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Comic Legends: The Surprising Origin of Black Panther’s First Series

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Comic Legends: The Surprising Origin of Black Panther’s First Series

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and sixty-seventh week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

Click here for Part 1 of this week’s Black Panther-themed legends.

COMIC LEGEND:

Black Panther got his first ongoing series because a Marvel staffer complained about how one of Marvel’s then-current series was a bit too racist for the time.

STATUS:

Basically True

In the late 1960s, Marvel Comics finally got a new distribution deal. This allowed them to free themselves from the onerous contract details of their old contract (note, though, for however bad that the terms were, if they did not get that deal they would have gone out of business during the late 1950s. So a bad distribution deal was better than no distribution deal at all). The old deal limited how many titles that Marvel could publish. So now they could publish as many comics as they wanted. They quickly practically doubled their line (all of the titles that had two heroes in them, like Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense became two separate series – one for each hero).

So Marvel grew and grew and by the early 1970s, they had actually caught up to DC Comics as the #1 comic book publisher on the market (this specifically occurred in 1972). They then decided to go even further and just began to really begin to push out a whole ton of content. DC was doing the same thing. The idea was to sort of push the other one off of the shelves (and if not each other, at least screw over any possible other competitors).

One way that Marvel did this was to simply take older material and re-publish it in new series. This was a common tactic back in the day when back issues were a fairly uncommon sight and trade paperback collections of comic book material were, in effect, non-existent.

So Marvel launched a few of these series. One of them was called Jungle Action, and it reprinted old Tarzan knock-off stories from a few different series from the 1950s, including Lorna the Jungle Queen and the original Jungle Action (which featured Lo-Zar, whose name was changed to Tharn because of the whole, you know, Ka-Zar deal).

These comics were seen as kind of racist in the 1950s. In the 1970s, they were seen as very racist (a whole lot of “White Savior among the savages” stuff). One Marvel staffer, Don McGregor, whose job included proofreading all of this stuff, complained to Marvel about it. He noted, “What’s with all of the blond jungle gods and goddesses in Africa?”

So Marvel said, fine, he could write new stories for the series starring pretty much the only black superhero that Marvel had at the time, Black Panther. The only condition is that since the book was still called Jungle Action, the stories would have to be set in Africa. McGregor agreed.

The first Panther issue was a re-print of one of the few Panther spotlight issues of Avengers, Avengers #62…

Then McGregor’s iconic run began with the next issue, the first part of “Panther’s Rage,” which introduced Erik Killmonger (McGregor worked with penciler Rick Buckler and a brand-new Marvel inker named Klaus Janson. I think Janson might have done more comics after this one)…

(As an aside, I recently did a list about Easter Eggs in the Black Panther movie and there was a really good one involving Killmonger’s pet leopard, Preyy).

And so, comic book history was made and all because Don McGregor stepped up and said, “Hey, this should be better.” Good on you, Don!


Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed – What was going to happen with the baby in the Lois and Clark finale had the series continued?


Part 3 will be up soon! Feel free to write in with suggestions for future legends to either cronb01@aol.com or brianc@cbr.com!

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