Friday, April 16, 2010

Epitomizing the Black Panther

Before I go into my topic I want to weigh in on the animated series. After viewing the first four episodes I want to say job more than well done. Everything about it feels right. The theme music is excellent, the casting is superb and to my surprise the animation works as it uniquely stylizes the Panther. Reggie your dialogue works better in the cartoon than in the comic. The characterizations and guest appearances were well chosen (especially replacing the Rhino with Juggernaut). A final note, the politics you have seamlessly interwoven into the story gives the Panther a depth that no other cartoon or film has yet to achieve. Congratulations!!

Black Panther Theme Song

Black Panther Trailer

Now my topic. In order to achieve the subject heading, "Epitomizing the Black Panther," the writers of Black Panther must be able to fictionalize Afrakan culture. This means detail must be given to the defining aspects of an Afrakan people who have never been conquered. It means creating a neo Afrakan centeredness. This can be extremely challenging for many Afrakan writers as we are taught to view ourselves as slaves, criminals and helpless victims. This too speaks to non Afrakan writers. (I use the word Afrakan instead of black, colored or negro etc.). Here are some specific examples of what I mean.

The Wakandans are a sovereign and unconquered people. No writer stated this more emphatically than Reggie. He along with team Hudlin gave BP readers an Afrakan conurbation in Wakanda. They showed us the Wakandan Space Program, which to my knowledge is the only fictitious Afrakan nation in Marvel maybe even in comics to have such. Team Hudlin is also responsible for advancing the aesthetics of Afrakan women. Shuri and the Dora Milaje are excellent examples of diversifying the beauty of Afrakan women. Priest's contribution during his tenure produced something extremely important to successfully fictionalizing Afrakan culture. He gave the Wakandans their own language. These are a few but exemplary examples of what must be done in earnest. Fictionalization of Afrakan culture should be imaginative in its Afrakan centeredness, creative in its countenance and responsible to the icons and images of the culture it represents.

Watch Interview w/ Reginald Hudlin

Other factors to be addressed in "Epitomizing the Black Panther," are consistency, continuity and rationale. For this I examine the following.

Wakanda has often been depicted as a village or group of villages as opposed to a country of numerous diverse regions and multiple cities. I site JA vol. 1#8,1973; Marvel Atlas #2,2008 for proof of the latter. Its political structure implies an all too easy vulnerability to coup de tats and one man take overs. Could one conceive of such events occurring in the US? These take over stories are more appropriate to WDG, an international corporation, than to the country of Wakanda. This would have worked well for the arcs "Deadliest of the Species" and "Power." Since there was already a "queen," Shuri being made CEO of WDG and confronting a hostile take over would have been a great way to introduce her as a novice Panther with aspirations to the throne. Thus the sidelining of Storm and T'challa could have been greatly reduced.

The political structure should have a council, regional representatives and city administrators in addition to a king and queen. Elaborations on the sophisticated fail safes in case of death or take over of the king or other royals. No more of the Achebes or Rosses being enthroned.This will render a greater sense of community and nationhood. Showcase Wakanda's antiquity as it compares to Kemit, Atlantis, Sparta and Subterrania to name a few. Embellish Wakandan explorations into the oceans, deep space and alternate dimensions. The Wakandans should have been exploring space perhaps a century before the US and Russia. They should have moon bases from Earth to Saturn. Colonies and defense satellites through the solar system. One could tell the tales of Khanata (BP vol. 1#13,1978) a great Wakandan adventurer and his crew traveling in an N'yami cruiser. Their trek through the stars in search of the source of the vibranium meteor leads to chance encounters with the Shi'ar, the Kree, The Skrulls and the Brood. The exploits of these Wakandans are sung even in the hallowed halls of the Klingon empire.

Visually depicting the military power of a nation bred for war was something Priest, Valutto and Almond excelled at. A cursory examination would yield N'yami battle cruisers and Prowlers. It would be advantageous to highlight its special forces like the Hatut Zeraze and the Dora Milaje. I think the Hatut Zeraze should answer to the king and the Dora Milaje to the queen. The separation of the two could give rise to the rites of passage that separates males and females in Afrakan culture. The most exceptional two Dora Milaje being candidates for queendom and the rest the most desirable and sought after women in the nation.The same could hold true for the Hatut Zeraze. Both would be second only to the scion of the Bashanga clan. One of the best things Reggie and John did was to give the Dora Milaje a distinct cultural appearance. Storm as queen should reflect this. Storm should have cut her head bald and defeated the best Dora Milaje in combat as part of the marriage ritual. She then could have grown her mohawk back to show some solidarity and to distinguish herself.

The Wakandans should be the physical and mental pinnacle of humanity. The average Wakandan should be far superior to the average person. T'challa and his family are the pinnacle of the Wakandan people. Nuff said. T'challa should be bald as are all the great warriors of Wakanda exemplified by the Dora Milaje and Hatut Zeraze. Storm being the notable exception gets a pass due to her foreign birth and exceptional power.
Wakandans are not xenophobic as much as they are "Wakandan-centric." They are long lived averaging about 150 yrs of age due to their environment and diet. Focus can be on their highly developed healing arts, medication and healthcare to all its citizens. Mental and physical disciplines based in the evolved traditions of Afraka. There shouldn't be a need to kill or domesticate animals due to their advanced agriculture and robotics. No combustible engines and fuel exhaust from tail pipes or engines. Let us delve deep in the spirituality of a people whose religious practices have not been imposed upon by Christianity or Islam. The BP animated series (episodes 1-3) is canon for this. Lets go to school with the children of Wakanda without the need to superimpose American values and failings such as teen pregnancy, drug use, graffiti or gang violence. Illustrate an education system that graduates student into the community as functional members never having to leave and prostitute themselves outside of it. Show us examples of what we could be if we reached our potential and if need be create new and original challenges for these children. Give us a new sense of commerce, business and trade. Show us what a debtless society looks like. Wakandans should be immune to the shifting patterns of global economics yet still be able to greatly influence it if they chose to. Let's not look at contemporary Afrakan societies that are failing but focus on the Afrakan societies that are succeeding. Meld the triumphs of the Afrakan diaspora into a myth of epic proportions.

The rogues gallery… How about reinterpretations of Killmonger? Imagine him more along the lines of having the business acumen and political savvy of a Lex Luthor, Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne. He could be founder and governor of the N'Jadaka region and some mayoral like title for N'Jadaka city, building on BP vol. 2#16,2000. I would have Killmonger take control of the Desturi, his answer to the Hatut Zeraze. Combine this with Luke Cage level strength and durability and you may have the ideal antagonist for T'challa. Solomon Prey, a eurocentric aristocrat and drug lord who transforms into a gargoyle like creature, is an expatriate who operates out of Paris (cue the Goth). Achebe, no brainer. An Afrakan version of the late great Heath Ledger's Joker. Man-Ape,(who I think was vastly improved under the aegis of Priest) could have a new name i.e. Silverback and a new costume without the gorilla head. The Jabari tribe from which he hails should be Hulk-like in size and stature as they live in one of the harshest environs in Wakanda, the Crystal forrest, home of the white gorilla from which their ancestors based their religion. Another reinterpretation would be that of Sombre (JA vol. 1 #13, 1974) as he or she is the charismatic religious leader of a cult (think classic Brother Blood from Teen Titans) that worships at Resurrection Altar delivering salvation to adherents through exposure to those "hellish rays." The Supremacist (BP mini series #2,1988) evolves into a Hydra/A.I.M. like organization with advance technology and super human agents. Their particular brand of centuries old eugenics creates a new kind of mutant who sees their antithesis in the Wakandans.

Finally we come to T'challa himself. Synthesizing his physical and martial prowess, intellectual acumen, technological propensity, spiritual evolution and psychological cognizance with challenging and innovative quandaries is the foundation upon which everything rests.

Special attention should be paid to his personal habit and weapons. He should always wear the morphing vibranium microweave costume (BP vol. 2 #1,1998). It can resemble any of the styles Black Panther is known for and makes him bullet proof (BP vol. 2 #7,1999), impact resistant (BP vol. 2 #40,2002), immune to magnetism (BP vol. 2 #48,2002) and vibration (BP vol. 2 #49,2002). His cowl should be equipped for underwater respiration (Defenders vol. 1#84,1980). T'challa cowl should also include special lenses (BP vol. 2#4,1999) and chemical gates as filters to prevent inhalation of toxic gases and other substances (BP vol. 2#16,2000). Further adding to an already impressive personal defense we now move to offense. His gloves have the anti-metal vibranium claws (BP vol. 2#14,2000) which arguably could cut or damage adamantium or even Cap's shield. His footwear comes with special "vibranium powered active phase resonator" soled boots (BP vol. 2#14,2000).These allow the Panther to scale walls and leap from great heights. They also rob projectiles of their momentum (BP vol. 2#15,2000) and allow T'challa to stand or run on the surface of a body of water (BP vol. 2#29,2001). Let us not forget a retractable cape (BP vol. 2#16,2000).

Last but far from least is the light armor that transitions out of the above mentioned costume (BP vol. 3#19,2006). This would be extremely useful against more powerful opponents, say the Hulk for example. He may not be able to beat him physically but it's infinitely superior to spandex, thus giving T'challa the necessary time to strategize and out think the Hulk. The armor would be useful in hostile environments say the moon for example. While visiting the Inhumans he morphs it off indoors and it instantaneously comes on outside the comfort of the blue area. Since T'challa was kind enough to give the gift of flight to the Falcon, it would be ignorant for him not to have it. Thus this armor would also include glider wings like those used by Shuri (BP vol. 4#11,2010). This would be helpful if T'challa is thrown out a plane (Black Axe vol. 1#6,1992) or falling from a rocket (BP mini series #3,1988).Throw in an energy dagger and Kimoyo card for good measure and you have well outfitted, ready for anything Black Panther. To be a prep master you gotta be a prep master. For transportation and operations outside of Wakanda he has a specialized T'chaka heavy cruiser. Think N'yami battle cruiser only bigger and deffer. It comes complete with all the standard amenities plus limos and sky cycles.

I neglected to mention that the Black Panther can cloak…think about it.

The Panther has had the fortune of the creatively intrepid vision of Lee and Kirby, the mature lyrical prose and composed raconteur of McGregor. The politically evolved continuity based and definitive T'challa from Priest. The holistic cultural and conscious expansion coupled with an unprecedented marketing campaign culminating in an animated series from Hudlin. As we await to see the affect Mayberry will have, I leave you with this.

The great writer who does Black Panther faces insurmountable odds with a confidence and demeanor that beguiles his detractors. He inspires admiration and devotion from his team. Why? Because the great writer knows that the Black Panther may simply be the most complex, diverse character in comics. The great writer knows it is their honor and privilege to present him well.