Stan Lee and Jack Kirby probably weren’t trying to make a political statement when they created the first major black superhero, but when they did, they decided to make him a king: Black Panther, a.k.a T’Challa of the mythical African nation of Wakanda.
Wakanda’s culture seems, at first, to be a primitive tribal stereotype, yet it’s actually highly technologically sophisticated culture, has never been successfully invaded by another nation, and is one of the only sources on earth of the element Vibranium. It is a fictional pastiche of “Africa” as Doctor Doom’s Latveria is of an imagianry “Europe”: it represents no real place or people on earth.
Appearing first in FANTASTIC FOUR #52 in 1966, T’Challa is the latest Black Panther, an honorific held by the king (although born a prince, T’Challa still had to defeat the previous Black Panther in ritual combat to earn the title). Armed with little more than enhanced human abilities like Captain American (who was defeated by a previous Black Panther during a misunderstanding during World War II), Black Panther is also a mechanical and tactical genius. At various times he’s been an ally of the Fantastic Four and a member of the Avengers, all while ruling a country.
Black Panther is simply one of the coolest-looking characters around. His black catsuit might be too understated for most other characters but he’s allowed because he did it first. It will sometimes be adorned with a high-collared ceremonial cape or gold adornments, which I find incredibly gaudy and ugly. Whenever he wears those I feel like someone decided he was “Too black. Too strong.” Interestingly, the name “Black Panther” predates the Black Panther Party by a few months. Once again Lee and Kirby were ahead of the curve.
Please come back for a gem of a character in tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY.