"Welcome to Wakanda, Thunder God" a Birthday Present for the late, great Jack Kirby...

Welcome to Wakanda, Thunder God by Samax Amen
So one of the admins on the GhettoManga Facebook page alerted me to the fact that Friday would'a been the mighty Jack Kirby's 98th birthday, and even though I really don't draw fan art anymore, I felt I needed to drop something in honor of the King of Comics. At first I was gonna draw a Thor piece, but then I figured I would be remiss (being a vet in the black nerd blogosphere and all...) if I didn't draw Kirby's most important black character, T'challa the Black Panther: Warrior Priest King of the Wakandas.
THEN I figured that if Frank Miller can repeatedly have Master Wayne put the technoslap on DC's god of superheroes, then T'Challa can represent the mighty Panther God against ole man Odin's favorite boy (I initially wanted to have the word balloon say "The Panther God says hi..."). 
I have way more Thor comics under my belt than any other Kirby creation*, thanks to the great Walt Simonson, who did his best to out-Kirby Kirby on his time running the Asgard-to-Midgard route. Jack created or co-created so many of my favorite characters at Marvel and DC (including my second favorite DC villain, Darkseid), and Black Panther was really one of those that I liked more in theory than in practice, since I never got into the Panther as a kid. I never saw him as being an awesome character, and definitely not a powerful one. It never would have occurred to me to have him fight a cosmic level character like Thor.

And then Priest got his hands on T'challa.
If memory serves me, Marvel Comics was struggling critically and financially when someone had the bright idea of giving Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti their own imprint: Marvel Knights. There they would publish edgier, more mature, and higher quality stories with hand-picked talent. One of the most important choices for my reading life was tapping veteran scribe Christopher Priest to bring back one of Quesada's favorite Jack Kirby creations and give him a series: The Black Panther. One thing led to another, and before long Quesada was Editor-in-Chief of all of Marvel, and Priest's Black Panther mini was an ongoing series. Under the influence of Priest, T'challa was a cross between Captain America, President Obama, and the Pope.

With Marvel's new attempt at emphasis on diversity, T'challa's impending big-screen debut in Captain America:Civil War, plus his own feature film finally on the horizon, it's a no-brainer to collect the Black Panther's most critically-acclaimed stories, which Marvel is doing now. More than any other writer, Priest knew how to fold politics, race, and humor into T'challa's adventures, while moving his action-packed stories and excellent supporting cast along. After Priest's departure, Reggie Hudlin did a pretty good job bringing the gospel of the all-new, all-badass T'challa to a broad audience, even seeing his run evolve into a motion comic on cable TV. On balance, Hudlin's Black Panther was as iconic a character as any other Kirby creation. Since then, T'challa has been through a lot at the hands of different writers and not all the results have been good to read. But he is still an elite member of ass-kickers in the Marvel universe, waiting on his next great depiction, which I would bet will be in the hands of a black writer. Or, *ahem* writer-artist.

Anyways, Happy Belated Birthday, to King T'challa's co-creator, Jack Kirby.

The King is Dead. 
Long live the King.

* I'm not convinced that Kirby co-created Spider-man, as my man Mike would have me believe. Steve Ditko has been insisting for decades that he created the character solo, and brought him into the fold as a collaborator with Stan Lee, and I will probably cleave to Ditko's account til I die, no matter what anyone says. 
Samax Amen draws people, places and things for fun and profit. He is the artist of many great comics you never heard of like Herman Heed, Champion of Children, The Brother and The World As You Know It. He even writes and draws his own comics, like Dare: The Adventures of Darius Davidson, Spontaneous, and Manchild when he gets around to it. Because making comics is hard and stuff, he started GhettoManga as a blog in 2006 and as a print magazine in 2008. 
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corance said...

It's funny how popular Priest's run is in the internet age. At the time, I thought you and me were the only ones who liked it. Even online, at the time, people mostly thought Priest was wack. I couldn't believe we were reading the same thing. I thought Priest was a top 5 writer. Now, in 2015, I'm being vindicated.

I also like what you said about Walt Simonson out Kirbying Kirby. Walt's the best, isn't he?

Samax said...

I remember losing my mind frequently reading Black Panther. Priest was (as the rappers say) on some other shit. I imagine he has a very specific niche audience who think he's all that. I'm definitely part of it.

I never encountered a comic book writer more willing to have characters boldly talk about race in the same way that you or I might. He portrayed venerated superheroes as good, respectable men who displayed the kind of benign racism that white people find it difficult to admit to themselves, let alone talk about openly.

His work will certainly resonate with today's audiences, who are more aware of racial bias, white privilege, etc than they were when this material was new. Reading Priest is like reading a novel, not like watching a tv show.

Reggie Hudlin did a great job of following Priest's dense writing with an approach that was more open, obvious, and cinematic. More digestible. Hudlin inherited a version of T'challa that Priest had made the equal of (or frankly, superior to) heavyweights like Captain America, Nick Fury, and Iron Man; a character who went toe-to-toe with dudes like Doctor Doom, Namor, or Magneto (characters that it usually takes a super-TEAM to beat). And he turned this great character into an icon. He saw Priest's vision of T'challa's greatness, and made sure the Marvel brass saw it too. Even though a lot of his stories lacked inspiration, I'll always love him for elevating T'challa into the Marvel Pantheon.

I don't think we would have a Black Panther movie on deck if not for Hudlin's contribution.

Walt Simonson is my favorite cartoonist of all time. He combines all of the great things Kirby brought to comics, and he draws the more classically beautiful heroes that Kirby detractors prefer to see in other artists.

I love Walt... You know that! Spent a lot of my teen years trying to rip off his Thor and X-factor work. It still pops up in a drawing when I'm not expecting it.

Phillip Magana said...

My first Black Panther moment was Iron Man Annual 5, Vol 1. T'Challa vs a resurrected Kilmonger, and Iron Man vs Wakanda itself. Loved that issue. It showcased, to me, the true T'Challa, and showed Tony that he actually might have met his match in T'Challa.

Samax said...

That sounds dope. I need to check it out.
My favorite story is probably still Priest and Mike Manley's "Enemy of the State" where T'challa admits he originally joined the Avengers to spy on them.

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