TThe Black Panther, (T’Chala) created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. He is the first black superhero predating prominent African American superheroes such as Storm, Luke Cage and Blade. The critical flaw in the character is stated above: The Black Panther is African, not African-American and more importantly, not American. T’Chala, The Black Panther is the ceremonial title given to the chief of the Panther Tribe of the advanced African nation of Wakanda.
Contrary to general belief and collected ignorance, the character is in no way related to the Black Panther Party which was founded three months after his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966). This was followed by several guest-starring roles in the Avengers, Daredevil and Astonishing Tales. He later landed a starring feature in the critically acclaimed series, recognized as the the first graphic novel, that ran in Jungle Action #6-24 (Sept. 1973 – Nov. 1976). After Jungle Action folded, Jack Kirby, newly returned from a stint at DC Comics, began writing and drawing the Black Panther vol.1 series, starting January 1977. A four-issue mini-series appeared in 1988 followed by The Black Panther vol.2 later the same year. The longest of the series, vol.3 ran for 61 issues from 1998-2003 overlapping with Marvel’s expansive Civil War storyline and culminating with T’Chala’s marriage to the X-men’s Ororo (Storm).
Vol.4 was launched in 2005 and ran to 41 issues through 2008. In 2009, Marvel tried again with vol.5 which was panned by critics and subsequently canceled after a 12 issue run.
…it’s too mired in obscure Marvel continuity to attract the more general reader. The plot manages to be convoluted without ever becoming absorbing.
It was becoming clear that Marvel really didn’t know what they were doing with the Black Panther but as anyone who has followed a Marvel series knows, Marvel superheroes don’t die. They just go away for a while and wait for a new crisis to reshape them and pull them back into the eternal Marvel Universe. Apparently, this is exactly what the comic juggernaut has in mind for the Black Panther.
In 2010 Daredevil relinquished his territory to the Black Panther after incidents in the Shadow Land story arc forced him to go on a soul searching journey. Black Panther, now powerless and more Batman-light than ever, also on his own mission of self-discovery accepts and the Daredevil: The Man Without Fear series is temporarily renamed, Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. The series Currently written by David Liss, the series is illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, is really quite excellent and has gotten the attention, good and bad, of the fanboy circuits. Which brings us to the present.
Fear Itself Marvel’s next crossover storyline set to launch April of this year, promises to have, according to the publisher, a “huge impact” on Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. A new image released by Marvel and posted on CBR showing what appears to be A combination of Captain America, Black Panther, and Batman backs up the claim.
Whatever you think of the new costume (I find it a little bulky and restrictive for cat-like reflexes), what the sojourn to Hell’s Kitchen where T’Chala (assuming the identity of Mr. Okonkwo, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo), interacts with other immigrants struggling against the odds to achieve the “American Dream,” shows is Marvel finally gets it; your average American isn’t interested in foreign music, or foreign films, foreign people or foreign lands, and he is not going to accept and support a foreign superhero. But wait you say, what about Black Panther’s wife, Storm and Thor who’s appearing in his own film this summer? They are a goddess and a god, respectively. As such, they transcend borders and national identity.
But let’s take the argument further. Superman the most successful immigrant superhero is a walking, talking symbol of the American dream. His broad appeal is grounded in the appearance of, quite literally, wrapping himself in the American flag (the same can be said of the amazonian Wonder Woman). Like all immigrants, the expectation is to be more American than a natural born citizen. Batman, The Punisher and Wolverine are celebrated for their independence. As American heroes, they are allowed to fight the power, to go rogue, so to speak. But the immigrant, Superman is always watched, his motives questioned because the promised freedom is never truly given to the immigrant, it must be earned over and over again.
That I believe, is exactly what The Black Panther is doing in Hell’s Kitchen. He’s discovering the “American dream” that will result in him, a king, abandoning his throne and country to envelop himself in the red, white and blue and defend his adopted land. Theoretically—philosophically, it’s a brilliant move. It’s the right and only move Marvel can make if they are, and history says they are, intent on saving the first black superhero. They have to correct the mistake they made at inception and make the African hero African-American. The timing of the relaunch, coming within Fear Itself, a vehicle for the upcoming Thor and Captain America films also points to the possibility of Marvel taking Black, eh American Panther to the big screen as well. But isn’t the Stars and Stripes combined with changing the character’s name to American Panther taking things a step too far? Is there no room subtlty in patriotism? And about those knee-pads, elbow-pads and combat boots…