Primer and Reading Recommendations: Black Panther

We here at Cinedelphia are incredibly hyped for BLACK PANTHER this week, and so we’re celebrating all week long, leading up to our review on Thursday night! Find the coverage from all week here!

Here’s your guide to be the smug friend after watching the newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Join us as we dig into the comic books and previous adaptations of Black Panther!

So wait, Marvel has a superhero named after a far-left political organization?

The Black Panther Party was founded in October 1966, but Black Panther debuted in the pages of Fantastic Four #52 in the summer before. Importantly, Black Panther is the first black character to have superpowers, and specifically created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to add diversity to their comics. He later joined the Avengers, and finally received his own title, taking over Jungle Action (yeahh not the best name) in 1973. We’ll come back to that story in the reading recommendations below.

Since then, Black Panther is one of those characters who hasn’t always had his own book, but is a supporting cast member of the Marvel universe. However, he has had quite a few of the all-time great creative runs on a superhero comic.

One thing that makes him different from other superheroes is that T’Challa (the Black Panther’s real identity) is both a national figure and the king of his country as well as a costumed hero. Many of his stories are as much about his duties as king as they are superhero adventures.

What is Wakanda?

Wakanda is a fictional African nation (the exact location varies depending on who is drawing the map) that has never been conquered by an outside force. Due to its extreme isolationism and the presence of a giant meteorite/mountain of vibranium (the ultra-rare metal that Captain America’s shield is made out of), Wakanda has developed all of its super advanced technology independent of the rest of the world. Thus the nation is often depicted with a sort of Afrofuturism style to varying degrees of success.

Okay, Marvel’s been around for 10 years now. Do I need to watch all the other movies to see this one?

Actually no, this one is really standalone. Though some of the characters were introduced in previous films, this one recaps everything you need to know. But in case you’re still anxious, here goes:

Black Panther, aka T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. He joins Team Iron Man after his father T’Chaka is assassinated at a UN meeting. With that, T’Challa, who has already inherited the mantle of Black Panther, Wakanda’s protector, is now also its king. This mirrored his first appearance in Fantastic Four, except that this bombing was done by Helmut Zero.

In the comics, T’Chaka was killed by Ulysses Klaw, an evil physicist who wants Wakandan vibranium to build sonic devices for…evil. Klaw was introduced to the MCU way back in Avengers: Age of Ultron as played by Andy Serkis. Ultron sent Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to Klaw’s shipping boat graveyard hideout in South Africa. Klaw has a history with Tony Stark, and returns in this film to cause trouble for our heroes.

Reading Recommendations

I have four reading recommendations, depending on what you are looking for. The film draws on each of them at least a little.

If you want a superhero epic, check out Panther’s Rage from 1973. Written by Don McGregor, with art by pencilers Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, and Billy Graham, this was Marvel’s first ever graphic novel-length story. At the time, most comics had storylines that lasted only a few issues, with subplots that could play out over longer periods of time, but this storyline was intended to be a 200 page novel from the start. It’s still written in a way where you could miss an issue or two, but the overall narrative all pieces together, and reading the entire story is very satisfying. The basic plot is that T’Challa returns to Wakanda and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan in the film) is making a power move and bringing a lot of other villains along for the ride, including Venomm (notice the two Ms there), Malice, and others.

And the artwork is gorgeous. It’s a bit more dynamic than most other comics I’ve read from the same time period, with the layouts being more experimental than other vintage superhero stories. McGregor uses a lot of words on the page, but it allows each issue to be completely packed with action and information. It actually holds up pretty well for a comic about Africa written by a white guy in 1973, but I can promise that everything looks great from the vantage point of 2018. This version of Wakanda is not the one the comics has depicted since then, so this isn’t the best place to learn about the nation itself. However, the collection also includes Black Panther’s first appearance in Fantastic Four as well as the story following Panther’s Rage, where T’Challa comes to America and fights the Klan.

If you only read one of these, I’d recommend the run by Christopher Priest which started in 1998. This series starts from the perspective of Everett Ross (Martin Freeman in the film), and makes an ideal jumping off point. Everything about the character is explained in detail, and lays the groundwork for the current take on T’Challa. Priest is a great comic writer, mixing humor, action, and strong character work into an engaging adventure story. It introduces a lot of the concepts and characters that show up in the film as well as building on ones from “Panther’s Rage.”

If you want a 300-style comic starring Black Panther, Secret Invasion: Black Panther is the way to go. Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Jefte Palo, this takes place during a huge crossover where the shapeshifting alien Skrulls tried to take over Earth. But that one sentence is all you need to know to read this. The Skrulls are trying to take Wakanda, and Wakanda has never fallen. This was also the period in time where T’Challa was married to Storm from the X-Men.

If you want to really understand the history of Wakanda, I’d start with the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is his first attempt at writing comics (which uses different writing abilities than Coates’ amazing essays) so the first couple of issues are a little scattered, but this has turned into a slowly unfolding epic about identity, religion, myth, and the trials of leadership. It’s very well done, and fascinating, and I am sure there is tons of meaning woven into this story that I am missing.

All of these and more are of course on sale cheap digitally from Comixology, and physical copies should be easy to track down as well.

And that’s it, you’re all caught up!

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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