I can feel the seething hate rolling my way, and you haven’t even read the article yet. For the record, I like the Black Panther — a lot. I think he is one of the coolest, and most underutilized characters in the Marvel Universe. To me he is the James Bond of superheroes. Also, for the record, I am enjoying the current series, but I can’t help thinking about the larger public and the direction I hope the title eventually takes.
The current Black Panther series is taking place in Wakanda, naturally, being written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. I enjoy the political tension established by Coates’ take on the Kingdom of Wakanda and its cast of characters. Stelfreeze’s art is amazing, and I’m loving it. I have always thought of the Black Panther as having a steely resolve akin to Batman, sharing the unwavering belief that he is on the side of the better good. In the current story, he is a little less sure of himself, and that’s fine, provided they eventually right the ship and give him back his kingly swagger.
While I’m sure it appears like I’m kissing Coates’ and Stelfreeze’s butts, do hold your horses. There is room for improvement, certainly, and I’m worried that the creative team might get stuck in a rut of editorial expectations driven by what has come before. If the series continues on its current path, it will ultimately lead to cancellation. Of course, that’s a given with the new Marvel anyway; they cancel books that sell well just to re-launch them for the inflated sales figures that go hand-in-hand (for now) with a new #1 issue.
So what the heck am I referring to? Well, it’s simple — Black Panther is playing too much in his own backyard and not in the neighborhood that is the larger Marvel Universe. Many readers, myself included, want to see the Black Panther interacting with the Marvel universe as a whole. Sure, I enjoy stories that are centralized around Wakanda, but in the end what I really want to see is the Black Panther beating up supervillains. And not just the handful of rogues that reside on the African continent either.
In past volumes of the Black Panther they did the same thing. They kept him in Wakanda, fighting against African, or African-American foes, or white-supremacist villains and threats. Yes, some of those stories are great, but they tend to neglect the deeper rogues gallery of the Marvel Universe. Sure, it makes sense to have stories revolve around Wakanda, and his nation’s problems, but I’d like to see more than that.
Let me give you another example, with a character who is at his best when mixing it up with supervillains in the wider Marvel Universe: The Punisher. When Frank first got his own series, he was thrown primarily against the Mob. Indeed, some of those tales were great, yet I think most will agree that The Punisher is much more engaging when mixing it up with other superheroes — even when they are trying to stop him — or taking out supervillains. Carl Potts did it right when he wrote the original Punisher: War Journal series. Within the first 15 issues of that series Castle fought against, or alongside, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, and started a nice rivalry with the villain Bushwacker (a Daredevil villain originally), not to mention taking on the regular assorted bad guys with guns. These were, in my opinion, some of the best Punisher stories told.
Black Panther needs to do more of this, and not just throwing him against Doctor Doom because he too has his own nation; that narrative has played out already. Get the Black Panther involved with the X-Men, the Inhumans, Avengers, and anyone else in the Marvel Universe with whom he doesn’t normally associate. Send Ultron to Wakanda looking for vibranium. Have him fight the Red Skull as the villain plunders a forgotten cache of Nazi weapons in a nearby country. Have Magneto trying to partner up with T’Challa to open a refuge for Mutants within Wakanda. The possibilities are endless, but get him involved in the larger Marvel Universe as the heavy hitter he’s supposed to be.