The Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther is just days away from opening, and if presale tickets are any indication, it has blockbuster written all over it. So this seems like the perfect time to go back to where it all started: the early comic book history of the Black Panther.
The character debuted in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) and was created by Marvel’s prolific duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The story, which concluded in FF #53 (August 1966), had King T’Challa of the African nation of Wakanda invite Marvel’s First Family to visit his technologically-advanced country…only to see them attacked upon their arrival and nearly defeated single-handedly by the mysterious Black Panther.
After that initial fight, Black Panther removes his mask to reveal he is T’Challa himself, who was testing his prowess against the FF to prove he could repel any threat to his nation. In an amazing coincidence (it was the 60s, just go with it), the villain Ulysses Klaw chooses this moment to attack. Klaw uses his sound projector to create solid animals (again, it was the 60s) to steal Wakanda’s supply of the rare metal vibranium.
The heroes, of course, win the day, and the Fantastic Four convince Black Panther to continue being a hero, prompting the following from T’Challa: “I pledge my fortune, my powers – my very life – to the service of all mankind!”
That’s how the first adventure of the first black hero in a major comic book ended, but it almost never happened, at least not in the form we know it now. Had Stan and Jack gone with their original design, we would have met a very different character in FF #52.
Meet…the Coal Tiger!
This image was printed as a pinup in Jungle Action #10 (July 1974) during the Panther’s 19-issue solo run in that title. Jungle Action Series Thankfully, T’Challa’s appearance was reworked prior to his first appearance, and we got the Black Panther we know and love.
That isn’t the only change he went through early in his existence, however. For a short time in 1972, T’Challa changed his superhero name. A political activist group known as the Black Panther Party had gained prominence over the previous 5 years during the American civil rights movement. Marvel, hoping to avoid confusion (as well as an any perceived connection to the BPP), had T’Challa begin calling himself Black Leopard.
It happened in a guest appearance in Fantastic Four #119 (February 1972), and they even had him explain the change to The Thing, “I contemplate a return to your country, Ben Grimm, where the latter term has —political connotations. I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name, but T’Challa is a law unto himself. Hence, the new name—a minor point, at best, since the panther is a leopard.”
Thankfully, that change didn’t last long.
The other early oddity surrounding Black Panther is the very thing that allows him to exist in the MCU at all. With the Panther’s first appearing in the Fantastic Four, his film rights could have been part of the Fox film package with the likes of Dr. Doom and Silver Surfer. However, after T’Challa’s appearance in FF King-Size Special #5 (November 1967), he moved on from the famous quartet.
In 1968, he guest-starred alongside Captain America for a three-issue arc in Tales of Suspense, and then came his big break. Starting with Avengers #52 (May 1968), Black Panther joined the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
The move wasn’t unprecedented. The Avengers have a way of poaching supporting characters from other books. Rick Jones, the entire reason why the Avengers exist in the first place, came over from The Incredible Hulk. He even became Captain American’s sidekick for a while. Then Captain Marvel’s. Then Rom’s. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver left the pages of X-Men, and left the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, to join the second iteration of the Avengers. Black Widow went from a villain in Iron Man to hero in the Avengers, and co-star of Daredevil’s book for a while.
The difference here is that every one of those characters was well-established before making the move. Black Panther only had a half-dozen appearances before making the jump. Stan must have really loved that character and wanted to see a lot more of him to have him join the team so quickly. His longevity in The Avengers made him part of the MCU deal, and the rest is history.
What a long, strange trip it’s been…
by Rob Otto
Black Panther, starring Chadwick Bosman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Andy Serkis, and Michael B. Jordan, opens in theaters across the U.S. on Friday, February 16.