The Black Panther is one of Marvel Comics’ most enduring and iconic characters. First introduced in 1966, the character quickly gained popularity as the first black superhero. From his first appearance in Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, to his legendary run under Christopher Priest, to his current run written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the character has consistently had a strong presence in the comics. He’s wielded the Infinity Gauntlet, the Power Cosmic, and a Cosmic Cube, but they never quite seem to measure up to his own brain and gusto. He’s also made the jump to animation, video games, and the big screen in Captain America: Civil War. On February 16, he’ll finally star in his own solo film, literal decades in the making.
The character has accumulated a lot of odds and ends over his 50+ year existence, including a few legacy characters, a few super-teams of his own, new powers, tenures as other heroes, and of course, more than his fair share of controversy. Regardless, he remains one of Marvel’s most popular heroes, and with a little luck, his fame will only grow with the film coming up. This list covers some tidbits of trivia that even the super-est of superfans might not know.
15. HE PREDATES THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
Back in the mid-60s, the American civil rights movement was in full swing. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and in 1966, King T’Challa, the Black Panther, burst onto the pages of Marvel Comics. Debuting in Fantastic Four #52 in July, Black Panther predates the the formation of the Black Panther Party by three months, with the group officially being founded in October.
While he predates the party, he does not predate the iconic black panther symbol used by the party’s predecessor, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, or the segregated Black Panthers Tank Battalion from World War 2. Black Panther would go on to appear regularly in The Avengers comic, while the Black Panther Party would be targeted by the FBI, before eventually dissolving in 1982.
14. HE’S A MEMBER OF ALMOST EVERY SUPER-TEAM
Besides the obvious Avengers, Black Panther is one of the most prolific super-team members, rivaling only Wolverine in sheer numbers. After joining the Avengers, he regularly joined the Fantastic Four for adventures, even occasionally becoming a full-time member of the team. His marriage to Storm brought him into more than a few X-Men teams, before the events of Avengers Vs. X-Men broke the trust between mutants and Wakandans.
He’s also joined the Defenders, after coming into conflict with them while a member of the Avengers, along with the Crew, a street-level team of black superheroes, time-traveling super-team the Fantastic Force, and founded cosmic team the Ultimates, along with Carol Danvers. Thanks to Wakanda’s super-tech, he’s able to carry his weight at all power levels, from the grounded Crew to the Galactus-fighting Ultimates.
13. WAKANDA MADE QUINJETS
Since most members of the Avengers can’t fly under their own power, they needed a form of transportation. Fortunately, T’Challa was able to provide. First appearing way back in Avengers #61 in 1969, the Quinjet was introduced with little ceremony. However, as the years went on, it became one of the Avengers’ most iconic pieces of equipment. Taking the Avengers across the globe, into space, and even across universes, the Quinjet remains one of Black Panther’s largest contributions to the Avengers.
Although the Quinjet made the jump to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was not apparently designed by Wakanda. With Black Panther and Infinity War looming, however, we may soon see a new, Wakandan Quinjet flying the Avengers and more around on the big screen.
12. HE TOOK OVER FOR DAREDEVIL FOR A BIT
In 2010, Matt Murdock took over the Hand, and became the new Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen. Unfortunately for him, it all proved a bit much, and he turned evil. After being defeated/saved by a group of street-level heroes in Shadowland, he left Hell’s Kitchen, New York, and Daredevil behind to find himself after losing himself to his fear.
In steps Black Panther as the new guardian of Hell’s Kitchen. Having lost his title as Black Panther and King of Wakanda, he seeks to rediscover himself as a hero and protector. Working a day job at a restaurant under an assumed identity of a recent immigrant from Wakanda, T’Challa attempts to find out who the Black Panther is without the backing of Wakanda and his powers.
11. HIS SISTER TOOK OVER FOR HIM
While T’Challa was running around in Hell’s Kitchen, his sister was ruling Wakanda as queen and Black Panther. During Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign in the aftermath of the Skrull Secret Invasion, T’Challa was attacked by Doctor Doom, going into a coma. Because he was no longer able to carry out the duties of Black Panther, his powers and title passed to his sister, Shuri.
The first female Black Panther in Wakandan history, Shuri trained from birth to be worthy of the position, but T’Challa claimed the position before she had a chance to complete her trial. She would continue to rule Wakanda for a time, until the events leading into Secret Wars. Namor’s Cabal attacked Wakanda, leaving Shuri trapped in stasis. She would return to life in time to quell a budding rebellion in Wakanda, although the question of who rules Wakanda still remains.
10. AN AMERICAN COP ALSO TOOK OVER FOR HIM
In the face of health issues causing hallucinations and a loss of control, T’Challa temporarily abandoned the Black Panther mantle, going into hiding in New York, and handing control of Wakanda to a council of tribal elders. His abandoned costume was found by American police officer Kasper Cole, who briefly took up the title of Black Panther.
He sought training and a blessing from T’Challa, who at first rejected him, but later was inspired by Cole’s attempts at heroism. While Cole eventually gave up the mantle of Black Panther, allowing T’Challa to step back into the role, he would remain a superhero, becoming the White Tiger, an initiate member of Wakanda’s Panther cult. This is not to be confused with the other White Tigers, Hector Ayala and Ava Ayala, who receive their powers from a related Tiger deity, as opposed to Wakanda’s Panther deity.
9. STARRED IN MARVEL’S FIRST GRAPHIC NOVEL
A long, long time ago, superhero comics weren’t structured into nice six issue story arcs that fit perfectly into a trade paperback. They used to be formatted in single issue stories, or two to three-issue arcs. While other companies would experiment with longer-form comic storytelling in the 1940s, usually with comic adaptations of public domain novels, Marvel would get into the game in either 1965 or 1973, depending on who you ask.
But in 1973, Black Panther starred in Jungle Action, in what is widely regarded as the first known titled, self-contained, multi-issue story arc, called “Panther’s Rage.” The story would run for 13 issues, and is considered the first “true” American graphic novel. Later graphic novels would publish all in one go, rather than serially like Jungle Action, but Black Panther would set a precedent that comics still follow today.
8. HE WAS ALMOST WESLEY SNIPES
In 1992, Wesley Snipes announced plans to make a Black Panther movie. It rattled around for several years, only to be put on hold when Marvel’s bankruptcy in 1996. Snipes continued to push for the movie throughout his time in the Blade films, remaining on board through the birth of Marvel Studios that would eventually result in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Snipes had to abandon the project due to failing to pay income tax and being sent to jail, which puts a kink in any artistic endeavor, really. He would be replaced by Chadwick Boseman, and the rest, as they say, is history. It is interesting to imagine, though, what a Snipes-led Black Panther film would look like. An older T’Challa would certainly provide an interesting counterpoint to his technological competitor Tony Stark.
7. PUNCHES WAY ABOVE HIS WEIGHT CLASS
Black Panther is basically the Batman of the Avengers. While he has enhanced abilities thanks to the heart-shaped herb, the majority of his usefulness comes from his money, his tech, and his smarts. On top of that, he fights threats that would ordinarily mash a normal into paste. Black Panther has challenged and defeated foes ranging from the entire Fantastic Four to Namor the Sub-Mariner
Perhaps most impressive (or silliest) is his victory over the Silver Surfer. While the Surfer has been defeated by those under him before, Black Panther defeated him with a simple armbar. Of course, the very next issue, he defeated him more legitimately with some super-tech, but still. The Silver Surfer, defeated by an armbar from a relatively ordinary human. What a time to be alive.
6. THE TITLE IS HEREDITARY, BUT HIS SON REJECTS THE MANTLE
Before T’Challa was the Black Panther, his father T’Chaka held the title, and was considered to be the greatest Black Panther ever. This left T’Challa with some big shoes to fill. When T’Challa was sent into a coma by Doctor Doom, his sister Shuri inherited the title from him, although T’Challa continued to go around as Black Panther.
In the now defunct MC2 universe, created around Spider-Man heir Mayday Parker, T’Challa’s son T’Chaka II rejects the Black Panther title, instead choosing to operate as the perhaps ill-advised Coal Tiger. Interestingly, Coal Tiger was the original name for the character that would eventually become T’Challa the Black Panther, but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were convinced to go with something less offensive.
5. THE FIRST BLACK SUPERHERO
Today, there are dozens of black and other non-white superheroes, but in 1966, the offerings were far more sparse. There was the rather unpopular All-Negro Comics, cancelled after a single issue; Waku, the Prince of Bantu, starring in a feature in Jungle Tales from Marvel predecessor Atlas Comics; and the Western character Lobo, the first black character to star in his own comic.
But in 1966, Black Panther crashed onto the scene. The first black superhero, he would appear in the pages of Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and The Avengers, before finally getting a solo story in Jungle Action, and eventually a self-titled series in 1977. While Black Panther was not the first black hero to get his own self-titled series (that honor goes to Luke Cage), his influence is undeniable, sparking a wide range of black heroes from both Marvel and DC.
4. ALMOST HAD A HALF MASK
In the initial design stages, Jack Kirby originally conceived of Black Panther as a maskless character. As the design evolved, he was eventually given a mask, but it was not the more iconic full face mask we know and love today. In his first appearance, and for a few after that, he had a half mask, revealing his chin, and more importantly, his skin color.
Eventually, the design was changed to a full face mask. While it undeniably looked better, the reasoning behind the change was a bit less noble. It was decided that a black face on a comics cover would turn readers off in the climate of the 1960s and 70s, and the design was changed to hide T’Challa’s skin. The design would stick and quickly become one of Marvel’s more iconic looks.
3. CHANGED HIS NAME
As you may remember, Black Panther predates the Black Panther Party by about three months. However, that didn’t stop the character from attracting a bit of controversy due to the unintended association. As a result, in 1972, Black Panther began going by Black Leopard, in order to consciously avoid an association with the Party, both in universe and out.
Although T’Challa does not condemn or condone the Party’s ideals (despite basically following them), the change only lasted a few issues before he reverted back to the more recognizable Panther. A bit comically, he notes that a panther is a leopard, referencing the fact that black panthers are in fact melanistic leopards or jaguars. Black Leopard, at least, is more acceptable than his originally conceived name, Coal Tiger.
2. KING OF THE DEAD
Although T’Challa lost his position as king of Wakanda and official Black Panther, he gained a new title as King of the Dead. By entering the spirit world of Wakanda, he established a connection with the spirits of Black Panthers past, including his father. He gained the power and knowledge of all the previous Black Panthers, along with the ability to control the dead.
His powers were granted to him by Egyptian cat goddess Bast, who empowered him to rule over Wakanda’s dead, while Shuri ruled over the living. He would use these powers to fight alongside the Illuminati in the lead up to Secret Wars, and command an army of the dead to defend Wakanda against invaders such as Namor, Thanos, and Doctor Doom.
1. HE HAD AN ANIMATED SERIES
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe film was officially announced, and even before the character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther appeared in an animated series on BET. Developed by a former writer of the comic, Reginald Hudlin, the story was a fairly close adaptation of his story arc “Who Is the Black Panther?” It followed T’Challa as he steps into the role of Black Panther, and fights off a group of villains seeking to conquer Wakanda.
Featuring a stellar voice cast including Djimon Honsou, Kerry Washington, and Alfre Woodard, the series ran for six episodes in 2011. While the story was wrapped up, no continuation was ordered, and the series fell into obscurity alongside the Silver Surfer cartoon and that modern Fantastic Four cartoon no one knows exists.
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