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.