Throughout the history of the Marvel Universe, the African nation of Wakanda has always been ruled and protected by its own costumed defender, The Black Panther. The most recent and well known Black Panther has been King T'Challa, but when writer Reginald Hudlin and artist Ken Lashley relaunch the "Black Panther" series with a new #1 in February of 2009, a new character will have assumed the mantle of the Black Panther and she's a woman on a mission. CBR News spoke with Hudlin about the series and it's new title character.
A number of factors lead to the relaunching of the "Black Panther" title and a female character taking over as its star, but what really got the ball rolling was the green lighting of a "Black Panther" animated series at the BET television network, where Hudlin was once President. "We had a great opportunity to take the character to the next level with the support of a prime time television series," Hudlin told CBR News. "We started talking about how to have a publishing event that celebrates the launch of the series. We wanted to heat up the book with a hellafied story. [Marvel Comics Editor in Chief] Joe Quesada, [Executive Editor] Axel Alonso and I kicked different ideas around, and the idea of relaunching the book came up, and starting the book with a giant crisis that would drive the next year of stories."
That crisis ties directly into the upcoming Dark Reign event, which promises to affect almost the entire Marvel Universe. "The new ['Black Panther'] storyline is rooted in Dark Reign, and will ultimately have a big impact on that storyline, but it also will plunge deep into the workings of how Wakanda functions as a nation, and the spiritual side of the Panther cult," Hudlin explained. "Everyone has to make dramatic changes immediately. It's a life and death situation that eventually evolves into a hardcore revenge story."
The previous volume of "Black Panther" starred King T'Challa and his wife Storm of the X-Men. And when the new volume of the series kicks off, the former Panther and his queen will still have somewhat of a presence in the title, but the opening story arc will be all about the new female Black Panther -- whose identity is currently a mystery. "It's an origin story--sort of 'Who is the Black Panther now'--with a brutal series of challenges for almost every character in the book," Hudlin said.
As the Black Panther, King T'Challa played many roles; he was a superhero, a scientist, a diplomat and a king. This has left many fans wondering if the heroic career of his successor will be just as multi-faceted. "Given that T'Challa does almost everything well, it's unrealistic for anyone to fill those shoes," Hudlin remarked. "So in a time of crisis, what doesn't get handled? What are the consequences of that? Who picks up the slack? What are the consequences of that?"
Hudlin hinted that the events in "Black Panther" will become global rather quickly, but the first storyline is set primarily in Wakanda. In the story, readers will get to see the Wakandans' initial reaction to the woman who has taken up the mantle of their country's protector. "Wakandans won't respond to the idea of a female Panther in a sexist fashion, they are comfortable with strong women," the writer stated. "It will be more 'do you have the goods to hold the title?'"
The first year of stories on the new "Black Panther" series will consist of two long arcs that feed one one another. "I like switching up tones and styles in the book, but the first year will be a pretty consistent combination of hardcore action, international intrigue and adult romance," Hudlin explained.
In his poem "The Female of the Species," Rudyard Kipling famously observed, "the female of the species is more deadly than the male," a lesson which the new Black Panther is happy to teach to her foes. "She will be facing off with an interesting range of villains--the first of which will be a surprise appearance of a character strongly associated with one series but is a perfect fit for this one as well," Hudlin stated.
Hudlin is thrilled his scripts for the new "Black Panther" series are being brought to life by his collaborator on this year's "Black Panther Annual," Ken Lashley. "He did great work on the annual, and I was very glad to hear he would be doing the book monthly," the writer said. "He's an amazing artist."
Change can be a difficult thing -- especially in superhero comics-- but in telling the tale of the new female Black Panther, Reginald Hudlin is taking great care to craft a story that's both entertaining and respectful of what's come before. "Considering it's such an imaginative medium, some comics fans can be very conservative when it comes to shaking up the status quo," he said. "But when you look at story lines like 'Civil War', which led to Iron Man being painted as a bad guy in many eyes, and the death of Captain America; those radical changes energized those series. This story is not a repeat of what Ed Brubaker did so well on 'Captain America', but stands on its own. Folks will have to read it for themselves and decide if they like it or not.
"The one concern I have heard that I would want to address is the loss of yet another black male superhero," Hudlin continued. "We all want strong female characters, but not at the cost of black males, and especially one as beloved as T'Challa. I understand that concern, and I would feel the same way-- if I weren't writing the book and knew that what we are doing will not do that. I think the net result will be the broadening of the Panther's universe."
Hudlin also hopes the female star of the new "Black Panther" series will help to broaden the buying demographics of both his series and comics in general. "I've always been struck by the large number of female fans that have come out in support of the book from the launch three years ago. I always wanted to reward their support by having characters they could relate to and admire," Hudlin said. "Fortunately, I had already added Shuri [T'Challa's sister] because it didn't make any sense that T'Chaka would only have one child--what king only has one kid? Typically, royal families at least have 'an heir and a spare.' And of course, the marriage of Storm and the Black Panther really connected with female readers. It's one of the healthiest relationships in comics and one of the few, if not only, black superhero couples in the game. The new storyline is built around big love--love and the amount of ass you will kick on behalf of love.
"I like female superheroes. I have a son and a daughter, and I want them both to have characters to relate to and be inspired by. I also think the current comic book audience is too much of a sausage party. My retailer (shout to the fine folks at Golden Apple in LA!) tells me a lot of attractive women show up to buy Vertigo books and whatever Joss Whedon is writing. I've never seen any cultural phenomenon that didn't become massively popular once attractive women started showing up."