Black Panther’s current treatment in comic books is a shadow of his movie success, but giving the hero his deserved respect will change this.
The following article contains spoilers from Black Panther #13, on sale now from Marvel Comics.
The popularity of Black Panther has seen a tremendous increase in the past several years, with his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe turning the former C/B-lister into an A-list star. Unfortunately, the comic books themselves have not matched this, with many of them outright contradicting the success of T'Chala on the big screen. This has reached a fever pitch with the character's latest run, which sees him suffering a series of debilitating and humiliating defeats.
While the MCU has propped Black Panther up, the comics have increasingly broken him down and mocked what he stands for. Given that he's inarguably Marvel's premiere black male hero, this is absolutely a situation that needs to be rectified. Here's a look at the several blemishes the Black Panther property has sustained over the years, and how this treatment can be turned around.
As the hero reached new heights in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther was diminished more and more in the Marvel Universe of comics. The run on the character's book from Ta-Nehisi Coates that began in 2016 was initially well-received and a consistent seller, though much of this success needs to be laid at the feet of Brian Stelfreeze and his art, as well. The run definitely had its issues, one of which was how small of a role Black Panther himself sometimes played in the stories. As the tales continued to involve an intergalactic Wakandan space empire, it felt even more divorced from what made the character and the property special.
The current run on the book from John Ridley had only exacerbated these criticisms with many fans being upset at how it portrays T'Chala and his world. The book is almost antagonistic toward T'Chala himself, with numerous characters belittling and criticizing him as he acts like a paranoid, antisocial dictator. Perhaps the biggest problem was Black Panther #13 (by John Ridley, German Peralta, Sebastian Cheng, and VC's Joe Sabino) involving a feud between Black Panther and Captain America wherein the Sentinel of Liberty was written completely out of character, all the while beating the Panther black and blue. This has left a sour taste in many readers' mouths, and it could see dwindling returns for the brand as a whole.
Given his status in the movies, it's outright shocking the way Black Panther is handled in the comics. The obvious way to fix this would be to give him an excellent new run from a different creative team, but that's always easier said than done. After all, the Christopher Priest series is perhaps the standout long run on the character besides the Coates run, and it was published decades after the character's debut. While this is somewhat alarming given the character's current stature, it also shows a way in which things can be turned around for the Wakandan king. Priest's run, unlike some of those that came afterward, respected T'Challa and made him the star of the series.
There were other characters who received reverence and respect, but at the end of the day, he was the star. Thus, there wasn't a constant belittling of him or a deluge of stories that put him in an almost antagonistic light. If anything, it showcased how great Black Panther could be as a solo character and how much potential he had. Said potential is still largely unharvested, mainly due to the seeming restrictions that Marvel Comics has placed on the character. Both in terms of his stories and the talent behind them, Black Panther still has his best years ahead of him but only if he is managed properly. That will require the iconography of the hero to be matched with fitting reverence at a creative level, ensuring that the hero ultimately triumphs amid any adversity.
Timothy Blake Donohoo is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he majored in Communication and minored in Creative Writing. A professional freelance writer and marketing expert, he’s written marketing copy and retail listings for companies such as Viatek. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing video games, watching documentaries and catching up on the latest Vaporwave and Electro-Swing musical releases.