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The Blackest Questions

The Great Comic Debate

Episode 15
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The Blackest Questions launches into the comicsphere for a high-energy conversation about everything from Black Panther to the history of politics & Black characters through the decades. Comic creator & consultant Evan Narcisse along with political analyst and avid comic fan Jason Johnson share insight that even the most faithful fan may not be familiar with.

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Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:05] Hi, and welcome to The Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Doctor Christina Greer, politics editor at theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guests five of the Blackest questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we do it. But this episode is going to be a bit different. We’ve asked back one of our previous guests to continue the discussion. Jason Johnson is a professor, author and political analyst who also loves all things comics. And on his first visit here, there was some drama with his last question. Let’s take a listen. In the late 1960s, the first African-American appeared in mainstream comics. Who is he?

Jason Johnson [00:00:46] In mainstream comics? But if you’re saying mainstream, I’m assuming it’s a Marvel or DC. So that’s got to be Black Panther.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:00] Okay, well, according to my research it’s Samuel Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon.

Jason Johnson [00:01:09] Wrong! Wrong! I am disputing this.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:11] So was Jason right or wrong to help us get to the bottom of the comic book conundrum? We’ve invited Evan Narcisse to join the conversation. Evan is a comic book writer and narrative designer. He’s written for The New York Times, Time magazine, The Atlantic. And it’s even written a graphic novel for Marvel titled Rise of the Black Panther. He’s also worked on several titles, including the Miles Morales Spider-Man Video Game and Marvel’s Avengers. Hello, gentlemen. Thank you again for joining the special edition of The Blackest Questions.

Evan Narcisse [00:01:39] Thanks for having us, Chrissy.

Jason Johnson [00:01:41] I am humbled and flattered. I am a huge fan of Evan’s work. I have interviewed him in the past. I am legitimately excited to be here.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:49] I’m actually very excited to have the special episode one. First things first, Jason, you were the first guest on The Blackest Questions to come back for a second round. So that’s a special honor that you and all you have. And Evan, we’ve seen the rise of comic books in just not just our culture, but especially in Black culture. And I’ve known Jason a long time and this man has tried to make me a convert. But I know that he when I see him geeking out, I guess I’m supposed to just get as excited. Just tell our listeners real quickly, how did you get into comic books and how did you get into writing into more of the production side of comic books as well?

Evan Narcisse [00:02:25] Yeah. So, you know, the early part of my story is probably a lot like Jason’s. You know, I’ve been reading comics ever since I was a kid. I learned to read from comics, you know, in part. And, you know, I think I’m just one of those people that never let go. Right. So, you know, you have moments where you like different changes happen in your life and comics fade away. That never happened for me. For better or worse. I can better, obviously, because I turned it into a career. But yeah, and you know, but I took my love of writing and reading and took that into journalism. And I was I started as a fact checker way back when at Teen People Magazine and also built a freelance career as a cultural critic. So talking about, you know, video games, complex movies, the stuff that I love and I did that for many years in that work led me to grabbing Marvel’s attention by virtue of some of the articles I’d written about Black Panther and other work. And they offered me a chance to write Rise of the Black Panther. This is got 2016, 2017. We started talking and the series started coming out in 2018 when the movie came out. So a little bit of serendipity there. But yeah, my career was taking some really wild turns.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:44] I love it now. Really quickly, can you remember the first comic book that really got you hooked?

Evan Narcisse [00:03:52] It was probably one of two. One was a reprint of Avengers, I want to say 67, which actually was an issue that featured Black Panther as part of the team at that point. And it was an adventure that involved some asgardian giants, a fire giant, a certain ice giant named Lemur, anyway. And I think it happened in Africa, maybe not directly in Wakanda. So that’s one of them and the other one was a title called DC Comics Presents, which was a team of title where the whole team of Superman and was another random character and I want to say, able to team up with the Black Hawks, who were just international team of pilots from World War Two. Those are the ones I remember the furthest back.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:35] And Jason, do you remember your first comic that got you hooked in?

Jason Johnson [00:04:39] Oh, the first comic that I ever purchased was Transformers number 27, which featured the giant robot tripticon on the front, smashing through a forest and chasing the dynobots. You may not understand any of those words, but those.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:55] These are all words that are being said and I don’t understand any of them.

Jason Johnson [00:04:58] I can give you various forms of Farsi and Aramaic, you know. But yes, that was the first comic I ever bought. I had been reading my brother’s, and he had everything from, you know, the classic Justice League Superman, you know, Batman, Wonder Woman, Elongated Man, the eighties old Archie stuff. But the first one I ever bought myself was that one. And I would say the one that sort of transformed me into, Oh my gosh, this is something I’m always going to talk about and find interesting one way or another was I think it was Amazing Spider-Man number 314. And that was drawn by a guy named Todd McFarlane who went on to make the movie Spawn and do a whole bunch of things. And the art was something I’d never seen before in my life. I was so just enraptured by it. I drew comics as a kid. I pay attention. I’m working on a graphic novel now, so that was the one that probably hooked me into This is something you can do, but the first one I ever got is Transformers Comic.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:51] Wow. And I will say, just so I can have some street cred, I remember Optimus Prime and the Decepticons like all that and that from the movie with, you know, the inappropriate representation of Transformers that happened a few years ago. But I remember from back in the day the cartoons. So there’s the.

Jason Johnson [00:06:11] The shuck and jive Transformers that we got.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:13] And I was like, What is this jack nonsense? What is happening? These aren’t the transformers I remember. Okay, so I was never really into comic books. But Jason, when you came on the show, we we had a great conversation about all things Black people. But when it came to comic books, all of a sudden it got a little sticky. And so I wanted to make sure we cleared the air and we brought in Evan since he’s been doing such great work in print and obviously working on other titles and video games to see if we can come to some sort of consensus. So this first question, Jason, we already know what you think. Evan, I’m going to ask you the same question. Are you ready?

Evan Narcisse [00:06:51] I’m ready.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:52] Yeah. Okay. And I have a feeling we have a large conversation about that.

Evan Narcisse [00:06:56] We are. We are.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:57] In the late 1960, the first African-American appeared in mainstream comics. Who was he?

Evan Narcisse [00:07:05] Okay. So I know not to get like testy from jump, but the framing is really important here because are we talking about a superhero character in a lead role of superhero character in a sidekick role? Or are we talking about not super hero character like a soldier or a cowboy because we have some of those two. Are we talking about African warriors? So, you know, again, my caveats already haven’t been logged. I feel like the answer y’all are probably looking for is the Falcons and Wilson. But if memory serves, he doesn’t debut until 67, whereas T’Challa debuts in 66. Okay, more caveats. T’Challa is what Condon and non-African-American. We said African-American. So African American is probably the Falcon. But if we’re talking about just Black in diasporic in a diasporic sense, we got to go all the way back to like the forties, honestly. And we can talk about characters like Lion Man, who was an old cowboy character in a publication called All Negro Comics, which was put together by a man named Orrin Evans and a bunch of other journalists and editorial Black folks who want to make their own comics to speak to the Black community at the time. It’s a lion, man, you know, there’s some similarities. He regards a cache, a cachet of, I want to say, uranium in his fictional country. I don’t think he was in Nigeria, but the cat theming, obviously he was an African warrior, but no costume, no mask. You just had like a like a loincloth and a headband, if I remember correctly. So, you know, there are some things they’re like, no, no explicit superpowers, but there are some things there that could certainly qualify him as being in the superhero arena. Right. And that’s I want to say I’m 43. I don’t have any reference in front of me. So lineman predates, you know, Sam Wilson, T’Challa and some of the other characters that we know, like Luke Cage and Black Lightning. Then he had a Black cowboy character named Lobo who appeared in a comic, I want to say 56 again. I don’t have reference in front of me, but yeah. So in the Marvel itself, no, Lobo was was 65 and Marvel itself published a character I want to say named Waco in 1954. But this was not the Marvel we knew. Marvel used to be a company called Atlas Comics, and so they had published other characters as well. So it’s a complicated answer. You know, this is like Jeopardy. We’re like, all right, you got to go back to the judges and see if the answer counts. So, okay. Well, you know, in all those complications is some really interesting history.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:05] Well, Jason, you’ve been so good. I’ve seen you literally chomping at the bit. You’re on the edge of your seat. Feel free to respond to all of the the history that Evan just laid out for us.

Evan Narcisse [00:10:15] That’s what I would say. That’s why you guys were after me before I was like, This is it. That’s simple. It depends. Now, I can’t I can’t cite the old publications with Evan Camp, but I would also mention when he talks about whether you’re prominent or not, you’ve got you’ve got Gabe from The Howling Commandos, you know, which was, you know, sort of an old and I don’t think that was Marvel, but I know that fury in The Howling Commandos that Gabe was a character. Now, was he a superhero? I don’t know. He was a World War Two soldier who may not be killed by white folks. That makes you a bit of a hero. Then you had Mal Duncan, who had no powers, but he was also part of the Teen Titans, and I think that was the late sixties. And then eventually he got like a magical flute that he could play because, you know, the Black characters, all they had to play.

Evan Narcisse [00:10:58] Is a horn. It wasn’t a flute giving him a little respect. He was like one loincloth.

Evan Narcisse [00:11:03] But so so Evan is right. That was kind of my point, that if we’re talking about the Black a Black superhero or a Black super character, it’s kind of hard to say. Now, as I also mentioned, the first Black superhero movie I do believe is Abar the Black Superman, which was the blaxploitation film that came out, I think in 76 or 77. That was the first time on screen that you had a Black person who appeared to have superhuman abilities, who was deemed to be a hero. And yes, oh, Abar the first Black Superman’s little called the first Black Superman. It’s about this guy who was sort of a Black Panther, who ends up protecting a Black scientist who moves to a white neighborhood in L.A. and is abused by his terrible racist neighbors. They kill his son in the Black Panther, gain super powers to a formula and fights back against racist cops. Who occupied that one on YouTube.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:58] I mean, you know, and this is why I love this podcast and I love what we’re doing here, theGrio, because I think for a lot of folks before Black Panther, there’s a significant portion of the Black community that didn’t really know the deep history of Black people in comics. And that’s not to say that it did not exist. You are laying it out quite succinctly. But I’m so glad that a Black Panther has been a widespread entree for a lot of folks in a very popular way. I know that there have been some debates online even about, you know, when there was a question as to whether or not Donald Glover would play Superman. And there were real racial conversations about, you know, how dare, you know, a Black person play, you know, this iconic figure. But race and superheroes seem to always be a question. And race in comics is clearly been a question for for quite some time. I mean, Jason, we’ve had some conversations offline about, you know, Stan Lee and some of his politics, I guess, coming through through the pen, if you will. Right.

Evan Narcisse [00:12:56] Well, yeah. And here’s the thing. I think, like most history, you and I are political scientists. Right. And, you know, Evan worked as a journalist, even though now he’s more of a content creator. We all know that sort of the values that get demonstrated through popular culture and art, they change it, you know, over time. Stan Lee was super duper progressive on a lot of levels for the 1960s. Did he do some problematic things by our own current standards? Yes. Later on and even at the time. But the guy was super duper progressive at the time and tried to make a lot of allegories about treating people fairly and fighting against discrimination, etc., etc.. The idea of a lot of Marvel superheroes being people who fought and fought back against bullies and institutional problems. I mean, those were really progressive values, if anything. I think the importance of some of the history that that event is continuing with and that, you know, I talk about that we’re sort of having these conversations is there is a cultural push today to erase the progressive, especially on a racial level, history of comic books. You have all these websites, all comics are to woke in comics are to this idea. It’s the same thing. It’s anti CRT. These people are trying to raise the fact that for many, many, many decades in this country, comics were fighting the war against Hitler before our government did. Comics were talking about racial discrimination before television shows were comics were showing different science fiction and comics were showing different races of people working together for the greater good of America long before it hit some other mainstream area. So talking about this is also a fight back against a desire today to erase that history.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:28] So, Evan, before we go to our next commercial, our first commercial break, did you want to respond to anything Jason just said about Stan Lee and the history of comics?

Evan Narcisse [00:14:35] Yeah, just to kind of buttress what he was saying. Like, you know, if you look at the origins of two of the biggest iconic superheroes ever, Superman and Captain America, the first issue of Superman Action Comics, number one, you see Superman, he goes to the the office of a corrupt politician. He yanks him out the window and he hangs them off a power line, you know, because this dude is abusing his office. He also busts in the wall of a man who’s abusing his wife physically and smacks him around is like, how do you like it? So, you know, these are, you know. Versions of the character that I think sometimes get forgotten in conversations about superheroes and their politics. And then Captain America was a creation of two Jewish American men, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. And, you know, during World War Two, I think Capp’s first comic was like 1940, a couple of months before his debut. There was a rally I want to say in the old Penn Station or Madison Square Garden, an American Nazi rally. So these are supporters of Hitler before the U.S. had entered the war. And then when Captain America comes out, the iconic first cover is Captain America punching Hitler. You know, they got death threats. They got you know, there was a time where their office had to be guarded by police, you know. So there is a history politically of these characters being progressive as they become, you know, more analogous and synonymous with mainstream American culture. Some of those urges get rubbed off, but it’s there. And in terms of race, you know, superhero comics have not been. Always a leader in that department. But, you know, the inherent power of superheroes as symbols, like, makes it worth paying attention to when those moments have happened.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:30] Okay, listen, I didn’t think this was going to happen, but listening to you two, I might go pick up some comic books after this episode. I’m serious. I am thoroughly interested because of this intersection of race and history and politics. I, I feel like I knew a little bit of it, but I don’t I definitely did not know the depth to which you are essentially saying comic books have in many ways been the canaries in the mine. Okay. We’re going to take a quick break and we’re going to come back with Evan Narcisse and Jason Johnson from theGrio Black Podcast Network is here. And it’s everything you’ve been waiting for news, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere. Great podcast or heard. Okay. So you’re listening to The Blackest Questions. I’m with Evan Narcisse and Jason Johnson. We’re talking all things comic books. Okay. So we know the Black Panther movie came out in 2018. It was an instant box office hit. I king.

Lupita Nyong’o [00:17:40] My King.

Chadwick Boseman [00:17:41] Stop it. Stop it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:44] It grossed more than $1.3 billion worldwide and broke several box office records. It holds the spot as the sixth highest grossing film in U.S. history and became the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture at the at the Academy Awards. The sequel, Wakanda Forever, no doubt, will also be crazy popular. So I’m going to ask each of you two questions about the Black Panther character. So, Evan, I’m going to start with you. You ready?

Evan Narcisse [00:18:13] I am.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:14] Okay. Question number two on the Black box questions. What are the names of the major Wakandan tribes?

Evan Narcisse [00:18:22] Oh, wow. Oh, Major. Okay. See again, Chrissy. I have to interrogate the framing and context of the question, but I’m going to try and answer it. So. Well, Wakanda tribes, most of the ones that have been prominent in the character’s publishing history have based around been based around animal totems. Right. So you have the Panther tribe or the Panther cultures and things called where the royal family has been aligned to T’Challa and his dad, to Shaka Shuri. They’re all descendants from that from that tribe. You also have the lion tribe, the hyena. The Hyena Clan, which are exiles that wander the continent. Who else? You have the Jabari, of course, who worshiped a gorilla God named Gray, among others. So there’s a bunch. Yeah. There’s the Meru Bay tribe, which were newly introduced, but in the current run being written by John Ridley. So that’s my best shot at answering the question. Okay. Now it’s Jason’s turn. I guess so.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:29] Yes. Jason, what are you. What do you think?

Evan Narcisse [00:19:34] Yeah. So I’m just going to piggyback. There are several and the importance of those groups has sort of waxed and waned depending on who was writing them. Like I, I can’t name them specifically, but I remember in Christopher Priest’s run of the comic in the 1990s, which I loved it, but some of it is a bit dated and sexist now, to be honest. But I was a kid when I was reading it. There were two main sort of ethnic tribes that were in conflict with each other in Wakanda, and therefore T’Challa created the Dora Milaje. Now, the way most people understand the Dora Milaje today, it means adored ones and they’re the super, you know, their daily grind or these, you know, bad ass sisters who’ve got the spears in the right outfits and everything. But when they were initially introduced in the comic in the nineties, it was just two women. They were two young women who were just barely of age, who were called the adored ones, and they were the personal bodyguards of of King T’Chaka. And the idea was that he would choose one of them or perhaps be in, you know, not polyamorous, but polygamist. Yes. He he would have he would have multiple wives. So the word was escaping me, but he would have multiple wives in order to keep all the different ethnic groups happy and satisfied. So that one ethnic group wasn’t really dominating the country. So I don’t remember which tribes, which ethnic groups they were from, but there were two prominent ones in the comic in the nineties and then were Ta-Nehisi Coates took over the comic. He sort of expanded the idea and said, No, they’re not these, you know, teenage hot sidekicks of, you know, the Black Panther. They’re actually a group of women warriors who protect the country, and they represent all sorts of different kinds of ethnic groups, although it could be argued that in his last run, they sort of broke off and created their own group of people calling themselves The Midnight Angels. So there’s hundreds of ethnic groups in Wakanda.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:31] Okay. So so before you all go a little deeper, my producers and I, we put together River Tribe. Border tribe. Merchant tribe. Mining tribe.

Evan Narcisse [00:21:41] Yeah. That’s from the movie. Yeah. Yeah. You’re talking to comic book guys here, Chrissy.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:47] Okay. Which. Okay, so. So, Evan, this is a really important point because how do you all feel about things being changed once a story’s taken from a comic book and is adapted? 

Evan Narcisse [00:21:58] Yeah, so I can speak to this at length, but the short answer is comic book characters and the mythos that, that, that, that accrues around them. That’s a living history. Right. So even the stuff we’re talking about, it changes, right. When Wakanda and T’Challa  were first introduced in the sixties. You know there there weren’t no tribes they mentioned Wakanda was often referred to as The Wakandas right? And implicit in this idea was multiple factions within one nation. Right. So you’ve seen that idea expand into some of what we now understand to be tribes or factions or ethnic groups. Right. So this constant flow of like adaptation, re-contextualization, you know, de-emphasizing and overemphasizing certain elements happens within all these long lived legacy complex characters. Right? So you know what Jason’s talking about. The evolution of the dorm ology happens in the text, right? So one writer comes on is like, you know what? I’m going to change the terminology. And and even though when they first appeared they were an invention of T’Challa, you know, other writers go back, myself included, and they establish a historical precedent that goes back decades and centuries, right? So when they first appear that seed gets planted and then the seed grows in lots of different directions, that’s forwards and backwards in time. Right? So that’s one of the great things about comics is they’re they’re constantly evolving. It can be confusing to jump in, but like if if you jump in and just start exploring, you’re going to find all these different paths that, you know, sometimes diverge and converge and go in different directions. And the tribal history of Wakanda as a fictional concept is one of those examples. I had to go into this because I wrote a book called The Wakanda Atlas, which focuses on places where important events have happened. And that’s, again, like, you know, digging up, digging in the crates of complex history to see, like, okay, back back in the day, in the seventies, we’re going to had one city, you know, it was the capital and it was called Central Wakanda. But now we have burnings on up and burning. Azaria Burning is kind of word for city and you know, now it feels more cosmopolitan. It feels more like a multilayered society than it ever has before. And that’s, you know, part and parcel of the, again, the continuing evolution of the lore of Black Panther over the decades.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:26] So Jason, Evan makes a really important point that I think our listeners need to know. Listen, I’m a loyal citizen of Zamunda, so this is you know, I appreciate the Wakanda breakdown, but at the end of the day, I’m going ride with Zamunda. But there’s no text for that. And I appreciate the written word. But the way Evan talks about history sort of jumping in and how comics can go forward and backwards for someone who’s listening, who wants to know a lot more about this entire universe, how do they even get started? Because I think if I’m listening to Evan and Jason and I’m interested in a deeper understanding of Wakanda what what do I even pick up to start with? Do I pick up the atlas? What’s the first comic book that I should pick up to kind of introduce me to this really deep world of Blackness?

Evan Narcisse [00:25:13] I can’t believe you’re asking Jason’s question first. No, go ahead. We’ll be looking for it, I guess. I guess you’re going to take this one.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:24] Hold on, Jason. You think we know that Evan is a narrative designer content creator journalist, right? He’s not. Let me run this podcast. Where I’m gonna let you lay the foundation, then Evan’s going to come in flourish on top really cultivate the seeds. Right. I’ll let you plant the seed. I let Evan cultivate the seed and then we’ll go to commercial break. Well, here we go. Evan, do you want to answer this question first?

Evan Narcisse [00:25:47] Oh no, no, no.

Jason Johnson [00:25:48] Evan’s got a better answer? I’m going to say already. He’s going to have a better answer. What I’m going to say is this Doctor Greer. I’m just going to say upfront, which thrills me immensely, that the pack of comics that I have had waiting for you for five years, it’s talking about this that will introduce you to everything I’ve got. I’ve got Steve, I’ve got Bitterroot, I’ve got all Black, I’ve got tons of stuff. So if you want to learn about comics, comics in general, the best thing is either one ask somebody that you know who’s into it, but to most, basically an average will be able to speak to this way, way better than I can. Like, literally, people who get into comics, you can start anywhere you want. That’s the beauty of it. There is no wrong. It’s it’s literally it’s not quite a choose your own adventure. But if you pick up a comic from 2004, a Black Panther comic written by Reginald Hudlin in 2004, you may read 12 of those and be like, Oh, okay. This is kind of cool. And then you can read Evan Narcisse’s version, and then you could read Christopher Priest, and then you could read John Ridley. That’s the amazing part. It’s multiple. It’s like Sherlock Holmes or Batman. There’s so many different versions. There’s no wrong way to start. The issue is just making sure you start.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:57] Okay. Evan, what would you like to tell me?

Evan Narcisse [00:27:02] You know, it’s funny because those of us who started when we when we were younger and when comics were less of a mainstream aspect of popular culture. Like we gravitated towards characters, right? You know? So are you Superman fan? You like Marvel. You like DC? I think the. The more grown up version is to follow the talent that you love, right? So, like, you know, if you like history, Christopher Priest’s from Black Panther, guess what? He’s written Batman comics, too. He’s written. So if you like his sensibility and storytelling chops, you can follow him as a creator, right? And comics is a work for hire business, which means sometimes you don’t always get to see work from your favorite creators, depending on whether they’re getting work from publishers or not. There’s also self-publishing, which is a whole other thing, which is a really robust and entertaining arena of the medium. So, you know, you know where to start. I think, you know, your local comic shop is a good place. You know, they can guide you depending on your tastes. You know, I’m going to go a little bit deep here if you all read Paul Beaty, the white boy, shuffle the sell out, he has a book where one of the characters is a jukebox sommelier, where he’ll decide if he’ll design a jukebox or the perfect playlist for the clientele that this venue might host. And I always thought, like, I would love to have that job for life, for comics and video games, and my job when I was working as a critic, that’s kind of what I did, right? Oh, you like soap operas? Well, here’s what you should read. Here’s where you should play. You like this? You like that. So, you know, comics tend to be dominated by superheroes as a genre because they make a lot of money. They’re flashy, lots of visibility. There’s comics telling all kinds of stories. You know, David Walker is a writer who’s written a biography of Frederick Douglass and graphic novel for me to do The Black Panther, a book that came out earlier this year. So there’s really comics about anything in comics are a medium to tell any kind of stories. But if you want to get down with the X-Men, if you want to get down with Batman or Spider Man, your local comic shop is probably the best place for you to go to go. If you’re asking if you’re talking Black Panther specifically. Mm hmm. Again, there’s probably a list as long as my arm here. But, you know, I’d start with Christopher Priest’s Black Panther Run. All these are in trade paperback, sort of collected. You can find at a store your local bookstore support independent booksellers, yall, especially if you are Black. I probably don’t need to even say that on this podcast. Right.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:24] But hey we like to repeat it. We like to repeat it.

Evan Narcisse [00:29:27] Exactly. Yeah. So Christopher Priest’s run is great. You know, there are some comics from the Seventies by Dominic Gregor that were in a title called Jungle Action, which are foundational. They’re a little bit dated. Some of this stuff is gonna be a little bit dated. I recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run all of it. He wrote it for five years. The Black Panther. He would start with a collection called A Nation Under our Feet. I’m going to plug my own book, Rise of the Black Panther um.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:52] You better plug your own book.

Evan Narcisse [00:29:53] Oh, and you know, Nnedi Okorafor wrote a great Shuri book. Roxane Gay wrote a great storyline in a title called World Wakanda that focuses on dermatology. So this is one of the things, great things about the latter day evolution of the Black Panther mythos is there are so many voices now and so many different types of experiences. So like, you know, one of the things I like about Roxanne’s run was like she, she took it from the vantage point of the dermatology who are soldiers, who are warriors. They’re not the people on the throne. They’re not the people making decisions. And sometimes their views and attitudes are in direct conflict with the people who command them. And there’s great tension there. So it’s like from the ground up view of Wakanda as a concept, and I love that. So the whole publishing history of the character really supports like lots of different inflections and facets and it’s a is a big, beautiful world to dove into and get lost.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:49] All right. Thank you so much, Evan. I really love that reflection. I am talking to Evan Narcisse and Jason Johnson. You’re listening to The Blackest Questions. We will be right back.

[00:30:57] This witty, honest, entertaining, introducing dear culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen. Today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture debate you don’t want to miss also available wherever great podcasts are heard.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:12] Okay, we are back playing the Black questions. I’m here with Evan Narcisse and Jason Johnson. I’m learning a ton about Black people, comic books, the history of Blacks in comics. And I think I’m changed. I think they may have converted me. We’ll see. We’ll see. Jason, you might have to send me a package next week.

Evan Narcisse [00:31:31] Tingling is your mutant gene activating Chrisy, and you’ll understand that in a couple of months.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:37] Wait, wait, hold on. Now, is that a Spider-Man reference?

Evan Narcisse [00:31:41] You’re so close.

Evan Narcisse [00:31:41] Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:43] Okay. All right, I’ll get there. How about that?

Evan Narcisse [00:31:46] He he got. He got big spider.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:49] I’ll have you guys back in a year. Okay. I’m going to. I’m going to dominate this comic book conversation. Yeah.

Evan Narcisse [00:31:54] You you better be wearing a cape.

Evan Narcisse [00:31:56] Right? Got to have on the shirt. You got to have something. Okay. Got it. We’re going to have you ready.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:01] I was wearing Black because I was like, yeah, it’s like the Black Panther vibe. That’s what I was going for.

Evan Narcisse [00:32:06] Okay. It’s a good start.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:07] Jason, I’m going to start with you on this question, okay. And I’m sure that you all will have all the things to say about how my question is worded indirectly. But here we go. Question number three, Blackest Questiona. What does the war dog tattoo mean in the Black Panther movie?

Evan Narcisse [00:32:23] Mm hmm.

Jason Johnson [00:32:24] So the war dog tattoo, which was sort of almost like a it was almost like liquid, not vibranium, whatever that was in the inside of somebody’s lip. Those were sleeper agents that the Wakandan government had sent throughout the world to sort of keep track of things. And and Killmonger’s father, had been a war dog who had a relationship with an American woman. And that’s why he sort of always felt the kinship and desire to go back to the country they’re based on from the comic. Again, during Priest Run, you had they called the head of Zaire. I think Dogs of War, they were run by at that point what I thought was a great character that hasn’t really appeared as much lately. Evan did a little stuff with him. There were my great character name Hunter, who was actually an adopted white older brother of T’Challa. He was the first sibling that you saw that? Yes. T’Challa used to have a white older brother before that.

Jason Johnson [00:33:20] He’s still around. Yeah.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:22] Okay.

Jason Johnson [00:33:23] Ok, so one you’re correct, Jason. And that is the symbol for Wakandan spies. I want you all to walk us through. Are there other symbols in the movie that people may have missed? Now, here’s the thing. When I saw the movie, I was like, I’m Team Killmonger. I don’t understand what the issue is, but I’m with this young brother who’s like, my family just left me in America and they’re living high on the hog, and I guess I would be on a warpath myself. So I didn’t understand the debate as to like, what’s wrong with Killmonger is like, yeah, I’m totally Killmonger. Like, this is I mean, then again, I also read Lord of the Flies and I identify with Jack and I was like, okay, well, here we are. We got to we got to make the best of what we have on the island. Let’s get it going. So what else did we miss in the movie, gentlemen, that that we should be attuned to? And then maybe some of the other differences between the movie and the book that might get our listeners a little more excited.

Evan Narcisse [00:34:17] You know, I think the first movie did a great job of synthesizing so much of the lore from the Black Panthers publishing history. Right. So, you know, they gave Killmonger an origin that he didn’t have in the comics, you know, making it part of the royal family while keeping some of the stuff that did make him distinct as antagonist with the child. Right. Like he grew up in exile. He grew up away from the country that he was told he came from right from the place, from the continent. And I think that’s at the core of Killmonger is character. Right. Like and I think also appealing about him. Like you said, it’s like, oh, I have this broken in history, right? I can’t connect back to the place that I know I come from and my feelings about that, you know, like really intense feelings. And I think, you know, people who are in the Black diaspora who grew up often outside of the African continent, probably feel like, okay, how do I reckon with my history? I what how do I find my place? We The reason Killmonger is wrong is we ain’t got to kill people. And you don’t have to become a petty despot and a tyrant. Oh, are you crazy? Like, oh, you got to you got to break a couple of eggs over your face. I’ll be right now. You wrote a book of Black ethnics.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:26] So I understand what you’re saying about the diaspora, the disconnect. But I mean, as I said before, I am a loyal citizen of Zumunda. So like this kind of like dictatorship slash monarchy, I’m like.

Evan Narcisse [00:35:36] You’re like as long as this a benevolent one.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:39] I’m at the top of the food chain. I don’t see what the problem is.

Evan Narcisse [00:35:43] But I.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:43] Also make.

Evan Narcisse [00:35:44] It. Yeah, I’ve been saying this for four years. The person who was really right in the Kiya, right, like she talks about, okay, let’s, let’s, let’s reintegrate less, combine less, reach to the outside world, let’s leave our isolationism behind. And, you know, I’ve seen a new movie and I am eager to see how they play with the politics and the kind of foreign policy that surrounds Wakanda. So that’s something I’m really looking forward to.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:14] What are some things that we should look out for in the in the movie that is different from the book?

Jason Johnson [00:36:21] Well, I think the thing that you always want to pay attention to is that, one, the book can be anything, right? Because we’ve been talking about the fact there’s multiple versions of the book. But I think one of the things that really pay attention to in this new film, which, again, I have not seen, I know a bit about it, how it’s structured, how it’s put together, plot. What is this idea of, you know, what inter-ethnic conflict also does within a country right before you had sort of in the first we’ve had a political revolution. Now you’re talking about sort of intra conflict between the Atlanteans and the Wakandans and then some of the internal strife that you have in the country. That’s the kind of things you want to pay attention because that’s where your real sort of allegory for the real world comes in that one of the things I think Marvel does a particularly good job of, and I think that Black Panther as a comic, done good job of, is creating villains who aren’t so much sympathetic but whose perspectives make sense to you. When you hear why Namor does what he does, it kind of makes sense. Just like when you heard why Magneto does what he does, it kind of makes sense. Marvel does this thing, and sometimes it’s a bit of a trope where it’s like, the bad guy is absolutely right, but in order to discredit them, they have them going about their right idea and the absolute wrong way. And that’s that’ll be something interesting to see.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:30] Okay. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. And when I come back, we’ll play a little bit more Blackest Questions with Evan and Jason.

Panama Jackson [00:37:36] You were now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Maiysha Kai [00:37:41] Don’t forget, you can listen to theGrios, Writing Black Podcast hosted by me, Maiysha Kai. This isn’t your typical writing podcast. We interview any and everybody that has anything to do with writing from comics to poets to authors to journalists, to politicians and more. Remember, that’s Writing Black every Sunday, right here on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, download theGrio’s app to listen to Writing Black wherever you are.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:11] Okay, gentlemen, we’re back. We’ve got time for our last question. Evan, I’m going to start with you. And here we are. You ready?

Evan Narcisse [00:38:18] I am.

Maiysha Kai [00:38:19] What famous actor attempted a Black Panther movie back in 1992?

Evan Narcisse [00:38:24] You a’int even gotta finish the question?

Jason Johnson [00:38:26] Cause everybody knows this.

Evan Narcisse [00:38:27] Wesley Snipes.

Maiysha Kai [00:38:28] Wesley Snipes. Snipes plane to star in the Black Panther and even own the rights to three different scripts. He claims the name Black Panther scared the top industry people in Hollywood who associated the title with political organization instead of the comic book character. So Snipes also says technology and CGI capabilities were not what they are today, and it wouldn’t have looked the way it does now. So he’s happy it happened decades later. So instead of making Black Panther, Snipes went on to star in Blade. Did you all know that? Of course you did the comic books. Well, I’m even asking. So are there any other comic book characters you’d like to see on the big screen that haven’t gotten the chance yet? Evan, I’ll start with you and then Jason, I’ll I’ll bring it back to you.

Evan Narcisse [00:39:08] So funny historical footnote about Wesley Story. Been trying to develop a Black Panther movie in the late sixties, maybe early seventies. Marvel actually changed T’challa’s superhero code name to the Black Leopard for those selfsame reasons. They were like, Oh, these Black Panther go, you know, scary. You know, maybe we should change our superhero character to a different name. So there is some precedent there in terms of actually answering your questions Chrissy like, ah, for me, it has to start with the characters from Milestone Media. Milestone Media was a Black-owned comic book company that’s launched in 1993. They created a multicultural superhero universe set in the city of Dakota. So for any of our or I would say, Generation Xers, remember the show Static Shock. Static was originally a milestone superhero character. They also had characters called Icon Hardware Rocket. And the beautiful thing about the Dakota verse, as it’s called, is that because they had so much multiplicity of representation, like Black people from different economic, socioeconomic classes, you know, queer people, people from different ethnicities, Asian multiple Latin characters, including some afro-latinx characters. So tokenism was just not a thing in the Milestone universe. And these characters have amazing depth. Icon, for example, is a riff on the Superman myth where a alien’s spaceship lands in in the South right before the Civil War, and he grows up as Black. And basically he’s an alien who’s immortal, has superpowers in this entire 20th century until the present day. And, you know, one of the twist they gave him was that he’s politically conservative, kind of modeled on Colin Powell. Right. Unfortunately, Clarence Thomas was a fan. We don’t cosign that. He did. He did write instead editorial offices back in the day. So that’s just an example of like the kind of scope and scale that milestone was able to bring to bear. The company went away for a while. They just rebooted that universe of DC Comics. They’ve got a new bunch of books in that vein, so definitely the characters in Milestone Media. And if I had to pick one probably Icon and Rocket, they’re a great superhero team that just tugs at my heart strings.

Maiysha Kai [00:41:29] Oh, I can’t wait for you to write the new. The new series. Then that’s what I’m putting in the universe. Get it?

Evan Narcisse [00:41:35] Thank you. Thank you for helping me manifest. Oh, I see what you did there.

Maiysha Kai [00:41:39] To see what they did. They did. They put it out in the universe. Hi, Jason. I love for our listeners who are watching the video version of this podcast, you’ve got basically what Evan just said, a Black Panther Bobby Seale t-shirt on, which possibly scared folks thinking about Black Panther and the Black Panthers. But if you could see a character that’s possibly underdeveloped or, you know, not really discussed as much on the big screen, who has really gotten their shine? Who would it be?

Jason Johnson [00:42:07] I actually got this t shirt at the Black comic book sort of presentation at the Schomburg Center, which is the last time I saw Evan in person.

Evan Narcisse [00:42:15] It’s like the Black Comics Festival Shout out to Schomburg for doing that for ten years now.

Jason Johnson [00:42:20] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that’s actually that’s actually where I got this. I think it was either this or the budget boujee party. But, but anyway, I would completely agree. I love icon and rocket like it’s it’s it’s such a great story. It’s but it would have to be handled with such care because I would want them to tell the original story from the nineties which actually ends up featuring his sidekick is a teen mom. And that happens about halfway through the story. And if that was handled properly and his conservators, it’s a wonderful, heartbreaking, moving, exciting, engaging story. Like it’s everything about comics and movies in general that you would like, I’d say to others, because the interesting thing we’re in now, that degree, is that a lot of comics are being bought as IPs and they are in various versions of production. We don’t know how good they’ll be. I can’t wait for Regina King’s version of Bitterroot. Bitterroot is. Basically steampunk Ghostbusters with Black people in the twenties. If this is done right, it should be an amazing movie. HBO just announced that they’re scrapping their free for all the things that they’re ruining. They’re scrapping in a previous version of a Green Lantern show, and now they’re going to feature Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart is one of my favorite characters. Anyone who watched me on TV sees I get tons of Jon Stewart action figures as comments and everything behind me. So those are some characters that I think it would be great to see put on screen. I’ll say this there’s a little known book because it only had one run, I think for 12 issues, and it was called Excellence. And it was it sort of featured a Michael B Jordan character, but it was about these Black folks that were basically magical guardians of the universe. Fantastic story. I really enjoyed that book.

Jason Johnson [00:43:53] Brandon Thomas, Khary. Yeah, I know those guys. It’s amazing comic, you can find it from Image Comics. But yes, self-published. They own it is their own creation. Great stuff.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:44:05] Well, well, gentlemen, dare I say, I’ve been bitten by the comic book bug.

Jason Johnson [00:44:10] Oh, my goodness.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:44:11] See what I did there? See what is in there? In there?

Jason Johnson [00:44:14] Your mom jokes a great.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:44:16] Spider-Man joke, isn’t it?

Evan Narcisse [00:44:18] It is correct.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:44:19] Yes, we got people. Well, Evan, I can’t thank you enough for joining us on the Blackest Questions. Jason. Obviously, I love having you back. I really appreciate it. All jokes aside, I so appreciate the level of knowledge and respect that both of you have for this genre and for really bringing it and decoding it and bringing it to the masses, especially for people like me who who don’t know much about comic books at all. Last quick quick question. Just 10 seconds. Is there anything you want fans to know about any iconic characters that we haven’t touched on? Like if there’s one character that you say. Dig a little deeper.

Evan Narcisse [00:45:01] I’m going to plug my own work here. I’m just gonna do better. There is  T’Challa last big storyline in the Black Panther run that he wrote was the Intellect, Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda and a bunch of Wakandans were spawning space got lost, formed a evil, slaveholding empire. And in that empire is a version of there’s a young warrior named M’Baku. So he’s got the same name as a character, but totally different version. And I’ve written two of his adventures so far. And in that I’ve tried to express again like a from the bottom up kind of philosophy of superhero thing, right? You know, he’s not a dude who’s born rich. You know, he used to be a slave. He came up hard. But now he’s in charge of an empire. What do you do? How do you wield power? Which is one of the questions that superheroes tackle really well.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:49] When and where can I find this version?

Evan Narcisse [00:45:51] So you can find him in the Interggalactic Empire of Wakanda storyline, which is collected in paperbacks, but also a new title called Wakanda, which I’ve written the back up for and some lead stories for it, which is out now, and issue two will be probably on the stands by the time you listen to this this podcast. So let’s just say the new version of M’Baku.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:09] Well, you know, I’m buying it just because I got a support, but I’m going to read it now that I buy it.

Evan Narcisse [00:46:15] Yeah. I’ll answer all your questions and.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:17] See who gets it. I’ve got two personal comic book sellers in my Rolodex that I can just roll up because, like, you know what? I’ve got a question about page three Episode 27 1962. Jason Okay, before I let you all out of here, who’s a character that we should explore just a little bit more?

Jason Johnson [00:46:35] Yeah. So I wanted to make sure, because in all of our talking about this, I really want to highlight some Black women superhero characters that I think are really great. I think it was Vita Ayala did a series called LiveWire about this woman who is a techno telepath. It was a really great run. It was about 12 issues. I think it was in Valiant Comics. It’s about this Black woman who can literally control technology with her mind. Really great adventure. It’s kind of a chase fugitive sort of thing. So I think that’s a great book. The Shuri comic that Nnedi Okorafor before wrote that Evan made a reference to. That is a great book. It’s really it’s all ages. Like if you’ve got a 13, 14, 15 year old niece or cousin or daughter, that’s a really great book to look at. I also think that that overall, if there’s one character that I think is really, really interesting that I don’t think has had the best story yet, but you might find her interesting is actually a character named Vixen who is was created, I think, in the seventies. She’s a Black supermodel who has this totem that gives her super animal powers, whatever it is. She had this great sort of Mr. and Mrs. Smith relationship with this Black assassin who goes by the name of Bronze Tiger. And they were like These Super. I can’t use the term bad, but I guess because we can’t count on that. These are the bad assassins and the comic code suicide squad in the eighties. I think Vixen is probably one of the most undeveloped, underdeveloped Black women characters in all of comics. She should be way more interesting and way more prominent than she has been. And that’s what I would tell people to look into. Take a look at Livwire by Vita Ayala. Take a look at the Shuri comic. And if you can find or Suicide Squad’s or limited series about Vixen, it’s worth it. She’s really interesting.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:48:07] Oh, gentlemen, thank you so much for our listeners out there. You’ve been listening to the brilliance of Evan Narcisse and Jason Johnson. I want to thank you all for listening to The Blackest Questions. This show is produced by Sasha Armstrong and Geoffrey Trudeau. Regina Griffin is our managing editor of podcasts. If you like what you heard, please download theGrio app and listen and watch many more great shows and make sure you subscribe so you never miss an episode. Thanks again.

Panama Jackson [00:48:32] You are now listening to theGrio Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:48:37] Don’t forget, you can listen to theGrio’s Writing Black Podcast hosted by me, Maiysha Kai. This isn’t your typical writing podcast. We interview any and everybody that has anything to do with writing from comics to poets to authors to journalists, to politicians and more. Remember that’s Writing Black every Sunday, right here on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, download theGrio’s app to listen to Writing Black wherever you are.