Do You Know The Way To Wakanda? One Year Later, It’s Clear That “Black Panther” Finished The Conversation That “Roots” Started  

This month not only marks the first anniversary of the release of “Black Panther,” a.k.a. The Film That Won’t Go Away. What will be little noted is that this February is also the 40th anniversary of another well-remembered African/African-American moment.

On the small screen in February 1979, James Earl Jones, fresh from his then-uncredited voice-over role as Darth Vader in the first “Star Wars,” was seen in a safari shirt and glasses on every ABC-tuned television in America, stabbing his pen into a pad, shouting the following into the then five-channel television universe: “You old African! I found you! I found you! Kunta Kinte, I found you!”

“Roots: The Next Generations,” the mammoth 1979 sequel to the groundbreaking 1977 original, ends with Haley’s (Jones’s) journey to the Gambia to search for the young ancestor who was captured when, as the Haley family legend goes, he went into the woods to make himself a drum.

The search for Haley’s fantasy-ish Juffure resonated with African-Americans (in fact, it’s partly how we eventually accepted that term for ourselves in the late 1980s), and with millions more who wanted to find out about themselves. It’s the core story, the central idea that, in 2019, spurs those Ancestry.com commercials and has given Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard Africana Studies professor, a new career in public television.

Haley’s historical novel and the vision of comicbook legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby hold more similarities that one thinks. Aren’t both the imaginary product of 1960s magazine content producers? Isn’t Killmonger just a version of Kunta Kinte who finally makes it back home and reclaims his birthname and birthright? Isn’t the Juffure showed in “Roots: The Next Generations” a low-tech Wakanda of sorts—a (relatively) unspoiled, seemingly un-interrupted Africa?

Although “Roots” was created for television as an American family tale, it nevertheless brought home the central tenets of Black Power and Afrocentrism—that we are an African people. ABC broke through with a depiction of Africa that defied the “Tarzan” movies from the 1930s through the 1950s that were a staple of Saturday afternoon viewing on local television channels. For a people that had recently abandoned “Afro-American” for Black, the contrast was jarring. I was 9-years-old when the first “Roots” miniseries aired, and it shook me to the core. But not completely: I still loved those Tarzan films, watching them for years afterward, but I began to wonder why I couldn’t understand the Africans, and why they kept dying consistently.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER
L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)
Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

What happened between “Roots” and “Black Panther?” More knowledge. Africana Studies—now in its 50th year, struggling to survive, but back then growing and expanding as a discipline. Sci-Fi-era technology that allows us to see Africa and converse with Africans every day. World travel not being a big deal anymore.  A growing Afro-futurism movement that is including all people of African descent, regardless of geography, gender or gender orientation. So “Panther” came right on time, as a production of visual African/Black nationalism, a visual sense of Black/African victory, to counter the white nationalism of Trump and Brexit.

The very idea that the African Union has set out to create a Wakanda shows that even Africans are searching for the Africa they see in their own minds. Imagination serving its highest role—as inspiration. (I hope and pray that the AU, thus inspired, will turn down requests for the Chinese to build it.)

For better or worse, Black History Month now has an imaginary element. We have merged with Kunta Kinte, and have turbo-charged his drum with Vibranium. Using American mid-20th century fantasy, we have gone in our minds from victims of colonization to superheroes forging our own destiny. In 2019, we have checked our DNA, and know more fact than fiction about ourselves. Of course we are of African descent, we now say, confused how anyone could think otherwise.

Whether “Black Panther” wins any Oscars later this month is much less important than this truth that might double as fact: Ryan Coogler, T’Challa, Okoye and Shuri have killed Tarzan, for real this time.

re: Stan Lee: My Life As A Face-Fronted, True Believer

In my new book on the Black Panther, I say this about Stan Lee and Marvel:

Growing up as a superhero-obsessed tyke in the 1970s, I saw the 1967 Spider-Man animated series (the one often called Spiderman, mistakenly without the hyphen between “Spider” and “Man”) and the Batman and Superman live-action series every weekday in second-run syndication and watched every version of The Superfriends every Saturday morning on ABC. I even devoured those gawd-awful Spider-Man live-action specials on CBS, as well as the two almost-as-bad Captain America and Dr. Strange movies that aired on that network. The fact that CBS aired quality live-action superhero shows like The Incredible Hulk and, in its second and third seasons, Wonder Woman (a refugee from ABC) almost made up for those terrible also-rans. And of course, I loved Superman: The Movie.

During that decade, I slowly discovered comicbooks. Marvel became my favorite. I think that was due to my all-time favorite characters, The Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer, with Captain America as a runner-up. (I count the FF as one character.) My fifth-grade teacher had a copy of Bring On The Bad Guys, the third volume of the Simon and Schuster trade paperbacks that reprinted early Marvel stories with writer Stan Lee’s introductions. That’s where I discovered the FF, The Surfer and Cap in separate epic tales.

I still remember my shock when I found out that my favorites had been animated! Hanna-Barbera decided to syndicate, as a weekday “wheel,” all its 1960s Saturday morning superhero-action fare. Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super-Adventure, as the syndication wheel called itself, became my all-time favorite animated series, right next to Marvel Men, the second-run syndication of the 1966 Marvel Superheroes animated show (happily, Cap was a feature), and Superheroes!, the syndicated daily run of the Filmation 1960s DC animated cartoons of the same time. The H-B series, I quickly found out, had a Fantastic Four cartoon! I sat in front of the television every weekday, waiting to see if The Fantastic Four would come on. I was often disappointed, but I learned about great Hanna-Barbara superheroes like Space Ghost, Birdman and other characters. When I saw the FF and my other all-time favorite character, The Silver Surfer, fight some giant named Galactus, in front of another giant named The Watcher, I lost my mind and became a one-person [San Diego Comic-Con] Hall H, a certified Marvel Zombie. I never looked back.

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But there was more. A few years after that, into the ’80s, I enjoyed Stan’s narration of “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” Marvel and NBC’s answer to DC and ABC’s “Superfriends.”

And then there was that time in 1990, when, now the ripe old age of 22, I wrote a Star-Ledger feature on the first Todd McFarlane Spider-Man issue. I interviewed The Man himself on the phone. Being new to the pressures of daily journalism, I actually asked him to slow down while he was talking! He said directly that if I couldn’t keep up he wouldn’t continue the interview. That was GREAT training for me, for at the end of that conversation, I learned how to take notes over the phone. He sent me a form letter after the article appeared that of course I cherished.

I really, really, really wish he had stopped being in denial about standing idly by, playing innocent, while his cousin-in-law, Martin Goodman, cheated and reneged on Jack Kirby. I really wished he would have asked Jack to use the Silver Surfer, instead of taking it from him. Although I think many people forget that Stan was Jack (and Steve Ditko’s) boss, I think these questions are more than fair, and should not be shunted out of politeness.

Stan, along with Jack and Steve, were responsible for three out of every five of my childhood smiles. That is how I will always remember all three of them.

 

Official Press Announcement Of My New Book, “Marvel’s Black Panther: A Comicbook Biography, From Stan Lee To Ta-Nehisi Coates”

#theblackpanther #blackpanther #WakandaForever #BlackPantherLive #Reginald Hudlin #WhatWakandaMeansToMe

THE BOOK WILL BE RELEASED THIS WEEK! I WILL UPDATE WHEN IT IS ON AMAZON! 

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FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, THE BLACK PANTHER WAS ONCE ONE OF THE MOST OBSCURE OF MARVEL’S CHARACTERS.
THEN, FOR THE FIRST TIME, HIS BLACK COMICBOOK WRITERS TOOK OVER.

Now, a new book tells the history from the perspective of its Black and white writers.

MARVEL’S BLACK PANTHER: A COMIC BOOK BIOGRAPHY, FROM STAN LEE TO TA-NEHISI COATES (Diasporic Africa Press) is a collection of chronological thoughts about the 52 years this character has existed.

The first, in-depth examination of the first Black superhero to appear in American mainstream comics, it is a group of chronological essays—a “biography” of a comicbook character—exploring what writer Todd Steven Burroughs thinks about how this Black/African hero character has been shaped: first by white liberal American men—Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas and Don McGregor—then by a Black American liberal man, Christopher J. Priest, and even later by American neo-Black-nationalists Reginald Hudlin and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

It is about race, mainstream superhero comics and the Black American imagination within the backdrop of American history and world history. It’s about the limitations of white liberalism and the power of Black-centered but white-controlled American popular culture; ultimately, it’s how 20th century white liberalism had to yield to the 21st century multicultural reality.

This book, a new addition to the growing scholarly literature on the growing literature on Black American comic books, shows how Black writers developed the version of The Black Panther now seen and beloved on movie screens throughout the world.

Excerpts from the book can be found here and here.

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BEFORE HIS BLACK WRITERS TOOK OVER, THE BLACK PANTHER HAD FADED FROM THE LEE-KIRBY BAD-ASS WHO HAD TRAPPED THE FANTASTIC FOUR IN MINUTES TO, FIRST, A SIDNEY POITIER HARLEM TEACHER AND, LATER, A GUY WHO TOOK FOUR PAGES TO FREE HIMSELF FROM A BEAR TRAP.

“Marvel’s Black Panther: A Comic Book Biography, From Stan Lee To Ta-Nehisi Coates” shows the character’s growth under Priest, Hudlin and Coates, writers who understood that The Black Panther was at least as cool as Batman. Both Priest and Hudlin turned The Black Panther, a character known primarily for leaping around, into a literal Dark Knight; Marvel finally had a character that imitated and matched Batman’s powerful aura.

Christopher Priest brought him back to his first, dangerous Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four 1966 appearance, and
Reginald Hudlin then followed up by bringing him out of the comicbook store into the larger 21st century Black popular-culture world.
Ta-Nehisi Coates put him in the complex world of 21st century African domestic politics.

By doing so, Marvel now had the Batman-like character it had long wanted, and Black comicbook readers, Afrofuturists and Black fantasy-lovers had essentially a brand-new, culturally-relevant version of an established Marvel superhero.

Thanks to Priest, Hudlin and Coates, one of Marvel’s greatest Hollywood blockbuster film superheroes in 2016, 2018 and beyond is an unapologetic Black Cat.

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The book answers the following questions:

• Which Black Panther writer created Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan?
• What is The Black Panther’s complex relationship with The Avengers?
• When was The Black Panther ever female? When was the Black Panther a half-Jewish New York City police officer?
• Who are the secret LGBT characters a Panther writer slipped into the 1970s comic book?
• How does Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first Panther storyarc thematically compare with his acclaimed full-length essay book, “Between The World and Me”?

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The book’s Foreword is written by Makani Themba, chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies based in Jackson, Mississippi. A social justice innovator and pioneer in the field of change communications and narrative strategy, she has spent more than 20 years supporting organizations, coalitions and philanthropic institutions in developing high impact change initiatives.
The book’s Afterword is written by Greg Carr, Ph.D., J.D., chair of the Black Studies Department of Howard University.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

FOREWORD— Makani Themba, community activist/strategist, Higher Ground Change Strategies, Jackson, Mississippi

INTRODUCTION—Black Panther vs. White Panther

CHAPTER ONE— From Patrice Lumumba to Sidney Poitier: Early Fantastic Four and Avengers Appearances

CHAPTER TWO— The Jungle Book: Don McGregor Creates His Own Africa

CHAPTER THREE— The Finished Man: Don McGregor (Almost) Completes His ‘Panther Novel’

CHAPTER FOUR— The Return of the Kings: The Amazing and Wacky Adventures of Jack Kirby’s Panther

CHAPTER FIVE—The Client Was a Man of Remarkable Focus: A Panther and a Priest

CHAPTER SIX—The Spy King: How Christopher Priest’s Version of The Panther Forever Shook Up The Avengers

CHAPTER SEVEN—’Bad Mutha’: Reginald Hudlin’s Uncompromised Royal Black (Super-)Man and the Unbridled Black Imagination

CHAPTER EIGHT—Side-Swipes: The New York Ghost Cop and the Wakandan Princess As ‘Replacement’ Panthers

CHAPTER NINE—The (Black) Man Without Fear: That Time Panther Briefly Replaced Daredevil

CHAPTER TEN—Between the World and Him: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Panther

CONCLUSION—Panther Slices Through Captain America: Civil War

AFTERWORD—Greg Carr, Chairperson, Africana Studies, Howard University

Christopher James Priest Talks About His Time As The Writer Of Marvel’s “Black Panther”

panthericonic2

My favorite comicbook author not named Grant Morrison 🙂 talks about his run–my all-time favorite in the 49 years of the character’s existence. Priest’s run that made me a “Black Panther” fan! I no longer collect comics, but I will make an exception for this Priest BP collection!

(And I want to point out that what Priest says in Part One is what I say in my chapter of “Ages of the Avengers.”)

Ta-Nehisi Coates has his work cut out for him! But I’m sure he knows that!

50-Word Review of “Ant-Man”

A ghetto “Oceans 11” meets superhero movie! The stars may be white, but the funny supporting cast is Black and Latino.

The “urban audience” word-of-mouth will make this a strong hit for Marvel! This ALMOST makes up for Marvel giving Ava DuVernay the boot!

P.S. So onward to “Captain America: Civil War!”