Comics fans have already been in the know about him for decades, but 2018 may be the most important year for Black Panther since his creation in 1966. The King of Wakanda is getting his own movie in just two weeks, and it’s looking as if it might be the biggest solo breakout Marvel film since Iron Man became a household name. To celebrate, we’re kicking off T’Challa Rising, a four-part series of articles that looks back on landmark moments from Black Panther’s history, leading up to his silver screen takeover on February 15th.
You know we had to start with Black Panther’s first Marvel appearance, which happens to go down in Fantastic Four #52. The comic has a script by Smilin’ Stan Lee, art by Jolly Jack Kirby, inks by Gentleman Joe Sinnott, and letters by Hammy Sammy Rosen. I wonder if Rosen got to pick his epithet, or if Stan was just in a rhyming mood that day. I hate to think what mine would’ve been!
The issue begins with the Fantastic Four flying a high tech sky-craft given to them by the mysterious Black Panther. They don’t know much about him except that he comes from Wakanda, a country in Africa, which leads the Thing to doubt the fact that such an advanced piece of equipment could’ve come from there. (Yikes.) A statement which Sue Storm later repeats in front of a Wakandan guide. (YIKES!) What I liked about this issue, though, was that it spent a lot of time subverting those ideas that the Thing and Sue harbored – but we’ll get to that.
After a quick breakaway to a subplot with the Inhumans, we pick up with the Fantastic Four heading to Wakanda to meet the Black Panther face-to-face. They are taken into a robotic jungle, where vines and flowers are replaced by wires and robotic devices. They instantly know two things – they have been led into a trap, and that this trap has been designed by a genius. The Black Panther shows himself and confirms all of that, announcing that he’s about to kick off the greatest hunt of all time… and that the Fantastic Four themselves are the quarry.
The chase begins, and Black Panther one-by-one takes them all out… except for Wyatt Wingfoot, a friend of Johnny’s who was brought along on this trip. Wyatt manages to take out a bunch of Wakandan warriors, who had previously used ingenious weaponry to help Black Panther defeat the Fantastic Four. Get this – they hit Reed, Sue, and the Thing with polarity guns, which separates them magnetically so that they could be hunted one by one. That’s one of my favorite tech moments I’ve ever seen in classic comics, so I was a little taken off guard when Wyatt Wingfoot, who essentially plays a random friend in this issue, manages to defeat them while the Fantastic Four themselves didn’t. Anyway, though, Wyatt rescues Johnny Storm, who then takes down the Black Panther. Kind of.
It leads to the Black Panther unmasking himself, preparing to tell his story and explain the hunt… and then the issue ends. It’s an interesting first appearance that seems to build him as a villain, but even the way he fights the Fantastic Four makes it clear that he’s not actively trying to hurt them. What we learn about him here in his first comic is very similar to what we learned in his first on screen appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa, the man behind the mask, is one of the richest and smartest men in the world… and he is just waiting for you to doubt that.
NEXT UP: Avengers #52