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The Year of the Black Panther

Joshua Riebel ’20, Guest Writer

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In preparation for the new Black Panther movie set to release on February 19th as well as in celebration of Jack Kirby who passed away twenty-two years ago to the day, it’s only fitting to take a look at the Black Panther and attempt to understand how and why he has become as popular as he has, as well as his lead-up to becoming the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. First appearing in Fantastic Four #52, Jack Kirby created the character of Black Panther to give more depth to the very Caucasian comic industry of the 1960s. You name it, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers, even the Justice League were all comprised of an all-white nearly all-male cast.

T’Challa aka the Black Panther is the king of Wakanda, a sovereign nation hidden in central Africa. Wakanda is not only hidden geographically, as its people on the exterior seem like a tribe of Africans worshipping an animal god; whereas, they actually are a highly developed oligarchic society with weaponry that dwarfs even that of “first-world” nations.

This technology is possible due to vibranium, a rare and expensive element sought after for its ability to withstand intense damage. It is woven into the Black Panthers uniform, which allows him to withstand bullets and most traditional weaponry; further, it is one of the chief materials used in the fabrication of Captain America’s indestructible shield.

Curiously, the Black Panther is best known as an Avenger despite premiering in the Fantastic Four two years prior. From his 1968 debut in Avengers until the mid-70s when he leaves the roster, the Black Panther became the single most prominent black superhero, predating both Luke Cage and the Falcon. His intelligence and technical expertise rivals that of Iron Man; however he has speed and agility to rival that of Captain America.

Throughout his run in the Avengers, the Black Panther is used as both a super hero, and as a moral guide as he is forced to experience the racism and bigotry rampant in America in this time period. Avengers writers Jim Shooter and Roger Stern delved into the Black Panther’s connection to his race and his connection to African-Americans who fit into a slightly different category than he. Curiously, the Black Panther faded into near-obscurity after returning to Wakanda in the late 70s.

After bouncing back and forth from limited series’, Marvel Premiere, Jungle Action, occasional one-offs in various Avengers titles, and eventually his own series in the 1990s, he slowly returned to the public eye. What most likely propelled him into notoriety was the 2010-2012 Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes show where he took on a major role.

While the show only lasted about two years, it was very well-made and resembled the comics. By being in this spotlight, was re-introduced to comic fans who otherwise may not have known him at all. This undoubtedly propelled him into Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, where he was finally given his big-screen debut after nearly fifty years.

The Black Panther is everywhere today from video games to TV shows and movies, and deservedly so. He pioneered a wave of reforms in comics that opened doors to heroes and concepts that did not fit into the early-mid 60s bubble of Caucasian super heroes with little variety. When you look at comic books today and the heroes who headline them, the Black Panther’s presence is clear: He made diversity in comic books possible, and now he is receiving the credit he deserves.

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The Year of the Black Panther