T’Challa. Avenger. King of Wakanda. The Black Panther.
T’Challa debuted in Marvel Comics in July of 1966 and is considered the first black superhero in mainstream American comics. The creation of legendary comic book artist and innovator Jack Kirby and his glory hound sidekick Stan Lee, The Black Panther came into being years before African American superheroes such as The Falcon and Luke Cage. It should be noted as well that the Falcon and Luke Cage were sidekicks and partners to other superheroes while The Black Panther was his own man. King of a small but very rich African nation and courted by the Avengers to be part of their team.
The first appearance of the Black Panther was in Fantastic Four #52-#53 where he takes on the FF back when they were formidable and cool. Yes kids, there was a time when the Fantastic Four was cool. T’Challa would go on to have several other guest appearances alongside Captain America in Tales of Suspense #97-99 in January of 1968; it should be noted that this team up happened a full year before the Falcon (Sam Wilson) came into existence in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps paving the way for a black superhero to fight alongside blond blue eyed steroid induced Steve Rogers aka Captain America. Though it should also be noted that T’Challa has also kicked Cap’s ass upon occasion as well. He has also stood alongside Daredevil and became part of the Avengers back in May of 1968.
This was something Marvel was good at back in the day. Making daring and dangerous political statements in comic books geared toward young impressionable kids. A black superhero. His own man. Back in the sixties. Marvel did bend some in 1972 with T’Challa, changing his name to the Black Leopard so he would not be confused with the Black-militant political party the Black Panthers. But that didn’t take and they did the right thing and gave T’Challa back his true name and title as the Black Panther.
The back story of T’Challa is as follows.
Long ago, a meteorite made of the mineral vibranium crashes in Wakanda. Believing that outsiders would exploit their small country for this valuable and rare resource, the King isolates his nation from outsiders. The King is given the title of The Black Panther and though it is hereditary, it must also be earned. Prince T’Challa is son of King T’Chaka who is murdered by the treasure hunter Ulysses Klawin; who would become the Black Panther’s arch enemy, Klaw. In his youth, as he prepares to become King, T’Challa meets and falls in love with an orphan teen named Ororo Munroe. Their relationship would not last in their youth as T’Challa was consumed with his desire to avenge his father. They would meet of course, later on in life and rekindle their love affair.
As King, T’Challa would sell off small portions of the mineral and use the riches to advance his small country and also study abroad. When he becomes an adult, he invites the Fantastic Four to his isolated country and then attacks them. All to test himself as he prepares to take on Klaw. T’Challa becomes friends with the FF and also becomes part of the Avengers, but his greatest role is still that of King and protector of his nation, Wakanda.
He would later rekindle his relationship with the orphan girl Ororo who has grown in the mutant leader of the X-Men called Storm. Theirs was a rocky love affair. They would marry and then later split, after Wakanda is attacked by Namor the Lord of Atlantis and all X-Men are banished from his kingdom. This includes Storm. Their marriage now being annulled, hurt, she falls into the arms of our favorite Canadian mutant. It’s good to be the Wolverine!
T’Challa will soon be mainstream with the upcoming Avenger’s Civil War movies and here is hoping that he is done right. But that is difficult to believe will actually happen. What is important about the Black Panther. What is so powerful is the time in which he came into being. The sixties. Here was a black male role model; that young black children could pick up who was intelligent, strong and did not subjugate himself to anyone. You would have to look at Star Trek and Lt. Uhura for another role model in the cultural media during this era. In male role models, you had Greg Morris in Mission Impossible and Linc on the Mod Squad. Great characters, yes, but nothing on par with T’Challa,
A Black Leader. In a technological, cultural nation, with riches that rivaled any European nation.
Radical and way before its time.
It has been far too long for T’Challa to become part of the American lexicon again. Long overdue. There is a an animated series of the Black Panther that Marvel released a few years back that is worth the look. Here is to T’Challa. To the Black Panther. To a terrific character that needs to be at the forefront of Marvel comics today.