The world is still rocking from the release of Black Panther, which is showing no signs of slowing down. The movie is a huge success, breaking what feels like a million box office records after only being in theaters for four days. Black Panther is on track to be one of Marvel's most successful movies, and the character is now suddenly in the spotlight in a way that Black Panther has never been before. With some $240 million in the bank, people are hungry for Black Panther, and if going to see the film for the third time isn't cutting it, then be thankful for the decades worth of comics featuring T'Challa and Wakanda.
Long before he made his debut in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther was making history as the first major mainstream black superhero (who wasn't a stereotype). Formally, Black Panther was a B-list Marvel hero, but he boasts some really good comic books and mini-series over the course of his 52-year history. If you want to keep your Black Panther hype going outside of the theater, these are some of the essential stories from the character's long history for you to check out.
Fantastic Four #52-53
What better place to start than at the very beginning with first ever appearance of Black Panther? While there are some who likely thought that Black Panther made his debut with the Avengers -- the team he is most associated with -- the character actually first appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four, or the Mother Book, as I like to call it. In the issues, the Fantastic Four are invited to the African nation of Wakanda, where they meet T'Challa, an enigmatic leader of a tribe. The four are then attacked by the Black Panther, who beats up all of them at the same time. It later turned out that T'Challa was testing them for a mission, but it was a memorable debut that introduced many of the basic elements of the character.
Who Is The Black Panther?
This series is a bit more of a straight-up superhero comic than the rest of the entries on this list, but it's a good starting point for fresh readers. Written by Reginald Hudlin with beautiful art by John Romita Jr., the series was meant to re-introduce the character to new readers and features what has essentially become the character's de-facto origin. We also learned more about Wakanda as a nation and its stance on independence. Arguably the most memorable storyline was "Who is the Black Panther?" which traced back the lineage of the Black Panther mantle throughout the history of Wakanda. It even features T'Challa's grandfather beating the snot out of Captain America during WWII.
Jack Kirby's Black Panther
Jack Kirby, who co-created several of Marvel's most iconic characters, had a rough history with the comic publisher. He never really got the respect he deserved throughout most of his career, and the stories that he wrote never quite found their audience. However, the importance of the work he did during this time can't be understated and that includes his Black Panther run in the late '70s. The stories he wrote really aren't the draw here -- though, they are your typical Kirby-levels of nuts. His penciling is what makes this standout, as Kirby goes full Afrofuturism in showcasing the technology and world of Wakanda. It was an all-too-rare showing at the time, but Kirby's larger than life imagination was a great fit for Wakanda.
One of the more recent comic book titles to involve Black Panther, The Ultimates (not to be confused with The Ultimates, a popular reimagining of the Avengers) by Al Ewing is actually a team book that includes Captain Marvel, Spectrum, Blue Marvel, America Chavez, and, of course, Black Panther. The team was assembled to handle the worst of the worst threats. Their first mission? Kill Galactus. That's ultimately not what they end up doing, but this was a team that was going up against some bonkers-level threats, and Black Panther's place on the team just shows what a powerhouse he really is.
This one's a doozy. Not only is Panther's Rage one of the best Black Panther storylines, but it's also considered to be one of Marvel's best and most underrated titles. Panther's Rage is a 13-part story that took place within the archaically named Jungle Action in the seventies. Written by Don McGregor, the tightly paced story pits T'Challa against Killmonger, who makes his first-ever appearance. Killmonger proceeds to pound Black Panther and eventually throws him off the top of a waterfall. The rest of the story is T'Challa running a gauntlet across Wakanda to face Killmonger again, having various side adventures along the way and facing foe after foe. The story is praised for its seamless flow, detailed characters, and all around Black Panther badass-ery. (At one point, he rides a pterodactyl). Panther's Rage is considered to be Marvel's first true graphic novel, and many of its ideas can be found in the Black Panther movie.
Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers isn't exclusively about Black Panther, but his role in the story and the overall quality of the book can't be overlooked. The multiverse is dying, with Earths from other realities accidentally destroying each other literally crashing together. Black Panther assembles the smartest people in the Marvel universe to act in secret to find a way to save their world. However, they soon come to the conclusion that the only way to save their Earth is to destroy the other one, leaving them with an impossible moral quandary. There's some real high-concept sci-fi in this series, and Black Panther gets plenty of moments to shine and showcase his extreme intelligence. His rivalry/pure hatred for Namor the Submariner is a frequent highlight.
See Wakanda and Die
Why has Wakanda never been conquered? That was the idea behind "See Wakanda and Die," a three-part tie-in to the Marvel event Secret Invasion, in which the Skrulls have systematically replaced key figures with sleeper agents and launch an Earth-wide invasion plan. Wakanda is an obvious target, but the Skrulls plans of conquest aren't as easy as they assumed. Their forces arrive at Wakanda's doorstep to find the dismembered heads of their sleeper agents mounted to pikes. It pretty much goes downhill for the Skrull as Black Panther completely shuts down every Skrull offense and defense with superior firepower and strategy. Writer Jason Aaron really shows off the might of Wakanda here, and it's an action-packed, surprisingly gruesome, and entertaining read.
Captain America/Black Panther: Flags Of Our Fathers
There's nothing like a good team-up! In 2010, Reginald Hudlin and artist Denys Cowan created this tale in which Captain America and the Howling Commandos meet Black Panther during WWII. The Black Panther in this story is T'Challa's grandfather, but series dabbles in boldness by attacking complex issues like race and politics. Cap is assigned to investigate Wakanda after the Nazis take interest in stealing the countries resources of Vibranium. Obviously, Wakanda is capable of protecting itself, but the team-up with Cap is appreciated. The story is overall pretty fun while having some nice ambition.
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther
Comic book fans were understandably excited when Marvel announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates, an essayist and perhaps one of the best living writers working today, would be taking the reins of Black Panther in 2017. It should come as no surprise that the series has become a critical success and has spawned several spin-off books, each of them offering a different look at Wakanda. The series deals with issues of politics, religion, and history, but most important is the focus on power. Is it possible for a good man to be a good king? Coates also pays plenty of attention to the side characters in T'Challa's life, giving them agency and personality outside of their connection to the throne. The first story arc deals with Wakandan insurrection and an attempt at a coup, but the whole series so far is definitely worth a read.
Christopher Priest's Legendary Black Panther Run
This is the big one. The Black Panther comic to end all Black Panther comics. It cannot be understated exactly what Christopher Priest and his collaborators did for Black Panther as a character. Before Marvel hired Priest in the late 90s, Black Panther had been languishing in obscurity for years. Wakanda became a real, breathing place under Priest's care, and he made the setting feel three-dimensional. Priest introduced several of the elements that became staples of the Black Panther mythos, such the Dora Milaje and Everett K. Ross. In addition, Priest gave T'Challa a sense of regality. Black Panther was no longer just a superhero -- he was a KING, and he had the problems of a king. Priest's full run is over 60 issues long, but fans who want more of Black Panther will find it well worth the read.
Matt has lived in New Jersey his entire life, but commutes every day to New York City. He graduated from Rowan University and loves Marvel, Nintendo, and going on long hikes and then greatly wishing he was back indoors. Matt has been covering the entertainment industry for over two years and will fight to his dying breath that Hulk and Black Widow make a good couple.
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