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

Ross Lincoln | 30 Oct 2014 16:40
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Why is this important?

First and foremost, the announcement of a Black Panther film is a concrete step in establishing greater diversity in the superhero genre onscreen. While there have obviously been black superheroes headlining films before, notably Blade and (in anti-hero form) the misguided and terrible Catwoman film, those films and others like them have been at best niche hits. More importantly, it has only been since the establishment of the Marvel cinematic universe1 that the superhero genre has emerged as a powerful pop cultural force taken seriously both by the public and critics. Having the main2 roster be exclusively white and male going on 6 years is a bit frustrating, and unreflective of both the culture at large and fandom.

Selecting the first black superhero as the first to have a stand-alone MCU franchise honors some pretty cool history and, hopefully, suggests Americans are finally becoming ready for nonwhite actors to be more than loyal supporting BFFs in our biggest pop cultural events.

That said, diversity for the sake of checking off boxes isn't diversity at all, which is why it's also notable that Black Panther is one of Marvel's oldest and mythology-rich characters. Selecting him for a stand alone film isn't just about an increasingly diverse Marvel universe, it also signals a commitment to an increasingly dense, interconnected one. Not only in the way that some of Black Panther's world-building elements, like the vibranium used to make Captain America's shield, enlarge the scale of the MCU. But also in how central, albeit in the background, Black Panther has been to some of Marvel's biggest events and character arcs, particularly those now being exploited for Phase 3. At this point, going to the movies is starting to feel like collecting comics. And I have to say, that's kind of awesome.

Finally, Black Panther has been a criminally underused character for a long time. Though Marvel, clearly anticipating this film, has used him more frequently in the last decade, he remains relatively obscure. A successful film might make people read more comics featuring him, and as you know, for those of us running this Escapist channel, more people reading more comics is a net positive.

Where do I start if I want to read more?

Since his introduction, Black Panther has been featured both in other characters' series, and in several solo outings. I regret to inform you that there isn't an easy-to-grasp list, in order, of where to start. Chalk it up to the convoluted mess that is 50 years of comics history. Thanks, Internet. Wikipedia has a list, but randomly glancing at my comic shelf, here are my suggestions:

  • Essential Black Panther - Volume 1: Collects the Don McGregor-penned issues of Jungle Action and Jack Kirby's run on the Black Panther solo series of the 70s. Buy it here.
  • Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther. A retelling of Black panther's origins, written by Reginald Hudlin and drawn by John Romita Jr. Buy it here
  • Black Panther Vol. 1: The Client. A collected edition of a great story from the 90s-00s Black Panther series. Buy it here

1) Yes, I realize The Dark Knight is also partly responsible. However, that might be because it came out the same year as Iron Man. Largely, it's the success of the MCU as a concept that legitimized comic movies as a genre. Batman was already (mostly) taken seriously; The Dark Knight just legitimized Christopher Nolan as a blockbuster filmmaker. Feel free to disagree in comments, however!

2) Nick Fury, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Falcon, James Rhodes. Yes I know. They are all supporting characters. I'm talking about the headliners.


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