Who is the Black Panther?
That's the question "Black Panther" comic book and animated series writer Reginald Hudlin posed to an excited audience at last weekend's WonderCon in San Francisco. Senior Vice President of Animation for BET Denys Cowan and Marvel Executive Editor Axel Alanso joined Hudlin on the panel to discuss BET's new "Black Panther" animated series and tease fans about what they can expect in the next few issues from the ongoing comic book.
Hudlin, who began his career as a director on films such as "House Party" and "Boomerang," has been writing the "Black Panther" comic book for over three years now and just re-launched the book last month with a new character adopting the legendary Black Panther mantle. "As you know, the new story line is, who is the new Black Panther?" he said. "Because there is a new Black Panther and it's a woman, there has been a lot of speculation on who that is."
Cowan, who is perhaps best known for his work on "Batman" and "The Question" for DC Comics as well as co-creating Milestone Media and the TV series "Static Shock," introduced a teaser reel for the new arc in "Black Panther" comics. The trailer reflected the current state of the Marvel Universe, explaining the **Dark Reign** storyline and that with King T'Challa in a coma, there is no Black Panther for the first time in Wakanda's history. The teaser went on to explain that with the world in danger, Wakanda demands a new Black Panther. We were given an image of the new female Black Panther and the teaser ended with images of several different women from the Marvel Universe, including Storm and Sue Storm, and a voice saying, "The only question that remains is, who is the new Black Panther?"
Although the first issue of the re-launch does not reveal the answer to that question, Hudlin did discuss some of the possibilities. "Will it be Monica Rambeau? Will it be Storm? Will it be Sue Storm? Will it be Echo? Because you came here on a Friday afternoon I'm now actually going to reveal to you who the new Black Panther is," he said.
The audience erupted with applause in anticipation for the exclusive scoop. "It's Michelle Obama," announced Hudlin. "Let's take this power couple thing to a new level!"
Although they did not reveal the well guarded secret, Alanso did say to be sure to grab a copy of the second issue next week, as it reveals who put T'Challa in his coma. "It really is one of the strongest issues I've edited in the last few years," he said. "It's got some amazing stuff."
The panel then changed gears from talking about the Black Panther comic book to discussing BET's new animated series based on the character, also written by Hudlin and produced by Cowan. The show is based on the first arc of Hudlin's three-year run on the book, with art for the series inspired by John Romita, Jr. The panel introduced a behind-the-scenes look at the new show that revealed the stellar cast of voice actors on the series.
Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou ("Amistad") will be lending his voice to the role of the Black Panther, along with fellow Academy Award nominee Alfre Woodard ("Star Trek: First Contact") as Dondi Reese. Actors Kerry Washington ("Fantastic Four") and Carl Lumby ("Alias," "Justice League") round out the cast, along with comic book legend and Black Panther co-creator Stan "The Man" Lee voicing the role of General Wallace.
Cowan then introduced a rough cut of a scene from the first episode. The scene takes place in 19th century Wakanda and features a group of white soldiers who are about to loot the village. Just before they begin, the Black Panther appears and threatens the men. "Leave now and I will let you live. Attack and only one of you will be left standing." Of course the soldiers do not heed the king's warning. They fire their guns and cannons, but the weapons backfire, killing all the men but one. The scared solider begs for mercy and to be allowed to take up the king's original offer to leave in peace. The Black Panther stands silent as the background drumbeats get louder and we are given a close up of his intimidating eyes.
The clip confirmed that the series will begin with a look at the historical Black Panther, similar to Hudlin's arc, and the artwork did have a remarkable resemblance to Romita's popular look and style.
Cowan explained the process of creating the show. "We are adapting the first run of the series that Reginald did with John Romita, Jr., and it's going to look exactly like the graphic novel," he said. "We're using John Romita's art and we're animating it as you can see. It's a time intensive thing but we wanted this series to look unique and different from anything you've seen before in an animated series based on a character that you're all familiar with."
The show will air in prime time on BET. Hudlin declared, "This is not for kids. What you saw in the book, you will see in the series."
There will be eight 30-minute episodes. Hudlin explained that since the first arc of the comic was six issues, he had space to revisit the material and write some additional scenes for the show. For example, in the first issue of the book, there is a fight between the Black Panther and Captain America. Instead of just being a montage scene on two pages, the writer can flesh that scene out and make it an elaborate action set piece that really comes alive on the television show.
"You'll be seeing even more of your favorite characters from the Marvel Universe popping up throughout the series as well," Hudlin teased.
Hudlin went on to explain the genesis of the project. "I was head of programming at BET for the past couple of years and I said, you know what would be cool, man? If we did a Black Panther animated series."
"And when you're the President of the company, you can say things like that and everybody's got to jump," chimed Cowan.
Hudlin continued, "I just sort of said that and Denys quietly went off and did a two-minute sample reel that everyone who saw it was just blown away with, and I took it to Marvel."
"Reggie calls me at 3:30 in the morning and says, you got to get together [Marvel Publisher] Dan Buckly [Editor-in-Chief] Joe Quesada and yourself because I have something to show you," Alonso said. "I managed to get us all together and Reggie showed us this reel on a little computer screen and all of our jaws dropped to the floor."
Hudlin said that cartoons based on comic books always bothered him because they didn't look like the art from the comics, so it was important to bring Romita along and make sure the show looked as close to his art as possible.
Cowan also teased that if fans look hard enough, they might be able to find that original test reel floating around on the Internet, but he would not say specifically where.
While growing up, Hudlin and Cowan were both inspired by Black Panther and explained the importance he has to them. "My reason for doing the comic book series was so others could have the same reaction to the character that I did from reading Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby's] books," said Hudlin.
"For me, it was always Black Panther and Luke Cage," added Cowan. He went onto say that those two characters were the catalyst for creating Milestone Comics.
Cowan also discussed the political importance of the show. "The series is more than putting heroes on the screen, it's a different world today. Telling the story of a Black King guarding his kingdom sends a powerful message, same as the recent Presidential Election. It's going to rock people and change their world. It's profoundly personal for all of us."
"Black Panther is the President, the Pope and the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all rolled up in one," explained Hudlin. "Think of Black Panther as the African equivalent of Captain America."
The panel then took some questions from the fans. First up was a question about the possibility of an all-black Avengers team appearing on the show. "Wouldn't that be cool," answered Cowan.
Alonso added that when he first met with Hudlin, the writer pitched a similar idea but the Marvel Executive thought, "We should start with the Black Panther series first." They went on to say that appearances by other African-American Marvel characters are possible and hinted that the Falcon could be one of them. When asked about War Machine's involvement Hudlin had this to say: "I like the character and the new book. Right now he's not in it but you got me thinking."
Next, a fan of "Truth: Red, White & Black" asked if there would be any more historical Marvel comics coming out in the future. Hudlin and Cowan then took this moment to cryptically mention that the two friends have never worked on a comic book together before and that there could be something cultural coming down the line featuring Captain America and the Black Panther.
When asked about the possibility of a Luke Cage animated series, Cowan said, "That would be so great. Hope reigns eternal."
Hudlin said such a project would hang on the success of the "Black Panther" series, which will be the first adult animated series in history starring a black superhero.
Finally, Hudlin was asked if he would be interested in making a Black Panther feature film. "My whole life, I've wanted to make a Black Panther film," he answered. He then asked the fans if they would like to see him write or direct the film, or do both. The audience shouted out an overwhelming, "Yes, do both." To which he answered, "We'll see."
"Black Panther" premieres this summer on BET.