Review by C.J. Bunce

The most rewarding and epic read of all the new Black Panther movie tie-ins is Marvel’s Black Panther: The Illustrated History of a King–The Complete Comics Chronology from Insight Editions, an enormous over-sized look at the history of the superhero in Marvel Comics.  Author Dennis Culver recounts the character from its origin up to the new film, including descriptions of the superhero’s classic story arcs, with full-sized reproductions of cover art, full-page copies of key pages, and even some larger-than-life panels and splash page art.

Culver’s history of the character doesn’t miss a beat or classic creator reference.  Created by Stan Lee himself as the first black superhero, drawn by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott and first appearing in the pages of Fantastic Four.  He became an adversary of the team and would return facing off against Captain America in Tales of Suspense and then the Captain America monthly.  What may surprise those only familiar with the film is that with only some minor tweaks to the character, the origin story is as reflected in the new film:  T’Challa is king of Wakanda, who must face an arch-enemy named Klaw who has stolen some of the rare substance called vibranium.  Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Vince Colletta would take over creative duties as Black Panther joined the pages of The Avengers, with other creators working on the books including Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia, Bob Brown, and Ron Wilson.  Don McGregor would write Black Panther into the pages of Jungle Action with a huge roster of artists including Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Klaus Janson, P. Craig Russell, and Bob McLeod.  This would also be the introduction of the villain Erik Killmonger in the lauded “Panther’s Rage” story arc.  The movie got this right as well, with Killmonger taking over and throwing Black Panther to his near-death over Warrior Falls.  Some call this story arc the first of the mature, graphic novel stories that would later usher in books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

Jack Kirby would write and illustrate Black Panther in his own solo title finally in January 1977.  A decade later Ed Hannigan would bring back the hero (after Kirby’s title wound down) in the pages of The Defenders, with Black Panther facing Namor the Sub-Mariner (who would clash with each other  over the next two decades).  T’Challa had appearances in Marvel Team-Up, two limited series, and Marvel Comics Presents–including a run with Gene Colan and Denys Cowan art–in the 1980s and early 1990s.  As the millenium closed, Christopher Priest would write a new update to the character, inserting more humor into the stories, followed by stories from creator Reginald Hudlin and art by John Romita, Jr.–with a return of Klaus Janson, all under the Marvel Knights banner.  This series would bring in characters Everett Ross and T’Challa’s sister Shuri, who would appear in the film, and love interest Storm from the X-Men.  From there the character was subsumed into myriad Marvel crossovers with the rest of the publisher’s pantheon of heroes, including Civil War, Secret Invasion, and more recent series.

Fans will notice it is the King’s American, decades-long-relationship girlfriend that would not make it into the film, and readers will also notice the focus on the women warriors was a new creation for the film, too.  Black Panther would appear with other key characters over the years, including with Daredevil and the cyborg Vision and the Deathloks.

Culver notes that Black Panther would pave the way for later Marvel heroes Falcon, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight.

Here is a preview of the book, courtesy of the publisher:

The 184-page, deluxe 11″ x 14″ hardcover book includes a removable print of the book’s cover art by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Elizabeth Breitweiser.

If you loved the film you’ll want to read about the history of the character from its source in the pages of Marvel Comics, and the best way to start is in Black Panther: The Illustrated History of a King–The Complete Comics Chronology, available now here at Amazon.

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