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