In "When We First Met", we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, "Avengers Assemble!" or the first appearance of Batman's giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man's face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.
Today, based on a suggestion by reader CPB, we find out when, exactly, the whole "Black Panther" deal became something that was passed down from generation to generation.
When we learned the origin of Black Panther in his second ever appearance in Fantastic Four #53 (by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Joe Sinnott), do note that T'Chaka very much was NOT the Black Panther when he died...
Look at that image on the third page. It is pretty evident that what we are seeing here is not a guy deciding to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors, but rather, a dude deciding to wreak vengeance on the wicked for the death of his parent. Really, what we're seeing here is very much the Black Panther version of Batman's origin. Only instead of a bat inspiring him to become a bat, he instead is inspired by a piece of his cultural history to become a Black Panther.
You can see that in the rest of the origin...
As a quick aside, how amazing are those Kirby pages? WOW! The intensity on young T'Challa's face while he's mowing down the bad guys is amazing. In any event, as you can see, what we have here is a guy who decided that he needed to train himself to be ready for when Klaw, the man who murdered his father, inevitably returned to Wakanda. THAT is why he became Black Panther, not because he was destined to grow up to become Black Panther eventually due to his hereditary.
So when did it change? Well, appropriately enough, it was at least one of Black Panther's co-creators, Jack Kirby, who would change the status quo when he became the writer/penciler (working with inker Mike Royer) on Black Panther in 1977. The first six issues saw T'Challa on a wild adventure, but then he returned in the seventh issue and along with his return, he told the story of the origination of the Panther Cult, and now, for the first time we learned that the "Black Panther? is a title that gets passed down from generation to generation.
You could make a good argument that this is technically a retcon, but whatever, I'm doing it as a When We First Met instead of as an abandoned plot. This is really more about Kirby filling in T'Challa's past more than anything.
Actually, Kirby's story was later retconned itself, but that's a whole other story. For now, suffice it to say that the first time it was revealed that that Black Panther title was something that got passed down from generation to generation was in Black Panther #7.
Thanks for the suggestion, CPB! If anyone else has a comic book first that they were wondering about, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!