Maberry Talks "Black Panther"

When one assumes the identity of the Black Panther, they're not just becoming a costumed champion, they're also becoming the ruler of Wakanda; one of the most technologically advanced nations in the Marvel Universe. For years, the Black Panther was King T'Challa, but recently, the monarch fell victim to a vicious sneak attack by the villainous Doctor Doom.

T'Challa's injuries from the surprise assault were so severe that he had to surrender the identity of the Black Panther to his sister, Shuri. T'Challa's story is far from over, however. "Black Panther" writer Jonathan Maberry (a novelist, whose works include the best selling "Patient Zero" and the Bram Stoker Award winning "Ghost Road Blues") and artist Will Conrad are currently chronicling the adventures of both T'Challa and Shuri.

In "Power," the series' latest story arc, T'Challa plots revenge against Doctor Doom, while Shuri hunts for a mysterious conspiracy that is arming villains with stolen and salvaged technology. What the new Black Panther finds most troubling, though, is the fact that that perpetrators of the conspiracy have access to Wakandan technology. "Black Panther" #9, part three of "Power," is in stores now, and in the issue T'Challa moved his plans for revenge forward while Shuri tangled with Ohyaku, one of the conspiracy's operatives. She also uncovered knowledge about the conspiracy's head, the Broker and his ties to the Desturi, a violent ultra-nationalist group of Wakandans. CBR News spoke with Maberry about the events of the issue, as well as his plans for the rest of the arc.

Shuri has had some pretty disconcerting things happen to her in the pages of "Black Panther." First, her brother is attacked and almost killed, and now she's uncovered evidence of a dangerous conspiracy in Wakanda. She seems to be taking everything in stride though, and isn't angry or vengeance obsessed. Why do you think that is? How would you describe her current mental and emotional state?

Shuri is a pretty complex young woman, and she's doing her best to put on a good front. She's gone from headstrong, short-tempered and arrogant little sister to T'Challa to being the ruler of Wakanda and the hero of the people. At least, those are the roles she has to play. When we meet her in issues #7 and #8, we see her as cool and confident, but some of that is a front. It's a 'fake it until you make it' thing. She knows full well she's not the intellectual giant that T'Challa is, and she doesn't have the field experience to be the same level of fighter he is. She's doing a pretty good job of playing those roles, too, but as the crisis worsens and the pressure increases to discover how and why T'Challa was attacked, we'll be seeing cracks in that facade. Her arrogance and temper are going to get her into some pretty hot water, starting with issue #9 and steamrolling into a very big problem in issue #11. If you've seen the solicitations for #11, you'll have some idea of the trouble she's getting into.

T'Challa, on the other hand, is clearly obsessed with vengeance. What does it mean to him to have been beaten as badly as he was? And does the fact that the beating was delivered by Doctor Doom make it more or less emotionally painful?

Oh yes, T'Challa is not taking that defeat lightly. It's the worst defeat he's ever faced, and he lost two of the Dora Milaje in the process. His wife, Storm, nearly died saving him from Limbo. He's pissed, and maybe he's had a reality check, too. It's a weakness that T'Challa - and his nation - share. Wakanda has never been conquered; T'Challa has always prevailed. If you always win, you begin to take it for granted, and that's a great way to open yourself up to defeat.

T'Challa defeated Doom before, and now Doom's upped his own game and defeated T'Challa. A lesser man might have had his spirit broken. Do you really see that happening with T'Challa? He's the perfect living example of Goethe's famous observation: "That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger." At the same time, he knows that he has to up his own game. He is. Considerably. He's also changing the kind of game he plays.

Shuri and T'Challa are certainly the two most prominent characters in "Black Panther," but it seems like recently they've become part of a larger cast of characters. In fact, "Black Panther" now feels more like an ensemble book about the Wakandan Royal Family instead of a solo title. Was that always your intention? Or was it just something that arose from the stories you're telling?

I absolutely see this as an ensemble book. It's about the Wakandan Royals - T'Challa and Shuri in the first few issues, and then Storm as the "Power" arc rolls on.

I like telling separate stories. My writing style has always been built around ensemble casts. My first three novels in the "Pine Deep Trilogy" ("Ghost Road Blues," "Dead Man's Song," and "Bad Moon Rising" - Pinnacle Books) juggled over thirty characters. And even in the techno-thrillers I'm writing for St. Martins Griffin - "Patient Zero" and "The Dragon Factory" - I switch from one set of characters to another in order to tell a series of parallel stories. Shuri has one story, and it's uniquely her own. T'Challa's has a completely different thrust and tone. And when Storm comes more fully into the story in issue #10, the tone of that is different. Plus, there are the sub-stories involving Doctor Doom, the Broker and the Desturi. Three hero storylines, three villain storylines. All separate, and yet, with each issue they'll weave together into a single fabric that will serve as the canvas on which we'll paint a larger top secret Marvel Universe event that begins in February.

And, the secret event will also have parallel storylines, including a one-two punch of an ending that I can't wait to script.

The current 'Power" arc almost seems more like an espionage story than a superhero one. Will that be the case for the remaining installments of the arc? And what can you tell me about the remaining chapters of the story?

"Power" is definitely espionage-based. I write techno-thrillers about terrorists and conspiracies, so that's a strength I draw on. Plus, I've always dug those types of stories. The S.H.I.E.L.D. comics of the '60s and '70s are particular favorites of mine; as are the Black Widow stories.

That said, the Black Panther comic has elements of spies, world events, and super heroics. As the arc rolls on, we'll see how far T'Challa is willing to go to prepare for his war with Doom. This is definitely new territory for him, and it's a pretty shadowy landscape.

Shuri, on the other hand, is going to see her battles increase from unnamed Cybernauts, to Ohyaku (my sexy new villainess), to more mainstream opponents. Issues #11 and #12 have some serious battles in them, as Shuri's hunt for evidence leads her into direct opposition to the Broker. And he has a few nasty surprises in store.

Shuri will also get some allies in her fight, and they swing a whole lot of weight.

Storm is pretty much left to handle Wakanda's problems alone, and as she tackles that, she heads straight into a trap.

As for T'Challa - by issue #12, readers are not going to be able to guess what's going on with him - but I want to say this: there are a whole lot of answers on the last page of the "Power" arc. Don't leave the theater until after the credits.

You recently introduced Shuri to the first new member of her rogues gallery: a dangerous cybernetically enhanced woman named Ohyaku. In your mind what kind of foes make the best foils for the new female Black Panther?

Well, I intentionally gave her a female villain to start off. A peer-to-peer fight with someone who was equally skilled and who has very dangerous toys. Shuri also has dangerous toys, and the two women will knock heads all the way into issue #10, with their fights getting more and more vicious.

But Ohyaku isn't Shuri's biggest threat. The Broker is the problem, and he has a lot of other bad guys in his stable, some of whom are much, much tougher than either Shuri or Ohyaku.

To me, the best villains are those who think things through; the ones who can insightfully and fairly estimate an opponent's worth and then bring five times as much force to bear as they think the enemy can handle. The Broker isn't headstrong or rash. He's a calculating businessman with a client and a very clear agenda. He also has tremendous resources for creating villains or upgrading existing ones. That's what he's all about. He's the go-to guy for exactly this kind of mission. He's smart, emotionally detached from the situation, patient, and resourceful. That's a very dangerous combination.

Ohyaku and The Broker aren't the only characters Shuri tussles with in "Power." In "Black Panther" #10-11 you have her confronting Namor, but based on the cover images, it looks like she's got some new toys to even up the fight? And will Namor's new affiliation with the X-Men factor into this story?

No, this story does not reference Namor's X-Men connection. I'm using my own take on Namor -who has always been one of my favorite characters. I see him as a loner and as someone who feels like an alien to everyone. He's not human, he's not quite Atlantean. He's not even a typical mutant. He's aware that his short temper has gotten him into a lot of trouble, and none of his friends trust him - for good reason. At the same time, he is noble and smart. All of that equals a degree of sadness, perhaps of personal tragedy.

As far as Shuri's new toys - she has N'Iix, her weapons designer. N'Iix is kind of a Wakandan Tony Stark (without the personal vices). N'Iix is one of four (so far) new characters I've introduced who are Shuri's support team. They're her P.R.I.D.E. (Princes Regent's Intelligence Division Executives). N'Iix is weapons and tech; Zakar is the head of Wakandan security; M'Yra is a former Dora Milaje and Shuri's personal bodyguard; and Flea is her tactical ops guy -and he's up in a satellite feeding her real-time intel during missions.

And, in case you're wondering, Shuri's battle armor is not built on repulsor technology. It uses irradiated vibranium P-18 blend in a controlled decay release to generate power at the quantum level. We'll learn more about that technology in the upcoming event story I mentioned earlier.

You've been working with artist Will Conrad, and will continue to work with him up till issue #10. Then Ken Lashley comes on board with issue #11. What's it like working with Will and Ken? What do you feel they bring to the book and this storyline in particular?

Geez - those guys are amazing. Each in their own way. I'm working with Will now on #10, so I've seen three and a half issues of his art and he's terrific. He's brought a dynamism to the storytelling and a grace to the characters that makes each page sing. He's also very easygoing and we've developed a very good back-and-forth rhythm so that the end result is a true blend our different approaches to storytelling.

I just started working with Ken on #11 and I've only seen six pages of pencils, but I'm familiar with his work from Reggie Hudlin's last arc, 'Deadliest of the Species (issues #1-6). He has a kind of Neal Adams vibe to his stuff. A lot of flow. And he's also a stand-up guy. We've been IM-ing and swapping comic lore like a couple of overgrown kids. I think for both of us there's still a bit of awe that we're actually doing comics for Marvel.

In terms of working with comic artists, as a novelist I have to bear in mind that comics are art-driven as much or more so than story-driven. Writers like to think otherwise, but go to any comic con and look at the lines at the artist's tables and the lines at the writer's tables. It's a humbling and balancing moment. But it's also helping me develop a more visual storytelling style, even in my prose.

You hinted that events in "Black Panther" will lead into a larger Marvel Universe event story that begins in February. I know you can't say anything about the story right now, but I imagine this coming story will have some new readers curious about "Black Panther." Are issues #9-10 a good jumping on point for new readers?

Yes - for anyone who hasn't read the comic: try it. There's a lot of new stuff for people who haven't read it before and want a good jumping on point. And there's some old school stuff, too. I'm as proud of what's happening in this book as I am of anything I've ever written.

Want to know more about the secret Marvel Universe event story that Maberry alluded to in this interview? Check back with CBR Monday evening, October 12, for an in-depth interview with him about the project

Absolute Carnage Teases Eddie Brock Borrowing a Classic Avengers Weapon

More in Comics