Since the mid 1960’s Black Panther has been apotheosized as one of Marvel’s classic heroes, with an archetype that only he has been able to do justice to. As the king of the world’s most affluent country, Wakanda, the Black Panther isn’t a hero in the traditional sense. He is a man defined by his uncompromising Code of Honor and loyalty to his country insomuch that he often defines himself as that country even as far as speaking the words “I am Wakanda.” He is a man who believes strongly in his own morals and whose tactical prowess has come to be known as one of the most, if not most, efficient among Marvel characters.
It’s about time that T’Challa has been given an on screen appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I think it’s more fact than opinion that in every scene he was in, in Captain America 3: Civil War, he STOLE THE SHOW. It will not be long now before our King will star in the his own full feature length film, thus bringing Wakanda and all of its culture to the big screen, marking its ground in the MCU. As such he’s been gaining more fan popularity, rekindling the fire in comic book readers and lighting a new flame in those who hadn’t before read, never heard of him, or are only interested in watching the movies. Hollywood is receiving a major wake-up call on just how important it is to the identity of fans of color, for Black Panther to live up to his legacy. But this begs the question… what is his legacy? Who is the definitive Black Panther?
Like all comic book characters Black Panther suffers from the need to be written by multiple different writers over time. Luckily, all of his writers have done him justice in keeping him true to his character, however, for the sake of crowning a winner of this contest of conceptualization I will choose one. Christopher Priest.
Volume 3 of Black Panther by Christopher Priest, starting in 1998, is the definitive Black Panther book. Over the course of 50 issues Priest had accomplished the culturally tangential task of framing a coherent reality of black people in America. He accomplished this by using familiar, natural slang whisked into racially charged and relatable perspectives easily understood by the Black and African American community, all while emphasizing the cultural disparities and societal systems in Wakanda. A civilization defined by tradition, the title of Black Panther isn’t a lightly taken one in Wakanda, and his role as King and choices cause rifts throughout the country. Priest re-establishes Wakanda’s inner tribal conflicts as well the its socio-economic impacts on the world and paints a profound portrait of how dangerously beautiful the Dora Milaje (“Adored Ones”) are.
In this single run, readers are let into the importance of Wakanda, the respect that T’Challa commands from, not only his country, but the world itself, and the real life comprehension of Black culture, both as defined in America and Africa. He “keep’s it real” and it doesn’t go wrong. Furthermore, I must point out Max Texeira and Sal Velluto’s art. Something about their work encapsulates the book’s tone with immaculate precision. If you had never read a Black Panther comic before, I would recommend getting up right now and heading over to your local comic book store to purchase the trade(s) right now. This book best captures definitively, who The Black Panther is.
Recommending this book is not meant to relegate others, but rather give you a good starting point in understanding just who Black Panther is. In fact, I also implore readers to pick up the new, post-Secret Wars Black Panther onging right now. It is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates with art by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin, and though this is Coates’ first comic book project, it isn’t hard to be impressed. Already at only Issue #2 we get insight into Wakanda’s inner conflicts and the formation of new, powerful protaganists.
I will not spoil here, but let’s put it this way, our hero is currently Marvel’s highest selling ongoing. Go get it.
And in the words of Christopher Priest- Be cool ya’ll. One.