Black Panther (#1-#17, 1998)
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Mark Texeira, Vince Evans, Joe Jusko, Mike Manley, Mark Bright, Sal Velluto
I have always loved the Black Panther. At times he has rivaled The Man Without Fear for the spot of my favorite character in the Marvel Universe. T’Challa is the king of Wakanda, a genius, and a warrior. Seeing Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal on screen of a man who is not so arrogant that you want to punch him, but instead simply confident and efficient was what I wanted to see.
That is how Christopher Priest wrote the character when reintroducing him for the Marvel Knights line in 1998. T’Challa was a man commanding respect and with a plan for everything. He is shown with an air of regal and a quiet calm. He is a man who does not react out of anger, but rather plans and when he makes his move it is truly something to behold.
Priest ensures to tackle the greater world of Wakanda as well as its King. The Dora Mijae, T’Challa’s wives in waiting and bodyguards are given a subplot and some character development, with Priest even tackling the psychological issues that may arise from being in such a position. The wet works of running a government are brought into the fold with the White Wolf and his elite unit who work in service to their king, despite his objections. Even the inevitable attempts at staging a coup and the all too true reality of warring tribes within the nation are addressed. These elements all serve to highlight the difficulty of being king that T’Challa must bear.
The series also has its moments of levity, particularly in the form of Everett Ross. Ross is a representative for the State Department who is assigned to escort T’Challa while he is on U.S. soil. His reactions to the insanity of the Black Panther’s world and conversation with the demon Mephisto are of particular note. In many ways Christopher Priest’s story can be seen as a precursor to the later MCU as the humor comes more from the either indifferent reactions of the superheroes and villains to the madness of the world, while the average person comes off as overreacting to the fact that they are surrounded by people with superpowers or supernatural creatures.
T’Challa was the first black superhero, and as such, the character should be treated with respect to the importance of his role. Christopher Priest shows him as cunning, diplomatic man who takes his role as the leader and defender of his people very seriously. At the same time, he struggles with the things he has had to give up for his role, and faces many challenges that a leader would fight against. He is not a perfect person; he is simply the best man for the role he has accepted. He does not doubt his role, he accepts it, and works to be the best he can at it.
What makes me choose Christopher Priest’s run over the other possibilities though is how deftly he handles the matter of race. In many stories with an African lead set in the America, the writers can go over the top with racism in an attempt to club us over the head with the “racism is wrong” message, to the point where it becomes a caricature. What works extremely well in this run is that there are elements of racism, as would be inevitable in T’Challa’s position, but they are subtler methods and comments. In this manner Priest drives home a reality that not all racists wear hoods and burn crosses, but that racism can actually take a very indirect view.
Christopher Priest introduced me to the Black Panther, and while I know many reading this saw him first through the lenses of The Russo Brothers, I would highly encourage you to pick up this run, because it’s a long wait until 2018.
Nick is the Geekiverse’s Marvel Expert in Residency, a fan of street level heroes, and is willing to give the Ghostbusters reboot a shot.
He can be found on twitter @dare_to_geek.