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Ta-Nehisi Coates to write Black Panther for Marvel

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

The New York Times reports that notable African-American writer and commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates — and African-American artist Brian Stelfreeze — will take the helm of Black Panther, the comic book world's first black superhero.

Coates, writer and columnist for The Atlantic, is well known for his work on reparations, as well as Between the World and Me, a book written for his son on being black in America. But, as the Times notes, he's less well known for being someone with whose interests shade to the comic book and the superheroic — though that paper might be in the best position to know, given that his first column for it was about X-Men: First Class.

"I want to make a great comic. I really, really do."

The idea of Marvel roping Coates into writing a superhero comic began earlier this year, when he interviewed Sana Amanat, the editor who helped make Ms. Marvel the first female Muslim superhero, on the subject of diversity in comics. Since then, the wheels have apparently been turning, and the result will be a year-long storyline to be published sometime in 2016, called "A Nation Under Our Feet." Says the Times: "It is inspired by the 2003 book by Steven Hahn and will find the hero dealing with a violent uprising in his country set off by a superhuman terrorist group called the People."

Coates himself admits that he was also inspired by the depth of character Jonathan Hickman was able to show in Marvel's "Secret Wars." As a first-time comic writer, he's not expecting to "come in at that level, but it helps to want it to be great. I want to make a great comic. I really, really do." But if Coates doesn't have specific experience on his side, the story's artist, Brian Stelfreeze, has been doing beautifully painted work in superhero comics for thirty years.

Black Panther Ta-Nehisi Coates
The cover of Black Panther #1, by Brian Stelfreeze

Marvel and DC Comics have been lauded lately for making significant pushes to forefront a more diverse set of superheroes — from Ms. Marvel, Thor, the Totally Awesome Hulk and an Avengers lineup with only one white guy on it to Batgirl, Black Canary, a series about a female teenage president of the US and LGBTQ characters like John Constantine, the cast of Secret Six and the first gay superhero to star in his own title at DC Comics. Marvel has recently taken a lot of heat, however, for lacking diversity on the production side, particularly after announcing a month of hip-hop-album-cover themed variant covers when it employs vanishingly few African-American artists or writers.

Indeed, many new Marvel titles with women, LGBTQ characters or characters of color in the lead are still being written and drawn by folks who aren't. Coates and Stelfreeze's Black Panther is a welcome buck to that trend.

(Some helpful notes here, before you rush to the comments: Black Panther is considered the first black superhero in a Marvel or DC comic, but since the character was born and raised in Africa, that leaves plenty of room for The Falcon to be the first African-American superhero in a Marvel or DC comic. Also, Black Panther's creation predates the naming of the Black Panther party.)

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