Leaping Into the Black Panther Movie
When “Captain America: Civil War” premiered in 2016, I remember having a discussion with one of my best friends about how nervous we were about it. Being massive fans of Marvel Comics since the early 90s, we had in turn become great fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and while there was very little the company could do then –or even now for that matter – to change that, we had not been as concerned about the company getting everything about a movie right since the first Avengers film.
It’s easy for MCU fans to forget how ground breaking The Avengers movie was. Marvel was creating an ensemble superhero movie with characters who commanded their own critical and box office success in standalone features. No film company had done this before. Fans anxiously wondered if the studio could produce a story that was big enough to do these beloved characters justice and not have one hero suffocate the others under the weight of their own star power.
"Captain America: Civil War" would be bigger than The Avengers. While Chris Evans’ Captain America was the title hero of the movie, Civil War was as ostensibly an Avengers movie, eclipsing the others in the amount of star power on screen.
Civil War collected every major character from “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (save The Hulk and Thor). It brought in Ant-Man in from his solo film, introduced Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier) to the wider Avengers team and included a very cool cameo by Spiderman.
But, by the time "Captain America: Civil War" hit the big screen, Marvel had done big multiple hero movies several times with great success so there wasn’t a real reason to believe that this time would be different.So why were my friend and I worried?
Because Civil War was going to introduce one of our favourite characters into the MCU: T'Challa of Wakanda aka The Black Panther, and like the first Avengers movie, we desperately hoped Marvel Studios would get it right... and they did.
A Black Panther Worthy of the Legend
Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther was poised, dignified, resourceful and a dazzling combatant. We breathed a sigh of relief, the MCU was going to take the Black Panther as seriously as we did.
As persons of colour, my friends and I loved the care and respect Marvel had given The Black Panther over the years. He was never a two bit player in the Marvel Universe. Here was a black character who was never a sidekick, had been a leading member of some of the company’s most important teams and starred in his own book.
As a superhero, he commanded talents on par with some of his better known counter parts. He had Olympic level stamina and reflexes on par with Spiderman, he was as skilled of a tactician and fighter as Captain America, he possessed a genius level scientific intellect that rivalled Mr Fantastic of the Fantastic Four and was as wealthy – if not wealthier- than Tony Stark.
He was created by Stan Lee and Jack “King” Kirby in the midst of the turbulent 60s. For the United States, it was a decade of protests and riots at home and a seemingly endless war in Asia. A president, politicians and civil rights leaders were assassinated and the world was almost pushed to the brink of nuclear war.
The First of His Kind
African Americans were in the midst of a fight for equal rights in education, housing, employment, at the ballot box and basically in every aspect of life. They were struggling against government sanctioned discrimination and against the guardians of a system that would rather unleash dogs and firehoses on them rather than allow them their full rights as a citizen.
It seems trivial that in the midst of advancements in this struggle like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, one should mark the creation of the comic world’s first black superhero but for geeks like me, who grew up bemoaning the fact that there was a woeful lack of diversity in comic books, movies, TV, science fiction and fantasy stories, video games and many of the other distractions of geekdom, seeing yourself – or rather someone who looked like you be as powerful, heroic and important as the other fictional heroes who did not, was significant.
Marvel didn’t have to create T’Challa, Wakanda or the legend of The Black Panther. DC Comics, a company much older than Marvel and who, at the time, was also larger and more successful, hadn’t – and wouldn’t have a major back superhero for a full decade after Lee and Kirby caused the Black Panther to leap from the pages of Fantastic Four #52 in July 1966.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Set an Example
The Black Panther's creation was not a result of some kind of liberal guilt on the part of Lee or Kirby or some form of tokenism, far from it. He was to be a proper superhero, setup for success in every way his white counterparts were.
In his foreword to "Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 6, Lee said he had always felt that the Black Panther had the chance of becoming one of the "most popular, best-selling heroes in all of comicdom".
"When you combine his unique and glamorous panther power with the strange gripping legend of the Wakanda nation and add the fact that T'Challa is [the] guardian of the world's only priceless store of vibranium, you've got a combo that's hard to beat."
Wakanda itself was the antitheses of any African nation (imagined or otherwise) depicted in fiction. It wasn’t some dark, impoverished country untouched by the 20th Century and populated by superstitious, half naked, ignorant natives who were in desperate need of a white saviour.
Lee and Kirby’s African nation was wealthy and more scientifically advanced than the majority of the outside world. It was a nation of proud scientists and warriors who jealously guarded their traditions. It was an African nation that was never colonized or conquered by outsiders.
Lee, Stan, and Jack Kirby. Marvel Masterworks Presents The Fantastic Four. Collecting The Fantastic Four Nos. 51-60 & Annual No. 4 Volume 6 Volume 6. New York: Marvel Comics, 2004.
Black Panther's Rage
It's impossible to talk about The Black Panther without mentioning one of the best stories ever told about the character specifically, and in Marvel in general.
T'Chala was intended to be a significant property of Marvel Comics so it perhaps should not have come as a surprise when The Black Panther became the title character of the company’s first graphic novel. Although serialised, “Black Panther: Panther's Rage” is considered Marvel’s first proper graphic novel.
The story arc spanned 12 issues and two years (1973 -1975) and is considered one of the best stories of the era.
Marco Lupoi, publishing director of the Panini group (the company that manages Marvel’s rights in Italy) described “Panther’s Rage” as one of the most “tightly plotted Marvel stories from that period”.
“Ten years before Frank Miller’s Daredevil, (writer Don) McGregor and Co created a dark and brooding story unlike anything seen before in a Marvel comic. It’s called Panther's Rage for a reason.
“The script is like a coiled spring – you can feel the tension and growing fury in every line of dialogue and narration.”
Saunders, Catherine, Heather Scott, Julia March, Alastair Dougall, Stan Lee, and Joe Quesada. Marvel Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle. 2013.
Black Panther: Panther's Rage. [Place of publication not identified]: Hachette Partworks Ltd, 2016.
The Black Panther Movie
The Black Panther Movie is another ground-breaking milestone in the life of this character. A MCU phase three project -that is, it is set during the events following "Avenger 2: Age of Ultron" - "Black Panther" is directed by Ryan Coogler, and stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o.
The film follows T’Challa, who, after the events of Civil War, returns home to Wakanda to take his place as King.
My friends and I are not anxious about this film. It has an amazing cast, that also includes Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker and a talented director who, incidentally, directed Michael B. Jordan in both Creed and Fruitvale Station.
We know that it will be great, but like with anything one likes or loves the hope is that everyone who sees the film gets the same goose bumps when T’Challa of Wakanda leaps into action.
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© 2017 Rupert Missick