The New Marvel Universe. Born Out of Africa and Afrofuturism.
I’m going to warn you, this post has spoilers. If you haven’t read Secret Wars #9, you might want to do that first.
You sure you don’t care about spoilers?
This is your last warning.
Secret Wars #9 hit shelves this week wrapping up Marvel‘s world shaping event as Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom battled it out over the fate of existence. Many have focused on Miles Morales’ introduction in to the Marvel 616 (or Marvel Prime, whatever you want to call it). Or they were focused on the future of the Fantastic Four. Maybe they were focused on Doctor Doom’s face?
While all of those things were interesting, I was more focused on the statement writer Jonathan Hickman made, whether on purpose or unintentionally, as to the cradle of humankind (really the whole Marvel 616 Universe) and its future. Hickman anchored both on the shoulders of a man from Africa, the leader of Wakanda, T’Challa, the Black Panther.
The idea of humankind being birthed, evolving out of Africa, is a relatively new one, tracing back to just 1924, less than 100 years ago. In 1871 Charles Darwin said it was “probable” that Africa was the cradle of humans due to the presence of chimpanzees and gorillas, but he also said there was an extinct ape in Europe, which created some doubt. “Speculation was useless.” In the early 20th Century it was thought that humans evolved somewhere in Europe or Asia. It was a fossil discover in 1924 that changed things, and even then that was disputed for some time. What we take for granted as a given today, is something relatively new.
In Secret Wars, Doctor Doom has taken god like power and remade existence in his image creating a tough new reality called Battleworld. The miniseries builds up as the remaining heroes rally to stop Doom. Part of that plan is the Black Panther’s wielding of the Infinity Gauntlet and its gems which have the power over strength and durability, time, teleportation, manipulating one’s soul, alters all of reality, and gives psionic/psychic abilities. Doom initially battles Black Panther and Namor, as Reed Richards gets to the heart of Doom’s power, the Molecule Man. Eventually Doom is distracted, fighting Reed Richards, and as the Molecule Man tears the universe apart, T’Challa uses the Reality Gem to create a new reality, a new Marvel Universe. In his actions he brings Miles Morales to this new world, saves “orphans” such as the Squadron Supreme members, places his nemesis Namor back on the throne of Atlantis, and even heals Doom’s face. The world was remade, and remade better, due to the will and wisdom of an African man.
If there’s any doubt that T’Challa is responsible for the new Marvel Universe, one just needs to read that first panel after he clenches his fist. His words, “it worked,” with the Infinity Gem no longer present, burnt away from its use indicates what has happened, and he’s responsible.
T’Challa could have cast away the Squadron Supreme, punished Namor, left Doom to rot, or forgotten about Miles, one of the few high-profile African-American superheroes in the Marvel universe. Instead he shows compassion and a fatherly touch befitting his noble position and wise ruling.
T’Challa also clearly knows of Doom’s Battleworld, so this new world was formed around him, he’s the center of this new universe. While he was using the gem, this is the world he shapes and wants to start from, this is his vision for the present and future. It’s not just the present Marvel Universe that Hickman and T’Challa gives us. Hickman takes it one step further. He gives us the future and the possibility that the future of the Marvel universe is built upon Afrofuturism.
Afrofuturism is “a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past.”
It’s not just interesting to me that T’Challa, an African ruler births humankind (really the whole universe) by shaping reality with the gem, but it’s also his positioning of Wakanda as the center of our future as a civilization. As he says in the panel on the right, “Great societies are crumbling around us. And the old men who run them are out of ideas. So all eyes turn to you our children… to build us something better.”
It’s clear Marvel is centering the character more with a new high profile comic and an upcoming movie with one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. This also comes after Marvel has stumbled a bit, especially when it comes to inclusion of African-Americans with their All-New, All-Different Marvel launch that has been overwhelmingly male and white when it comes to creators, was accused of cultural appropriation, and according to data may lag in African-American fans.
In the few months since the launch of All-New, All-Different Marvel, we’ve seen subtlety that Wakanda plays a major role now in the Marvel Universe. In The Ultimates it was clear there was something big going on, but we’re never really explained exactly what.
It’s laid out clear in Secret Wars #9 that humankind’s future is being built on Wakandan technology. That the new space operation, Alpha Flight, is Wakanda’s project. That it’s Wakandan science fueling it all, especially our expansion in space. Step by step.
Technology is addressed, diaspora is addressed, and done so through science fiction and magical realism. It even addresses Wakanda’s past briefly. In Marvel’s past, it was Tony Stark, and Stark Industries/Enterprises that drove the world’s future, fueling every day technology up to the funding of the Avengers. Now we have a new focus, a new history, a new leader to guide the Marvel Universe, and he’s African. The shift is undeniable, and a bold start for 2016.
Here’s hoping the company sees the groundwork laid out by Hickman, and like T’Challa, uses wisdom to build a brighter future.