The Black Panther’s journey wound down many paths since his debut in 1966’s FANTASTIC FOUR #52, but after 2005 he’d cemented his status as a legendary character with an incredible roster of creators who’d shaped his adventures. The following years would serve to further his legend and provide new wrinkles to his fictional life.
Writer Reginald Hudlin returned with T’Challa in 2009’s BLACK PANTHER #1, but soon handed over the title to Jonathan Maberry. The new series introduced a new family member to the Panther’s fans: T’Challa’s sister Shuri. With the king laid low by an attack from Doctor Doom, the Black Panther’s mantle passed to Shuri, who furthered the legacy in her own way.
Maberry’s personal introduction to the character stands as one of the most dramatic examples of a super hero impacting a reader, one that informed his later crafting of that same character’s stories.
“Writing Black Panther was a particularly rewarding experience for me,” he says. “I have some history with the King of Wakanda. I grew up in a very violent neighborhood during the racial conflicts of the 1960’s. My father was an aggressive racist and member of the local chapter of the KKK. All I got as a kid was propagandized anti-black hate talk, and for a while I thought that was the way the world was. Then I started reading comics. In the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, I was introduced to T’Challa, the noble king of a small but powerful African nation. T’Challa was the exact opposite of a black man as my father and the others in our neighborhood described them.
FANTASTIC FOUR #119 in 1972. It was the first time Apartheid was presented in a comic and it showed the Thing and the Torch going to a totalitarian white African nation to help free their unfairly imprisoned friend, T’Challa. I took that comic to a librarian and asked if anything like that ever happened in the real world. The answer changed my life. That comic, and the character of the Black Panther, changed who I was as a person. It broke apart the shackles of racism that had been put on me by my father. It opened my eyes and my mind.
“Years later, when Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso asked if I wanted to write the Black Panther comic, he had no idea what that would mean to me. I approached the writing with a love of the character and a respect for all he stands for. I only worked on the book for a short time: six issues of the regular continuity and then two limited series, DOOMWAR and KLAWS OF THE PANTHER. But the experience was the most rewarding work in comics I’ve done. The story I wrote explored how it’s not the vibranium or the superior technology of Wakanda that defines who T’Challa is, but his own integrity, his personal honor, and his moral courage.”
At the culmination of 2010’s DOOMWAR, all of Wakanda’s vibranium stores became inert, forcing the African nation to not rely on the unique mineral to rebuild and recover from its recent hardships. One year later, the adventurer Daredevil came to old friend T’Challa and invited him to become Hell’s Kitchen’s protector, a role the Black Panther filled with his usual wisdom and incredible resources of strength, but without his other special abilities. The DAREDEVIL title returned as BLACK PANTHER: MAN WITHOUT FEAR, spearheaded by writer David Liss.
“I loved the premise,” Liss notes of the unique set-up of one hero taking over for another. “The hardest stories to tell are about characters [that] are too powerful, but a great man brought low—now that's a great story-telling opportunity. I always saw my run on BLACK PANTHER as a chance to tell the story about someone who has reached the low point in his life, and who questions everything he has done and fought for, and now has to find his way again. A lot of fans didn't like seeing the Panther disempowered, and I get that, but really it was the story of Black Panther being re-empowered.
“I'm also a huge Daredevil fan, so the chance to write a character who steps into his shoes was also very appealing to me. Ultimately, I saw it as a chance to take a couple of pieces of the Marvel Universe that don't usually fit together, and build something new with them.”
After 15 issues, T’Challa relinquished his position back to Matt Murdock, and then returned to Wakanda to face the wrath of the Sub-Mariner in AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, a storyline that would not also see the land nearly destroyed, but his marriage to Storm annulled.
The relaunch of NEW AVENGERS in 2013 provided the Black Panther with a new home of sorts, a place in the Marvel Universe where he’s sorely needed: as watchdog to his fellow heroes.
Having earlier turned down participation in the so-called “Illuminati,” a secret grouping of some of Earth’s greatest minds and most powerful champions, T’Challa joined them in NEW AVENGERS #1 to help forestall an incursion by a threat the likes of which the planet had never seen before.
“I think [the Black Panther] has been fairly significant since his creation by Jack [Kirby] and Stan [Lee] in the late 60's,” says T’Challa’s current caretaker, writer Jonathan Hickman. “Like a lot of characters over that period of time, he's had ups and downs in terms of popularity, but I think he's always had a fervent and loyal following. I was personally attracted to writing him because he sat perfectly at the intersection of story—the current NEW AVENGERS arc I'm in the middle of regarding the secret heroes who run the world—and character, him being the super intelligent king of a secret science city.
“I suppose, because I know where all of this is going and what's coming out the other side, I'm proudest of the fact that I'm going to leave the character in a place where he can commercially be what he has always been as a character.”
Visit marvel.com/75 for more Marvel 75th anniversary content and join the conversation on Twitter using #Marvel75