Monday, February 12, 2018

Panther's Rage!

I haven't yet seen Marvel's Black Panther film, but in reading a number of its glowing reviews I couldn't help but be reminded of another highly-acclaimed Black Panther story, from which it's apparently adapted some of its concepts and characters--writer Don McGregor's 13-issue story arc, "Panther's Rage," which appeared in the Jungle Action title from 1973-75. One of the earliest stories to portray T'Challa's native land of Wakanda in depth (along with those of Roy Thomas and, of course, Stan Lee), we come to find that the Panther's jungle kingdom is in turmoil when the man known as Killmonger launches a series of aggressive attacks and incursions in a blatant move to become its ruler.

It was likely Killmonger's persistent struggle against T'Challa, playing out over the entire arc, that helped readers (including myself) to maintain their interest in the series, since the book remained a bi-monthly publication from beginning to end--otherwise, having to spend nearly two years to read story installments in sixty-day intervals might have forced any number of readers to jump ship. Yet there is also the draw of the Panther, an established character who made the rounds in two of Marvel's biggest guns (Fantastic Four and The Avengers) and who is handled here by McGregor with genuine interest as well as a sense of exploration, a description which would also apply to Wakanda itself.

We get a sense of the kind of turmoil and instability that has come to Wakanda when the Panther rescues a caged elder tribesman who is being interrogated by two of Killmonger's men. Unfortunately, the Panther has arrived too late to save his life--but as much as the elder's imminent death affects T'Challa, the man's dying words strike just as deeply.

As often as we've been witnesses to T'Challa's brooding concerns while stateside in regard to whether or not to return to his kingdom, we finally begin seeing the effects of that conflict now that he's forced to look it in the eye. T'Challa will find that this is only one of many deaths he will discover while pursuing Killmonger; but for now, this one death resonates with him, hinting as it does at a disconnect that T'Challa suddenly feels with his homeland. It's a moment that probably comes as a surprise to long-time readers, since, during his extended stays in the United States as well as with the Avengers, T'Challa has both physically and mentally distanced himself from Wakanda for some time, at times most definitively.

And if T'Challa's people and their fate are unhappy reminders that he's been absent from Wakanda for too long, imagine the effect on him when those feelings extend to his royal court.

Whereas we'd previously only seen the Panther communicating with either his regent or one of his advisors whenever he was in the States, McGregor takes the opportunity to introduce several more members of his court--primarily, W'Kabi, his outspoken security chief and second-in-command, and Taku, his communications advisor. Yet we also see that McGregor has decided to expand on T'Challa's relationship with Monica Lynne, an aspiring singer who had first met T'Challa in New York during the Panther's fight with the Sons of the Serpent and who later turned her efforts to activism. Curiously, McGregor has sharply altered Monica's diction and manner from what Thomas had established for her earlier, possibly to allow her an outlet to assert herself in response to what she regards as resistance to her presence in Wakanda and her tendency to disregard protocol. There was definitely room for Monica to become more forthright, though what McGregor seems to have settled on is a Leila Taylor in training.

The next day, T'Challa investigates Killmonger's work first-hand, scenes that drive home the fact that this crisis is all too real and that Killmonger is a clear and present danger to both Wakanda and T'Challa's rule. If W'Kabi's words here sound too direct and blunt, consider the question that T'Challa poses which triggers such a response: "How have such atrocities been allowed to happen...?" It's a mic drop moment that indicates a shocking lack of involvement on T'Challa's part, combined with his equally shocking ignorance of Wakandan affairs.

In all fairness, it's understandable that T'Challa would ask his Security chief such a question; yet W'Kabi is no substitute for a leader, nor can we assume that he's empowered to make unilateral decisions as far as deploying Wakanda's forces extensively or determining a course of action that addresses Killmonger's hostile moves.

With W'Kabi's buildup of Killmonger, the door is opened for Killmonger's first appearance in the story. When word comes that he may have been spotted at Warrior Falls, the Panther sets out to track him, alone--not unusual behavior for the Panther, though considering that he's facing a major threat to Wakanda and that Killmonger has his own warriors (the "Death Regiments") at his disposal, it seems odd that the Panther chooses not to arrive at Warrior Falls in force. It's almost unsettling that Killmonger also doesn't feel the need for backup.

However, we're fated to see a limited confrontation here--partly because of McGregor's plot, but also because the first two issues of the arc share space with reprinted stories of Lorna the Jungle Girl--disappointing, but technically not necessarily indicative of poor planning, since the mag is after all called "Jungle Action featuring The Black Panther." Yet all things considered, it's a fine prelude for the struggle ahead which T'Challa faces--that is, assuming his struggle doesn't come to an end here.

It's clear that Killmonger has a personal axe to grind with T'Challa, given the revelation that he and T'Challa know each other--so despite the two not really trading blows of any significance, it makes sense that Killmonger would show contempt for the Panther by having his leopard act for him rather than taking the Panther on himself. There are parallels here with M'Baku, the Man-Ape, who also had ambitions to rule Wakanda by disposing of the Panther (a story reprinted in the previous issue of Jungle Action)--though, in M'Baku's position as Regent, he had no need to use Killmonger's methods of terror and death against his people.

As this series continues, McGregor will not only give us more insight on Killmonger, but will also introduce a number of deadly and intriguing subordinates whose talents add a sense of complexity to the Panther's uphill fight against his enemy. And while it won't be necessary to wait two months this time around for each installment, it feels appropriate to approach their postings in the PPC gradually, mixing them in with more of the Marvel magic that remains a pleasure to feature here. But stay tuned--Killmonger isn't a guy who likes to be kept waiting!


Jungle Action #6

Script: Don McGregor
Pencils: Rich Buckler
Inks: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski


Anonymous said...

I first read Panther's Rage in Marvel UK's Planet Of The Apes No.58-83. Reading it in 26 weekly parts was better than 13 bi-monthly issues but there was one drawback - it was in black & white. But I didn't mind as all our UK Marvel comics were in b/w :)

Tiboldt said...

The Black Panther was woefully used in the Avengers which unfortunately was where I mostly know him from. It was only years later that I caught up with his Jungle Action stories and came to appreciate the character.

I didn't follow Planet of the Apes so I missed the British reprint (though I did have at least one with the legendary 'Apeslayer' in it).

Anonymous said...

I've read good thing about the film, but I'm a cheapskate and I'll just wait till it shows up on cable. I haven't even see Thor Ragnarok yet, but I know it'll be on T.V. sooner or later, and I can watch it in comfort in the haunted underground crypt where I make my abode, far from the eyes of meddling humans.
I wonder if Klaw is gonna show up in this deal. He was the guy who killed T'Challa's father, if memory serves, before he became Master of Sound and used his "sonic kazoo" (as Ben Grimm referred to it)to make giant red elephants and gorillas out of pure sound. Was it Klaw who got his his arm ripped off by a slightly annoyed Ultron in that Avengers movie?
I'm not clear on any of this.


George Chambers said...

At his best, Don McGregor's work was sheer poetry on a comic page; at worst, overly wordy and difficult to comprehend. I really enjoyed PANTHER'S RAGE and McGregor's POWER MAN issues - including one of my favourite villains, Cockroach Hamilton and his six-barrelled shotgun - but his KILLRAVEN mostly left me cold.

Comicsfan said...

M.P., I feel the same as you about waiting for the film to arrive on a cable outlet, especially when many home viewers have home theater setups of their own--I haven't been to a movie theater in years, and I can't say I've missed it! As for Klaw, he's absent from this series, and frankly I'm glad--the Panther has long since settled scores with him, and he already shows up too much in Black Panther appearances, IMO.

George, I have to say I enjoyed the Killraven stories in Amazing Adventures, though at times I felt McGregor was more interested in introducing bizarre characters for Killraven to face than addressing the actual Martian conflict, while occasionally trotting out a tripod or two just to satisfy that segment of readers. "Panther's Rage" also takes a winding trail approach on its way to resolving the principal conflict, and certainly with its own share of unusual antagonists around every corner--but McGregor deals in T'Challa and his other Wakandan characters sufficiently and significantly enough to hold the reader's interest, while keeping a sharp focus on T'Challa throughout.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

"One of the earliest stories to portray T'Challa's native land of Wakanda in depth (along with those of Roy Thomas and, of course, Stan Lee)"


Stan Lee DID NOT WRITE those comics!!!!!

JACK KIRBY created, wrote and illustrated EVERY comic story he did in the 1960s. His "editor" wrote, or in some cases, "edited" the dialogue, but stole credit and pay for the full writing job. This way, everything Kirby did-- WITHOUT any kind of "work for hire" contract whatsoever-- became the property of the publisher.

It was a scam whose repurcussions are still being maintained.