African Queens include Yaa Asantewa of Ghana, Makeda of Sheba, and Amina of Nigeria. Now, add to their ranks Malika of the fictional Azzazian Empire from comic-book maker YouNeek Studios.
Expanding upon their “YouNeek YouNiverse,” the forthcoming Malika: Warrior Queen explores 15th-century West Africa through the rise of the military commander title character. Whereas the comic studio’s other current title, E.X.O., takes place in 2025, their focus remains on launching heroes centered in “places like South America, Asia, Africa and so on,” according to their promotional site. The series follows Malika reunifying her West African empire in the face of a new enemy, the expanding Ming Dynasty. Along the way, she must align with the conquered Atalians and one of their foremost warriors, Bass Kazaar, possessor of the mystic WindMaker.
“Although Malika’s Azzazian Empire and The WindMaker’s Kingdom of Atala are both fictional places,” explains creator Roye Okupe, “the world they inhabit is very real,” tapping into the riches of African history. Okupe, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, was named one of Venture Africa’s “42 African Innovators to Watch” and already has plans to spin off The WindMaker into its own graphic novel. YouNeek Studios comes at an auspicious time in the dominant U.S. superhero market between DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Whereas DC launched its 2011 Batwing series featuring a Congolese lead character, they later replaced the eponymous hero with a U.S. alternate before canceling the series outright.
Competitor Marvel, conversely, recently employed the writing talents of MacArthur genius Ta-Nehisi Coates in relaunching longstanding African character Black Panther in his own series. Further, Marvel has announced the hiring of feminist critic Roxanne Gay, the first black, female series writer in the company’s history, to expand the Black Panther kingdom with the forthcoming World of Wakanda; in it, she will partner with Coates as co-writer to explore nuanced African characters and “women who are fierce enough to fight but still tender enough to love.”
All this comes in the wake of Black Panther’s cinematic debut in Captain America: Civil War and plans for a 2018 Black Panther movie starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael B. Jordan. On television, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow series has announced plans to feature the African superheroine Vixen (to be played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers) as a series regular over its second season.
Okupe’s plans for Malika and the YouNeek imprint overall may prove quite timely as global superhero attention turns to African protagonists. His comments from a 2015 posting on the future of African stories are proving quite prescient: “it is our responsibility to take on these stories ourselves and be the ones knocking on the doors of those who have the resources to make them happen before they realize the worth of these stories and tell them their way.”