It hasn’t been a good couple of years for Captain America. Recently, he was turned into a secret Nazi by a reality-warping device as part of a giant crossover that was poorly received by critics and fans. Currently, the good Cap is stuck with the reputation of his evil twin, and is facing a question of how to be an American after the country was seized by a fascist regime. Writing him out of this situation would be a tough ask for any writer. And taking over that task from Mark Waid will be Ta-Nehisi Coates, as he just announced today in The Atlantic.
Coates, has worked at Marvel for a while. His superb run on Black Panther inspired a fair chunk the Ryan Coogler-directed blockbuster currently topping the box office, and, of course, there’s Coates’ highly respected journalism and op-ed columns on issues of racial justice at The Atlantic. In the announcement, he lays out how nervous he is to tackle an iconic character, even with artists like Leinil Yu and painter Alex Ross in his corner:
I have my share of strong opinions about the world. But one reason why I chose the practice of opinion journalism — which is to say a mix of reporting and opinion — is because understanding how those opinions fit in with the perspectives of others has always been more interesting to me than repeatedly restating my own. Writing is about questions for me — not answers. And Captain America, the embodiment of a kind of Lincolnesque optimism, poses a direct question for me: Why would anyone believe in The Dream?
Of course, unspoken here, but looming over all of it, is the fact that Marvel is in a tough spot as a company. 2017 was a rough year for DC and Marvel both, but for Marvel it was full of PR disasters, relaunches, and conflicts with angry fans and retailers. Coates’ work has been a rare bright spot through all of it, and it’s clear Marvel is drafting their best talent to build something from the mess.
Coates is particularly well-suited to the task. Captain America is always best when he’s got a writer with a unique view of America, whether it’s Jack Kirby’s angry Hitler-punching hero, or Steve Englehart’s questioning of what patriotism means in the wake of Watergate. Similar, Coates’ journalism has explored an America far different from the dream Cap carries with him, and how that reconciles, or doesn’t, will take Cap to places he needs to go.