Seven Comics You Have to Read if You Love Black Panther
To say people are excited for the upcoming Black Panther movie is to give a bit of an understatement. Already the film — which stars the first mainstream black superhero — has outsold every other superhero film in pre-sales and Ryan Coogler’s adaptation stands as both an all important for incredible superhero storytelling and black representation. The movie seems as culturally defining as Lord of the Rings was just a decade and a half ago.
However, the Black Panther film is just one adventure, and if you’re itching to see more of the character, Marvel has left behind a legacy of incredibly artistic and challenging comics starring the King of Wakanda. As a lifelong comic book reader, he is easily my favorite Marvel character to read, as is adventures reveal the writer and artists’ thoughts on politics, race, afrofuturism and just the world around us. Here are the seven Black Panther comic book runs you absolutely should read, in chronological order.
Oh and by the way, if you’re looking for the best three Black Panther runs, it goes the one written by Christopher Priest, then Ta Nehisi Coates, then Don McGregor’s — in that order. Enjoy!
The Original Fantastic Four Comics (Fantastic Four #52-53 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee)
Black Panther, like so many other incredible Marvel characters (The Inhumans, The Watcher, the Skrulls, Galactus are just like— five of them) premiered in a two part story in Fantastic Four — Fantastic Four #52-53 to be exact. The story introduced us to Wakanda, Klaw, T’Chaka and of course — Black Panther — aka T’Challa. The issue opens with Black Panther beating the tar out of the Fantastic Four to make sure they were ready for the task at hand — Defeating Klaw!
Black Panther — as both a character and a concept — has never shied away from complex politics, and his origin is now different. Ulysses Klaw is a South African miner, here to steal the Vibranium — their precious metal they so dearly protect— from the Wakandan people. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created something incredible — an African country that fights back against these kinds of invaders, thus bringing Afro-Futurism to the Marvel Universe and not to mention easily one of its best characters.
Aside from a brief stint on The Avengers, we weren’t going to see a ton of T’Challa for a few years, until…
“Panther’s Rage” by Don McGregor, Rich Buckler and Billy Graham
Don McGregor’s run on Black Panther — known as Panther’s Rage — ran in the back of the terribly named Marvel anthology series “Jungle Action”. The series was notable for not just being an incredible Black Panther story, but an incredible comic, with its storytelling sophistication still a hard one to match and many calling it “Marvel’s First Graphic Novel”. Don McGregor got out two arcs before the series was unceremoniously cancelled — “Panther’s Rage” — which set the tone for so many Black Panther stories to come after it.
”Panther’s Rage” concerns T’Challa returning to Wakanda after his stint with the Avengers, to find his country under threat of being taken over by armies of Wakandans angry at him for his abandon and looking for comfort in the arms of fascist strongman “Erik Killmonger”. Killmonger — who himself felt abandoned by Wakanda when Klaw killed his father as a young child — remains one of T’Challa’s most compelling opponents, and a good opportunity for McGregor to flex his poetic muscles musing about war, conflict and mortality.
And the art was ridiculous. The majority of the run was drawn by Rich Buckner and Billy Graham and includes insane looking pages like the one we used above. It was incredible.
The comic was cut short to be replaced by a gonzo comic drawn and written by Black Panther’s creator Jack Kirby, in the middle of an arc titled “Black Panther vs. The Klan”, where Black Panther attempted to avenge the death of his girlfriend Monica Lynne’s sister in the south. The last panel showed him looking up at a misguided hero named Wind Eagle after a grueling battle. Who knows how it would end, but McGregor did get an opportunity to write more Black Panther comics about a decade and change later, which resulted in the equally beautiful Panther’s Quest.
You can buy Panther’s Rage in an “Epic Collection”, here, which conveniently also comes with the Fantastic Four comics which premiered the character.
Jack Kirby’s Ridiculous Black Panther Run
After Jack Kirby left Marvel — and consequently his partnership with Stan Lee — he went on to become the gonzo king of comics, crafting and creating odd series which were unprecedented both in Kirby’s skills and the levels of weirdness. At DC he created mind bending comics such as “The New Gods”, “The Demon” “Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth” and “OMAC: One Man Army Corps”. All of those comics are incredible — heck “OMAC” and “New Gods” could stand next to any David Lynch film and hold its own. I guess the context of where the artist was in that point in his life is important to contextualize just how weird a Black Panther comic Jack Kirby produced.
Gone were the intricate real world inspired politics of McGregor’s run, and in came a surreal adventure involving the Black Panther helping a collector dwarf named Mr. Little rescue golden time traveling frogs from a crypt — invoking the wrath of Princess Zanda and Hatch-22, a man brought here from the year 6,000,000 A.D. It’s not necessarily an amazing use of the character, as the king of Wakanda is given a more generic superhero role in an adventure that feels like it belongs in an underground comic — but it sure is another wild and bizarre book from the Panther’s original creator.
Kirby left the series, stating that he felt like he has made his statement with the character already back when he was first a part of Marvel, but still — it’s incredible to see one of our favorite characters drawn in those intricate and incredible Jack Kirby spreads.
The Kirby run on Black Panther is hard to come by but you can buy a Kindle edition of it here.
Christopher Priest’s Black Panther Run
Until recently, Christopher Priest was easily one of the most underrated writers in comics. His voice, sense of humor, ability to openly and bluntly discuss politics (both racial and not), make him the kind of writer who should be celebrated like Grant Morrison or Tom King — someone whose incredible voice keeps people coming back for more and more. Recently, due to the popularity of Black Panther, he is getting the audience he deserved, and this run is getting the readers it has always deserved
The first full time black writer at Marvel, Christopher Priest’s run focused in on Black Panther as a true ruthless politician, the world of Wakanda as this odd and unreachably iconic place with addition such as the Dora Milaje — the Black Panther’s all female body guards who he brought on as part of a peace deal who will play a bigger part in the series down the line — and villains such as Achebe — a cross between The Joker and Mr. Garrison who takes over Wakanda in the Panther’s absence. The satire and cultural exploration, as in any Christopher Priest series, was strong as we see Killmonger become a Wall Street broker and T’Challa revealed he only joined The Avengers to spy on them. (Indeed, why would the king of the most advanced country in the world join up with an American superhero group)?
It’s the story telling though that helped the series stand out as much as it did. Christopher Priest initially bristled at the idea of being asked to write a black book (and indeed, throughout his career was annoyed at being pigeonholed to only write black characters), so did it under the stipulation that he could give Black Panther a white protagonist — the dumb, bumbling buffoon K. Everett Ross. K. Everett Ross often served as the readers stupefied eyes and ears, and the famous first page of Christopher Priest’s run has Ross crouching in his underwear on the toilet, pointing a gun at a rat. You can see Ross played by Martin Freeman in the upcoming Black Panther film (not to mention in Captain America: Civil War where the character is as dumb as all of us hoped). In addition to that, Priest allowed the story a lot of Pulp Fictionesque story structure — with the first six issues jumping wildly out of place, and the tone careening purposefully between high comedy, political drama, and more.
Priest famously quit comics out of frustration, but recently was brought back to both Marvel and DC — penning a series about the Inhumans for the former, and writing Deathstroke and Justice League for the latter. Fans are thrilled to have him back, and the story of his career was wonderfully written about over on Vulture.
Reginald Hudlin’s Black Panther Run
Reginald Hudlin — a writer and producer who was then the president of BET — delivered a more traditional comic book run when he took over for Christopher Priest, but a solid one nevertheless. His work on the series was very enjoyable, and he meaningfully expanded the Black Panther mythos bringing us Black Panther’s sister Shuri (who took over for the king), and famously marrying T’Challa to Storm of the X-Men.
The comic was also very much a reflection of its time — in a good way — as Wakanda was continuously struggling against very George W. Bush like forces, and made the best use of the overall Marvel cast than any solo Panther comic before it — cementing Black Panther as a key part of the Marvel Universe.
Best of all however was the BET adaptation of the comic that was produced. Somehow this already very fun series became more meaningful, with easily one of the best theme songs a superhero comic has had. And the oddest Stan Lee cameo, where he plays a racist general. Good work, Stan Lee.
Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers/Secret Wars Run
Although Black Panther has been a part of the Avengers before, Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers and New Avengers reframed it as the kind of comic Black Panther always was — deeply political, full of strong moral questions, and one whose history weighed on it in ways that our heroes could not escape. It was no wonder Black Panther was such a key part of this story as he attempted to understand his own history and the untold dilemmas that he faced as he had to weigh the lives of the few against the lives of the many.
In these comics the Panther joined up with a secret group known as the Illuminati to stop parallel universes from crashing into one another, serving as the conscience of the book and the eyes of the reader. It was an incredible use of the character and escalated his conflicts which included, amongst others, those with Namor having flooded his country not being a partner, and his sister Shuri — the then Queen of Wakanda, making decisions he may not agree with. If you’re a fan of the character, this Avengers run is an essential one to read despite not having T’Challa’s superhero moniker in its title.
Ta-Nehisi Coates —an essayist for the Atlantic and one of the most intellectually lauded writers working today (his book “Between the World and Me”, earned him an audience with Barack Obama and a MacArthur Genius Grant), is easily one of the most unexpected writers Marvel has courted. With his work, however — and the work of many black literary peers he brought with him– Coates has turned the Black Panther corner of their titles into one of its most unique.
Ta-Nehisi Coates began exploring Wakanda as a true political organization — the Wakandans’ displeasure with the Black Panther, and the Black Panther’s out of touch nature with his own country serving as a catalyst. The comic was given a specifically feminist theme as Coates explored how having all female bodyguards such as the Dora Mijale could open the door to untold abuse. His series is currently ongoing, and Ta-Nehisi Coates has brought with him other black literary heroes to write the adventures of what was until recently a mostly peripheral Marvel superhero.
Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay was brought on to write World of Wakanda, fantasy novelist Nnedi Okorafor was brought in to write Black Panther: Long Live the King, pop culture journalist Evan Narcisse is writing Rise of the Black Panther and we can guess there are more additions to come. Ta-Nehisi Coates has taken a corner of their Marvel universe and turned it into a landscape of challenging concepts, high minded thought, and the kind of writers whose literary accolades I never thought I would see at any mainstream company all at once. It is an excellent run, so if you want to jump into Black Panther with the most recent stuff, few could be better than what Ta-Nehisi Coates is currently doing.
Which Black Panther run are you most excited to read? Which writer would you like to see tackle the character? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @WhatsTrending.