Comics and Cosplay
The Weird History of The Black Panther, New King of The MCU

Ross Lincoln | 30 Oct 2014 20:40
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Black Panther MCU

With the news that he's getting his own movie, we look back on the lore and impact of the king of Wakanda.

Let's get something out of the way: Marvel's Black Panther isn't named after the political party.

I mention this because over the last few days, I've seen dozens of tweets, from clueless people who don't know how Google works, expressing a strange, bitter resentment that Marvel has announced Black Panther as part of its next wave of superhero films called Marvel Phase 3. Of course, the get-off-my-lawn brigade rarely bothers to do basic research, but it's maddening to see reactions to something awesome being so cluelessly angry.

Related: Our looks at Captain Marvel and The Inhumans

Just so you know, the Black Panther party didn't coin the name. That honor goes to the segregated 761st Tank Battalion, a highly decorated World War II outfit that, no joke, included Jackie Robinson among its members. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby probably did not have that unit in mind when they created Black Panther in 1966, but they did beat the Black Panther Party to the punch by three months. Marvel even temporarily changed Black Panther's name to "Black Leopard"1 to avoid association with that group. So quit it with the lazy know-nothing complaints, old, out of touch cranks on the Internet.

Escapist readers, however, I know you're cool. But I also know you might not have ever really had that much exposure to one of Marvel's oldest supporting characters. That's certainly about to change, now that Black Panther - complete with his incredible fetish-tastic catsuit - is set to become an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there's no reason not to start now. So who is this guy? Let's dig into it.

black-panther-comic-book

Who is Black Panther?

First appearing in 1966 on the pages of Fantastic Four issues 52 and 53, Black Panther, created (as discussed) by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, marked the debut of black superheroes in mainstream comics. Further, while Black Panther is preceded by heroic characters created for All-Negro Comics, as well as earlier incarnations of Marvel, Black Panther also has the distinction of being the first black superhero with actual superpowers. (Falcon arrived in 1969, and Luke Cage in 1972.)

Obviously, the character owes a lot to the rapid social changes sweeping the country during the 1960s. Mainstream comics were a lily white affair until then, and even female superhero characters were largely relegated to supporting, almost infantilized roles2. While Black Panther wasn't an expressly political character, Marvel was already notable for inserting relevant political themes into its comics, and Black Panther can't be separated from that.

However, rather than tapping into Civil Rights anxieties (that was the X-Men's job), Black Panther functioned in part as a well-meaning (if somewhat awkward) nod to the Afrocentrism movement. Instead of fighting for his own rights, he was their embodiment. Despite the unfortunate undertones - a mystical, secret prosperous land in the middle of a continent wracked by poverty and warfare, with some elements clearly derived from blatant exoticization of ethnic "others" - Black Panther was a very forward thinking concept that looked ahead to a world beyond the racial tensions of its day.

1) Incidentally, I think that was a weak move. The Black Panther Party never enjoyed anything remotely close to actual national influence, its brief 68-city presence in 1970 due largely to public reaction to FBI efforts to suppress it. After the bureau laid off, it basically collapsed. PS: I also think Archer is being weak for ditching ISIS.

2) True fact: Wonder Woman was initially admitted to The Justice Society as its secretary. No I am not remotely kidding. And don't forget how Sue Storm was originally called "the Invisible Girl". Yuck.

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