By Matt Powell and Arune Singh
The Black Panther's back…and she's
deadlier than ever.
Following the events of Secret Invasion, the landscape of the Marvel Universe has changed, perhaps nowhere feels that change more than the African nation of Wakanda. When T'Challa, aka Wakanda's protector, the Black Panther, falls in the line of duty, a new Panther must rise—but who is she?
The answers arrive in February 4's BLACK PANTHER #1, from acclaimed scribe Reginald Hudlin and artist Ken Lashley, kicking off a new ongoing series for one of comic books' most famous heroes. Marvel.com spoke to Lashley about this exciting new launch and just what he's got planned for the Black Panther.
When asked just what's it like to re-envision arguably the most influential minority hero in comics, Lashley laughs, "When you put it like that , I really don't feel any pressure."
"It's a privilege to be a part of the Black Panther mythos and especially now when this new BLACK PANTHER series has an all new Black Panther," the artist continues. "The Black Panther as a cultural icon has been in the Marvel Universe for decades and when you deal with icons, you have to treat them with the respect they deserve. It's like anything else—Iron Man, Captain America, Silver Surfer, etc.—you have to make it your own but at the same time be mindful of the past. People will remind you instantly if you've gone too far. I look forward to seeing what the fans have to say."
While the identity of this new Black Panther remains a secret, fans all over the world have begun speculating about who's under mask, causing quite the controversy. But there's one thing most fans, including Lashley, would seem to agree on: you can never have too many strong female characters.
"I know that the females in animal world can be the deadliest," he notes. "I've always had a soft spot for the females in the Marvel Universe. This new Black Panther
fits into the mold of characters that [are] interesting, smart and dangerous—having her in the Marvel Universe is a good thing."
Created in the 1960's, a time of political upheaval and a groundbreaking civil rights movement, the Black Panther has always been intertwined with America's political climate. While the Panther's dynamic appearance and exciting battles enthrall Lashley, the character also resonates with him on a personal level.
"The iconography of Black Panther has a very strong meaning to me, not only because I'm a person of color but because it was one of the first comics ever given to me as a child," reveals Lashley. "We're in a different place right now and the story of a strong black character couldn't be more relevant. I've witnessed many things in life that only reaffirm my belief that the time's right for [the] Panther to be in the spotlight. I've been a fan of the Black Panther my whole life and have always loved the character—there's no sidekick attitude and he ran the show. Now she
runs the show. I think with the way the book is presented people will love it—you have never seen a Black Panther like this before."
Designing the look for the new Black Panther proved no easy task, as Lashley explains: "I wanted to add a female sensibility and a hunter's savvy to her. To that end, I gave a much more traditional African motif with her beads, fur and other weapons that'll assist her on her journeys as the new Panther. l used a few warrior icon images and some other things that make sense to add some flavor to her. By the way, it's all functional."
#1 variant cover
To that end, Lashley has made sure that the new Black Panther's movements feel natural and realistic, while also unique to the person under the mask.
"Reggie gives great stage directions, so if I just follow the script I'm good to go," the artist praises his writer. "However, I do add my flavor to things and change things so that I can draw a dramatic shot. I love working with Reggie because he really plays to my strengths."
Over his career, Lashley has illustrated everything from the supernatural to the X-Men, but never anything quite like Wakanda, a challenge he's only too happy to tackle.
"I've spent time looking at how other artists have handled the world and I've taken a few cues from them as well as some books and other things I've seen," Lashley explains. "I've bought a few books depicting the landscapes of Africa—it's beautiful stuff and gives me lots to draw from. The civilization of Wakanda was a bit more tricky because I know how advanced Wakanda is and how they've created their own look to things, so it's like creating everything from scratch. It's very challenging but fun.
"I like the richness of it all because I can use so many aspects of the Black Panther imagery and so much of that look's driven by myths of the African culture. Yes, Black Panther is one of them, but the world has many other visual cues that aid me in creating an environment that is believable and compelling for me as an artist."
Little has been revealed as to why there needs to be a new Black Panther, but this much we know: it involves some of Marvel's most powerful villains. Much like his hero, the Black Panther, Lashley wouldn't break under pressure to give up the secret about just who's appearing, but dropped a hint for fans.
"I've been drawing the big bad guys for a few months now, but I guess everyone knows that a certain big baddie makes his presence felt in the [Black Panther] world and it spells certain Doom
for all who're involved. But that villain isn't the only baddie who shows up.
"When you see who it is you will all understand why I'm so jazzed about drawing this series."
BLACK PANTHER #1, the extra-sized first issue of this new ongoing series, arrives in stores February 4, 2009. You can check out more Black Panther at Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.