Already a landmark character after his 1966 debut in FANTASTIC FOUR #52 and solo adventures in JUNGLE ACTION, his own BLACK PANTHER series, and MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, T’Challa, King of the Wakandans, stalked toward the new millennium with the aid of an assortment of star creators.
T’Challa returned to his African home of Wakanda in 1998’s BLACK PANTHER ongoing series, written by Christopher Priest and illustrated by Mark Texeira as part of the Marvel Knights imprint. At the time, then-Marvel Knights co-editor and current Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada felt certain of the character’s ability to carry his own title again, and to once more push the boundaries of comic book super hero fiction.
“I've always loved the character,” Quesada says. “As a kid who grew up on Marvel comics, I remember picking them up and I remember seeing the Black Panther for the first time, and what an incredible influence the character had upon me. I'm not black but I'm Hispanic and I grew up in a neighborhood in Queens, where I had friends that came from all walks of life and all different ethnicities. I had an opportunity to read comics from different companies, and seeing the Black Panther in FANTASTIC FOUR, to me, was so significant. The fact that the Marvel stories took place in the real world, it felt to me like these were stories that were meant for me in my world, and about the world I was growing up in.
“So I always had a warm spot in my heart for the character, and I just love the way the character looks and the origins of the character and everything about him, so when we were developing Marvel Knights, the Black Panther was one of those characters that I just felt was sort of underused, underappreciated. I really wanted to take a shot at bringing him back to comics. We felt there was a story to be told there and we got the shot to do it.”
Though Priest eventually immersed himself in T’Challa’s world, strengthening it with new characters such as U.S. envoy Everett Ross and the Panther’s protégé, Queen Divine Justice, he at first seemed reluctant to take on the project.
“Initially, I wasn’t all that attracted,” the writer remembers. “I’d hoped Marvel Knights editors Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti were going to offer me DAREDEVIL, only to hear the words ‘Black Panther.’ I considered passing, but Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn sort of tag-teamed me on not only the relevance of the character but the possibilities of the new direction Joe and Jimmy wanted to take with him.
“I subsequently had a conference call with Joe and Jimmy and insisted Panther could no longer be this guy who got beat up, hit from behind—sometimes by little kids—or dragged behind motor vehicles. The Panther, as I understood him, was this incredibly wily strategist who beat the crap out of the Fantastic Four, largely on the strength of Ben Grimm’s arrogance in assuming he’d be no threat to them.
“That was the core dynamic I wanted to exploit: the readers’ assumption that T’Challa was just some guy and was no match for people like Mephisto. Panther’s State Department handler, Everett K. Ross, became the voice of the skeptical reader, always assuming Panther was in over his head, while T’Challa always had a winning strategy. I’d love to take credit for that, but that dynamic was invented by Stan Lee. I just went back to Stan’s original concept.”
After a 62-issue run, both Priest and Quesada knew they’d been involved in a unique take on the Black Panther, even going so far as to introduce a temporary replacement for T’Challa, Kasper Cole, when the original Panther fell prey to a brain aneurism and fought a long battle to recover not only his health, but his towering status as a hero.
“The Panther, I believe, was groundbreaking in the sense of his being an uncompromised person of African lineage debuting during the turbulent civil rights movement in America,” says Priest. “He was presented not as a mascot or as comic relief—although he did laugh a lot—but as a person of immense power, wealth, and an intellect to rival—and out-fight—Reed Richards. This was unique at a time when minority characters appeared mostly as comic relief or wince-inducing stereotype.
“I suppose that people—Marvel characters, Marvel readers and Marvel itself—take T’Challa seriously again [after our series]. That’s actually to Joe and Jimmy’s credit, but I’m very pleased to have been part of that effort to refocus the character and firmly establish him in the Marvel Universe.”
“I was just happy that we got a chance to bring him back into the mainstream and put a spotlight on him,” Quesada adds. “And the fact that there have been so many great stories that have been written since that point with the character, and bringing him back to the Avengers, and all the great things that have happened to the character since then, and hopefully in the future as we move on. So for me, that's really the best I can say, is that I was glad to be a part of the Black Panther story, and part of his ongoing history.”
In 2005, a new BLACK PANTHER title once again brought T’Challa to an exciting place with fresh challenges, this time the sharing of his life with a bride and the desperate atmosphere of a super hero civil war.
Series writer Reginald Hudlin possessed an expansive view of the scope of the Black Panther’s influence not only within his fictional universe, but as one of the industry’s linchpin characters.
“Black Panther isn't just historically significant as the first black super hero, he's also a perfect concept who sums up the hopes and dreams of a people the way Superman does,” he says. “As the king of an African nation both technologically and morally superior to the West, he's the ultimate black nationalist fantasy. But like Captain America, he's a man of great principle which prevents him from being a jingoist prop and makes him broadly accessible. I wanted to write him as a way of paying back all the inspiration that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave him for creating him, and paying forward to the next generation by telling the stories I always wanted to see.”
“T'Challa is brilliant, strong, and sports the best costume in all of comics,” Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso notes. “He's a historic figure, for sure, and while his appeal is universal, his world view—who he is and what he stands for—has found a special connection with five generations of African America fans.”
The king of Wakanda took the X-Men’s Storm, whom he’d known since his teens, as his bride, and together the two heroes reached out to other nations to cement their kingdom as a force to be reckoned with. When the Superhuman Registration Act reared its ugly head, the Panther and Storm sided with Captain America’s rebels and later joined the Fantastic Four as temporary replacements for Reed and Sue Richards.
“I'm very proud of the swagger that Reginald Hudlin, John Romita Jr., and all the artists who contributed to the long-running ongoing series brought to the character,” says Alonso. “That series, especially the first arc, drilled down to the core question, ‘Who is the Black Panther?’ and showed a new generation of readers what sets T'Challa apart from everyone else in the Marvel Universe. The Black Panther was—and continues to be—a key piece of the puzzle that Marvel is building.”
The story of the Black Panther concludes next week on Marvel.com, as the character strides into the present day! Visit marvel.com/75 for more Marvel 75th anniversary content and join the conversation on Twitter using #Marvel75