Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black Superheroes: Black Panther

Black Panther, White Background
Name: T’Challa
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #52 (1966)
Background: The latest in a long line of rulers of the highly advanced nation of Wakanda T’Challa operates as The Black Panther, a ceremonial title that not only gives him control of the various tribes in the country but also access to a special heart shaped fruit (And a panther god I guess) that grant him superhuman senses and peek physical abilities.  With these powers, in conjunction with his highly trained skills in martial arts, strategy and science, he battles evil in Wakanda as well as abroad as a member of the Avengers and trusted ally (And sometimes member) of the Fantastic Four.
Beta Says: Created by Stan Lee and Jack “The King” Kirby Black Panther is the first modern black superhero, with super powers and everything.  That alone makes him the most important character I’ll be talking about because he paved the way for everyone else.   Also, despite being the first he completely avoids the trap of offensive stereotyping that many black characters in other media had fallen into in the years before and since; he is neither an “uneducated thug” nor is he a “jungle dwelling primitive”.  He is a well educated and worldly noble who is one part scientist and one part warrior.  In a lot of ways he’s like Batman if the latter was the head of his own country (Which would likely be called “Batopia”).   He is also something of a heroic counterpoint to Doctor Doom, ruler of Latveria, and the two have indeed battled each other over the years (But really Doom will fight anyone given the chance).
He’s also managed to stay relevant throughout the last 40+ years.  While wouldn’t receive his own owning comic for another seven years following his debut (In the critically acclaimed cult classic Jungle Action) he continues to appear regularly to this day, though unfortunately all his solo titles were eventually canceled.  Currently he stars in Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, a book he recently inherited from Daredevil, though he’s currently depowered and strangely not actually calling myself “Black Panther” despite the book’s name. He is also married to the sometimes leader of the X-Men, the mutant known as Storm in a move that completely baffles me to this day.  I assume that the writers and editors said to themselves one day “Hey Black Panther is black.  You know who else is black?  Storm.  They should totally get married!”  More on that another day.
Coming Soon..."Black Panther: One More Day"
In which his marriage is magically ended and we don't have to explain it
Sadly Black Panther, despite his historical relevance and unique look and origin, has probably never really been more than a second-tier hero in Marvel Comics.  While I’d like to think of T’Challa being able to stand at the same level as Spider-Man, Captain America and Iron Man, but the cold fact is that he’s just not there.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that his solo titles don’t ever last long enough for his to reach such status, probably because his solo titles don’t earn the numbers they need to keep the series going that long.  That is such a shame because the character has so much potential within the Marvel Universe.  For the longest time Black Panther was Marvel’s top black character but that status was fairly recently, and arguably I guess, usurped by another, jive talking, character in the pages of New Avengers (But more him another time).  Still things are getting better for the character as he has had a recent cartoon series on BET (Which has since been canceled) and appears as a regular on Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  Its well known that Marvel tends to push character when they have strong media attention on them.  After all Blade was a third-tier character at best for most of his existence but became a household name when his movie came out in 1998.  So that said it is likely that the best chance the Panther has on being a “Top Guy” is the successful release of the constantly delayed/trapped in movie hell film that has been talked about since 1992 with no real results.  Recently there has been some rumblings of things moving on that front meaning there’s still hope. So long as a good script can be written, a good director can be found, and Wesley Snipes is kept far away from everything hopefully within the next five years things will have turned around for for the King of Wakanda…both in the comics and in pop culture.
By the way I despise the idea that anything outside of the comic book themselves can potentially affect the characters so drastically but that’s basically how the medium has worked since Superman started showing up on the radio.
In any event Black Panther is one of the few black characters starring in their own ongoing series so if you’ve ever thought that there aren’t enough high profile black superheroes in comics the best way to tell Marvel this is to go to your local comic book store and check out Black Panther: The Man Without Fear and possibly some older trade paperbacks as well.   Next time we’ll be taking a look at another character who uses a big cat motif but who is a far more morally ambiguous character.
Because "The Incredible Black Panther" just doesn't pop, you know
For more on the Black Panther click here.  Also check out BLACKSUPERHERO.COM for a giant list, and profiles, of black comic book characters for many different companies.

1 comment:

  1. My hubby and I have always loved the comic book genre in movies, but we haven't been into the comics themselves since our childhoods. This character sounds fascinating, and definitely has potential as the basis of a movie series. Whatever is holding up the process at Marvel for turning him into an on-screen hero is to their detriment, IMHO.

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