Minorities in cartoons: Black Panther

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Black Panther (real name: T’Challa), a Marvel superhero.

Black Panther (no relation to the African-American political movement of the 60s) first appeared in “Fantastic Four” #52 (July 1966). Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created T’Challa.

Black Panther has the distinction of being the first Black superhero in mainstream American comics. Earlier non-stereotypical Black comic characters were usually either non-superhero adventurers (like Lobo or Lothar) or one-shot characters (“Negro Romance“).

Background

Black Panther poster

T’Challa’s backstory is that he’s (usually) the leader of the fictional isolated African country of Wakanda. Wakanda’s a technologically advanced nation wary of outsiders. The wariness comes from both run-ins with villainous outsiders, and avoiding exploitation.

Wakanda possesses the world’s largest supply of the rare metal “vibranium.” Vibranium’s a vibration- and kinetic energy-absorbing metal (Captain America’s “mighty shield” is made in part out of vibranium). Given its rarity and useful nature, it’s one of the most sought-after and valuable metals in the world, especially by various villains.

The title “Black Panther” is an inherited one; the possessor is considered the leader of Wakanda. T’Challa had to earn the right to the title by defeating in combat champions from other tribes under Wakanda’s rule. T’Challa’s mother died in childbirth, making T’Challa’s older adopted brother Hunter resent T’Challa; he’d later work for Wakanda’s secret police.

The villainous Klaw (who wanted Wakanda’s vibranium) killed T’Challa’s father (the previous ruler). This prompted T’Challa to train himself to eventually bring Klaw to justice/seek revenge.

As a young man, T’Challa traveled outside Wakanda to the US and Europe for education, before returning home. After earning the right to become Black Panther, T’Challa banished the secret police. He also set about making Wakanda a world technological power.

T’Challa also made contact with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers in order to test what kind of individuals they were. After initial misunderstandings, the Fantastic Four became close friends of Black Panther. As for the Avengers, T’Challa eventually joined the team for quite a long stretch, though initially hiding from his teammates his identity as king of Wakanda.

Wedding to Storm

A 2000s storyline saw T’Challa marry Storm of the X-Men, in “Black Panther” (vol. 4) #18 (September 2006). A later storyline (“Avengers vs. X-Men”) annulled the marriage, however.

Powers

T’Challa possesses peak human stamina, speed, and strength. This came from eating a special herb given to the holder of the Black Panther title.

Along with this, T’Challa is a skilled fighter and tactician, and has a brilliant scientific mind, possessing a Ph.D in physics.

T’Challa also makes use of weapons and a suit made from vibranium.

Other media

Outside of comics, Black Panther’s appeared in various Marvel direct-to-video movies and TV shows, usually those featuring the Avengers.

T’Challa starred in a “Black Panther” animated series produced for cable channel BET. Produced in a motion comic animation style, the series ran for six episodes, and is available on DVD. Djimon Hounsou, an actor from the West African country of Benin, voiced T’Challa.

T’Challa’s biggest media appearance to date was in a Marvel Cinematic Universe-set theatrical film. Released in February 2018, actor Chadwick Boseman played the titular hero. The film earned a record-setting-for-February $192 million on its opening weekend.

(Updated 2/18/18)

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