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Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Writing a Different Kind of 'Captain America'

"I'm not convinced I can tell a great 'Captain America' story—which is precisely why I want so bad to try."
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images; screengrab via Marvel/YouTube

Roughly two years after he got into the comics game with Black Panther, Ta-Nehisi Coates is teaming back up with Marvel to helm a Captain America comic, a decision that—in an announcement he penned in the Atlantic—one of America's sharpest critics admits might not seem like a natural fit.

He's taking on a character most people think of, as he writes, as "an unblinking mascot for American nationalism"—whereas Coates himself is outspoken on the country's flaws, systemic racial inequality, and current administration. But as he tells it, that dichotomy is exactly why he wants to take over the series.


"What is exciting here is not some didactic act of putting my words in Captain America’s head, but attempting to put Captain America’s words in my head," Coates writes. "What is exciting is the possibility of exploration, of avoiding the repetition of a voice I’ve tired of."

And he's quick to point out that Captain America isn't as much of a blind patriot as he's cracked up to be. Since its inception just after World War II, the character—a supersoldier who was given his powers by the military—has constantly pushed back against the American government, once getting so pissed off at the White House that he ditched the name "Captain America" altogether. It'll be interesting to see how Coates plays with Cap's resistance to the country he was literally engineered to defend, and how taking on a story set in the US differs from his work for Black Panther—set in Wakanda, an Afrofuturist paradise.

Coates will keep on writing Black Panther comics—a series he supercharged long before the movie took the box office by storm—and continue his work at the Atlantic, where he's a columnist. Meanwhile, ahead of the first comic's Fourth of July release, he'll be chipping away at the difficult task of chronicling an American hero as someone who, it's safe to say, isn't exactly psyched about where the country is at right now.

"I’m not convinced I can tell a great Captain America story," Coates writes, "which is precisely why I want so bad to try."

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Related: Black Panther Is Basically Afrofuturism 101