Alex Yarde wants a big screen Black superhero his young kids can look up to. So why no “props” for Black Panther in The Avengers?
Black Panther (T’Challa) was the first mainstream black comic book character. He wasn’t a caricature or sidekick. He first appeared in Fantastic Four #52, which was published by Marvel in July 1966. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who also created Spider Man, X-Men and The Fantastic Four, were the ones created him. Black Panther was a member of the Avengers, Defenders, Fantastic Four and X-Men (all major Marvel Superhero groups). He partnered up and eventually married Storm of the X-Men. He’s got the pedigree.
His title of Black Panther is not a hereditary title. T’Challa had to win it and defend it in combat. The mystical connection to the panther spirit of his peoples and a rare herb give the Black Panther superhuman senses and prodigious strength. Clad in his black vibranium uniform (made of one of the rarest elements in the Marvel universe) and boots and using his retractable vibranium claws, the Black Panther has battled everyone from Klaw to Doctor Doom. He defeated each member of The Fantastic Four. He summons the stamina, strength and agility of his namesake and his genius level intellect to defeat his foes. Some say Black Panther is Marvel’s Batman. He’s noble to a fault, doesn’t swear or kill, and exemplifies the kind of superhero I would like my son to emulate.
Black Panther needs to be up on the silver screen. He adds needed diversity to the Avengers franchise and not in a ham-fisted way. Marvel made an attempt in the movies with a black hero in Iron Man, with Nick Fury played by Sam Jackson. I like Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury interpretation. (Who doesn’t like Sam Jackson—New Jack City, Deep Blue Sea, and Pulp Fiction?) It is hard to escape the fact, however, that Nick Fury is a white guy. Don’t believe me? Nick Fury’s Character was originally Sgt Fury. Along with the Howling Commandoes, Nick Fury served with Captain America during the War. He was white then and also in the Agent of SHEILD series years later. Nick Fury Agent of SHEILD actually came to the small screen in a spectacularly bad made-for-TV movie starring—you guessed it—David “Knight Rider” Hasslehoff.
Now the “Marvel Ultimate” series or reboot or however Marvel explains how Fury went from Hasslehoff white to Jackson black isn’t my focus. I’ll leave others to tackle that one. But, why not just start with a powerful black superhero that is already an Avenger and add him to the mix?
The Black Panther, as written and conceived, admittedly is not a perfectly politically correct representation. The population of Wakanda (where he came from) wore animal skins without shirts and their army used vibranium tipped spears. (Those spears could cut through anything. But spears? Come on!) The Black Panther’s best run was arguably in the cringe worthy “Jungle Action” titles. In Jungle Action #19-24 (Jan.-Nov. 1976), the Black Panther took on the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, not all at Marvel agreed with publishing this storyline because the Ku Klux Klan was a controversial subject at the time. But they did it, to their credit. The “Jungle Action” stories rivaled any books of the time. To wit, African-American writer-editor Dwayne McDuffie said of the “Jungle Action” Black Panther features: “This overlooked and underrated classic is arguably the most tightly written multi-part superhero epic ever” (Wikipedia).
Now I know some will point to Blade to say that Marvel is inclusive. David S. Goyer’s terrific movie (the first installment) ushered in the new Marvel comic book movie renaissance. However, unlike Superman and other more tame storylines, the adult subject matter means it will be years before my son and I can enjoy it together. The excellent Television series (including great acting by Rapper Sticky Fingaz,) is not appropriate for children, as far as I’m concerned. The star of the Blade Trilogy, Wesley Snipes, actually struggled for over a decade to bring Black Panther to the big screen. Unfortunately, Mr. Snipes’ recent release from prison after two years for tax evasion will likely not help this matter.
I thank Joss Whedon and the other talented directors and moviemakers at Marvel Entertainment for the terrific job they’ve done so far with the “First Phase” of new superhero films. Marvel’s Avengers is a terrific vehicle not only to entertain and make obscene amounts of money, but also to break down some barriers. Marvel should open the vault and dig deeper into the pantheon of beloved heroes. I am sure millions would rally around the marriage of North Star to his human lover, Kyle, the Supreme Court notwithstanding.
In Iron Man 2 (2010) Nick Fury shows Tony Stark metahumans across the globe. One of the electronic indicators was shown in Africa and, according to director Jon Favreau, was meant as a reference to Black Panther. Let’s hope it’s just a matter of time and maybe a twitter campaign (hint-hint) before The Black Panther gets some props.