The Black Panther first appeared in a 1966 Fantastic Four two-parter (#52 & #53). Not long after that (1968) he joined the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Black Panther’s time with the Avengers raised his profile, yet, also largely ignored one of his most prominent features: being king of Wakanda. Other superheroes in the past had either been monarchs or had ties to them, most famously Princess Diane, daughter of the Queen of the Amazons. The overlap between Wakanda and Themyscira is intriguing, as they are both technologically advanced cultures created and maintained by minority populations. In his original Wonder Woman stories, William Moulton Marston used Paradise Island as an example for what human civilization could aspire to being, if only women were allowed to live to their full potential. Similarly the scientific glories of Wakanda represent what African minds can achieve when free from the bonds of oppression. Unlike Wonder Woman, this concept was dormant throughout T’Challa’s earliest adventures. His Avengers period kept him in New York, far removed from the tribal politics of his homeland. It was not until the Panther received his first solo stories that creators began tapping the full potential of Wakanda.
On Friday at New York Comic Con, Marvel held a panel observing the 50th Anniversary of Black Panther. Created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther debuted in the pages of Fantastic Four #52. Lee and Kirby were at the height of their collaboration at this moment, having just wrapped a string of stories introducing iconic figures such as the Inhumans, Galactus and Silver Surfer. The issue prior (#51) told the classic tale “This Man . . . This Monster!” Given this high level of quality, it is hardly surprising that they would not miss a beat when premiering The Big Two’s first black superhero. Two years later, Roy Thomas added the Panther to the ranks of The Avengers just in time for T’Challa to share Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ initial encounters with Ultron and The Vision.
Despite their canonical status, the NYCC panel was mostly silent on these earliest Black Panther stories. Instead, they cited the work of writer Don McGregor as the foundational Black Panther tales. In the early 70s, Marvel launched Jungle Action as a low-profile series reprinting old adventure stories from the 1950s. However, much had changed in America since the 50s and McGregor found much of these stories racially offensive. (A cursory glance at the initial covers suggests that these narratives revolved around a generic Tarzan type rescuing a fearful white woman from all sorts of rampaging jungle beasts). Eventually editorial grew tired of McGregor’s complaining and assigned him the task of writing new scripts for the series. As McGregor explained, “jungle books didn’t sell, so what did they have to lose? They could simply cancel the series and say ‘hey we tried.’” Then in the tradition of Frank Miller, Jim Starlin and other creators reviving moribund properties, McGregor refashioned Jungle Action into something iconic.