A Wakandan Public Service Announcement, With Footnotes

I had a different column worked out for this week, but someone beat me to it.

See, I was settling in to write a blistering piece about how people need to stop spreading the story about Kirby having the Black Panther fight the KKK.

Because it wasn’t Kirby. As most of you probably know, it was Don McGregor.

It made Marvel really uncomfortable…so uncomfortable, in fact, they canceled the book mid-story.

The part about Marvel pressuring Don to add more white people to the book is technically true, but it was about sales as much as race; as I recall it was more about wanting him to have the Avengers or Spider-Man or somebody guest-star and generally make the comic look more like all the other stuff they were doing. Don fought them on this because he thought it sent the wrong message to have guest-star white guys swoop in and save the black guy who was the star of the book, and also he had fallen in love with T’Challa and his world.

All that Wakandan backstory, Killmonger and all that stuff, that was McGregor and his artists on the comic– primarily Rich Buckler and Billy Graham– having a ball.

It is true that Marvel didn’t much care for “Panther’s Rage” at the time, it was weird and experimental and probably did feature far too many black folks for their taste, but as we all know Don got the last laugh because the story eventually became the movie that was just nominated for an Oscar.

However, it seemed weird to me that no one else had done a column about it yet. Just to be sure, I checked.

Turns out, my former colleague Brian Cronin at CBR did it…. this morning.

Well, nuts.

Brian did a nice job on it, and you should go over to CBR and check it out. I’ll wait.

…Back? Great.

So, long story short, I went back to the drawing board on this week’s column and tore out about a third of it.

Brian’s piece is fine as far as it goes, but I do have a couple of footnotes. (Brian may have to deal with CBR’s length restrictions, but blessedly, here at the Junk Shop we do not. That’s actually one of the reasons we migrated over here from CBR in the first place.)

Anyway. Footnotes.

First of all, it’s true that Kirby co-created the Panther and he did indeed return to the character in the mid-70s. Marvel had Jack Kirby re-launch the Panther in his own title, with much fanfare, after Jungle Action had been canceled. But it was NOTHING like the kind of stories McGregor had been doing.

What we got instead was the same kind of deranged gonzo thing Kirby had been doing on books like Kamandi over at DC.

This was just too weird for those of us who came to the character of T’Challa through McGregor’s Jungle Action.

Most of us Panther fans were baffled and annoyed. We were used to the more introspective approach, stories that were driven by character and political intrigue.

I’ve since come around on the Kirby version– it’s not BAD, though it’s definitely among the lesser Jack Kirby comics. But it wasn’t what we wanted. Say you’re at a restaurant and you ask for a dish of ice cream and they bring you a bowl of chili instead. Even if you like chili, you’re going to be irritated, right?

What’s more, those of us waiting for some kind of a finish to the Klan saga felt swindled. Today comics just stop all the time, especially the indies, but back then Marvel was selling continuity. If a book was canceled mid-story, things still got wrapped up somewhere. (Usually by Bill Mantlo over in Marvel Two-In-One, but that’s another whole column in itself.)

As it happened, roughly the same kind of shock was freaking out fans of Captain America, as well. We’d been getting hard-hitting stories from Steve Englehart about race and the Red Scare and Watergate and so on, and what all that meant to the man that was literally the symbol of the American ideal…

Then suddenly all that was out the window and we were getting more seventies Jack Kirby crazy.

Again, it wasn’t bad, it was just… not what we were looking for. It had only been six or seven years since Kirby’s original run on these characters at Marvel, but in that time, the audience had completely changed, and so had most of the thinking behind how to make superhero comics. A new group of fans had come on the scene with the advent of the “relevant” socially-conscious stories from guys like Denny O’Neil…

…and Steve Englehart….


… and, probably even more daring than any of the others cited here as trying to break the boundaries of what was possible in mainstream comics… Don McGregor. He was doing all sorts of things besides the Panther– he gave us the first interracial kiss, the first gay characters, and so on.

Don got more grief for it than any of the others, too, I think. Pretty sure he was the only guy Marvel canceled a book over.

Of course, today these stories are regarded as classics, in print again in nice trade paperback and even classy hardcover collections, with new introductions from Don himself.

With one glaring exception. For some reason, Marvel is still sitting on Panther’s Prey.

This was a labor of love, a four-issue mini-series from McGregor and Dwayne Turner that came out in the 1990s.

There’s no earthly reason for it not to get a book collection as well, especially since we just saw the Panther movie get nominated for an Academy Award.

And what about the Panther vs. the Klan? Did the story ever actually get finished?

Turns out it did, in Marvel Premiere.

By the time it came out I was in college, chasing girls and boozing a lot and generally so busy screwing up my life I missed it. Finally caught up with it at a convention a few years back. It was a perfectly serviceable story from Ed Hannigan with art from Jerry Bingham, but it just wasn’t the same.

So there you go. The rest of the story Brian didn’t have room for.

Mr. McGregor had this to say when I, and several dozen others, told him about the CBR correction–

Greg Hatcher! Thanks for writing your column on THE PANTHER VS. THE KLAN. And having the facts forcefully correct. I put a thank you up on my site for you, but also for all the fans. It has always been the readers who had my back, who made the challenges of telling the stories worth facing, worth the doing. I am glad they are not being forgotten, or traded and discarded with lies. Don

I have to admit I puddled up a little at such lavish praise from a writer I admire, but credit where credit is due– Brian wrote the CBR column, not me. I’m just footnoting it. After all, since Don McGregor said such nice things about a column I wrote about him, I figured, well, hell, I better write one. Even if I had to throw out a third of it.

Anyway, whoever had it first, I’m glad it’s out there. The fan press has your back, Don!

Back next week with something cool.

6 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Well, it’s good that you wrote the footnotes. They really provide some needed extra context to the whole story.
    And I’m glad you mentioned the conclusion to the Klan story in Marvel Premiere. Yes, it wasn’t very good, and didn’t do justice to what McGregor had done before, but it led me to seek out that earlier stuff. I found the back issues real cheap from Lone Star comics back in the day, and was absolutely captivated by it all. So I can’t be too critical of the Marvel Premiere issues (in fact, completist that I am, once I snagged a copy of the Black Panther Masterworks, I bought those three issues again as well).

    As for Panther’s Prey, it definitely deserves a reprint (not that I’d get it, since I have the single issues already). It’s a really good story – personally, I like it better than Panther’s Quest, and in my head canon it’s basically the conclusion to the Panther story, because T’Challa and Monica Lynne get back together.

  2. i wrote a review of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld and how much I preferred it to anything done with Amethyst since. Dan Mishkin left a thank you on the post. Felt good.
    I thought Don McGregor’s explanation in the Marvel Masterworks hardback made perfect sense: if Wakanda was supposed to be perfectly hidden, how come all these outsiders keep finding it? So everyone was Wakandan except Venomm and Monica and Venomm was the only white guy.
    Oh, the Kirby Black Panther. It felt a lot when I read the TPB of the first few issues like his real interest was Little and the Collectors, and he just stuck in T’Challa to give it a marketable hook. It wouldn’t have made much difference if he’d used Daredevil or the Beast.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I was a fan of Panther’s Quest. from the moment I saw it, in my cousin’s pile of comics. Just really great stuff. he also had Kirby, which I thought was just plain weird; that is, until I did a review of the run, last year, over at the Classic Comics Forum, when I was covering kirby’s return to Marvel. It took a couple of issues to realize was that Kirby was returning to where he began with the Panther, doing a hidden civilization pulp adventure. He then mixed it with lost treasure and a bit of high tech and some eccentric loonies and the result was the most gonzo pulp adventure you would find. Like H Rider Haggard, on acid. Kirby was a child of the pulps and that kind of storytelling and he brought his own grandiose, operatic style to it. It actually read much better when I came to that conclusion. As Mark Evanier said in his book, Jak was so far ahead that it might take years for you to finally twig to what he was doing or saying.

    The same was true with Cap. It wasn’t the conspiracy-filled commentary of Englehart; Jack was a different generation. But, Jack cared deeply about the principles at the heart of the American ideal and the philosophical foundation. He thought in broader terms; but, he still had fatcats, fascists and other slimeballs who would like to turn back time and have the common man subservient to the moneyed and powerful elite. It was New deal rabble-rousing, rather than counter-culture rabble-rousing. Jack had literally fought the fascists, while englehart and his contemporaries wrote satires and commentaries. Same targets; just different perspectives.

    Kirby didn’t have the Panther fighting the Klan; but, he knew their kind and had been fighting them his whole life. His characters fought the type, as well.

    Don McGregor was one of my favorite 70s Marvel writers; he was wordy; but, his characters lived and breathed and he brought such depth to everything, whether it was T’Challa, Killraven and his band of rebels, or Luke Cage.

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      McGregor, especially after P Craig Russell came onto the book, was really good. My favorites are the stories surrounding Chicago and the Deathbreeders. Some real nightmare imagery in that. Russell’s images had gotten really good, by that point and it just added to it. Marvel really needs to look at that for a movie franchise, in its own right, separate from the MCU.

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