Ta-Nehisi Coates will write the new 'Captain America' comic. The renowned author announced his role on the iconic Marvel title in a piece for The Atlantic ​entitled "Why I'm Writing Captain America."

Coates, a Baltimore native, has been ​praised and ​criticized for political views he has espoused in a catalogue of work centered on questions of race in the United States. Coates also wrote issues of Marvel's "Black Panther," one of the first mainstream black superhero comics, and now a mega-hit movie. 

In his Atlantic article, Coates observed "implicit irony" in Captain America, whose origin story involves transforming from a wimp into a superhero. Coates noted that readers unfamiliar with the depiction of the character in comic books might mistake him for an "unblinking mascot for American nationalism." But the reality of what "Captain America" is trying to tell us about the US, Coates argued, is more complicated.

  • Coates' on the parallel between Captain America's origin and American "rags to riches" values: "Dubbed Captain America, Rogers becomes the personification of his country’s egalitarian ideals -- an anatomical Horatio Alger who through sheer grit and the wonders of science rises to become a national hero."​

  • His interpretation of the symbolism of Captain America being frozen in ice during World War II and then awakening in our time: "He is 'a man out of time,' a walking emblem of greatest-generation propaganda brought to life in this splintered postmodern time. Thus, Captain America is not so much tied to America as it is, but to an America of the imagined past."

  • The most striking confession made by Coates: "I’m not convinced I can tell a great 'Captain America' story—which is precisely why I want so bad to try."

If Captain America isn't exactly a symbol of rah-rah American hyper-nationalism, what does he stand for? Coates described an iconic scene from the comic that encapsulates the hero's values: He clutches an American flag and rebuffs a general who praises him as loyal. "I'm loyal to nothing, general," the hero says. "Except the dream." 

It goes without saying that the dream in question is the American one, which is something Coates has expressed ambivalence about to say the least. In his 2015 book, "Between the World and Me," he argued there is no American dream "without the right to control, exploit, break, or kill black bodies."

What to make of an iconic avatar for the goodness of the American dream being written by a man who doesn't really buy into it?


Maybe social media reactions can lend some answers. Many people, especially from the left-leaning side of Twitter, were enthused about Coates' new job.

They were like genuinely happy about it. 

Some gleefully predicted that a certain segment of the population would be infuriated. 

Who is this mysterious demographic? Some dubbed it the "Anti-SJW crowd." One user simply went with "#THEY."

Were #they right to predict a backlash? In fact, a relatively small number of people called for a boycott of "Captain America."

A few felt the need to distance themselves from "alt-right" or "racist" motivations behind boycotting the comic.


What do these widely divergent reactions tell us? One thing is for sure: The American dream is complicated. It means different things to different people. 

Critics of Coates' selection as author of the new "Captain America" series are probably right that his understanding of the American dream is a departure from the one traditionally at the heart of the comic. Advocates of Coates' Captain America seem to be saying that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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