This black superhero has been around for 50 years. But only 3 black men have ever written him.

You've probably heard of the Black Panthers, but have you heard of the comic book character Black Panther?


"Black Panther" #1 cover by Brian Stelfreeze. Image via Marvel, used with permission.

Also known as T'Challa, Black Panther was first introduced to Marvel Comics readers in an issue of "Fantastic Four," way back in 1966. (Fun fact: Technically, he predated the founding of the Black Panthers political party by a few months, buuut predecessor groups had already been using the panther symbol.)


T'Challa is the leader of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda, an advanced African nation. In addition to his own intelligence and scientific prowess, T'Challa also possesses superhuman strength, speed, and senses gifted to him by the Wakandan Panther God ... because comics. He's been a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four and even has his own movie coming out in 2017.

So, yeah, he's kind of a big deal.


Chadwick Boseman will portray Black Panther in the upcoming Marvel studios film, as well as "Captain America 3: Civil War." He's pictured here, center, between Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, whom you probably already recognize as Iron Man and Captain America, respectively. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney.

As if that weren't awesome enough, Marvel Comics recently announced that acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates will be the new writer for Black Panther's adventures.

Coates is best known for his writing at The Atlantic. That's where you probably came across his must-read story "The Case for Reparations." He's also published two nonfiction books and was recently nominated for a National Book Award.


Ta-Nehisi Coates at the University of Michigan. Photo by Sean Carter Photography/Flickr.


So he's kind of a big deal, too. And a comics super-fan.

Coates recently talked to The New York Times about his childhood affection for black superheroes like Black Panther, War Machine, and Monica Rambeau: "I'm sure it meant something to see people who looked like me in comic books," he said. "It was this beautiful place that I felt pop culture should look like."

He's also having some fun with bringing his reputation as a serious political writer to the land of superhero comics:

Get excited, folks: Coates will be joined by artist Brian Stelfreeze, who is also black, for a storyline titled "A Nation Under Our Feet," after the well-known Steven Hahn book about black political struggles.

And it's about time, too — Coates is only the third black writer to ever script a Black Panther comic book.

Like most of the early Marvel superheroes, T'Challa was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, two Jewish-American men. Sure, they may have had good intentions, and they made him a brilliant scientist. But they also made him an African character with "Black" in his name and gave him a spiritual connection to mystical animal gods. Sigh.

It wasn't until 1998 — more than 30 years after the character's creation — that black comic book writer Christopher Priest took over "Black Panther." His run lasted until 2003 when the series was cancelled. Two years later, Reginald Hudlin, who was then President of Entertainment at BET, was brought in to script a new "Black Panther" series, which ran from 2005 to 2008.

"Black Panther" #1 variant cover by Brian Stelfreeze. Image via Marvel, used with permission.

Yep. For all the strides that have been made in diversity and representation, the comics industry still has a ways to go.

It's so encouraging to see a writer with the pedigree of Ta-Nehisi Coates get handed the reigns to an iconic black superhero like Black Panther.

Still: Coates is only the third black writer in 50 years? Seriously? You don't necessarily have to be black to write a black character. But diverse perspectives matter just as much as diverse representation does. I mean, c'mon — it's 2015! We can do better than that!

As always, superheroes can inspire hope for the future.

Marvel Comics in particular has made headlines recently with the introduction of characters like Miles Morales, an Afro-Hispanic teenager who is now also Spider-Man, and the Muslim-American superteen Ms. Marvel. Both Captain America and Thor have recently handed their respective mantles over to longtime supporting characters as well, giving the comics world a black Captain America (Sam Wilson, aka Falcon) and a female Thor (Jane Foster). There's even a new Korean-American Hulk, written and drawn by two Korean-American creators.

But across the three largest comic book publishers, the vast majority of creators are still white men.

"Black Panther" movie concept art. Image via Marvel, used with permission.

You can look at the comics industry as a microcosm for the rest of the country: Even with the best intentions, change and progress still take time (for better or for worse).

Thankfully, there are people who are genuinely working hard to improve representation, in comics and beyond.

But as always, we still need to strive for better. It takes more than just opening doors to make art and reality reflect the world we share. That's why superhero comics like Black Panther are always "to be continued" — because even when our heroes do prevail, there's always one more battle to be won.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less