Black Panther: Where Do I Start?

The Avengers claim amongst its extensive membership, gods, veterans, mutants, master spies and billionaires, but there’s only one king. Black Panther casts an imposing shadow over the Marvel Universe, with the skills to go toe-to-toe with Captain America on the battlefield and in the lab with Tony Stark. Black Panther was created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four #52, as the king and ambassador of the hidden kingdom of Wakanda inside Africa with technology far surpassing any other country in the world. Black Panther works as both ruler of his people and their chief warrior, traveling the globe akin to an old-fashioned pulp hero on behalf of Wakanda.

Over the years numerous comic creators have told stories of the Black Panther both in solo series and anthologies like Jungle Action, as well as in team books like Fantastic Four and The Avengers. With all those stories floating out there (some collected, some not), it’s easy to see why someone would have trouble finding the key texts to understand T’Challa, Wakanda and the Black Panther. That’s where we come in.

Black Panther, Vol. 1: The Client: One of the chief contributors to Black Panther’s history in the past fifteen years is writer Christopher Priest. The editor-turned-writer displays one of the firmest understandings and appreciation of the character since the 70s, and in this five-issue collection he joined with Mark Texeira and Vince Evans to tell of a plot by T’Challa’s enemies to lure him outside the safety of Wakanda and into a trap in New York City. A relatively new character named Everett Ross narrates this, acting as an ideal point-of-view for readers to see just how cool, calm and collected Black Panther is. Many people have said Black Panther is on par with Batman when it comes to the methodical planning and tactical mind, and this collection has that in spades.

Essential Black Panther Vol. 1: This heavy tome collects two unique but disparate story runs with the Black Panther: Jack Kirby’s first ten issues of his 1977 solo series, and the core of Don McGregor’s run on the character in the anthology comic Jungle Action. With no slight to Kirby, the juicest part of this collection is without a doubt McGregor’s “Panther’s Rage” storyarc with artists Rich Buckler and Billy Graham, as they explore the idea of the Wakandan people rising up against T’Challa as their ruler. Kirby’s tales are great too, spinning yarns with T’Challa in the vein of 1940s movie reels as an adventurer ala Indiana Jones although published years prior to Dr. Jones’ debut.

Black Panther: Four The Hard Way: This great little collection shows Black Panther as a real imposing figure in the Marvel U, less a hero like Cap or Spider-Man and more a confident ruler like Dr. Doom and Namor. Seeing Black Panther play out on this kind of stage is an interesting twist on what we’ve come to know as superhero stories, and really gives you a sense of who Black Panther is. A great bonus to this is the two-part story from Fantastic Four #52-53 that was Black Panther’s debut.

Black Panther: Secret Invasion: Did you know Jason Aaron wrote Black Panther? For some reason it slipped under the radar at the time to most everyone (including myself!), but in hindsight I’ve been able to track down these issues and found something great. Teaming with artist Jefte Palo, Aaron turns this into a pure fight comic with T’Challa and the Wakandan nation rising up against the planet-wide Skrull invasion and calmly handing those green-skinned aliens their walking papers. It’s like Seven Samurai, Wakandan style.

Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther:If you’re looking for something akin to an “Ultimate”, “Season One” or “Year One” approach to Black Panther, this is it. Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr. delivered a great back-to-basics approach with this storyarc. This really delves into the uniqueness of Wakanda, it’s place in the Marvel Universe, and the rich history the mantle of the Black Panther has. Of all the books listed here today, if you can only pick one to give somebody to understand Black Panther then this would be it.

Comments

  1. These are all great choices. Priests Black panther is one of the best books Marvel has EVER put out. EVER.

    Also, Black panther is hardly the only king to be an Avenger. Namor is King of Atlantis and Thor was king of Asgard. I know what you’re saying, Namor is a Prince! Well, his father is dead, so he’s the king to me!

    • Also, isn’t Black Bolt a king?

    • Chris Arrant (@chrisarrant) says:

      Neums: Black Bolt is in fact a king, but he has never been an official Avenger.

      JohnVFerrigno: Valid point on Thor being temporarily King, but that was for a brief peroid of time. You got me on Namor; I was fooled because he always calls himself Prince of Atlantis.

  2. Priest’s entire run was fantastic. It’s unfortunate that only the first couple story arcs have been collected.

  3. Who Is Black Panther was my first BP book & it was so much fun. Also IMO out of all of the artists with these book choices, JRJ really is the top of the heap when it comes to both quality & how fitting it is to the story & setting. After reading this trade, I would really love Marvel to do a Black Panther film after Cap 2.

  4. that secret invasion arc was the best tie in our of that entire event. It was very dark and reminded me of the battle scenes in Braveheart. it really helped to illustrate why Wakanda has been known as un-invadable nation. Its the only real Black Panther story i’ve read (i have that first Priest trade but i’ve yet to read it) but it’s truly a must read

  5. I dropped the Christopher Priest’s BP run in the first three issues cause I couldn’t stand the weird muddy coloring.

  6. awesome primer article for a awesomely complicated character…..

    the only additions i would make would be

    captain america/black panther: flags of our father

    and geoff johns “red zone” arc during his avengers run

  7. As a Where do I Continue? Doomwar and Black Panther in Daredevil’s title were really quite good, especially when Francavilla was drawing.

    • doomwar had its moments

      david liss’ panther run in man without fear was good…. but the depowered version of t’challa wasnt really getting it.. but it cant be said enough, what liss was given to work with, he made awesome stuff with

      that avengers redzone arc is on comixology by the way

  8. Looking forward to checking some of these out. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Black Panther but never knew very much back story or read any stand alone stories. Very cool.

  9. The TV show is pretty good also, it’s basically a slightly better motion comic of the JRjr art run.