Two years ago, I wrote about why the Black Panther deserves his own movie and that was even before we saw Chadwick Boseman’s convincing portrayal of T’Challa in the Captain America: Civil War movie.
TIhe recent Black Panther movie trailers further whet my appetite and raised expectations that this might be 2018’s sleeper hit (Ed: read Star2’s review of the movie here!)
Well, looks like it’s time to revisit the evolution of T’Challa and his homeland Wakanda once more.
Evolution of the Panther
Introduced in 1966 (Fantastic Four (vol.1) #52) by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, T’Challa is the king and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. He also has the honour of being the first African-descent superhero in mainstream comics.
Despite sharing the limelight with Marvel’s First Family, the Panther lacked their cosmic presence and instead focused on his personal strong points – being the ruler of Wakanda and chieftain of the Wakandan Panther Clan, which mirrors the Fantastic Four’s greatest nemesis Dr Doom’s rule over Latveria in some ways.
However, unlike Doom, whose strengths hail from a mixture of science and mystics, the Panther gets his powers from consuming a special Heart-Shaped Herb and through his mystical rapport with the Panther God, which grants him super strength, a healing factor, acute senses and reflexes.
Depth and dimension
While Bruce Wayne has his family fortune to fund his crime fighting adventures, T’Challa has an entire nation’s wealth (fueled by its vast Vibranium reserves) at his disposal.
Adding further depth and dimension to T’Challa is the fact that he is also considered one of the eight smartest people on Earth, and is able to juggle multiple roles (king, strategist, politician, inventor and super hero) within different superhero circles.
Elavating his stature further, Black Panther joined the Avengers (Avengers (vol.1) #52) in 1968 and played instrumental roles in the team’s adventures.
It was here that the Panther gained invaluable experience as a team-player, paving the way for future stints on the Fantastic Four, Defenders and Fantastic Force – where he even assumed leadership on several occasions.
Having spent three decades of his adventures as a team player [coupled with a few solo outings against Klan(s) and Klaw], the most revolutionary revamp of Black Panther happened in 1998, thanks to Christopher Priest (writer) and Mark Texeira (artist).
Unlike his past visits to America, this no-holds barred Marvel Knights series redefines the Panther’s presence in the US through the introduction of captivating characters like the Dora Milaje (“The Adored Ones”), Erik Killmonger and State Department attorney Everett Ross.
Ross, particularly, had that unique role of bridging the gap between the African culture that the Panther mythos is steeped in and Marvel’s predominantly white readership.
Despite being the ruler of Wakanda, an Avenger and one of the wealthiest superheroes on Earth, T’Challa’s life wasn’t complete until he tied the knot with his old flame Ororo Munroe, aka Storm.
Then, being Marvel’s new “Power Couple” they embarked on a series of diplomatic tours to Attilan (home of the Inhumans), Latveria (Dr Doom), USA and Atlantis (Namor). They even filled in for Reed and Sue in the FF, who went on a vacation.
Cat without fear
The most offbeat re-invention of the Panther happened in 2011, when he stood in as Hell Kitchen’s guardian devil!
Accepting an invitation from Matt Murdock/Daredevil himself, T’Challa assumed the identity of Mr Okonkwo – an immigrant from Congo who runs a small diner in Hell’s Kitchen.
Even today, I still don’t understand why they bothered to run this meaningless plot and this era was definitely a step backwards for the Panther.
During the Avengers Vs X-Men event, Wakanda was destroyed by a massive tidal wave, courtesy of a Phoenix-empowered Namor. Blaming the act of destruction on Mutantkind, T’Challa annuls his marriage to Storm.
Though he wasn’t part of the original Illuminati (which consisted of Prof X, Namor, Reed Richards, Tony Stark and Dr Strange), T’Challa is now a key decision maker within this covert power brokers.