The global superpowers of the Marvel Universe must maintain a constant vigilance against all manner of threats, not just from rival foreign powers, but from internal enemies, super villains and otherworldly menaces including both supernatural and alien invaders. In recent years, the fictional nation of Wakanda has repeatedly come under fire from all of these threats due to their chief natural resource, the mysterious metal known as Vibranium, which is capable of absorbing vibrations and kinetic energy. Fortunately, the people of Wakanda are protected by their defender and ruler, the costumed hero known as the Black Panther.
During the Skrull Empire’s “Secret Invasion” of Earth, the shapeshifting aliens directed a particularly savage assault against the country in hopes of taking control of the Vibranium. The Skrull invasion was repelled thanks to the cunning of the then current Black Panther T’Challa and his wife, the mutant known as Storm. Shortly following the invasion, Wakanda and T’Challa were targeted by a much more devious opponent, Doctor Doom. The villainous monarch of Latveria attacked and nearly killed T’Challa, leaving him injured so badly that the mantle of the Black Panther was passed to his sister Shuri. Doom then orchestrated and funded a coup in the country used the chaos as cover to steal most of Wakanda’s remaining Vibranium and make a grab for world domination.
In the recently completed “DoomWar” miniseries by writer Jonathan Maberry and artist Scot Eaton, T’Challa, Storm, Shuri and a coalition of their allies fought back and foiled Doom’s scheme. However, they had to render the stolen Vibranium useless in order to do so. Now, with Wakanda facing an uncertain future, the sinister sound manipulator known as Klaw steps forward to imperil the country and the world. Maberry and artist Gianluca Gugliotta will chronicle Shuri’s battle with Klaw in the four-issue “Klaws of the Panther” miniseries. We spoke with the writer about the series, which begins on October 6.
CBR News: Jonathan, With “DoomWar,” and the “Black Panther” issues leading up to it, you got to simultaneously end a very important chapter in Wakandan history while setting the stage for new one. With the deck cleared and a new face under the mask, what do you currently find most exciting about writing stories in the world of the Black Panther?
Jonathan Maberry: Wakanda is a global superpower, so we get to play with big concepts; however, it’s also small enough to be able to conceptualize the government in the form of a few people (T’Challa, Shuri, Storm, etc.). That allows me as a writer to include my take on the nation’s personality in the stories.
I’ve always loved the idea of a technologically advanced nation that still respects and honors its connection to both the natural world and its own tribal roots. Several writers before me have contributed to a kind of “maxi-story arc” of Wakanda breaking out of ten thousand years of complacency and finding its place in the larger global community. Christopher Priest, Jason Aaron and Reggie Hudlin each explored aspects of the process of Wakanda re-defining itself. There were radical changes and a lot of risk taking on the part of these writers. I admire them for writing stories they felt told the stories they wanted to tell, without knuckling under to simply tell and re-tell that same old Black Panther stories.
That said, when I came on board, Reggie had started some seriously challenging storylines in motion. He had T’Challa ambushed by Doom and injured so badly that he had to step down as the Panther. He put Shuri, T’Challa’s little sister, into the Panther role. Those were bold steps; so I did my best to respect that storytelling courage by showing the cost to characters, culture and nation of such apocalyptic changes.
So, for me the real draw is a mix of the opportunity for creative risk-taking and a long-standing respect for a marvelous fictional construct – Wakanda and its royal family.
In a lot of ways, “DoomWar” and your “Black Panther” issues leading up to it were an ensemble story that followed Shuri, T’Challa and Storm. Will that be the case again with “Klaws of the Panther” or do you plan on focusing more on Shuri with this story?
While T’Challa is not a physical presence in “Klaws,” he’s definitely an influence. And that’s fine, because Shuri is the Black Panther at the moment. Also, Storm does make an appearance.
This story allows me to explore who Shuri is. In the recent short in “Age of Heroes” #4, we learn that Shuri is more than T’Challa’s kid sister – she has a checkered past as something approximating the Lindsay Lohan of Wakanda. She’s logged a lot of time in the tabloids and there’s a lot about her past that she’s ashamed of and which her enemies are trying to use against her.
At the same time, she was chosen – by her family and by the Panther God – to be the Black Panther. That is a fact of her life. She’s aware that people constantly compare her to T’Challa, and she knows that in most ways she can’t compete). She knows that people resent the fact that she wears the Panther habit. They hate her because she’s not T’Challa, they hate her because she’s a woman and they hate her because she hasn’t lived a spotless and heroic life. And, she has rage issues that have gotten her into trouble – I mean, she tried to lay a smackdown on Namor – which ended badly.
So, here she is with all of this baggage and an uphill struggle to prove to herself and the world that she is the right person to be in the Panther role. Maybe not the best (lots of folks contend that T’Chaka, her father, was the best Panther ever); but she holds the title by right. In “Klaws,” she is not only trying to save the world, she is also fighting to establish her own identity.
When “Klaws of the Panther” begins, where is Shuri emotionally? How did the events of “DoomWar” affect her?
She is doing a mental and emotional balancing act. She was instrumental in the resolution of “DoomWar,” but it was still T’Challa who defeated Doom. However, without Shuri leading the battle in the field, T’Challa might not have had the opportunity to make his big play. Shuri also pulled some nice moves – re-read the series, you’ll see.
Shuri is also troubled by her rage issues. She’s killed to reclaim her throne and sometimes she’s killed because bad guys were in her way. In “Klaws,” we get a good example of how that rage can lead to bad consequences.
She also resents Storm, because, let’s face it, Storm is a self-composed, very powerful woman who could easily run a country like Wakanda – even without T’Challa. Storm is like the perfect older sister that Shuri secretly wants to be like but openly can’t stand.
Shuri is also trying to run a country that’s been virtually ruined financially. Their major natural resource is gone. It’s like one of the Middle Eastern countries suddenly running out of oil. It’s Shuri’s challenge to make sure that she and her country are not defined by a resource but by the content of their character (to paraphrase Dr. King).
How much story time passes between “DoomWar” and “Klaws of the Panther” and how are things in Wakanda when “Klaws” begins?
It’s a gap of a few months. Enough time for T’Challa to go off in pursuit of other matters and for a revised national bureaucracy to become a red tape nightmare, as we see in “Age of Heroes” #4. Wakanda is attempting to transition its technology onto other resources, but that’s problematic for reasons that become apparent in the first issue. Other parties are also interested in the same resources.
From the title, it’s no surprise that Klaw makes a return to the Panther-verse in this mini. He’s the oldschool Klaw – closer to what he was when first introduced in “Fantastic Four.” He’s smart, evil and he has a plan. He’s also teamed with A.I.M. for reasons I can’t really go into quite yet.
There’s also a story running through the series that follows Shuri’s attempt to gain some measure of control over her emotions. She even seeks advice on “rage management” from what might appear to be a very unlikely source.
Klaw has a very personal connection to both T’Challa and Shuri, in that he murdered their father, T’Chaka. How dangerous is he in this story, and in your mind, what makes him a good foe for Shuri?
Klaw has figured out a way to conquer the world. It’s a pretty practical plan for someone like him – a being composed of living sound. Klaw is dangerous but also devious. He’s not looking to get into a one-on-one scuffle, though he will throw down when he has to.
He’s one of those villains I always loved. When Lee and Kirby created him, they made him so alien and monstrous and yet he used to be human. Not a very nice human, granted (and let’s face it, he murdered T’Chaka!) but still flesh and blood. What must it feel like to become something both unique and alien and still have to live in the world? What would that kind of being desire? What would the world look like if he could shape it according to his will?
For Shuri – Klaw represents everything that she fears: he’s more powerful, he’s smarter, he’s alien to her experience, he murdered her father and he is supremely controlled. Defeating him will really matter to her.
In “DoomWar,” Shuri fought side by side with the Fantastic Four, War Machine, Deadpool and members of the X-Men. It looks life for “Klaws of the Panther” you’re introducing the new Black Panther to some more Marvel heroes – can you reveal, hint, or tease who some of these characters are and what roles they might play in this series?
In issue #1, Shuri teams up with Shanna the She-Devil and Zabu as they search for a missing Ka-Zar. That allows Shuri to get into trouble with dinosaurs, and as far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong if you throw velociraptors into the mix.
In the second issue, she fights alongside Wolverine, and in #3 she heads to New York and enlists the aid of Spider-Man. Then in #4 she teams with Black Widow. Fun thing is – none of this is stunt casting. Each guest star has a pivotal role to play in the overall story.
And wait until you see these pages. [Artist] Gianluca Gugliotta brings a feel to Shuri that is absolutely perfect. A perfect combination of lethal grace and eroticism. Plus, he draws one hell of a cool velociraptor.
I also want to give a shout out to cover artist Michael del Mundo. His covers are poster-quality. It’s a real pleasure to work with both of them and with my brilliant young editor, Lauren Sankovitch. She brings a hell of lot to the creative table.
How big of an impact will “Klaws of the Panther” have on Shuri, her family, her country and the Marvel Universe as a whole? And if fans respond to the series, would you be interested in continuing the adventures of the Black Panther and her related characters?
Marvel can always tap me to write a Black Panther story. I love Shuri. I think readers will relate to her vulnerability as much as her strength.
As far as an impact on the Marvel Universe – it’s a plain fact that there is no more processed Vibranium. Sure, the alloy in Cap’s shield is still there and there are some other bits and pieces that were protected – but it’s off the table in Wakanda. That opens the door for a whole new chapter of Wakandan history. This is a powerful, advanced civilization that prizes honor and integrity above everything. Without the buffer of their Vibranium stockpiles, they are challenged now to prove that their heritage is both deserved and profound.
Plus, any time you disrupt the status quo of any fictional construct, you open a magic treasure trove of storytelling possibilities. The world of the Black Panther is wide open for great stories.
This is a fresh start for the Panther. It’s open and accessible to anyone and it doesn’t require any previous knowledge of the characters or of Wakanda. So come on for the ride. It’s fast-paced, funny and action-packed.
Finally, any other upcoming work, in comics or prose, that fans of your work should keep an eye out for?
This has been my most productive year to date. Between novels, nonfiction books, short stories and comics, I’ve got a lot of things rolling and I’m having a blast.
Next up is “Rot & Ruin” – a zombie novel set fourteen years after the apocalypse; it kicks off a new series that will be released in hardcover by Simon & Schuster on September 14. Then I have my third Joe Ledger thriller, “The King of Plagues,” hitting stores in March from St. Martins Griffin (and it was the first of that series, “Patient Zero,” that brought me to the attention of Marvel in the first place). That series was optioned by Michael DeLuca (“Blade,” “Se7en,” etc.) and is in development by Sony for television. I’m also currently writing “Dead of Night,” a standalone zombie novel to be released by Griffin in June.
I also have a couple of cool miniseries from Marvel in the pipeline. “Marvel Universe Vs. the Punisher” is already running, and it’s a post-apocalyptic existentialist adventure. Very strange, even for me. In January we launch “Captain America: Hail HYDRA,” a five-issue Marvel event that follows Cap from World War II to present day. The graphic collection of “DoomWar” debuts in hardcover in October.