As we count down to the release of the Black Panther movie in just a couple of weeks, here’s another installment of T’Challa Rising, a four-part series of articles that looks back on landmark moments from Black Panther’s history. Last time, we kicked things off with our hero’s first appearance in Fantastic Four #52, which framed him as more of an antagonist for Marvel’s first family than I’d expected. Now that we’ve gotten our first look at T’Challa, we’re skipping ahead two years to another major appearance with Avengers #52.
This issue is written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema, who are listed second in the credits after Stan Lee gets top billing as editor! Inker Vince Colletta and letterer Sam Rosen basically get a special thanks here. Man, oh man, how times have changed! It makes sense for the time, though, because Stan’s influence and even his personal writing style seems very dominant in Roy Thomas’s writing here. Stan’s writing to me is a mix of poetic narration and whimsical, zingy dialogue – which makes him one of the most unique and easily identifiable writers in the history of the medium. Thomas attempts to ride the same wave, with varying success, but we’ll get to that.
This issue tells the story of a framed Black Panther, getting caught on the wrong side of the law when he is seen standing above the bodies of three seemingly dead Avengers. As T’Challa is taken into custody, we get to my favorite part of the issue – the various Avengers reacting to the deaths of three of their own. One of my favorite parts of this era of Marvel comics was how many stories are going on at once, and how they overlap to create a cohesive universe. On one page, we cut all over the Marvel universe, visiting other Avengers off on their own journeys, as they react to this horrific news.
Then, we find out the culprit. An incredibly powerful villain who wields a super-charged scythe and calls himself the Grim Reaper. He is out for some good, old-fashioned vengeance on the Avengers who, by his account, let his brother Wonder Man die in a previous issue of the series. The Reaper is obviously deluded here and we see that in his narration, but I do like that there is an emotional core to his actions. The Grim Reaper and Black Panther come to face after T’Challa flees the authorities to investigate this apparent murder, and Panther discovers Reaper’s plan by… overhearing his soliloquy. And listen, I know there’s an internal logic to it all, because in this issue, everyone is talking aloud to themselves about their plans and what they’re doing, but it does seem kind of easy. I’d love to see T’Challa, who is by all accounts a badass genius, figure out the the Grim Reaper’s plan in a way besides walking into him and hearing him describing to no one in particular exactly how he incapacitated the Avengers. I would’ve loved to see T’Challa’s intellect in action because we know how much of a brilliant tactician he is. I mean, this is the guy who defeated the Fantastic Four in his first appearance!
Black Panther defeats the Grim Reaper and takes his scythe, which he uses to awaken the Avengers from their death-like coma that the villain has put them under. When everyone is awake and reunited, they extend an invite to Black Panther to join the Avengers. Well-earned, I’d say, considering the entire Marvel universe pretty much accepted their death and already started mourning. Panther saved the day in a big way here, and his action scenes showed him serving up a healthy portion of ass-kicking, but I have to admit – I prefer Stan Lee’s confident T’Challa, who exudes brilliance and subverts everyone’s ideas of who he is. That’s actually what I loved about Black Panther’s role in his first film appearance as well. In Captain America: Civil War, he commanded his screen time with nobility, intelligence, nuance, power, and empathy. I didn’t quite see that larger-than-life version of T’Challa present in the writing here like I did with Stan Lee’s take, but it is definitely cool to see him join the Avengers. If there’s anyone I’d want on my side in a scrap out of the Marvel heroes of this issue, it’s certainly him.
NEXT UP: Jungle Action #6