Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Black Panther, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther - Spring 2017 Library Book Discussion, sponsored by ISU Library's Committee on Diversity & Inclusion
Intersections of Race and Gender

Topic Leader: Kim Anderson


      Discussion Objectives for this week:

  1. Be able to discuss female characters in Coates' Black Panther.
  2. Recognize some of the tropes of female characters in comic books.
  3. Know some of the women of color involved in the creation of comic books.
  4. Know some of the women of color characters in comic books.

Important Concept: The Oppositional Gaze

Coates and women characters in comics

Coates on the bodies of black women in Black Panther:

"Maybe I had too much confidence about this, but I wasn't too worried about the bodies of the black dudes. I felt like I was on pretty good terrain with that... I wanted to take great, great care with the depiction of the bodies of women because of where the storyline is going. I didn't want to have women at the center of the story, to have them partially leading it, and then have the depiction be, how shall we say, problematic. - Ta-Nehisi Coates on ‘Black Panther’ and Creating a Comic That Reflects the Black Experience

Coates on his own shift in awareness:

Through much of my time collecting comic books I never took much issue with how women were drawn. I had a vague sense that there was something about, say, the reworking of Psylocke that bugged me. But I simply didn’t give it much thought. It never occurred to me, for instance, to ask whether a superhero’s pose was anatomically possible. It never occurred to me to ask why a super-hero would have a DD cup-size. Was that for her benefit or for mine? I never asked.

The feminist critique of comics has made “not asking” a lot harder. That, in itself, is a victory. The point is not to change the thinking of the active sexist. (Highly unlikely.) The point is  to force the passive sexist to take responsibility for his own thoughts. - "The Feminists of Wakanda," The Atlantic, April 8, 2016. Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Feminism and Coates'  Black Panther:

In a single issue, Black Panther both introduces the first queer, African couple to mainstream comic books and sets up a template for how the sexist, troubling backstories of long-standing female characters can be flawlessly course-corrected. - Queer, powerful women are at the heart of the new 'Black Panther'

This sets the tone for the entire series, establishing that a variety of women’s perspectives, straight and queer, will be significant in how this story unfolds. This isn’t a comic for the stereotyped “comic book bro” set. This is a comic that assumes we — Black people in all of our variety — are all here, all reading  and engaging with the myth-making project. - L. E. H. Light, "Black Panther #1: The Dora Milajae Come Center Stage."

Female characters in Black Panther

Ayo and Aneka (Midnight Angels)

spin-off: Panther: World of Wakanda

Story by Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey. Illustrated by Afua Richardson and Alitha E. Martinez.

Dora Milaje




Tropes's not healthy to be a female character in comics....These are superheroes who have been either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator. I know I missed a bunch. Some have been revived, even improved -- although the question remains as to why they were thrown in the wood chipper in the first place. - "Women in Refrigerators," Gail Simone, 1999.


Angry Black Woman/Sapphire (page 10 of pdf)

Features: Strong, hostile, nagging. Anger that is dangerous or funny. (from Carolyn West)

  • In Black Panther: Does this stereotype apply to the characters of Shuri, Zenzi, or Ayo and Aneka?

Hypersexual/Jezebel (page 8 of pdf)

Features: sexually promiscuous, immoral, willing victim of sexual violence (from Carolyn West)

  • Not present in Coates' Black Panther

Sassy Black Woman.

Features: speaks her mind, used for humorous purposes

  • Not present in Coates' Black Panther

Media Tropes

Afro Asskicker (gender neutral trope)

Features: Good fighter, natural hair. Part of the Blaxploitation era.

  • Not present in Black Panther

Amazon Brigade

Features: elite fighting unit composed entirely of attractive women

  • In Black Panther: the Dora Milaje
  • Other characters: Star Sapphire Corps (Green Lantern), A-Force, Amazons from Wonder Woman

Lovely Angels

Features: two women with contrasting personalities, attractive, skilled

  • In Black Panther: Aneko and Ayo
  • Other characters: Misty Knight and Colleen Wing

Token Minority

  • Not present in Black Panther

People to Know

Felicia D. Henderson - Teen Titans

Alitha Martinez - Iron Man, X-Men: Black Sun, Marvel Age Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Voltron

Jackie Ormes - first African-American woman to work as a professional newspaper cartoonist

Traci Todd - Viz Media

Characters to Know

Misty Knight

Artwork for Misty KnightRivera, Lysa. "Appropriate(d) Cyborgs: Diasporic Identities in Dwayne McDuffie's Deathlok Comic Book Series." MELUS 32, no. 3 (2007): 103-27.

"A former NYPD cop with a bionic arm, martial arts skills, and an attitude who was involved with the Heroes for Hire operation for years." - ComicVine







Monica Rambeau

Monica Rambeau Monica Rambeau at Marvel Database


Lucas Do Carmo Dalbeto, and Ana Paula Oliveira. "Oh My Goddess: Anthropological Thoughts On the Representation of Marvel’s Storm and the Legacy of Black Women in Comics." The Comics Grid : Journal of Comics Scholarship 5, no. 1 (2015): The Comics Grid : Journal of Comics Scholarship, 01 June 2015, Vol.5(1).

"Ororo Munroe is mutagenically imbued with the potent genetic disposition to manipulate the elemental forces that preside over the weather, in addition to other atmospheric phenomena. Having lived through a tumultuous life replete with successes and hardships, Storm; the thief, the princess, the once and future leader of mutant kind has eked her rightful place as one of the most influential women in the world. Her mandate is focused upon the safeguarding of her people, and the protection of Earth." - ComicVine



"Mari Jiwe McCabe, better known as Vixen, is able to channel the powers of virtually any creature in the animal kingdom with but a thought. Over the course of her life she has been a member of the JLA and the Suicide Squad, a model, and a successful business woman." - ComicVine

Other Resources

Women in Comics Wiki

A wiki that aims "to be the leading source of information on women in all comics forms and all artistic roles throughout history." Over 650 pages.

women in comics wiki front page

Female Characters at the Public Domain Super Heroes wiki

A wiki focusing on open source and public domain comic book characters. Over 4,400 pages.

Public Domain Superheroes wiki front page

World of Black Heroes

Black men and women superheroes.

Women in Refrigerators

Gail Simone's list of female comic book characters who have met "untimely and icky ends."