, giving Black Panther series get momentum. Another victim to lousy planning on Marvel’s end was Coates’s Black Panther and the Crew. But beyond the World of Wakanda characters, there are dozens of characters Roxane Gay could write wonderfully. Her take on Kamal Khan would be fascinating. And any mutant living on Krakoa—they’re bringing back some obscure favorites, but Storm and Rogue? Definitely. Or Gamora and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Seriously, she has the wit and character depth to take these characters to places we haven’t seen before. For now, we’ll just have to enjoy her new graphic novel from TKO, The Banks.
(Featured Image: World of Wakanda #1, by Roxane Gay et al., Marvel Comics)
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.