Introduced in Fantastic Four #54 some fifty odd years ago Black Panther has stood the test of time and shows no signs of losing his popularity. Before Luke Cage walked the streets of Harlem, T’Calla was walking tall through Wakanda kicking the entire Fantastic Four’s collective ass. This panel featured the past and present creators of the Black Panther, featuring Don McGregor, classic writer of Jungle Action and Black Panther’s first solo exploits; Christopher Priest, writer of one of the most influential runs of the Panther; current team telling the political infused tales of Wakanda writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze, Alitha Martinez, one of the amazing women who will be exploring and expanding the current Black Panther mythos in next months World of Wakanda book; capping off the comic side of the panel was Axel Alonso, editor at Marvel. The panel also featured Broadway’s own James Iglehart who is currently in Aladdin as the genie., and the legendary Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels.
The panel opened with the panelist recounting their introduction to Black Panther. Axel Alonso told an endearing story about how as a kid he saw the costume of Black Panther and sought a character that mirrored their own reflection. Alonso’s dream was a bit shattered with a facial reveal of Black Panther out of his mask being a Black guy but it drew some sizable laughter from the crowd. The idea of Black Panther being the first Black major super hero permeated throughout the panel.
James Iglehart recounted the story of meeting a “round black” kid who saw him on stage as the genie and the kid going “I can be a genie” which connected the two for Iglehart that his presence matters to someone out there much like how Black Panther mattered to a whole generation of comic fans who are now the mainstream culture and are deprived of positive images of characters outside of the medium. Don McGregor also recounted a story about the late Dwayne McDuffie who penned a piece for the collected edition of in which Dwayne expressed his love of those books and what he saw with in their pages and how it inspired him.
When Don McGregor began working on Black Panther he and his team began to build up the cast around T’Calla to feature a fleshed out Wakanda. McGregor’s editors weren’t happy at the all Black cast but the readers where in love with these stories and their lives. Don and his artist created the cornerstone of Wakanda the mythos behind the culture and look of the place, a nation full of Black folks.
Alitha Martinez who gets to tackle Black Panther again in the expanded world around Coates and Stelfreeze’s in the upcoming
Black Panther World of Wakanda book will also get to play in that sand box of Wakanda. She is one of the few Black women who have been an artist in the industry for years and it’s going to be a home coming of sorts for her as she worked on the Marvel Knights books in the 90’s.
Being the first Black superhero character at one of the major publishers, Black Panther has seen the renaissance of diversity over the last few years. From Preist’s view point Hip-Hop has been the current great leveler in that everybody is into it so that folks aren’t as hung up on ideas as they once were; like having a Black man write Wonder Woman which Priest has done.
Coates sees Hip-Hop as a place where you can make yourself your own hero and it was his first place where he could see himself as someone else just behind that was Marvel comics. For Coates his Iron Man was James Rhodes, he read the X-men comics when Storm was a leader. There was no place else at the time where he could find characters like these although these were small burst they were seismic in nature compared to what else was around at the time.
Black Panther is now primed once again to take the lead with a all Black woman created title in the form of Black Panther World of Wakanda and in 2018 when the world will get to experience a Black Panther film. He’s come a long way from 4 color panels to major motion picture star. I for one can’t wait to see the next chapters in this character ’cause Black don’t crack and Black Panther is looking mighty fine at a half century old.