A Historical Overview and a Look to The Future
By Reginald Hudlin
When the Black Panther debuted in the 60s, he was so cool,so perfect a character in concept and execution it's hard to believe it was done by two white guys. But when the white guys in question were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, then it makes sense. But to truly appreciate their achievement, it;s worth putting it in context: No black super hero before or after the Black Panther is as cool as the Black Panther. Sure, others come close. Luke Cage is as brilliant a Marvel response to blaxploitation as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D was to the JAMES BOND/ SUPER SPY Trend. And in the Milestone line of comics was wonderful and smart.
But the Black Panther is STILL the man.
He's the King of his own country! He's rich! He's tough enough to defeat the Fantastic Four and Captain America! He's suave and sophisticated! He's got cool super-technology! And his name is...THE BLACK PANTHER. Just the name alone was so ahead of its time. (I wonder if the Black Panther Party in Oakland had gottent famous first, would Stan have used the name anyway? Well, he didn't change it, so double-Kudos to him!)
The Panther's appearances in the LEE/Kirby issues of the FANTASTIC FOUR and CAPTAIN AMERICA were great, but nothing after that has been able to recapture the original magic. He never made much of an impression on me during any of his AVENGERS stints, and I never like the Mc Gregor-written series in JUNGLE ACTION. I even preffered the loopy but fun late Kirby series to Mc Gregor's morose characters that endlessly droned on with the overflowing captions with even more yakkety yakking. Enough already!
The Priest run on the Panther gave a much-needed shot in the arm to the character. His power level was restored to the point that the Panther had contingency plans to take on Galactus. Great! And he got two beautiful female bodyguards/concubines who can kick @$$. Great! He kicked it with fellow regents Namor and Doom. Great! He joined the Avengers to spy on them? The best idea yet!
The question is, how do we take the character to the next level?
Let's start by defining who he IS
The Black Panther is the Black Captain America. He's the embodiment of the ideals of a people. As Americans, we feel good when we read Captain America because he reminds us of the potential of how good America can be, if, of course, we have the convictions to live by the principles the country was founded on. As a black person, the Black Panther should represent the fulfillment of the potential of the Motherland.
For a long time, the Black American equivalent of that ideal was represented by Sidney Poitier, a man who maintained his dignity even in the degrading situations. But since the 80s, that ideal has shifted. In the post-integration, post-Reagan era, the new ideal is Spike Lee or Sean "Puffy" Combs, the artist/businessman hero who profits from his own cultural integrity. In other words, the man who has it all-the money, the politics and the cool and style of black culture.
What those celebrities named, along with Malcom X, Miles Davis and Muhammad Ali, all have in common, is the knowledge that the act of being a black man in white America is an inherent act of rebellion.. They are WILLING to be bad@$$es.
That's what hip hop is all about. Being a bad@$$. Everyone wants to be a bad@$$. That's why white kids have always loved black music -- whether it's jazz, rock and roll or hip hop, black music is the music of bad@$$es, and plugging into that culture makes a suburban white kid feel like a bad@$$, too. And for a generation of white kids who have grown up without an "Elvis"- a white interpreter of black culture-their appreciation of the edgy street culture is shocking even to me.
I say all this because the harder the Panther is, the more appealing he is to both black AND white audiences.
All we've got to do is let the Panther be who he is set up to be. After all, he's a Wakandan. Wakandans are so bad@$$ They've NEVER BEEN CONQUERED.
This is important. There are some countries that are like doormats -- everybody's kicked their @$$ atone point or another. But there are other peoples in the comes to mind- that kick the @$$ of everyone who messes with them, superpower or not.
The Wakandans are such people. I figure every 50 years or so, somebody tries to make a move on them, and they have to prove the point to that generation of would-be conquerors:
DON'T EVEN TRY IT!
The independence of the Wakandan People has got to be galling to the rest of the world for a lot of reasons. First of all, the rest of Africa has been carved up like a Christmas turkey. England, Germany, France, Belgium, the United States, the Soviet Union, Islamic and Christian invaders...so many empires have taken large chunks of the land and resources for their own. Even after the independence block the total dominance of Africa by colonial powers, it's cultural evolution has gone unchecked for centuries. They were ahead of us a thousand years ago. And no one has colonized them, burned their books, erased their language, or broken their spirits.
Unfettered b the yoke of colonization, they have created a hi-tech, ecologically sound paradise that makes the rest of the world seem primitive by comparison. If the right company got their hands on their gadgets, their medicines, their R&D, THEY WOULD VAULT THEMSELVES A CENTURY AHEAD OF THEIR COMPETITORS.
But the Wakandans can't be bought out. This isn't a bunch of starving orphans pimped by dictators who'll sell out for a sizable contribution to their Swiss bank account. Wakandans are led by the Black Panthers, a warrior cult that serves as the religious, political and military head of the country. That tower in the center of the country is like a big middle finger to the rest of the world-literally. Their borders are tightly shut and they deal with the world on their own terms---or not at all.
The first scene of the book would be in the 10th century. Start on some neighboring tribe walking across the savannah looking for it's next conquest. They roll on Wakanda. But the Wakandans kick their @$$, using man-sized beartraps, crossbows and other technology that even Europeans didn't have at the time.
Cut to the turn of the century. The Boers have just finished conquering South Africa and are now moving on Wakanda. They've got rifles, they've got Gatling guns. But the Wakandans have a magnetic based weapon that caused the Boer weapons to backfire, maiming and killing half their troops. The Panthers then move in, leaving one man alive, as they usually do, to spread the world- DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.
We see Captain America getting his butt whipped by T'Chaka during World War Two. YEA THEY WIL WHIP ANYBODY'S BUTT.
Okay, let me stop. I'm starting on scenes and I haven't even given an overview yet.
The first six issues of the book will be a re-telling of the Panther's origin. That hasn't been done during this incarnation of the Panther, and is the best way to st the tone for the book.
It will be a version without the Fantastic Four, much like the Lee/Kirby Silver Surfer graphic novel from the 70s, which retold his origin without the FF's involvement in the story.
The fist six issues will essentially be my versions of what the BLACK PANTHER MOVIE should be. But no matter what happens with the movie, or if the movie ever happens, there will be a TPB that people can pick up and see the character done right. No matter how horrible the Joel Schumacher Batman movies are, they cannot erase the greatness of The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year one. Hopefully, this book will do the same for T'challa.
I know some people at Marvel feel the Panther's base being in Africa is a problem. It shouldn't be. The Panther should move back and forth betwen Wakanda and the rest of the world the same way Thor moves between Asgard and Earth. He's an INTERNATIONAL player who's equally at home at the Davos Conference in Switzerland, meeting with Colin Powell in D.C. Cuba with Fidel Castro and Prince Namor.
A Great hero is defined by his villains. The Panther doesn't have his equivalents to Dr. Doom, the Red Skull, or Magneto. Instead he's got a guy wearing a white gorilla fur. I don't even know that loser's name, but he will never be seen inside the pages of the book I write.
Since the first story arc will be his origin, the main villain will be Klaw...but not the Murderous Master of Sound that he was in the 1960s. No way. Our villain is a South African who was named after his ancestor, who was one of the Boers who led the abortive attempt to invade Wakanda a century ago. In an act of revenge for the murder of his great-grandfather, and as part of a conspiracy to overthrow Wakanda, Klaw murdered T'Chaka. As he was about to kill the rest of the royal family, T'Challa, T'Chaka's son, blows Klaw's hand off, LITERALLY disarming him.
Now Klaw is equipped with a cybernetic hand that can turn into any number of murderous devices. He's invading Wakanda again, with a small commando squad of superpowered killers, to kill T'Challa and take over Wakanda.
But he's not the only person with the bright idea to invade Wakanda. Is the Panther ready to wage war at home-on multiple fronts?
And will he be betrayed from within?
Okay, that's not a whole pitch, but it's a start. I won't get into the second story arc with Cage, Shang-Chi, Photon and Storm...but that's gonna be even better.