Essential Black Panther Vol. 1

This collection reprints stories from Jungle Action #6-24 and Black Panther Vol. 1 #1-10. Stories are written by Don McGregor and Jack Kirby, and penciled by Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard and Jack Kirby.

This collection can really be split into two separate parts, as the approach to the character is fairly different between the two titles represented. That being said, I'm going to review them separately.

First the Don McGregor penned stories from Jungle Action. I'd heard many good things about these stories, and was hoping that they would be quite good. I heard wrong.

First of all, McGregor chose an extraordinarily verbose style for these stories, and it just plain doesn't work. There are so many narrative captions that do absolutely nothing to move the story along that one wonders if McGregor were being paid by the word rather than by the page. It seems that ninety percent of these captions serve to do nothing other than tell us how great the Panther is, and I for one think the stories would have been vastly improved had he simply let the pictures tell the story.

Another issue is that the stories are pretty much bereft of humor. There are a couple of recurring characters on the side of the enemy that are obviously there to provide comic relief, but they rarely show and their comedy falls flat for the most part.

However, the biggest failure I would say would be the decision to start off the series with a twelve-part epic story that was probably 8 parts too long. The story of Erik Killmonger's attempt at Wakandan revolution just drags and drags and drags and drags. Additionally, the second story arc which features the Panther up against the Klan (or a group using the Klan to shield their movements) also goes on too long and ends in a very unsatisfactory manner. Really, shorter stories would have made this so much more interesting.

It's not all bad. While the art starts out professional but pedestrian from Rich Buckler, Billy Graham takes it up a notch in later stories with some very nice layouts and use of black and white. That's not enough for me, but it may be something that others can latch onto.

The second part of the collection features the stories written and drawn by Jack Kirby for the Panther's eponymous title. The stories are plotted better, but I've always been one of those that felt that as a writer, Kirby was a great artist. There are some interesting ideas, and some very Kirby art, but ultimately it falls flat.

One other failing that I have to address is that neither McGregor nor Kirby do enough to make T'Challa an interesting character. McGregor treats him like a god on a pedestal, to be revered and respected, but doesn't do enough to tell us why. Kirby does a slightly better job, but there's so little depth in his stories and characters that you never really get the feeling about what the Panther is all about.

If it sounds like I'm not recommending this collection, that would be correct. I suppose it's interesting in terms of seeing T'Challa's roots, but I think they're better covered in his Fantastic Four/Avengers appearances. It's a shame because Christoper Priest showed just how interesting T'Challa, Wakanda and it's place in the world can be.

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Apparently the Panther's series in Jungle Action began with a reprint of Avengers #62 in #5. The new cover was by John Romita.

 

I've only read one issue from McGregor's run, namely #10. I didn't like it, but I was only a little kid at the time. The run might be defended as breaking ground for the period, and as laying some of the groundwork for what Christopher Priest did (I've not read his issues either, but I remember he used Killmonger). My recollection is there was something on the letters page about the clues in a murder mystery story in an previous issue, but I can't remember the details.

 

#10 is the issue with an image of an early Black Panther design, with text saying that Lee and Kirby were thinking of calling him "Coal Tiger". Way back when on the old board I posted that I thought this was a hoax, but it appears I'm wrong, because this this Comic Book Urban Legends Addendum column has an image of what is said to be the original drawing. I don't like admitting I was wrong still find it hard to believe, though, so here are a couple of counter suggestions. The image looks like an image produced to try out a colour scheme. I must suppose they would not have been trying out these colours if they'd decided he was definitely going to be called "the Black Panther", but perhaps the "Coal Tiger" name was suggested facetiously in response to how the image turned out. I want to argue that the stripes could be versions of the striations Kirby often put on the Panther's gloves and boots rather than tiger's stripes, but I don't know I buy that myself. If they are stripes here they might still be related to them.

It's clear from Kirby's original drawing that he meant for T'Challa, by either name, that the King had high expectations for him.

Still why would an African hero call himself "The Coal Tiger"? Beyond the fact that it's a terrible name! ;-)

Philip Portelli said:

It's clear from Kirby's original drawing that he meant for T'Challa, by either name, that the King had high expectations for him.

Still why would an African hero call himself "The Coal Tiger"? Beyond the fact that it's a terrible name! ;-)

Not to mention that tigers are native to India, and not anywhere in Africa ...

i read MacGregor's Black Panther in Jungle Action, once, as backissues when I was in college. I remember liking it well enough then, but when I did a series of discussions of various Black Panther series on the old board, I skipped this run. I bought the MMW collection, but I still haven't read it. This is one of those series, I think, where one really has to be in the mood. The Kirby stuff is so different, the most interesting part of the Essential is in just flipping through it. Kirby's Panther looks better in color, anyway, and it is available in two tpbs.

Don McGregor became one of my all-time favorite comic-book writers, because of BLACK PANTHER.

Nothing's ever gonna change that.

I discovered MacGregor on indie titles such as Sabre and Raganuffins and Detectives, Inc. (and Nathanial Dusk, too, IIRC), and worked my way back to Black Panther and Killraven. I always felt that MacGregor was unceremoniuosly booted off Black Panther when Kirby returned to Marvel (which is odd, considering how Kirby took over Jimmy Olsen because it didn't have a regular team attached and no one would lose his regular gig).

Jack took over BP during his 3rd (of 3) years at Marvel. Now, I can understand them cancelling JUNGLE ACTION due to plumetting sales.  It was always a bi-monthly-- which makes it even harder to follow a LONG storyline. (And to think, Jim Shooter pulled the same stunt right when DAREDEVIL went bi-monthly. And Gil kane was involved with that, too.)

In a short space, they lost Billy Graham (who decided to focus on his acting career), Bob McLeod (the best inker the book ever had), and then, returning penciller Rich Buckler BLEW his latest in an endless succession of blown deadlines. Which is how that Gene Colan DD issue wound up being reprinted. (How DO you blow a deadline on a bi-monthly book, anyway?) Somewhere out there is an entire issue of unpublished Buckler pencils, but instead, we got a full issue of Keith Pollard on pencils and inks. And then, in mid-story (something Jim Shooter tried to stop from happenning again once he became EIC), they canned the book just about HALFWAY into the story.

That would have been bad enough. But to begin a new BLACK PANTHER title, with Kirby... I've always seen that and an insult to BOTH Kirby AND McGregor.  Because McGregor fans were sure to hate what Kirby was doing.

At the time, it seems to me, someone suggested in a fan letter that Kirby's BP series would have worked better if viewed as a "flashback" that took place before his debut in FANTASTIC FOUR. I agreed. Perhaps the ultimate absurdity was how they tried (badly) to finished off the "Klan" story, and as part of it, claimed T'Challa had been drugged and had amnesia-- the the entire Jack Kirby run of the series.  I mean really...!

Don McGregor once told the story of how, before starting his 2nd "epic", he was discussing it with Billy Graham, who told him, "Okay, man, if you want to, but remember, I'm in Harlem. I don't think they're gonna come up here after me..." And Don replied, "Aw, come on, nobody's gonna take this seriously... will they?"  It made me wonder, becauise there sure seemed to be some distribution problems on those issues. I saw part 3 before I saw part 2 (which I had to get from a 2nd-hand book store). I always wondered if something wasn't going on behind-the-scenes to disrupt the story.

Afterwards, I followed Don into Dragonflame, SABRE, DETECTIVES INC., NATHANIEL DUSK... ironically, apart from the KILLRAVEN graphic novel (which I got when it came out), I never read the WAR OF THE WORLDS series until the late 90's, when I managed to get every issue of it, cheap! I was floored at the way the graphic novel seemed like it had been done a month later, not several years later. But then, I've been waiting for a sequel EVER SINCE... Craig Russell told me earlier this year there's little chance of it happening, as nobody in Marvel editorial seems to have any interest in making it happen.

Don McGregor was a writer who never learned the concept "economy of writing." His stories are needlessly laden with the most purple of excess prose. 

I never saw any of Jack Kirby's Black Panther issues, but it doesn't sound like I missed anything. I've always been one who appreciates Jack Kirby's reputation and accomplishments, but doesn't really like his art.  

And couldn't somebody at Marvel realize that a multi-issue epic is a bad idea for a bi-monthly comic? 

"And couldn't somebody at Marvel realize that a multi-issue epic is a bad idea for a bi-monthly comic?"

Much as I do love Don's work, I've joked a lot over the years about that one. MOST series start out with "small" stories to hook the fans, then, slowly, build to bigger ones. CHARMED or DEEP SPACE NINE are 2 perfect examples. Also, FANTASTIC FOUR.

The reverse, starting out with "big epics", can be problematic. Look at NEW GODS. Or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Mind you, it worked for SPACE CRUISER YAMATO (STAR BLAZERS), but I understand even there they wound up cutting down the number of planned episodes. The return from Iskandar was supposed to take over a dozen episodes, not one or two.

In Don's case, he had the really bad luck to have no less than 3 different long epics cancelled out from under him in mid-story, none of which have been finished to this day:  "Panther Vs. The Klan" in JUNGLE ACTION, the 3rd SABRE storyline (the one illustrated by Jose Ortiz), and the LADY RAWHIDE mini illustrated by Esteban Maroto. That last one had the ignomiinity to be cancelled TWICE, and not finished either time!  (A 2nd publisher tried to do it after Topps went under, but made the mistake of starting over from the beginning-- the 2nd try got canned one issue earlier than it had the 1st time!!)

This doesn't include KILLRAVEN... which, at least, didn't exactly end on a cliffhanger. But I'd still love to see the hero & his band take the war TO MARS and "finish" the story.

Somewhere, they must be an editor (or, there should be) who would love to see this stuff happen as much as I do. Don McGregor & Rich Buckler are both still around, it would be something to see them do the end of the "Klan" story the way Don originally intended it, not the way Marvel slapped it out.

As for that bi-monthly epic thing, the 9-part storyline in DAREDEVIL wound up going thru 2 writers and 3 pencillers before it was over!  (Considering Gil Kane started it off, I'm still shaking my head that he couldn't stick it out to the end.)

Like Randy, I'd heard good stuff about McGregor's BP run for a long time, but I can see now that people have adjusted their opinion of his work as it has come back into print...

 

Still, it sounds interesting and different to me.  Like he was pushing the envelope a bit with his overly-flowery prose.

Case in point-- The Children's Crusade.   Did anyone remember from one issue to the next  what was going on?

ClarkKent_DC said:

Don McGregor was a writer who never learned the concept "economy of writing." His stories are needlessly laden with the most purple of excess prose. 

I never saw any of Jack Kirby's Black Panther issues, but it doesn't sound like I missed anything. I've always been one who appreciates Jack Kirby's reputation and accomplishments, but doesn't really like his art.  

And couldn't somebody at Marvel realize that a multi-issue epic is a bad idea for a bi-monthly comic? 

One thing that's notable about Don McGregor's run on BLACK PANTHER is that, although he was doing long multi-part epics, very few of those episodes ended on cliffhangers. Usually, each episode ended on a "low" point, so as to make each episode stand on its own better.

As for Don's prose, it should be remembered that most writers working for Marvel in the early 70's were overly-wordy, often PAINFULLY so. I see it as really bad attempts to imitate what Stan Lee was doing, and frankly, Stan was overly-wordy. The one thing he had going for him was, at least he had a sense of humor (even if it was mostly of the "adolescent smartass" variety).  But Roy Thomas did not seem to have this, he was, if anything, more overly-wordy than Stan, and he had, seemingly, no grasp on how real people talk naturally.  Gerry Conway's stuff was just excessively-"serious" to the point of morbid. Len Wein just liked using as many words as he could.  And the list goes on.

What made Don's work stand out from the pack was, yes, on one hand he DID use EVEN MORE words than Roy, but Don's words were filled with heart, soul, emotion, feeling. He wasn't just describing in words what you already saw in the artwork. He was describing things it was impossible to do in the art. YES, one of his comics tended to take 45 minutes to read (as opposed to 20 by anyone else). But you really got something out of it. At least, I did.

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