Markley’s Fevered Brain: Colorblind

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

The title of this blog is misleading as I am not colorblind. Although I do have friends who are colorblind but love comic books, which always makes me think they are missing out on an important aspect of comics. They tell me I am wrong and they got more out of it as they focus more on the art and story. No, what this blog is about are two African (American) heroes who are worlds apart. One is a story of a light skinned African American journalist and one is an African king who is also a hero and the star of a popular Marvel movie. I am going to look at the excellent graphic novel, and new miniseries, called Incognegro and what I consider the five great stages of the Black Panther. The Black Panther has always been the same basic character, T’Challa, but depending on who is writing the character over the years the stories and concepts have shifted. The recent movie did an amazing job of picking the best of these various incarnations to amazing success.

Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery

Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery


Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery is written by Mat Johnson, whose full time job is a traditional novelist, and his novels are as good as his comics. It is drawn by the always great Warren Pleece. Dark Horse recently released this graphic novel, original released by Vertigo, in a new 10th Anniversary edition that has sketches and background articles about the characters and the background of the story. The basic story is about a reporter named Zane Pinchback who works for a black newspaper in New York City . He travels to Mississippi with his friend to save his brother from a murder charge. There, he passes himself off as a white man during the days of a deep racial divide (seemingly the 1920s), where white people considered non-whites as non-humans. It shows a piece of American history that in the best light is sad. It is a very good mystery wrapped in a history lesson with some very strong characters who find themselves in peril and in very real situations that were at one time commonplace in America. I did not read this book when it first came out ten years ago and I must say I deprived myself of a moving and important read. I loved this book because the story was fast paced and filled with surprises, and by the end, it left me thinking and wanting more. Johnson and Pleece are currently doing a prequel, Incognegro: Renaissance, with the same characters but set before Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery, in New York. I should point out the Incognegro is part of Dark Horse’s Berger Books, which is an imprint overseen by former Vertigo head, Karen Berger. So far, all of the titles, Hungry Ghosts, Incognegro, and Mata Hari, have all been very good and I would recommend all of them highly.

The Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first appeared in Fantastic Four #52-53. Here it was revealed he was named T’Challa and he was the king of an African kingdom, Wakanda, which was hidden from the world and was far more technologically advanced than the rest of the world. From here the Black Panther would appear in the Marvel Universe as a guest star and would become a regular member of the Avengers for a long time. He was basically a secondary character (not having his own book) until Jungle Action #5 in 1973.

Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther's Rage

Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage


This run in Jungle Action is what I consider the first era of the Black Panther as these stories helped flesh out the character and define who T’Challa is and what Wakanda is. The stories were written by Don McGregor and drawn by Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, and Billy Graham. Throughout this run, which went through Jungle Action #24 (the last issue), there were two overarching stories, made up of single issues telling a larger story. The two stories were called Panther’s Rage and the The Panther vs. the Klan. A great deal of the characters and ideas that make up the Black Panther movie come from here, including Eric Killmonger. Don McGregor also did a follow up run with the Black Panther in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents which he did with Gene Colan. Fortunately, all of the Jungle Action stores have been collected in the Black Panther Epic Collection and the Gene Colan stories have been collected in Black Panther: Panther’s Quest. All of these stories are a very good read, even though I feel at times McGregor tends to overwrite, as these stories are very dense. In between Jungle Action and Panther’s Quest in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents there was a ten issue run of the Black Panther comic by Jack Kirby, which has also been collected, but it has none of the details or rich history of McGregor’s work and really feels out of place in the Panther’s history, thus why I do not count them as a great Panther era. There was also a four issue miniseries in 1988 by Peter Gillis and Denys Cowan. McGregor would eventually return to T’Challa in Black Panther: Panther’s Prey, a four-part miniseries, with artist Dwayne Turner.

Black Panther by Christopher Priest Vol. 1

Black Panther by Christopher Priest Vol. 1


The second Panther era, which also made up a lot of the movie, was in 1998 in what is labeled as Black Panther Vol. 3. These stories are where Agent Ross was introduced as well as the concept of Wakanda and the Black Panther as an international hero. This series was written by Christopher Priest and drawn by Mark Texeria (and others) and in my mind this might be the greatest Black Panther run. It features everything from a corrupt government to the return of Erik Killmonger. The series ran through issue #62 was is collected in four full color trades and includes all 62 issues of the Black Panther and the seven issues of the follow up series, The Crew. These four books, to me, are the best Black Panther stories, taking nothing away from the other creators, mind you.

Black Panther by Reginald Hudlin Vol. 1

Black Panther by Reginald Hudlin Vol. 1


The third great period of the Black Panther is by filmmaker Reginald Hudlin which is referred to as Volume 4 and started in 2005 and ran 41 issues (even though Hudlin left with issue #38). Hudlin returned with Black Panther Vol. 5 in 2009 which featured stories that starred the Panther’s sister Shuri. Sadly he left after issue six. Hudlin’s stories are far more urban and city based than the earlier Panther stories but this is a different take on the character that works just as well as what McGregor and Priest had done before him. All of Hudlin’s stories have been collected three large full color trades.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear


The forth great run of Black Panther really was not a Black Panther comic but was Daredevil where the title was retitled Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. This was a great story written by David Liss (a famous mystery writer who is a fantastic writer in any format) and drawn by Francesco Francavilla. Here Daredevil is missing and the Black Panther takes over as the savior and guardian of Hell’s Kitchen. These stories are once again very different than anything that has gone before. While Daredevil stories leading up to these stories were not particularly memorable or even good, with Liss the Black Panther stories are some of the best. This is more in tone of a film noir than a traditional superhero comic, and has nothing to do with the current movie, but to me it stands out as a great piece of work. As with all of the Panther stories I have written about, this is available as a full color collection.

Black Panther

Black Panther


What I consider the final and fifth stage of Black Panther greatness is the current run of the Black Panther by Ta-Nahisi Coates along with artists Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Spouse, Leonard Kirk, and others. Coates takes the best of what has come before him and takes bits and pieces of McGregor’s, Priest’s and Hudlin’s run. Like McGregor, Coates tends to be heavy handed with his writing as it is very dense. The early stories focused on the politics that Priest created. In his second story arc, Coates went more superhero and cut back on the text and did a story involving Klaw. I like Coates stories a lot, but I do not like them as much as I did Priest’s and Hudlin’s runs. It is obvious that Coates loves the character and is well read with the Panther’s history and is creating his own piece of Panther history.

The two stories, of Incognegro and the Black Panther, are very different characters and very different types of stories. While both have black characters as the leads, there is very little they have in common outside of being terrific stories. While there is only one graphic novel and a miniseries of Incognegro and there are 100s of comics (or 13 trades) of the Black Panther, all of these books are well worth your time and money. You have a wide choice of stories and genres to pick from here and I hope you take the time to read some of these stories.

So I guess it is not a bad thing to be colorblind. Here are a series of great stories that it really does not matter what color the lead character is; black, pink, green, purple, etc. I loved all of these books and I would like to hear from you if you have read them also. What is your favorite period of the Black Panther? Have you read Incognegro? Did you read it originally ten years ago? I want to hear your comments. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. Just for the record, everything I have written here is my opinion and it does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. As always…

Thank you.

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