“Who is the Black Panther?” (issues #1-6)
written by Reginald Hudlin
art by John Romita Jr.
published by Marvel Comics

“Previously: There are some places you just don’t mess with. Wakanda is one of them. Since the dawn of time, that African warrior nation has been sending would-be conquerors home in body bags. While the rest of Africa got carved up like a Christmas turkey by the rest of the world, Wakanda’s cultural evolution has gone unchecked for centuries, unfettered by the yoke of colonization. The result: a hi-tech, resource-rich, ecologically-sound paradise that makes the rest of the world seem primitive by comparison. Ruling over all this is the Black Panther. The Black Panther is more than just the embodiment of a warrior cult that’s served as Wakanda’s religious, political, and miliary head since its inception. The Black Panther is the embodiment of the ideals of a people. Anyone who’d dare make a move on Wakanda must go through him.”

Christopher J. Priest (Quantum & Woody, Captain America & Falcon, The Crew) had a brilliant, and to my mind the definitive, run on Black Panther. Some people criticized his Quentin Tarantino-esque style of storytelling (definitely not straight forward, chronological narrative). His run explored the complex politics and motivations that came with being a king as well as a super-hero, as well as fleshing out the Wakandan culture. As he puts it:

THE BLACK PANTHER is equal parts social commentary and political satire. Like STEEL and QUANTUM & WOODY, PANTHER takes a hard, sometimes cynical look at the world of super-heroing as seen through the eyes of a Joe Everyman, Everett K. Ross, State Department attaché. T’Challa, king of a small, reclusive and technologically advanced kingdom, comes to America and is paired off with, well, Chandler from the NBC sitcom Friends. Steeped in tradition, tribalism and a deeply-rooted sense of honor, the Black Panther forms an unlikely alliance with the cynical New York lawyer Ross; the two forging a true bond over the course of their adventures together, and evolving into, well, a super-hero team. Ross’s surgical observations on the Marvel Universe form the narrative flow of the book, and provide humorous insights into the king and his motives. In addition to the humor, we strive for poignancy, drama, and, of course, the prerequisite super-hero face-bashing.

However, that book was cancelled after sixty plus issues.

There are too few black writers/creators in the comic book industry. Black characters written by black writers are quickly written off as “black” books (a stigma that isn’t similarly attached to all of the white characters written by white writers; those are referred to as comic books).

Rather than ignore a segment of (potential) readership, there is a potential to bring in a new readership, black comic book readers, via an established fan base and grow the entire market.

Enter Reginald Hudlin.

Movie (House Party, Boomerang, Bebe’s Kids, The Great White Hype) and television director (Bernie Mac, Everybody Hates Chris), Reginald Hudlin joins the list of directors taking turns at comic book writing (Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, and Bryan Singer); first by inheriting Black Panther and then as the scribe of Marvel Knights Spider-Man. His initial storyline, “Who is the Black Panther?”, follows the now-expected format of introducing a title in a six-issue arc (that’s, coincidently I’m sure, perfect for trade paperback collecting).

Black Panther’s typically used as a supporting character, as a member of the Avengers for example. Only under Priest, and now Hudlin, has the Black Panther been treated as the headliner. He is Africa based and immersed in that culture, true (and given “our” usual reaction to all things African, “we” will probably ignore this too). Even if the exotic setting of the book wasn’t too much for some, many will assume that because a black writer is writing a black character that the book will be all white people bashing and woe is us. Actually, the book begins by flipping the script on that very notion.

Wakanda has historically been isolationist; as such, it has a huge xenophobic streak to its culture. It is suspicious of outsiders and often views them as morally bankrupt if not under-developed. Yes, they view themselves as culturally superior. The Black Panther, in turn, is not the all-American super hero. That’s the point: the Black Panther is a king, not a reporter, not a playboy billionaire, but royalty.

Reginald Hudlin delves into the history and legacy of the character, re-examining his roots through a fresh lens. As a fan of Christopher Priest’s run, I understand the criticisms that Hudlin is scrapping continuity. However, he needs/intends to place T’Challa, the Black Panther, in a historical context before he can figure out where the Black Panther fits in the greater Marvel Universe.

“God works through me the same as you.” T’Challa, the Black Panther.

It is easy to assume that the Wakandan’s are “heathens who worship a panther god”. The Black Panther isn’t a totem, it’s a title, the same as King. Sometimes it takes exploring the roots of our beliefs, the historical context of them, to see if the current incarnation of our spiritual tradition is missing the intended mark. None of us just sprang up. We have a history and tradition attached to us; we’re positioned in Story. Periodically, it’s good to study where we’ve come from, the foundations that our beliefs and identity come from, and figure out where we are in the Story.

And last I heard, Wesley Snipes held the movie rights.