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Celebrating Black History Month - The First Black Superhero

HippieVan at 12:00AM, Feb. 27, 2015

In 1966, in the midst of the American Civil Rights Movement, Marvel Comics introduced the first black superhero - Black Panther.

Black Panther, real name T'Challa, was the King of vibranium-rich Wakanda, a fictional African country (the first African-American superhero would be Marvel's Falcon). A special herb and his connection to a Panther God gave him his superpowers, which include super strength, speed and agility. T'Challa is something of a Tony Stark-type character - a super genius with a PhD in physics from Oxford who also happens to be incredibly wealthy from selling Wakandian vibranium.

In 1968 Black Panther joined the cast of the Avengers, where I'm most familiar with him. His most notable story arcs, however, were in Jungle Action issues 6-24: “Panther's Rage” and “Panther vs. the Klan.” These stories apparently arose from Marvel writer Don McGregor's complaint that the comic company was re-printing old, racist stories in the Jungle Action series. He was subsequently given the Black Panther project to write. McGregor wanted the character to directly confront contemporary issues of racism, and originally was going to set the character's second story arc in apartheid South Africa before settling on Black Panther's battle against the KKK. (See this article for more from Don McGregor about Black Panther.)

Despite McGregor's intentions for Black Panther, however, the necessity of mass appeal prevented the character from becoming too political. Although the character predated the Black Panther Party by several months, he briefly changed his name to “Black Leopard” in the 1970s to avoid the connection to the controversial group. He explained to The Thing: “I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name, but T'Challa is a law unto himself. Hence, the new name—a minor point, at best, since the panther is a leopard.”

While Black Panther was followed by a number of other black comic characters including Nick Fury and Storm, his appeal evidently remains. I won't go any further into the character's timeline which like most Marvel characters has become incredibly complicated, but it is exciting to see that a Black Panther movie has been announced for 2017! Hopefully the film will do the character justice.

Do you think comics have done an adequate job of including black characters? Who are your favourites? Comment below! Personally I'm hard-pressed to name more than a handful, and unfortunately can only think of one on DD off the top of my head!

In any case, I hope all you DDers were able to take some time this month to celebrate black history! Even my rinky dink Canadian city has managed to pull together some pretty neat events (including a rad gospel night that I went to last weekend), so I imagine there have been some very cool things going on elsewhere!


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Ironscarf at 4:42AM, Feb. 27, 2015

All my comics contain black characters! I'll come back to this discussion later but I just wanted to mention an awesome newspaper strip from the same era. Friday Foster started out in 1970 and was pioneering, running for four years in various newspapers with it's black female lead and some great artwork by Jorge Langaron. Friday was a fashion photographer who managed to find her way into all kinds of adventures, but her greatest achievement was being the first syndicated black female comic strip character. I believe there was at least one comic adaption and of course, the famous blaxploitation flick starring Pam Grier. The Friday Foster newspaper strip is a forgotten masterpiece which to the best of my knowledge has not been reprinted or collected, but you can check it out with the help of Google Images.

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