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Secret Origins: Black Panther

VO: MW WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Written Michael Wynands The King has arrived. But how did he get here? Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we will be exploring the Secret Origins of the superhero and King of Wakanda, Black Panther. Have an idea you want to see made into a WatchMojo video? Check out our suggest page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest and submit your idea.
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The King has arrived. But how did he get here? Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we will be exploring the Secret Origins of the superhero and King of Wakanda, Black Panther.

Making his debut in in 1966 in the pages of Fantastic Four #52, Black Panther was the first Black superhero to appear in mainstream American comics, predating the first African American superhero, the Falcon, by three years. To say that he was making his debut in a time of change would be an understatement.

Though the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had been enacted in 1964 and 1965 respectively, the fight for racial equality was far from won, and, in the face of continued discrimination against African Americans, the Black Power movement was beginning to take shape. Black Panther’s introduction was a bold move on the part of Marvel Comics, but his success proved that comic book readers were ready to embrace change.

Black Panther comes from illustrious creative stock. He’s a product of the collaborative efforts of industry legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who together, created many iconic heroes such as the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. Decades later, it’s safe to say that Black Panther can be counted among their most noteworthy achievements.

Interestingly enough, Lee and Kirby created Black Panther before the actual Black Panther Party, which wouldn’t adopt the name for its organization until October of that same year. The increasingly politicized nature of the name, however, did lead Marvel to change Black Panther’s moniker to Black Leopard in 1972, but it was too late - the name Black Panther had already stuck with readers. As Stan Lee explained in an interview with Alter Ego magazine, the initial idea for the name Black Panther actually came from an earlier hero, who had an actual black panther as an animal sidekick. This Black Panther, however, was nobody’s sidekick.

From his very first appearance, he proved himself to be an extremely capable character. He actually took it upon himself to test the members of the Fantastic Four before enlisting their help to help him defend Wakanda against Ulysses Klaw. He did so, oddly enough, by attacking the Fantastic Four when they accepted his invite to Wakanda, and wouldn’t you know it… until they began working as a unit, he was actually able to take on Marvel’s first family. Having proven themselves worthy allies, T’Challa shared with them the tragic tale of his father’s death and his ascension to the throne.

As first explored in “Fantastic Four” #53, T’Challa’s father was murdered by Ulysses Klaw, a villain acting on behalf of the Bilderberg Conference - a governmental group seeking access to the abundant resources of Wakanda. Though his history has undergone some revisions, it’s widely maintained that T’Challa then traveled abroad, shared a romance with Ororo Munroe, AKA the X-Men member Storm, and completed his education as part of the Wakandan rite of passage. Upon his return, in keeping with tradition and fulfilling his destiny, he bested the then-current Black Panther in combat and consumed a heart-shaped herb to connect him with the Panther God, Bast. With that, he not only became the Black Panther and ruling King of Wakanda but also gained superhuman abilities, reflexes, strength, and skills. Knowing that Klaw would one day return to exact his revenge and complete his mission, the Black Panther enlisted the help of the Fantastic Four.

After a strong debut storyline, Black Panther made a number of guest appearances, quickly establishing himself as a breakout character with mainstream appeal. In a testament to his success, just under two years after his debut, T’Challa was invited to join Marvel’s premiere superhero team: The Avengers.

In 1973, after a few years building his brand as part of the team, Black Panther became the lead in “Jungle Action” as of issue #5. It was met with critical acclaim. A carefully crafted character piece spread across 13 issues, it was unlike any Marvel title before it. With its long-form approach to storytelling and attention to character development, the “Panther’s Rage” storyline, written by Don McGregor, has retroactively been referred to as Marvel’s “first graphic novel” and a landmark moment for the industry.

Though Marvel may have been careful to keep a distance between their superhero and the revolutionary organization with whom he shared a name, writer Don McGregor wasn’t afraid of addressing issues of civil rights and racism. For the follow-up story arc to “Panther’s Rage”, he gave readers the bold and then-controversial storyline "Panther vs. the Klan", in which T’Challa traveled to Georgia to tangle with both Klan imitators and real members of the White Supremacist group.

Though “Jungle Action” was met with critical acclaim, it remained somewhat of a cult favorite, achieving modest sales numbers, and was brought to an end with issue #24. It was replaced with Black Panther’s first titular series, which only ran for 15 issues before similarly getting the ax in 1979, and, sadly, was characterized by stories of a generally lower caliber than McGregor’s work.

Throughout the 80s and 90s and early 2000s, numerous Black Panther titles were launched with varying degrees of success. Though each brought something new to the character, Christopher Priest and penciller Mark Texeira's take on the Black Panther was a clear standout, drawing on characters introduced in his debut “Jungle Comics” storyline, including his nemesis, Erik Killmonger. Debuting in the late 90s and running for 62 issues, Volume 3 of Black Panther even saw the mantle passed to Kasper Cole, who would go on to become White Tiger when T’Challa reclaimed the Black Panther title for himself. Another interesting addition to the mythology came in Volume 5, when T’Challa’s sister Shuri replaced her brother. Though both Kasper and Shuri did the costume justice, T’Challa’s popularity in the role is unbeatable.

Black Panther’s history has indeed been a long and storied one, with compelling additions to the mythology being made during every decade since his creation. In 2016 however, two things happened to help Black Panther reach unprecedented heights of popularity. He was included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in May of that year with the release of Captain America: Civil War. There was also the launch of Black Panther Vol 6, written by MacArthur Genius and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has brought incredible insight, nuance and cultural relevance to the character. Add to that the 2018 Black Panther film starring Chadwick Boseman, with a stellar supporting cast, and it’s safe to say that we’re truly living in Black Panther’s golden age.
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