Marvel Entertainment’s little surprise party yesterday was one for the books. They came, they saw, they kicked our asses with nukes of revelations on their planned projects. We’re getting a Captain Marvel movie. ‘Captain America 3’ was announced, as was ‘Thor 3.’ There were stutters about a Hulk feature and a Black Widow flick was completely shot down. Marvel bigwig Kevin Feige and friends were very up front with us, and surprisingly listened to our feedback. My favorite part was the declaration of a Black Panther film. This guy has always been one of my top heroes, and I couldn’t be happier hearing that ’42’ and ‘Get On Up’ star Chad Boseman was nabbed for the role. I called it awhile back, actually. Which is a further testament to my unmatched manliness and vast intelligence. But enough facts about me – let’s talk Black Panther, shall we?
Mr. Boseman has a huge job ahead of him thanks to that 5-picture deal he inked with Marvel. The Black Panther is an iconic character, very familiar to comic book nerds like myself, but all but lost to mainstream audiences. While Captain America, Spiderman and Superman have been household names for generations, the Panther has been quietly awesome since his inception during the Silver Age of comics. Mustachioed crusader Stan Lee and legendary penciler Jack Kirby created him back in 1966. His first appearance was Fantastic Four #52 and he has the distinction of being the first black superhero in comics. The Black Panther paved that rocky road for the likes of Luke Cage, Misty Knight, War Machine, John Stewart Green Lantern, among a few others. Sadly, black and other minority heroes weren’t shelled out with the jackhammer frequency of their white counterparts. But what there is should be treasured and nurtured. And that’s why it’s special for this hero to be seen on film.
The Black Panther character is also known as king T’Challa of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Wakanda is famous for being the only place on Earth where the nigh indestructible metal vibranium is mined. It comes from a large meteorite that hit the country several decades ago, and was covetously protected by Black Panthers ever since. Vibranium has even been addressed several times in Marvel films, as it’s what Captain America’s shield is made of. Despite his royal stature, the precious metal cultivation also makes T’Challa phenomenally rich. The Black Panther title is an inherited one bestowed unto the descendant who proves himself/herself worthy.
Before him, his father T’Chaka held the alter ego of Black Panther. When T’Chaka was unceremoniously killed by the scientist Ulysses Klaw, T’Challa had to step up to the plate and assume the kingship and heroic namesake. If rumors and speculation mean anything, there’s a good chance that we’ll see Klaw on the big screen also. It makes perfect sense to me, as the guy is basically Panther’s arch enemy. That’s how things go down when a dude kills your dad.
His rites of passage that earned him the moniker and abilities of BP included a walkabout and defeating various tribes. Fully outfitted as his land’s defender, he made friends with fellow superheroes and joined the Avengers for a time. Just to further prove his worth, T’Challa took to kicking the shit out of the Fantastic Four. He invited them to his home, like a pal would, and then proceeded to waste the entire team. Total dick move, yes. But he felt it a necessary evil, testing their mettle as future allies. He is a man who is fiercely dedicated to protecting his realm and figured he needed as many super-powered comrades as possible in case he needed backup. With a rogue’s gallery that includes Klaw, Man-Ape and White Wolf, I call that a good idea. I wouldn’t beat them up first like he did the FF, but yeah…
If you’re not yet sold on the Black Panther, there’s more. He’s got a genius-level intellect and sweet detective skills, making him the African Batman. He’s got a PHD in Physics from Oxford University and is considered one of the 8 smartest people on the planet. Being the Black Panther has awarded T’Challa awesome mystical powers. Upon eating a special, rare herb, he was granted enhanced abilities. His reflexes, speed, strength, agility and endurance were heightened to near-superhuman levels. His senses were increased to incredible acuteness, making him an exceptional tracker. He is a skilled hunter, strategist, politician and inventor, with access to his entire country’s most advanced military weaponry and resources. The guy is a rigorously trained gymnast and master of various martial arts. In the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king.”
Playing the Panther is a top honor for any black actor and there were lots of dream castings going around the net for a long time. Not only was BP the first black comic book superhero, he’s the coolest too. That’s why it’s special to me to see him onscreen. Black superheroes are grossly under-represented in comic books and movies. When Lee and Kirby created BP, I wish they’d kept that ball rolling, and not doing so has really hurt the genre. I’m from the old school and I take my heroes very seriously. I don’t want them changed around in any way. While I’m as Liberal as the next bleeding heart tree hugger, it makes me wince to think about a black Human Torch. Michael C. Duncan as The Kingpin. Freakin’ Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White. And as awesome as Idris Elba is as Heimdel, there was no such thing as a black Norse god. That just insults my intelligence. And it’s equally annoying to see white actors play minority characters. A white Silver Fox? A white Jubilee??
The problem is clear as day: the low number of minority superheroes forces filmmakers to make weird decisions like that in order to appeal to broader audiences. Want your flick to make more dough? Add minority characters that will attract minority money. It was certainly cool for me to see Falcon show up in ‘Winter Soldier.’ I’m giddy about War Machine being in ‘Avengers 2.’ Thank goodness for Blade. I’m dying to see who they’ll cast as Luke Cage (I’m gunning for Chad Coleman.)
Lots of people will say things like, “It doesn’t matter to me what color a hero is” and ask “why is this important?” It’s important because I want everyone to matter equally. Everybody should want that and it’s past time we fixed some broken things. It stands to reason that these issues are less important when you don’t have to deal with them. It’s easy to shrug those things off when you’re a little kid and all the heroes look like you. You probably feel like you can aspire to great things and become larger than life. If you’re obviously not a mutant by puberty and there’s a shortage of radioactive spiders, at least you know there’s still time to train to become Batman. Remember when Northstar came out as being gay? Homosexuals had a reason to cheer. The announcement of Captain Marvel getting her own movie is a reason for women and feminists to cheer. There’s pride in the breaking down of prejudice and it’s almost like seeing yourself on the screen. Thanks to the Black Panther, I had a positive role model growing up – one who shared my skin color. If only there were more like him.