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Comics 411: The Essential Black Panther Stories

September 10, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Black Panther Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last week we discussed our Favorite Superhero Feuds Here’s what some of you had to say:

Steed: “You’ve listed some good choices.
I always have enjoyed how antagonistic Punisher’s relationships have been with both Daredevil and Spider-man.
Speaking of Spidey I always enjoyed him and Human Torch’s friendly rivalry. Their banter and common tomfoolery and playfulness make them a good pair.
Guy Gardner used to try and mess with Superman at times which never worked out well either haha.
Captain America and Wolverine have had some good feuds too over the past 40 years.
Hulk vs Thor has always been classic fights for the ages.”

Richard C: “The last of the teen-age idols — 1960’s Spider-Man v Human Torch.”

Erick Rowan’s Beard: “Cyclops and Wolverine are basically opposite sides of the coin. In terms of Jean Grey, or probably any sane woman for that matter, Cyclops is the guy you settle down with and marry. He’s stable, devoted, dependable and level headed. Wolverine is the sort of guy that a woman goes for when she’s young, or is single but not looking for anything serious. The guy’s the quintessential bad boy, a lot of fun for a short while but not the sorta guy she can really bring home to meet the folks and expect them to be happy with. Cyclops is the guy with the button down, somewhat uptight, somewhat conservative guy who winds up with a corner office somewhere making upper six figures a year while Wolverine is the guy working as a bouncer in the raunchiest titty bar this tide of Hell.”

El Atomico: “Good column! My favorite and first thought when I saw the title was Grey Hulk vs. Thing, though I like them both, I’ve always leaned towards Hulk. I can’t say the same for Batman vs. Superman, I’d pay to see Batman whoop his ass!”

Benjamin Kellog: “Hulk/Thor was one of the first “dream feuds” in Marvel Comics of the 1960s, built on an absurdly simple premise of “Who’s the strongest?” In essence, two different kinds of strength are tested: the Hulk’s freakish physical might as opposed to one of the most reliable physicality baselines in the Marvel Universe, and Thor’s strength of morality as he tries to prevent the inevitable collateral damage a typical Hulk scrap causes, while also containing his own berzerker rage and battle-borne bloodlust. That dynamic has definitely decreased across the decades, but little quirks such as Hulk having Banner’s intelligence or an overpowered Thor facing Thunderbolt Ross’ “Rulk” have rekindled the heat of this feud. Marvel released a “Hulk vs. Thor” TPB a few years ago to tie-in to “Thor Ragnarok,” covering the rivalry from its beginnings to the present day, highly recommended.”

Phenomenal: “Damian vs every living being in the planet is good one. I particularly enjoy his rivalry with Tim,mostly Tim shitting on him though.

JLU made it damn sure that i’d put Hawkgirl/Wonder Woman here.”

Sting Rey: “hulk vs wolverine
namor vs t’challa
supergirl vs batgirl”

Ken Wood: “Growing up, I always enjoyed reading Spiderman versus Hulk and Spiderman versus Punisher. Spiderman had some weird but fun relationships with different heroes.Spawn versus Batman was a great one for me. I love both those characters and it was great to see them together.”

redhotrash: “Wolverine and Hulk have become so linked that anytime they share a room, there’s tension.Thor and Hercules, especially after a few drinks, almost always come to some level of blows.
Reed, Pym, and Banner over who has the biggest brain.”

Robert Stewart: “Thing got a pretty clean win over Immortal Hulk recently, and that was a great fight.”
Big thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts!

This week we discuss our…

Essential Black Panther Stories
I was thinking of doing this last week in memory of Chadwick Boseman’s passing but something didn’t feel right about the timing so I pushed it off a week. 

While Black Panther’s star has shined brightest in recent years, he’s lacking true classic tales to remember but he’s gaining more and more momentum. Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, making his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52. We also got our first look at his arch-nemesis…Klaw!

A word about Black Panther’s rogue gallery. Like Wonder Woman’s, his isn’t filled with memorable villains. Can you name 5? This too is something I think is going to change in the future. While we’ve seen some greatness in the character, his potential is still unrealized. 

The Black Panther journeyed from the fictional African nation of Wakanda to New York City, New York to join the Avengers in The Avengers #52 and he received his first starring feature with Jungle Action #5. His first notable storyline followed starting in Jungle Action #6 and “Panther’s Rage”. What made this worth looking at? The epic nature of the story and we get to meet T’Challa’s foe, Eric Killmonger.

Staying with Jungle Action and issues #19-22 and Marvel Premiere #51-53, we got the controversial “Black Panther vs. The Klan”. Looking back at it in relation to what’s going on today, the Jungle Action stories have aged well and writer-editor Dwayne McDuffie said of the “Black Panther” feature:

“This overlooked and underrated classic is arguably the most tightly written multi-part superhero epic ever. If you can get your hands on it … sit down and read the whole thing. It’s damn-near flawless, every issue, every scene, a functional, necessary part of the whole. Okay, now go back and read any individual issue. You’ll find seamlessly integrated words and pictures; clearly introduced characters and situations; a concise (sometimes even transparent) recap; beautifully developed character relationships; at least one cool new villain; a stunning action set piece to test our hero’s skills and resolve; and a story that is always moving forward towards a definite and satisfying conclusion. That’s what we should all be delivering, every single month. Don [McGregor] and company did it in only 17 story pages per issue.”

Unfortunately, low sales took out Jungle Action and Black Panther made sporadic appearances in other books and miniseries.

Then we come to writer Christopher Priest’s and penciller Mark Texeira’s 1998 series The Black Panther, volume 3. Priest immediately jumped into things and made Black Panther not only feel important but relevant. From his initial “The Client” that introduced Everett K. Ross to his “Enemy of the State” storyline in Black Panther #6-12 threw T’Challa into the fire when he responds to the involvement of the US government in actions against Wakanda and the Avengers have to step in. Priest put his own stamp on the Black Panther/Killmonger dynamic in Black Panther #16-20 “Killmonger’s Rage”.

It was Black Panther #26-29 “Sturm und Drang” that gave us a deeper and wider appreciation of T’Challa’s power and place in the Marvel universe. Black Panther “Enemy of the State II” further cemented this with T’Challa bumping up against Tony Stark. Oh, and Wolverine shows up too.

Black Panther’s importance carried on in the 4th volume of his series and writer Reginald Hudlin’s first storyline that ran the first six issues titled “Who is the Black Panther?” gave us a fresh look at Wakanda and its significance to T’Challa.

Black Panther “See Wakanda and Die” is another high point that throws us into the action of a very gripping invasion of the Skulls and what Black Panther must do to protect his country and those who rely on him.

I have to circle back and add Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “A Nation Under Our Feet”, which was a stellar work from the award-winning and world-renowned author and journalist. The story elevates not only the character but his history and his country. A true gem. 
Outside some appearances here and there in some crossover events stories, what Black Panther tales stick out to you?

What Black Panther stories do you like the best?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!