The second entry focused on T’Challa in the Epic Collection line, Revenge of the Black Panther builds itself around the late ’70s run by T’Challa’s co-creator Jack Kirby. Anyone familiar with Kirby’s work should be able to guess at what type of stories he tells here — high concept sci-fi adventure, with T’Challa front and center.
The center of Kirby’s run focuses on the advanced pair of time machines: King Solomon’s Frogs. These machines, one which individually draw beings from various time points in while the other returns them, create great trouble for T’Challa and his travelling companions, Abner Little and Princess Zanda. Little and Zanda are rival collectors of artifacts, and operate as foils for one another, leaving poor T’Challa to both battle against the beings summoned forth by the frogs while also keeping his companions off each other’s throats.
Kirby was clearly having a lot of fun, and it shows in his work. At one point T’Challa deceives a dangerous future humanoid by convincing him that pushups are a standard greeting only to sucker punch the being as he prepares to do them. It’s wild stuff, brought to life in a visual dynamo that only Jack “King” Kirby could achieve.
Jack Kirby’s run, however, only makes up the first half of the book. The second half is split evenly between a small series of issues by Ed Hannigan and Jerry Bingham, first picking up the conclusion of Jack Kirby’s final storyline before telling their own stories in issues of Marvel Premiere, and a four issue limited series by Peter B. Gillis and Denys Cowan. For T’Challa aficionados, these issues will likely provide the reason to buy the book.
While Jack Kirby’s run has been collected before (though, most of those are now out of print), this is the first time that the Marvel Premiere issues and the 1988 series have been collected. Without tracking down the Marvel Premiere and Black Panther (1988) issues individually, one had no access to these stories. The “Revenge of the Black Panther” story from which the volume gets its name pits T’Challa and the Avengers against Klaw. Jerry Bingham’s artwork captures the combat in beautiful fashion, and some of the sound “constructs” that Klaw uses are quite inventive.
Fans of Storm will be delighted by another stellar inclusion in this volume – the Chris Claremont story in 1980’s Marvel Team-Up #100. This small story, in which Claremont and John Byrne tell the fateful first meeting between Storm and Black Panther is perhaps the most influential in the whole volume. It’s this story of star-crossed lovers who may never be that would set the stage for Reginald Hudlin to finally marry the two so many years later.
The Peter B. Gillis and Denys Cowan story that finishes the volume is a beauty to behold. Cowan’s detailed line art give the story a classic noir feel, even with the bold colors of Bob Sharen jumping off the page. Cowan instills a sense of mysticism in his depiction of T’Challa with green feline eyes. It’s an attention-grabbing choice that makes for some truly majestic close-ups.
The story in Black Panther is of apartheid in Azania, a thinly veiled substitute for South Africa. T’Challa is forced into choosing how Wakanda will respond to the humanitarian crisis — if it will respond at all. Gillis and Cowan also introduce a new love interest for T’Challa in Malaika, a Wakandan trade envoy who works out of Paris. Malaika serves as a nice contrast to Monica Lynne, who had been T’Challa’s sole love interest up to this point. Malaika is more of a femme fatale, and her interactions with T’Challa have a sense of danger to them that makes them a delight to read.
The supplemental materials in the volume help reveal the some of the creative process — and obstruction — behind the stories collected. There is an editorial by Jack Kirby that sets out his plans for the series, as well as a reprinting of an article from Marvel Age #20 on the Gillis/Cowan series. This article reads beautifully, with images of the then-upcoming series as companions. And then the date reveals itself: 1984. A follow up article from 1988 by Scott Lobdell confirms the project’s lengthy development. While there is no modern companion to provide insight into just what caused the delay, it is nice to see that journey acknowledged in this volume. My own suspicion is that it may have had something to do with the apartheid commentary, considering that the “Panther’s Quest” story by Don McGregor and Gene Colan made its way into the pages of Marvel Comics Presents in 1989 and covers similar ground.
Is It Good?
Black Panther Epic Collection: Revenge of the Black Panther is an eclectic volume, assembling a series of stories that are largely disconnected from one another. However, each of these stories is entertaining in their own way, and when taken as a whole show a maturation of the character in a relatively tight window. This is a must have for Black Panther and Jack Kirby fans, and comic readers in general would be fools to miss out on Denys Cowan’s gorgeous art that closes out the volume.
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