Apr 22, 2017
The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 787: Black Panther #1, November 1998
I'll fully admit that leaving Black Panther to be the last comic I read in my couple of weeks highlighting African-American creators is purely a case of leaving the best, in my opinion, for last. I love this run of comics, even though I don't actually have them all. When Marvel Knights premiered in the late 90s, I'd already been reading Quantum and Woody for a bit, so Christopher Priest's use of his ridiculously (but in a good way) post-modern storytelling style wasn't a shock, but I certainly wasn't sure how it was going to translate to mainstream superhero comics. I was pleasantly surprised, as I think many were. If you haven't guessed already, Mr. Priest is my featured creator today. And, as I've noted before, I think that his run on Black Panther is one of the most under-rated superhero comics of all time. It's funny, it's remarkably smart, it's beautiful to look at, and it tells a story in a way that, barring Q&W, I'd never seen before in comics.
Our narrator is Everett K. Ross, described in the editorial at the back as "king of all white-boys." He's a government agent assigned to liase with T'Challa while he's in the United States investigating the death of a child in connection with a charitable foundation he set up. The first issue is a cacophony of images and little sketches that Ross is telling his boss/girlfriend about losing his pants, hunting a rat with a handgun, and a visit to the Panther's rooms (in a poor neighbourhood in NY - T'Challa refuses to stay somewhere swanky while investigating the death of a poor African-American child) by the Devil. Literally.
What one ought to draw from that brief and under-stated description of the first issue is that Mr. Priest is not interested in any kind of white-washing, be it with characters or situations. It's also, or it was in my experience, one of the first comics to actually treat the Panther as a king of a foreign country, and specifically as a king of an African country.
I'm sitting here trying to think of things to say about this comic. Here's the thing: just go and read it. I know there was a remarkable amount of noise over Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze taking the reins of the Panther, but Priest was there with an African-American-centric version of the character years and year earlier. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Priest says of his focal character "I realized I could use Ross to bridge the gap between the African culture that the Black Panther mythos is steeped in and the predominantly white readership that Marvel sells to,"and the comic does an amazing and wonderful job of taking that African culture, and the African-American culture that the comic comes to be steeped in, and showing the "predominantly white readership" how foolish and biased their views of those cultures are. It's an important comic, in my opinion, and, thankfully, also a really, really good one.
Last thoughts: I've, as is always the case with a themed reading, read some really good comics and some really bad ones over the last couple of weeks. What this little sub-project has definitely done for me is helped me to recognize a small portion of the diversity that has always been a part of the comics, even if it hasn't always been a visible part of the comics. Which, I suppose, is one of the reasons I did this.
(I should also add that the cover date of this comic is the same as the date my son was born, which makes the comic very special to me.)