Black Panther: Sins of the King Writer Geoff Thorne Wants to Ask the Tough Questions

Black Panther: Sins of the King Writer Geoff Thorne Wants to Ask the Tough Questions
Art from Black Panther: Sins of the King. (Image: Khary Randolph/Serial Box)

Though we’re still a long ways out from Ryan Coogler’s follow up to the first Black Panther movie and the recently-announced Wakanda series heading to Disney+, there’s quite a bit going on with T’Challa in the broader landscape of Marvel stories about mortals stepping up to the plate to become heroes and more.

Serial Box’s upcoming audiobook Black Panther: Sins of the King from writers Ira Madison, Tananarive Due, Mohale Mashigo, and Geoff Thorne — pulls in different elements of the Black Panther mythos that came by way of the comics, books, tv shows, and movies to tell a unique story about Wakanda’s place in the world and T’Challa’s sense of justice. Each chapter, narrated by The Good Place’s William Jackson Harper, pulls you deeper into Sins of the King’s vision of Wakanda and its king at a time when they’re both considering what sorts of responsibility they have to humanity as a whole to share their power despite the world’s troubled history.

When we caught up with Thorne by phone recently, he went into detail about where Sins of the King fits into the Black Panther’s overall pop-cultural canon, and what sorts of questions he, as a lifelong lover of comics, thinks the medium could stand to raise and address more often.

Charles Pulliam-Moore, Gizmodo: Talk to me about this book’s team. Even though this is a Black Panther story, I think a lot of people are going to be a little surprised to see characters like Misty Knight and the Vision pop up so soon.

Geoff Thorne: Ira [Madison] was our project lead, so some of this boiled down to the ideas he brought to the table. I think we all agreed that if the story was going to visit New York City at all, and Misty didn’t show up, we were really dropping the ball. Everybody loves Misty, and I don’t think there are many worlds within Marvel where you couldn’t justify her presence because she can travel, in the sense that you can see her going wherever she wants to go, she talks a lot of smack, and she isn’t intimidated by anyone.

With the Vision, it was really a matter of “Which fun Avengers can we fit into this story to remind people that T’Challa is a part of that organisation? The movies have done X, and the comics have done Y, so we wanted to find something a little surprising, but familiar all the same, which is why we’ve got Ant-Man and the Wasp there, even though they’re still new to the Avengers as of the last film for a lot of people.

Gizmodo: You can feel how these versions of the characters have pieces of their cinematic counterparts in them, but they are distinctly different, though.

Thorne: Yeah. Again, Avengers: Endgame sort of put everyone on the table for the MCU and you got to see characters like Black Panther and War Machine working as a kind of unit, but the last time many people had seen these characters, they were fighting, and we thought it would be interesting to see them in different kinds of contexts. We also didn’t want to make our team a “Black brigade” where we just threw all of the Black Avengers together and called it a day. Misty was fun, and we thought Vision’s power set would be interesting to have here, and for this story we really wanted to work with more of the ideas from his comics incarnation.

Gizmodo: We’re gonna double back on this, because I want to hear more of your thoughts about Vision and the Scarlet Witch, but let’s talk more Wakanda, first.

Thorne: For sure.

Gizmodo: There’s a moment early into this series where Misty and T’Challa are faced with a death that forces them both to contemplate what all the Wakandan concept of justice means now that the nation’s become part of the global stage. What were the sort of ideas about heroism for T’Challa personally and for Wakanda as a nation did you want to dig into with Sins of the King?

Thorne: I think part of the balance in this story comes from the way T’Challa is forced to sit with those questions and ponder them for himself. What is justice from the Wakandan point of view? He’s walking a thin, thin tightrope in that first episode where he’s choosing whether or not to intervene in what’s happening, whether he should be with the Avengers or not, and how all of these create political tensions for Wakanda, which had always been a hermit kingdom.

The importance of focusing on what Wakanda needs is primal for the Black Panther, and what’s important to remember is that Wakandan justice is harsh.

Gizmodo: Say more about that.

Thorne: [laughing] Well, think about it. If you steal something from Wakanda and they, for some reason, choose not to kill you — they’ll brand you. Until T’Challa’s father, outsiders didn’t really cross Wakanda’s borders and survive. Wakanda’s never been a marshall society, but it’s never been a soft society, either, and centuries of intense self-protection is impossible to shake off. T’Challa’s argument is that Wakandans are the most advanced people on the planet, which means he and the nation have an obligation, not a choice, to protect themselves and the entire world.

Gizmodo: Post-the Black Panther film, the discourse pretty quickly shifted to focus on what you’re talking about — what culpability Wakandas had in-universe for standing by and witnessing the world’s atrocities in the past, and how a real Wakanda might be seen in the context of a world in which the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Do you feel as if there are more conversations to be had here, both for the texts themselves and within fandoms?

Thorne: I’ve got to be very careful about how I answer here, and I want to make clear that I’m not speaking for anybody else here or about Sins of the King specifically.

Gizmodo: Sure.

Thorne: The modern Wakandan sense of needing to protect comes from T’Chaka. It’s tough to see, but the Wakandan perspective really was “Nah, that’s on you guys. I’m sorry that you’re getting colonised, and stolen into chattel slavery.” I think you could see the argument unfolding within Wakanda, and it really boiled down to the counter-argument: “If we stop this, we’re basically saying that we have to take over the world because if we do this now, the only way to enforce justice is to keep going and take over. Because they won’t stop. They’ve been doing this forever, as we all know. We could do that, but is that us?”

Gizmodo: Right.

Thorne: That’s really the only legitimate counter moral argument the Wakandans can make because the alternative would make them monsters, which they aren’t. I do think all of this should be addressed, but there has to be an appetite to address it from the powers that be, but the movies did things that the books don’t do, and the books do things the movies don’t do, and I hope our Serial Box endeavour does something that neither of those other mediums have done before.

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Gizmodo: Let’s double back to Wanda and Vision before I let you go. Before we hopped on the call, I was going through your Twitter page and saw that you had some…thoughts about the Scarlet Witch, and the mutants.

Thorne: [laughing] Hey, man, listen. Everybody loves Wanda.

Gizmodo: [laughing] So I’ve heard. You were catching a lot of heat about M Day, Wanda, and the mutants’ usefulness as a metaphor for persecuted people, which ended up becoming a conversation about whether you were in the “Wanda was right” camp.

Thorne: I could have made that comment without the “Wanda was right comment,” but let’s just say that I’m a provocateur. Let me just say this: Black and brown people have been having this discussion basically forever. I love the X-Men, but the metaphor works only up to the point where people start shooting laser beams out of their eyes. With persecuted and marginalised people, it’s not that they’re actually dangerous, it’s that racist, homophobes, and misogynists have an irrational phobia of these people.

The problem with mutants and the X-Men is partially that they are very dangerous, often. Magneto and Storm, just the two of them, could accidentally wipe out baseline humanity. I’m allowed to be worried about that. It’s not the same thing as a gay couple setting up a house at the end of my cul-de-sac and starting a family.

Gizmodo: That’s very true.

Thorne: But also, what makes mutants special? People can’t really tell the difference between the Hulk and Colossus aside from the fact that they’re empowered people. The Thing literally looks like a monster, and just walks around New York where people are like “Hey, there’s Ben!” Meanwhile, Colossus, who’s a fairly attractive young man, could be walking around and the moment he turns on his steel, you’d hear “Oh my god, a mutant!” It doesn’t make sense.

Gizmodo: It’s that accent. New Yorkers? Sure. But Russians?

Thorne: Right, because no one’s ever bumped into a Russian person in New York City. I’m not saying the metaphor can’t work, I’m saying it doesn’t work in its current configuration to say all the things people think it’s saying.

Black Panther: Sins of the King is now available through Serial Box.