Sunday, February 20, 2011

Black Panther - The First Mainstream Black Hero

Art by Juan Doe

      I thought it would be fun to post a little something about black superheroes in comics. It's true that we have been seriously underrepresented over the years. What's worse though is the misrepresentation. With proportionally so few characters of African origin in comics it is appalling that so many have of them have gone through periods where they were terribly written. Artist have clearly had trouble representing brothas and sistas as well. They don't know what to do with black hair. It's funny, while I was researching some characters for this blog entry I ran across a forum entry from a Caucasian man stating that it is impossible to create a black superhero without being stereotypical. He referenced Luke Cage as an example. I thought his statement was both funny and sad. Funny, because so many black characters have gone through periods in which talentless or uninformed writers have totally mis-written them. Sad, because so many black characters have gone through periods in which talentless or uninformed writers have totally mis-written them. So, I will be posting a series of short profiles of some of my favorite black charcters for the rest of the month. First up, the king of Wakanda himself, The Black Panther!

Art by Simon Bianchi

     Created by writer Stan Lee and penciller Jack Kirby, he first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 in July 1966, T'Challa aka The Black Panther, holds the distinction of being the first mainstream black superhero.  Aside from Storm he is probably the most recognizable black character in comics today. As the chieftain of the fictional African nation of Wakanda the Black Panther is one of the most powerful men in the world. Thanks to the nation’s vast stores of the rare metal Vibranium, Wakanda is one of the richest most tech savvy countries in the Marvel universe. The Panthers suit is made of a vibranium mesh that absorbs impact and allows him to move in silence. Through the consumption of a heart shaped herb that grows only in Wakanda the Black Panther is granted enhanced strength, speed, agility, and senses.

Art by Frank Cho

     Although, Reggie Hudlin’s run as writer of the Black Panther Series has gotten the most media attention, largely due to his marrige of the Black Panther and Storm (Still shaking my head at that one), it was Christopher Priests time on the title that truly gave the character new life. Priest took the Panther from simply being the token black Avenger and gave him depth. His T’Challa was a brilliant strategist, scholar, and business man. He has matched political wits with Dr. Doom and battled Tony Starks’ (aka Iron Man) in the boardroom where he succeeded in a hostile corporate takeover of Stark Enterprises. His version of the Black Panther was always a step ahead of the competition. Right were he should be.

      Currently, the Black Panther can be found protecting Daredevil's former haunt, Hells Kitchen. I can't say that I like the idea much but I will give it a chance, just one. The current issues backwards ass portrayal of Luke Cage as a street tough homeboy did not sit well with me. Yeah, we know where Luke came from but we have also watched him grow into a major league superhero as the leader of both the New Avengers and The Thunderbolts. But I digress, the art in the current Panther series is also a little weak. It looks like a cheap immitation of Tim Sales work. My hopes are that it will improve as the artist becomes more comfortable with the characters. As an artist myself I certainly understand the difficulties that lie in portraying a character as iconic as the Black Panther but I think Marvel should have chosen someone else.

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