The superhero suit is a key element to the superhero’s identity. This is why artists and designers spend so much time drafting various looks for their heroes -- they want to do what they feel is right for their character. It’s hard for us to imagine Superman or Spider-Man without the red and blue tights. With Marvel’s transition from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, one of the criticisms was that there was too much of a change from the high cut black leotard suit that fans had associated with Carol Danvers for so long. But, the comics world and the heroes’ costumes will continue to evolve.
On the surface, the Black Panther suit seems like it's a very simple design. It’s all one color with hints of feline details. You wouldn’t think that the Black Panther suit’s details would actually change very much over the last 50 years, but it has. Thanks to the number of extraordinarily talented artists who have left their mark on the Black Panther franchise over the years, Black Panther has had a number of really interesting looks. Here at CBR, we’re going to take a look at 16 of Black Panther’s best looks from his inception in 1966 to now.
16 JUNGLE ACTION (VOL. 2) #23
In 1973, the Jungle Action comics gave then proofreader Don McGregor his big writing break to work on Black Panther. This is what led to the now iconic Black Panther storyline “Panther’s Rage” which future Black Panther writers and artists have been inspired by. There is a lot that goes on in this story, including battles with dinosaurs and a near-death battle with Killmonger.
This 1976 Jungle Action cover was done by John Byrne. The Black Panther is in a classic crouching position with a spotlight illuminating him and a brick wall behind him. The suit is simple with elements that we’ve since associated with the Black Panther suit: a full mask, a single color, with gloves and boots. It looks like an image you’d find on a Black Panther T-shirt, which we would buy.
15 COWL MASK FROM THE AVENGERS (VOL.1) #52
Black Panther joined the Avengers in 1968. This is actually a pretty big deal because a lot was going on with the Black community in 1968 as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. The Black Panther joining the Avengers meant that a featured Black character would be guaranteed to be seen by people, regardless of politics.
On a less serious note, this is the only time where T’Challa would rock a cowl mask.
Notice how you can actually see the lower half of his face! It’s kind of disorienting to see it now when we’re so used to seeing the Black Panther with a full mask. John Buscema did the pencils for this specific issue with inks by Vince Colleta.
14 “HAPPY PANTS” BLACK PANTHER
The Christopher Priest run of the Black Panther comics is heralded as one of Black Panther’s best runs. He added elements and characters that have stuck around in the Black Panther mythology, such as the Dora Milaje. Priest also successfully took elements from Black Panther’s history and retooled them to suit the modern world.
One of these elements was a time-traveling storyline that seems like it was taken straight from Jack Kirby’s time with Black Panther. Towards the end of his run, Priest introduced a Black Panther from the future, who turned out to be a future T’Challa. This Black Panther, dubbed “Happy Pants,” is much more light-hearted than his past self, and his garb is much simpler than his younger self. We have Sal Velluto to thank for this Kirby-inspired future Black Panther look.
13 MARVEL FANFARE (VOL. 1) #60
The Marvel Fanfare titles ran from the early '80s to the early '90s. The purpose of this series was to feature Marvel’s key players with higher quality paper, which is why the price was much higher. The Black Panther appeared in this series, and this cover art by Denys Cowan and Walter Simonson needs to be discussed.
We love a good cape on a superhero, and Black Panther is no exception.
T’Challa’s Black Panther is often found in a high-collared cape in the comics and for good reason; he looks great in one. In addition to the cape, this cover art also has a bejeweled Black Panther. His accessorized arm is the one that’s also holding his spear, which is a great juxtaposition of images.
12 BLACK PANTHER (VOL. 3) #1
The Christopher Priest run had Black Panther sporting a great look of a cape plus gold accents. Artist Mark Texeira was key in bringing this vision to fruition, and he is the artist responsible for this classic Priest cover. The Priest Black Panther looks regal but deadly, which is really the Black Panther in a nutshell if we’re being honest.
In the Priest run, Black Panther has many epic battles, including one where there’s no dialogue at all. This can only be accomplished with talented artists. T’Challa is constantly jumping off buildings and fighting, and his vibranium boots get a lot of attention. Another cool detail is the gold claws which draw the eye in to one of his most deadly weapons. Those of us who have been clawed in the face by a cat would not want claws to be weaponized.
11 FIRST APPEARANCE IN FANTASTIC FOUR (VOL. 1) #52
Black Panther made his debut in 1966 in a Fantastic Four issue. The Fantastic Four arrive in Wakanda only to be the subjects of the most dangerous game: they are the ones that will hunted by the Black Panther. They pass his test, and Black Panther realizes that he would be an excellent superhero for the world.
The artistry done by the legendary Jack Kirby informed iterations of Black Panther’s suit to come.
While it seems simple, elements from this design make its way throughout Black Panther’s different looks. We have the full mask, the cape, and the boots that have consistently shown up in a lot of T’Challa’s Black Panther looks. Also, it looks like the suit allows Black Panther to have flexibility in movement, given his open second leap here.
10 KASPER COLE
Towards the end of Christopher Priest’s critically-acclaimed Black Panther run, T’Challa ends up missing in action. He gives up being the Black Panther both as a hero and as the king of Wakanda. In his place, we get a story about Kasper Cole, a Brooklyn cop who happens to find Black Panther’s suit. Cole becomes a vigilante, and inevitably T’Challa takes him under his wing (paw?) and acts as a mentor.
Have no fear, T’Challa once again assumes the Black Panther mantle, but artist Andy Kubert had an interesting take on Cole’s Black Panther look. Cole is often pictured with two guns (which makes sense considering his day job). This makes him look just as menacing, if not more so, than T’Challa’s Black Panther look.
9 KING AZZURI
King Azzuri was Black Panther during World War II when Captain America found himself in Wakanda. Now, as we know, Wakandans don’t take kindly to outsiders, so Steve Rogers and King Azzuri got into a brawl.
It’s always interesting to see how each generation of Black Panther changes the Black Panther look.
In King Azzuri’s case, he added a mane around his neck that was fastened with a gold necklace, along with long fur at the tops of his boots. In this art done with cover pencils by Sal Velluto and inks by Mark Mckenna, we see that this Black Panther fights with a shield and a spear. In the end, the two befriend one another, but we could look at them fighting all day.
8 HELL’S KITCHEN BLACK PANTHER
In 2010, the Black Panther came to Hell’s Kitchen on the behalf of Matt Murdock who was taking a break from being Daredevil. Since his sister was now Black Panther and holding the fort down in Wakanda, T’Challa accepted Murdock’s request. In Hell’s Kitchen, T’Challa went back to basics -- he fought without the trappings of Black Panther that he was used to. This allowed him to rediscover himself
The Most Dangerous Man Alive! series had T’Challa fighting without his technology, so we actually saw him bleed. Artist Simone Bianchi and colorist Simone Peruzzi did the cover of issue #513 showing T’Challa’s new get-up. His new suit featured gold claws on his hands and feet with sharp gold knee pads. Without tech, he needed these modifications to protect himself when he punched and kicked.
7 19TH CENTURY BLACK PANTHER
Writer Reginald Hudlin took over the Black Panther series from Christopher Priest and gave Wakanda a slightly modified backstory. It was Hudlin who really showed the reader that Wakanda had never been conquered. This was shown in Hudlin’s first issue, where we saw a number of invaders throughout the centuries get their butts handed to him. Of course, the Black Panther is always going to be in the battle against an outside force.
One of the Black Panthers we see is an unnamed one from the 19th century.
Artist John Romita Jr joined with Klaus Janson and Dean White, who did the inks and colors respectively, to create a cool look for this earlier Black Panther. He has a full mask and a cape but is shirtless. He has no armor on his body whatsoever! Only a king with confidence can stroll into battle like that.
6 VIBRANIUM SUITS FROM THE FILM
With the Black Panther film being released this month, MCU fans are getting more and more excited to see more details of the Black Panther suit. What we know so far is that it has been changed since we last saw T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War. We know it was made by Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and confirmed smartest scientist in the MCU. And it’s made of vibranium, the valuable metal found only in Wakanda that can absorb energy.
The footage we’ve seen so far of the suit forming itself around the wearer has been truly mind-blowing, as has the footage from the trailer featuring Killmonger’s vibranium suit transforming. But we’re hoping to see Shuri suit up in this film to help out her brother at some point since there seems to be multiple suits lying around.
5 1,000,000 BC BLACK PANTHER
The Marvel Legacy series gave us a look at the first Black Panther. This Black Panther joins the first Avengers team who were clearly first assembled a lot longer than we had assumed. These Stone Age Avengers, which included Odin and Phoenix among others, banded together to fight a Celestial named Fallen. Artist Mike Deodato Jr. did the teaser images for this series in the summer of 2017, and they sure did do their job of getting the readers excited for it.
Our prehistoric Black Panther has a real cat pelt that covers part of his face and back, complete with a tail.
Black Panther wouldn’t be complete without some form of claws, which this Black Panther ancestor also has. One could say he started it.
4 WEDDING BLACK PANTHER
Your wedding is one of the biggest events of your lifetime, especially if you're royalty. With all the hoopla that’s made about British Royal weddings, what we saw of Wakandan weddings is equally as impressive. In the Hudlin run of Black Panther, T’Challa married Ororo Munroe, also known as Storm, from the X-Men. They have known each other since they were kids, and it was about time!
This was truly the superhero wedding of the century: an African-American superhero king married an African-American mutant leader. The artist for this issue must have felt a lot of pressure to design wedding garments worthy of these characters, which is what Frank Cho did. Of course, Storm looks beautiful, but check out T’Challa’s suit too. He wears a special necklace to mark the occasion.
In 2009, Reginald Hudlin launched a new Black Panther: T’Challa’s sister, Shuri. Hudlin laid the groundwork for this in the beginning of his series. We saw that Shuri could have been a contender for the Black Panther title, but T’Challa just got to the fight first. When T’Challa is indisposed (like really indisposed. He was in a coma.), Shuri rises to the occasion to protect Wakanda.
Shuri’s Black Panther look seems to be inspired by previous Black Panthers.
In this image by Ken Lashley and Paul Neary, Shuri has a full mask, cape, and claws. Added to this is a necklace as well as a mane draped around her shoulders. While her journey to be the Black Panther had its downs, like the Panther God initially rejecting her, Shuri is a great leader and looks great too.
2 VARIANT COVER BLACK PANTHER (VOL. 6) #2
Prestigious author Ta-Nahesi Coates teamed up with artist Brian Stelfreeze in 2016 to tell T’Challa’s story. This time, Coates created strain for T’Challa with civil unrest in Wakanda along with his sister being in a coma. T’Challa doesn’t know that Shuri is experiencing visions in her coma. For all he knows, she may never wake up.
We love seeing this brother-sister duo, and we’re hoping that this is taken advantage of in the Black Panther film. Artist Rahzzah did this variant art featuring Shuri and T’Challa in their Black Panther suits, and the design and colors are stunning. We especially love the illuminated details on their gloves and the confidence of their poses. We know this is a family that’s not to be trifled with.
1 VIBRANIUM CHARGED SUIT
Ta-Nahesi Coates is no stranger to racial issues. As an esteemed author and journalist, he was been writing about the struggles of the Black community for quite some time. His voice was a welcome one to bring to Wakanda. An interesting development that he brought to Wakanda was shifting the government from a monarchy to a democracy, where T’Challa would still be king but the voices of the people would be heard. With the modernity of this idea, artist John Tyler Christopher infused modernity into the cover art for Coates’ first issue.
The purple charge of the vibranium looks very sleek.
While the purple charge makes one think of science fiction technology, T’Challa still has his Black Panther necklace connecting him back to his roots.