The Black Panther was created and debuted in 1966 during the Silver Age of comics by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. He’s the first African superhero in American comic books, appearing before many black superheroes such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and John Stewart as the Green Lantern. From his very first appearance in the pages of Marvel we see him as a man of rare human intellect and abilities, who has a range of technologically advanced weapons at his disposal, and who built an entire Techno-Jungle just to indulge his genius whims. Separated from the economic traps of the world at large, the wealth of Wakanda is unknown, but thought to be one of the wealthiest countries in existence due to their advanced science and technology, far ahead of the western world.
T’Challa is chieftain of the Wakandan Panther Clan, holder of the title Black Panther, and a hero of the people. With advanced superhuman senses such as strength, speed, accelerated healing and reflexes like that of a preternatural cat, he’s a force to be reckoned with, as well as one of the eighth smartest people on the planet—a skilled strategist, politician, inventor and scientist with a PhD in physics from Oxford University.
First appearing in the Fantastic Four #52, Black Panther soon took on a solo run by Don McGregor in the Jungle Action comics, before later being given over to Jack Kirby for an eponymous Black Panther series. Following this, several other writers and artists took on the comic series, introducing the characters of Killmonger, Venomm, Black Panther’s adopted brother, Hunter, his sister Shuri (who was Black Panther herself for a time), and Queen Divine Justice who would become his protege.
Spanning many years of development, T’Challa can be linked to several series in the Marvel Universe, including X-Men through a past relationship to Ororo Munroe/Storm; the Avengers, where he becomes a recurring group member; and later in Daredevil where he is featured deducing Matt Murdock’s identity.
Introducing the Sensational Black Panther
Beginning with The Fantastic Four receiving a personal invitation to Wakanda by the King himself, they discover they are being used to test the powers of the Black Panther as he makes them the prey of his hunt. Once he bests them in combat, he reveals himself to be King of Wakanda and explains how he is preparing himself to defeat Klaw, the man who killed his father, T’Chaka.
Introducing the Sensational Black Panther truly does introduce quite a few things in a single Fantastic Four issue: the first appearance of Black Panther/King T’Challa, his nemesis Klaw, the Wakandan nation and their powerful Vibranium source. Amid the racial tension and civil rights movements of the 60’s, Kirby and Lee released Black Panther as a capable, wealthy genius and ruler of a tech-advanced African nation who wasn’t only equal to, but rivaled the strength of the entire Fantastic Four.
There’s no better place to start than from the beginning of any comic, but Black Panther’s start is crucially important due to the significance that he now holds to today’s audiences as a timeless expression of liberation and sovereignty.
Collection: Fantastic Four #52-53 (1966)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes!
After the events of Captain America 100 (1968), when Steve Rogers asks the Panther to be his hand-picked replacement for the Avengers, we next see him in this issue passing through the secured systems of the Avengers Headquarters to find Hawkeye, Wasp and Hank Pym near death. When discovered alone with the bodies by S.H.I.E.L.D agent Jasper Sitwell, he’s arrested for the crimes. The Avengers are in a coma, incapable of revealing their true assailant, but the Black Panther is as capable as ever of taking justice into his own hands and saving the Avengers himself.
Black Panther is particularly well known for his affiliation with the Avengers, and this is the issue that started it all. T’Challa proves himself an efficient candidate for the team by accomplishing the difficult task of entering their mansion, but the true showcase of heroic effort comes when he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Instead of leaving a bad situation to itself, the Panther uses his unique skill and aptitude for herodom; the very things that make him a crucial part of the team for years to come.
Collection: Avengers #52 (1968)
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: John Buscema
Avengers by Jonathan Hickman
The Illuminati stands as one of the most powerful teams of the Marvel universe; a group of intelligent heroes comprised of Black Panther, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Black Bolt, Sub-Mariner, Beast and Mr. Fantastic. They’re also the custodians of the Infinity Gems—powerful tools capable of warping reality itself, which they have been charged with holding for the protection of humanity. When an interdimensional overlap threatens to destroy their world, Black Panther gathers his peers with the objective to stop the incursion and save Earth from its collision with an alternate universe, but the complexity of their internal affairs doesn’t make this situation any less difficult.
Meanwhile, a war between Atlantis and Wakanda jeopardizes an already delicate situation. Collectively, these New Avengers must make a world-changing choice that will threaten to undo the tenuous bonds of their fellowship.
Hickman seems at his very best in these issues leading up to the Secret Wars; he spans universes, alternate realities and the moral dilemmas that could surmount in choosing one life—or world--over another in a science-fiction tale of survival. Each character of the group is given their own development, but Black Panther stands out as a pivotal role in this team, as both a voice of reason and a harbinger of the chaos to come.
Collection: Avengers #1-23, New Avengers #1-12, Infinity #1-6
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Secret Invasion: Black Panther (See Wakanda and Die)
There is a reason that Black Panther has a seat at the table of the more notable geniuses in the Marvel universe, and this story is a great place to start if you want to see a showcase of some of the most intelligent, war-savvy aspects of T’Challa. The Skrulls set their sights on Wakanda for an extension of the Secret Invasion, confident in their chances to win with advanced technology and enough numbers to overwhelm what they think is a primitive population ten-to-one, but Wakanda has never been conquered and doesn’t plan to let themselves be taken so lightly.
Left with only two heroes to defend it, Black Panther and Storm are pushed to do whatever it takes to protect the nation of Wakanda, showcasing some of the more intelligent, war-savvy aspects of the king, as well as his willingness to take the protection of his people to a dark and aggressive level. There’s something to be said for how much of a badass he is.
Jason Aaron does a lot with only three issues, including giving relatability to the antagonist of this story; a Skrull general ready for retirement from a war-mongering lifetime. There are strategies of an elaborate nature juxtaposed against the Romanesque battle sequences of Black Panther taking on Skrull giants in combat.
Collection: Black Panther #39-41 (2008)
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jefte Palo
Black Panther by Christopher Priest
Over the years, and through the hands of multiple writers, the technological influence of Wakanda was coasted in favor of the mysticism of his combat skills and agility. When Christopher Priest took hold of the title in ‘98 there was a re-introduction of the technology that Kirby and Lee first actualized in the original story, as well characters and personality identifiers that added to the more popular depictions and storylines we revere in today’s Black Panther.
In the first 17 issues of the Christopher Priest run, Black Panther travels to the U.S. to investigate the murder of a girl linked to his own Wakandan charities. He meets a state department employee named Everett K. Ross—the disjointed narrator of these stories--who tags alongside the statesman for what he mistakenly believes will be a simple case. Meanwhile, in the nation of Wakanda, a coup is staged to tear the throne away from T’Challa, and a plan devised to kill him on American soil.
In issues 18-35, Black Panther faces a powerful foe he has yet to defeat, one who wants his mantle and will stop at nothing to get it. Once defeated, T’Challa travels through a world of dreams as Killmonger wears the Wakandan crown and reveals the new Black Panther to the Avengers. T’Challa finds himself relying on allies and personal relationships to get him through the dual responsibility of being a superhero and a king, which gives access to the many alliances he holds. There’s even a historical re-cap of Captain America’s entry into Wakanda during WWII, which adds enough substance here to keep any Black Panther fan entertained.
Issues 36-58 hold a collection of various Black Panther stories, from a future version of T’Challa far from what we know of him now; a short venture into a version of Hulk as written by Priest alongside Queen Divine Justice; a trail back to New York City for a Black Panther vs. Iron Fist battle; a globe-trotting political thriller with appearances by Wolverine and Iron Man; an intriguing time-travel story with unique flair and quite a few more.
Cameos in these stories include Queen Divine Justice, Brother Voodoo, Moon Knight, Storm, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, various members of the Avengers and even Deadpool.
Collection: Black Panther #1-58 (1998)
Writer: Christopher Priest
Who is The Black Panther?
For years the nation of Wakanda has been in complete isolation from global society, and for good reason, as they sit on an oil-fertile land that any magnate would want to get their hands on. In the past there have been such people who have sent mercenaries to grab at the resources, but the Black Panther proves time and time again that they are no match against the power of Wakanda.
Considered a solid starting point for new readers who are looking to uncover the history of Black Panther, Hudlin’s time on the series re-introduces us to a history that identifies T’Challa as a hero of the people. Who Is The Black Panther? answers what everyone wants to know in a contemporary, rapid-paced book that highlights all of the skillfulness of Black Panther, while showing just how he became a king and a protector of the people in the first place. These pages are full of political intrigue, including a familial battle for the title of Black Panther, and a deeper theme of fighting an entire world’s encroaching greed, and keeping the cultural identity and integrity of Wakanda intact.
Collection: Black Panther #1-6 (2015)
Writer: eginald Hudin
Artist: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson
A Nation Under Our Feet
Ta-Nahisi Coates, the critically acclaimed author of Between the World and Me, reawakens the story of Black Panther by enveloping us straightaway into a conflict-ravaged Wakanada after the events of Secret Wars.
Wakanda is a nation on the cusp of revolution and civil unrest as the evils of the past have caught up to the present, leading the Wakandans to no longer believe in a king who may not have their best interests in mind. We see unjust acts taking place across the nations, giving merit to why the people of Wakanda object to putting their faith and protection in the hands of the ruler who uses violence against them.
Meanwhile, a faction called The People aim to cause social and political upheaval, and two former Dora Milaje—Aneka and Ayo, once the King’s personal guard, rebel against him as the Midnight Angels. With such a various assortment of conflict with no easy fix and no typical enemies, Coates creates this wonderfully compelling observation on the future of Wakanda, what will become of a failing monarchy, and a king desperate to hold his community together.
Collection: Black Panther #1-12 (2016)
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Brian Stelfreeze