Have you seen the Black Panther movie? Because I have, and I liked it a whole awful lot. But don’t worry, this isn’t a post to talk about the movie, it’s for the character and his comics. So no worries, there won’t be any spoilers here. But, if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen Black Panther, go see it. Now! I’ll wait for you.
Back? I told you that it was good, didn’t I? Anyway, I like the Black Panther, and you should too, so let’s talk about him!
I’ll admit, up until a few years ago, I only had Black Panther on the periphery. He was a largely unknown entity, even to a big super hero nerd like myself. Though my tastes in comics continue to evolve, and move further away from the capes, I still hold the Panther in high regard. Anyway, the point is, up until a year or two ago, I don’t think I had read any solo Panther stories. But there was something big I was missing: Black Panther is great. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
I don’t remember what triggered my interest in Black Panther, but I was able to get one of those Marvel Essentials, you know, those 500 page black and white tomes that collect old Marvel stories. I got it through the library system and, for the first time in my life, I actually finished one! I had tried X-Men, Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four…but I could never get through them in their entirety. While I liked those heroes, the stories felt more like slogging through than reading, yet this was different. I had stumbled upon the Black Panther epic Panther’s Rage. This was a story published in Jungle Action, which was the title that Black Panther was in before he got his own series. And when I said epic back there, I meant it. Panther’s Rage is a saga all about Panther being challenged by Killmonger for control of Wakanda. There is a lot of memorable fight scenes, that, ultimately, highlight not only that Black Panther is one bad mother, but also that he has an unbreakable spirit. And if that doesn’t win a super hero for you, I don’t know what will. There were a lot of really cool action sequences and panel angles that stick with me to this day. This saga was written by the man Don McGregor. That is not a name most people recognize, but based on his writing for Panther’s Rage, he is one underrated comic writer. The follow up story saw T’Challa going to America with his American pop star girlfriend and, after some altercations, having a brawl with the Klan.
The social tones of McGregor’s run, which was written in the early 70s, helped to show me just how different Panther was from many of the other super heroes. While Marvel’s characters were known for their dealing with real issues, here was a character that not only dealt with race, but showed the triumph of the black super hero. I imagine that, in its time, it was a HUGE statement.
Unfortunately, when Panther got his own series, I just couldn’t get into it as much. While it was written and drawn by Jack Kirby, it left the more grounded, social stories, and flew off into the Kirby stratosphere. Now, you know I love you, Kirby, but following up Panther’s Rage with King Solomon’s Frog just doesn’t cut it. The man was a genius, but I had been smitten by the realism of McGregor’s run. But hey, you can’t win ’em all.
I shouldn’t complain too much, really, because Jack Kirby was co-creator of the Panther along with, of course, Stan Lee. The two created Black Panther back in 1966, and he was the first black superhero in mainstream American comics. That is a pretty big deal. He debuted before Falcon and (my guy) Luke Cage. And, unlike those guys, he was straight up from Africa. AND he was a king. He was a big black blip on the radar, and it was excellent. He appeared in a time of civil rights, alongside heroes like the Fantastic Four, and grew to be a big name for Marvel. He was a trailblazer.
Or, I should say he is a trailblazer. Now that he’s the first Marvel Stuidos super hero movie with a black lead. Of course, there was Blade before him, (and Blank Man, if you remember) but this is a different world now, with block buster super hero movies paving the way at theaters.
And all of this is not even to mention the phenomenal run that Christopher priest had on the character back in the 90s. The updated version of Black Panther tackled the issues of the day (this seems to be one of the great facets of writing Black Panther), including urban living and Bill Clinton. It also introduced Everett K. Ross (in both Black Panther and Captain America Civil War), who is a seriously great character. He’s the one on the end.
Black Panther also comes with the nice built in drama of being a monarch AND a super hero, much like Namor and Aquaman. Black Panther is the ruler of a nation, and often has to find the balance between monarch and Avenger. He does this, and I can barely write a weekly blog. By god! And of course, if you’re up on your Marvel lore, Wakanda, the country which he rules, is the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, thanks to its large deposits of Vibranium. He also employs an all female guard called the Dora Milaje, who could kick most asses on planet Earth. If you can’t tell, this character stands apart from the rest. This man is a legend. A king, a super hero, and an icon.
Now, over 50 years later, Black Panther goes strong. Currently, he’s being written by the novelist Ta-Nehisi Coats, ushering this social symbol and all around great super hero into our times. Once again, Wakanda finds itself in upheaval and looks to its king! I’m not fully up to date on this run, so I guess I can’t say much about it right now.
Anyway, as you can tell, I hold the Black Panther in high regard. And, after seeing the movie, I thought it only natural to talk about him, while I was riding that wave of affection. So, if you’ve never read Black Panther, or maybe can’t understand his importance, pick up a comic, and you’ll figure it out. Black Panther is a great hero for anytime. Long live the king!