The New "Black Panther" Creative Team is a 'Seismic Event'

Fridays on CBR mean Axel's In Charge.

Welcome to MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE, CBR's regular interview feature with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso!

An editor with years of experience who's brought out comics to both critical acclaim and best-selling status, Alonso stepped into the chair at the top of Marvel's Editorial department and since then has been working to bring his signature stylings to the entire Marvel U. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Community, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze Launch Marvel's New "Black Panther" Series

It's been a big week for Marvel Comics, who made mainstream headlines with the announcement that Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Correspondent for The Atlantic and the acclaimed, best-selling author of "Between the World and Me," would write a new "Black Panther" series debuting next spring, illustrated by star veteran artist Brian Stelfreeze. Alonso talks what brought Coates to the series, his initial plans, how his writing style adapts to comics and the passion that Stelfreeze has to illustrate the story.

Additionally, Alonso discusses the week's Marvel news from Thursday evening's Diamond Retailer Summit -- including Dan Slott and Mike Allred's new volume of "Silver Surfer," Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood taking on "Moon Knight" and a new "Mockingbird" ongoing series written by Chelsea Cain. All that, plus answers to your questions, direct from the CBR Community.

Albert Ching: Axel, a new "Black Panther" series has been teased in various forms for weeks in this very column, and this week, it was officially that it's starting next spring -- it's got to feel good to have that out there now.

Axel Alonso: It feels great. This has been cooking for almost a year.

Of course, the major component of that news is that author Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing the series. We talk a lot about the importance of diversity and representations, and those are subjects he's become distinguished for writing about in a different context, throughout his career. What does it mean to you to have an author of that caliber writing a book like "Black Panther"?

Alonso: It's a seismic event. How often is a literary voice as powerful and far-reaching as Ta-Nehisi also a full-blown Marvel fan? We were aware that Ta-Nehisi was big fan of Marvel Comics -- which is why [Editor] Wil Moss approached him to write "Black Panther" -- but we had no idea his knowledge rolled deep. [Laughs] This is dream casting.

Obviously, Coates is an acclaimed writer, but one that comes from a very different background than comics writing. He's a well-noted Marvel fan, but how early into the process of talking to him did it become clear that he had the capacity to tell a Marvel story, and make the transition into comic book writing?

Alonso: Well, if you've been reading any of Ta-Nehisi's Tweets since the announcement, you'll see that he's funny and humble and big enough to admit that he's a bit intimidated by the challenge ahead. [Laughs] That said, what he's written so far -- which includes a full outline for his first yearlong story arc -- is fantastic. He has a big story to tell, and it's going to reposition the Panther within the Marvel Universe for bigger and better things. Sky's the limit.

The first arc is called "A Nation Under Our Feet," and it's about a bloody revolution in Wakanda that will force T'Challa to take a good hard look at himself -- who he is, what he stands for, his methods -- and ask if that will be enough to save the day this time.

Based on that, it sounds like a story definitely has something of a political bent to it -- which isn't a shock given the author. How important is that aspect of the series, and doing a story that has some relevance to our world?

Alonso: Let me stop you at "political bent." Ta-Nehisi does not intend to write a political tract; he intends to write an action-packed, kickass Black Panther story that, like most good Marvel stories, [says] something. That is the goal.

Also, while Ta-Nehisi is a leading voice whose journalism speaks to the issue of race, his recent book, "Between the World and Me," is, to my mind, more a meditation than a political tract. The book is composed as a letter to his teenaged son, and it is one of the most thought provoking, jarring, beautifully written, and profound pieces of literature that I've ever read. It's a meditation on what it means to be African-American in America, but it's also so much more.

Ta-Nehisi's gaze doesn't flinch when he looks at history or when he looks in the mirror. I'm father to a pre-teen son, and there were moments when my eyes welled up because the fundamental humanity of Ta-Nehisi's fear and concern for his boy's safety hit me down deep. Few fathers have the courage to be that honest, that emotionally naked, with their sons... and practically none have anywhere near the command of prose to write something like this! [Laughs] I mean, Ta-Nehisi's prose hoists you on its back and carries you.

From your standpoint as editor-in-chief and someone who has supported the character of Black Panther, how gratifying is it to see the character get this much of the spotlight -- there was copious coverage from mainstream news outlets -- on top of a movie appearance on the way in less than a year?

Alonso: Hey, the Black Panther is my favorite Marvel character, dating back to when I was a little boy and I though he had the coolest costume in comics. I remember being vaguely disappointed when he peeled back the mask and I saw he wasn't Mexican! [Laughs] And the fact that he has no superpowers -- I don't care if he chews on an herb to get a little bit stronger -- he's just a guy who's stronger and faster and smarter than everyone else, is part of his appeal.

So yeah, it's extremely gratifying.

You mentioned the costume, and Brian Stelfreeze will be the artist illustrating it. What has you excited about Brian doing this, and how did he come on board the series?

Alonso: Brian wants this. [Laughs] He's hungry! He's seizing this moment. And his early sketches and covers show he is in great fighting shape. We needed a certain kind of artist for this series, and Brian's skillset and sensibilities and the passion he feels for Ta-Nehisi's story is going to show.

We're taking this seriously. A deep playoff run ain't enough; we want the championship.

It was just a couple months ago that Marvel was receiving pointed criticism for a lack of diverse creators, specifically black writers. Presumably, this announcement was already in the works at that point. Was it difficult not to blurt it out then, and to hold off on it until this point?

Alonso: It took a certain amount of resolve. But as I said before, in this very column, we were course correcting a long time ago. And we have more surprises ahead.

Also, to the people that accuse us of diversity for diversity's sake, let me say this: Frank Cho and Greg Pak aren't doing "Totally Awesome Hulk" because it makes for a nice PR announcement; they're doing it because they are two top-tier creators that are going to bring their skills and passion to a character they'll kick ass on. Ditto for Ta-Nehisi and Brian on "Black Panther," Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare and Natacha Bustos on "Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur," and more stuff to be announced very soon. Our job is to cast the widest net to find the best writers and artists to make the best comics.

Slott & Allred's "Silver Surfer" to Return, Lemire & Smallwood Join "Moon Knight"

Shifting gears into this weeks' Diamond Retailer Summit, several pieces of news were announced, including a new volume of "Moon Knight" written by Jeff Lemire, new to the series, and illustrated by Greg Smallwood, who's returning to the book. There have been a lot of talented creators on "Moon Knight," especially since the recent run of Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire -- what makes Lemire the right pick to be the next writer to add to Marc Spector's legacy?

Alonso: It's new, it's fresh, it's mind-bending. Anybody who's read Jeff's "Hawkeye," or his indie work, or his Vertigo work, knows he can spin a yarn that takes you into weird places, and what better character to do that with than Moon Knight? And Greg Smallwood is one of my personal favorite artists. His storytelling, the economy of line -- the word "genius" is overused, but I'll use it anyway. I love this team. Warren Ellis repositioned and revitalized the character, and I think the title is in great hands. They're going to hit you in the gut right out the gate.

It was also confirmed that "Silver Surfer" is continuing with the same creative team, Dan Slott and Mike Allred, as before "Secret Wars." Was it always the plan to keep this team intact?

Alonso: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. There are times when series needs some goosing, and times where it just needs a breather. This is the latter, and "Secret Wars" provided the breather. Dan and Mike have great chemistry, zany chemistry -- can you believe that Möbius strip-style issue? They've done what a lot of people said couldn't be done: created a "Silver Surfer" ongoing that doesn't just survive, it soars.

Plus, it was announced that a "Mockingbird" ongoing series written by Chelsea Cain -- who wrote a one-shot starring the character released earlier this month -- will debut in 2016, with an artist yet to be revealed. What motivated the decision to greenlight this project?

Alonso: Mockingbird is a character who's been generating an outpouring of interest from Marvel's fans, largely due to her kick-ass appearances on [the] "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." [television series]. That demand for more Mockingbird carried over to the S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary one-shot, which we rapidly needed to go back to press on. Since Chelsea expressed interest in doing lots of stories back when we first approached her, we decided to take her up on that offer.

Let's wrap with a couple of fan questions from the CBR Community. Tekkaman Blade turns his thoughts towards the Savage Land, asking, "Ka-Zar, Shanna, and Zabu have had a severely limited presence in the Marvel Universe since Marvel NOW! hit in 2012. Why are these characters so vastly underutilized and is there any chance of them appearing at all in the All-New All-Different Marvel?"

Alonso: We have no immediate plans for any of them, but that could change any moment.

And we'll end with bedos72, perhaps with Netflix tie-ins on the mind: "Are there plans for the Defenders post 'Secret Wars'?"

Alonso: I can't say anything... yet.

Have some questions for Marvel's AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the AXEL-IN-CHARGE Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Comics community. It's the dedicated thread that CBR will pull questions for next week's installment of our weekly fan-supported question-and-answer column! Do it to it!

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