The Black Panther is more than another Marvel hero to me
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done an excellent job of introducing the world of superhero antics to a global audience. With billion-dollar blockbusters like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the X-men (under FOX), it’s hard not to see at least one of the spandex clad hero’s in a theater at any given point of the year. But Marvel’s last Avengers movie introduced a character that’s a little more special to me than the others.
The Black Panther is by far one of my favourite comic book characters across all publishers. In fact, if I isolate the choice to Marvel alone he’d only be beaten out by the likes of Mr. Fantastic.
But I don’t want to talk about the accomplishments or strength of the Black Panther, cause I am in no way qualified for that task. Rather, I want to talk about how the Black Panther became a symbol for much more than just another superpowered fighter.
A King needs his Kingdom
The African state of Wakanda is the Black Panthers home, and where he is king. But Wakanda is far more than just another fictional country. Wakanda is the dream of African pride and excellence born into solid form. Often depicted as the bristling city of the future, Wakanda is a testament to the ingenuity of its people.
As a young boy growing up in South Africa I always shied away from any depiction of Africa in western media. The cartoons and movies of Hollywood usually stick to the same old story of an Africa steeped in poverty, incapable of anything without the assistance of foreign aid. And even though that is still true for much of the continent, it wasn’t for my environment. And so, all I had were these larger than life white men who saved the world on multiple occasions.
This is right around the time I started to discover characters like Black Panther. The Wakanda pictured in the rich pages of Black Panther comics was the African fictional state I wanted to see. Wakanda seemed full to the brim with all sorts of impressive creations and people, all of whom were very much African. And the spirit of the Wakandans was very much the story I held in my heart.
In the Marvel canon, Wakanda had defeated every journeying conqueror who sought after its land. They held themselves above the world through the strength of their fortitude to allow no one to determine their fate. No force great enough to penetrate their defenses. No will more steadfast than their own. A people unmoved by the winds of oppression. The Wakandans were, at least for me, the living embodiment of the African spirit. Defeated, but never conquered.
The Marvel Universe might still be dominated by western characters saving the day in New York (seriously how many superheroes does New York need). But the Black Panther isn’t truly alone in his battles. His entire nation is an army of superheroes. Prepared to engage when needed.
Wakanda isn’t just some place among the library of fictional locations in the Marvel universe. It’s a place that could be very real in Africa. A place I hope I live long enough to see.
A Man (Or woman) of his/her own Making
Another thing I love about the Black Panther character is his (or her) perspective. T’Challa (who is usually the panther) is the son of the king. But this is not what makes him the panther, as it is earned through a trial by combat. Furthermore, T’Challa is always expected to accomplish some great journey or path in life in order to be perceived as worthy of the title.
This says as much about the Wakandans as it does about the panther. If any man is to be declared the king of their nation, he must meet the standard as truly the greatest the nation has to offer. This, I believe, is an amazing remark on African leadership. If we believe that African nations can be shining lights to the world, the men and women who guide those lights must be up to the task.
Furthermore, the Black Panther has a direct link to his ancestry, who guide him through his adventures and add to his strength. But it is not these features that make the Black Panther who he is. The Black Panther (T’Challa) is already wise, capable and strong when he ascends to the throne. Rather than becoming the power that is the Black Panther, T’Challa adds to it, unlike say Iron Man.
This is why the Black Panther can stand as a leader of the Avengers, and not just another member. He isn’t part of the team cause he needs them, it is simply a convenience. He is a leader of his own people, placing their benefit above all else. His perspective is for the good of a larger group than himself and his immediate environment. Something that can get lost in the American gung-ho style of many superheroes. And he brings that into every issue.
But the best part of this character is that even in all his perfection, some of Marvels writers have given careful consideration to make him troubled. The Black Panther, even in all his might, is still human. And the ways in which they’ve decided to make him human fit well within his world. His infidelities, secrecy, trust issues, and arrogance make him who he is, beyond the throne. Plus there is still the interesting dynamics within his family and his relationships. He married Storm from the X-men once!
When I saw the Black Panther in the Avengers: Civil War movie (and when the announcement was made for the solo movie) I was ecstatic. Here was my African hero, ascending to his global throne. But for those who would like to see the Panther in full action, I cannot recommend the comics more. My favourite series by far is the 2005 one, but the one currently running under writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has been really good and a big contender for my #1 spot.
For those not into reading comics, you can always wait for the character’s reappearance in the stand alone film scheduled for 2018.The cast is awesome, and the director has already proven himself to be a capable filmmaker. Fingers crossed.