As Black Panther steps into the spotlight of the MCU, it’s time for you to explore the mythical realm of Wakanda.
Having already stolen the spotlight in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, the entirety of the Internet was prepped to lose their collective minds for last week’s Black Panther teaser trailer. This first glimpse into the hidden land of Wakanda offers a fresh landscape barely hinted at in the previous MCU efforts. As Martin Freeman’s braggadocios prisoner cackles, this utopian kingdom presents an untapped payload for invaders (that oh so shiny Vibranium, which is totally not at all like Adamantium – gotta keep your studios straight) who dare to climb its mythical barriers. Wakanda is that quintessential lost city where ancient ways and ultra advanced technology coexist; basically the wet dreams of novelists like Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard. El Dorado, Atlantis, Skull Island, etc. Take your pick.
Ryan Coogler proved his geek cred with Creed, a film that was more than nostalgic fan service, but a fully realized Rocky sequel that successfully built off the mythology, and still managed to venture into new realms of character. Wakanda allows Coogler to dive deep into an environment as far removed visually from the rest of the cinematic universe as Guardians of the Galaxy. And while Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis allude to the encroachment of Avengers: Infinity War here’s hoping that Coogler and company are allowed to explore wildly in this classically pulp terrain.
The biggest win of this first trailer is that pop of wonder it ignites in your brain. Sure, it’s cool and essential to see Chadwick Boseman’s catman devastating gunmen in his Vibranium armor, but the real treats of this trailer are seeing Panther’s female guard the Dora Milaje strike a pose, or Michael B. Jordon’s Killmonger dawn his mask. We’re given just seconds, but the spectacle is enough to have us contemplating trips to the comic book store. February 16th sure seems like an incredible distance after Coogler’s trailer sets off, and your experience with this film can only be enhanced with a little graphic novel exploration.
Black Panther has always been a character with a rabid fanbase, but he’s rarely been offered the opportunity to gain momentum in the comic books. First appearing in 1966 as an antagonistic guest star in Fantastic Four #52, Black Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream comics, but would not get his own solo title until 1977 (although technically he did take over “Jungle Action” from issues 6-24 in 1973). That original solo title lasted less than three years, ran only 15 issues, and the character would not front his own title again until a four issue mini-series in 1988. While there are plenty of rad moments to discover in various issues from ’66 to ’88 (the “Panther’s Rage” arc!), it’s an era of comics I have trouble recommending to newbies hungry for that coolness they saw in the trailer.
So, where to begin? Below, you’ll find my personal favorite arcs currently available in print to purchase, or download using your Marvel Unlimited App (if you’re a Marvel zombie-like myself, this is an essential acquisition, especially when a trailer like this drops and gets you seriously salivating). Each one of these titles is worth your time and gives you a proper understanding of the appeal of the character.
T’Challa’s longest running solo title to date occurred ten years after that wimpy four issue mini-series when Christopher Priest steered the character under the Marvel Knights imprint (basically Teen +, no potty language or nudity, but plenty of good old fashion action violence). Priest’s take would explore the relationship between being a superhero and the king of an African nation. He postulates that he has more in common with fellow monarchs like Dr. Doom and Namor than his fellow Avengers. It’s also where you’ll find good heaps of Martin Freeman’s liaison Everett Ross, Michael B. Jordon’s Killmonger, and Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaw. Priest concocts a dense series, and certainly intimidating at the start (six years looks like a tremendous amount of comics), but no other author had as much time with Black Panther, and the result is the first proper epic allotted King T’Challa.
One of Wakanda’s many appeals is that it is a nation that has never been conquered. No man has ever planted a flag on their soil and lived to tell the tale. Ah, but would that proud history remain after a Skrull Invasion took over the Marvel comic book universe in 2009? Of course, it would!!! The joys of this brief spin-off series from Jason Aaron and Jefte Palo is watching Black Panther and the army of Wakanda mop the floor with these cocky spacemen. It’s a brutal comic book with heads, limbs, and organs being torn to shreds. It’s a total blast raucously illustrated by Palo and spitting with Wakandan warrior pride.
This six-issue story is probably the best jumping on place for beginners. True, there are some awkward jabs at the George W Bush era of nation snatching, but they deserve it, right? House Party and Boomerang director, Reginald Hudlin took over the title from Christopher Priest with the sole purpose of reintroducing Black Panther to a new audience. Hudlin explores the history of the mantle, flashing back to World War II when Captain America first encountered (and had his ass handed to him) T’Challa’s grandfather. Wakanda is firmly established as an independent nation refusing to respond to bullies like the United States, as well as annoying diabolical pests like Klaw. Also, it’s this series that Chadwick Boseman sites when asked about the research he did in preparation for the role. That’s as good an endorsement as any.
This is a bit of cheat. Yeah, it’s not technically a Black Panther comic, but a grand science-fiction epic that will eventually pull in every single damn character of the Marvel Universe for the mega event, Secret Wars. However, for all the complaining that fanboys commit themselves to when these types of mega-series wash over the entire line, what Jonathan Hickman weaved over the course of this particular tale is rather miraculous. Also, it’s some of the finest Black Panther writing I’ve read so far. The Illuminati (a.k.a. the smartest SOBs in Marvel Comics: Black Panther, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Black Bolt, Namor, Mr. Fantastic, and Beast) gather to discuss the cataclysmic collision of the multiverse, and the solution may involve a treacherous use of The Infinity Gauntlet. Black Panther is portrayed as a leader of Wakanda first, Avenger second. He is constantly at odds with the other big brains around the table, and he has some extreme hatred for Namor, the ruler of Atlantis. Later on in the series, Hickman would examine T’Challa’s status as The King of the Dead exceptionally well, and that communion with the Black Panther lineage is something I am desperate to see portrayed on the silver screen.
Towards the end of the teaser trailer, you hear a voice praise T’Challa for being a good man, but “It’s hard for a good man to be a king.” That’s pretty much the premise for the current Black Panther series from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze. How does one balance rule with heroism? How can you have a free nation, and a monarchy? It’s an impossible task. If you’re looking for wall-to-wall Black Panther action you’re going to want to jump back to that Secret Invasion mini-series. While Coates and Stelfreeze do produce some beautifully rendered action beats, A Nation Under Our Feet is about as heady an undertaking as Marvel has to offer. A civil war erupts in Wakanda when a superhuman terrorist organization infects the minds of the people, turning them against their king. His trusted Dora Milaje fracture when T’Challa fails to rescue an innocent due to political concerns. Black Panther may be the lead, but the supporting players are just as interesting, if not more so. He must confront accusations from all sides including his mother Ramonda, his political advisors, an old teacher, and even the spirit of his dead sister, Shuri. Coates is certainly drawn to the power and function of the Black Panther, but his arc is truly the saga of Wakanda.