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There was a time when Black Panther was my favorite character. But I can't tell you exactly how he became my favorite character. Unlike the way John Byrne's Fantastic Four and Walt Simonson's Thor led me directly to the Lee/Kirby runs, my path to Black Panther was less direct and decidedly non-linear. However it was I got there, I got there. On the Old Board I led an "Early Black Panther" discussion which traced every BP appearance in chronological order but it stopped at "Panther's Rage." It had been my intention, at the time, to do "Panther's Rage" (1973), "Panther's Quest" (1989) and "Panther's Prey" (1991) as separate discussions, but I took a break after when I got to Jungle Action and never came back to it. 

Skip ahead to 2024. Even 1991 seems "early" now. Lately I have been working toward fulfilling a resolution to actually read some of those collected editions I've been buying (you may have noticed if you've been reading my recent posts ans threads), because (say it with me now), "buying new comics and not reading them is stupid." Back in the '80s (and even in my previous "Early Black Panther" discussion), I had to make my way through the originals. But now, because we live in the "Golden Age of Reprints," I am able to cover an entire decade (1966 through 1976) between the two covers of a single omnibus. (Man, comic book collectors have it easy these days!) I hate to repeat myself (even if that old discussion is no longer available), but I bought the Black Panther: The Early Years omnibus back in 2022 and I have yet to read it.

I don't plan to post every day, maybe every couple of days, but we'll see. Rather than cover every single appearance of the Black Panther as I did last time, I plan to follow the format of the omnibus and hit just the key appearances. If my resolve holds, I plan to take this discussion beyond the omnibus all the way up to "Panther's Prey." 

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  • I appreciated Panther taking on Dr. Doom back in the day, and Sub-Mariner later. In the canon in my head, Wakandan kings have been keeping those other sovereigns in check in a shadow war since forever, until it boiled over with Namor flooding Wakanda.

  • "PANTHER'S RAGE"

    I don't know how, exactly, I first became a fan of the Black Panther and/or Don McGregor, but there was a time when McGregor was my favorite writer and the Black Panther my favorite character. It might have been that the Killraven graphic novel led me to Amazing Adventures (and McGregor), and Amazing Adventures led me to Jungle Action (and McGregor), or it might have been that I followed Black Panter over from Avengers. I did spent a considerable amount of time in the early '80s acquiring series Jack Kirby had done in the '70s, so it might have been Jack Kirby's Black Panther that led me backwards to Jungle Action. Or it might have been a general curiousity about comics of the '70s I had missed that led me to collect such chararacters as Deathlok in  Astonishing Tales. In any case, my interest in Black Panther and Don McGreggor collided on me at roughly the same time, and I found myself reading such series as Sabre, Detectives, Inc., Nathanial Dusk, Ragamuffins, Killraven and, yes, Black Panther.

     JUNGLE ACTION #6:

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    Wakanda has fallen on troubled times during the Black Panther's absence. Wakanda comprises many small, secluded villages, governed mostly by their own individual leaders. Now Wakanda separates, and it falls to the Panther to pull it back together. He has brought Monica Lynne back with him. His two chief advisors are Taku and W'Kabi. The story begins when T'Challa discovers an old man being tortured by two men from one of these remote villages. He defeats the men but is too late to save the old man's life. He learns that Erik Killmonger, a chieftain from the Northern Hills, has set himself up as a despot. He tracks Killmonger to Warrior Falls when the two fight. But Killmonger gains the upper hand, lifts the Black Panther high over his head and throws him over the falls.

    DON McGREGOR: "I knew right out of the gate that 'Panther's Rage' would be like a chapter serial. You can see that approach in the first issue. T'Challa is actually thrown off a cliff. One of the edicts I am glad came down was that they didn't want only cliffhangers, which allowed each chapter to become a component ot the whole." 

    McGregor didn't like the dated back-up features that had been running in Jungle Action up until that point so, with the help of Alex Simmons, Jim Salicrup and Rich Buckler, he came up with back-up features--maps, pin-ups, story recaps--to run in their place. This decision didn't necessarily sit well with some of Marvel's other writers, who felt he was making them look bad in camparison and was giving away work for free. (OTOH, he got along well with certain other writers because he had no aspiration to become EiC.) He empathized with them, but he "just wanted a book I didn't have to cringe every time I looked at it."

  • JUNGLE ACTION #7:

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    After Killmonger tosses the Black Panther off of Warrior Falls, he and his assistants, Kazibe and Tayette, return to their village. Monica Lynne is not liked by T'Challa's people, who regard her as an inferior outworlder. She is attended to by Tanzika, who treats her cooly. As Monica bathes in the River of Grace and Wisdom, the Panther's unconscious body comes floating by and she pulls him out of the water. Another new character, Zatama, joins Taku and W'Kabi as one of T'Challa's aides. Zatama is something of a hothead.

    Erik Killmonger's original name was N'Jadka, from the village of the same name. His backstory dates back to Klaw's initial attack upon Wakanda, when T'Challa's father was killed. He was then kidnapped by Klaw's mercenaries and taken to the United States. After the Black Panther joined the Avengers, N'Jadka approached him about being returned to Africa. T'Challa complied, after which N'Jada vanished into the wilderness and took the name Erik Killmonger. One of his lieutenents is Horatio Walters, a.k.a. Venomm. Venomm is a white guy and has a skull-like face, the result of some as-yet-unspecified childhood trauma. His thing is snakes, which makes Tayette uneasy. Killmonger orders Venomm to lead his "death regiment" in an assault against Wakanda's vibranium mines. Black Panther defeats him, and vows to bring Killmonger to justice. 

    Oddly (since he is not otherwise associated with Jungle Action), this issue's editorial is written by Steve Gerber.

  • JUNGLE ACTION #8:

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    This issue's double-page title spread is obviously paterned after "Dark Moon Rise, Hell Hound Kill" from Jim Steranko's Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #3.

    The Black Panther is undergoing ritual combat as part of a ceremony, overseen by the herbalist Medinao, to maintain his panther powers. Monica Lynne is feeling lonely, and walks through the jungle singing Roberta Flack's "Tryin' Times" (as relevant today as when it was released in 1970). Monica comes upon the ritual combat and, mistaking it for an actual attack on T'Challa, disrupts the ceremony. Meanwhile, Killmonger has sent Malice, a female assassin type, to free the captured Venomm. From his cell, Venomm is having a conversation with Taku and relates his "origin" story. In junior high school, another student threw acid in his face in their Chem II lab, scarring him for life. Years later, Killmonger saved him from a beating at the hands of a gang of thugs and he has been loyal to him ever since. Malice attacks Taku just as T'Challa and Monica are returning. They fight to a draw and, although Malice escapes, Venomm does not.

    DON McGREGOR: "In Jungle Action #8, I wrote my first scene with Taku and Venomm, the first characters I ever wrote who were gay. I could not bring these characters out of the closet at the time. It is not enough for a writer to want to do something in this medium. You have to find a way that it can become a paper reality, held in hands, seen by eyes, read and experienced. I was already under the gun with the interracial aspect of Killraven, and the all-black cast in Jungle Action. If it had come out at the time that Taku and Venomm were homosexual, I have no doubt that when I was called into the inner sanctums that time, it could quite possibly be the last time i was called."

    I completely missed the gay subtext when I read these story for the first time 40 years ago, and frankly I'm not seeing it today. But I will keep my eye on the development of the relationship between these two characters going forward. 

  • JUNGLE ACTION #9:

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    Issue #8 was Rich Buckler's last as regular penciler. This issue is drawn by Gil Kane and inked by Klaus Janson.

    The story opens with the Black Panther saving a young boy, Kanto, from a charging rhino. His parents, Karota and M'Jumbak, are grateful, but Karota displays comtempt toward Monica. M'Jumbak is impressed that T'Challa remembered and called him by name. Later that evening, while M'Jumbak takes an evening stroll by a small Wakandan burial site, a "zombie" called Baron Macabre rises from the ground and kills him. the next day, Karota tells T'Challa of her husbands disappearance. When he investigates, he too is attacked by Baron Macabre and horde of zombies. 

    Back at the palace, Zatama is murdered.

    After escaping from Baron Macabre, the Black Panther has a brief encounter with Killmonger's men, Tayete and Kazibe. (Killmonger's lieutenents are referred to collectively as the "Superb Squadron" for the first time, BTW.) This scene has little t do with the story apart from comedy relief, but I know what McGregor is trying to accomplish here. Because this book is bi-monthly, if he wrote characters such as Taku or W'Kabi out for an issue, it would mean that the character(s) would not be seen for four months. And if he omitted them for two issues, it would be a half year before his readers saw those characters again, and that would be a long time for his audience to maintain any kind of emotional attachment. So basically every character gets some screen time each issue, even the minor ones. 

    The Black Panther returns to his palace to find Monica Lynne accused of Zatama's murder, and her fingerprints are on the murder weapon.

    DON McGREGOR: "I have no idea how Gil Kane came to draw Jungle Adventure #9. If some writers were angling t get off series when they felt sales figures were going down so some other writer could be on the title and get the blame, it makes my eyebrows rise that  Gil was given "But Now the Spears Are Broken," on a book that was really still low priority, on which the fan mail was just beginning to increase and become more and more personal and analytical."

  • JUNGLE ACTION #10:

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    With issue #10, Billy Graham joined Don McGregor as new regular artist. I never thought Graham got the recognition he deserved. The issue begins with a crocodile attacking the Black Panther on the shore of the River of Grace and Wisdom. The stoy's title runs across the middle of the page and is reflected, upside down and backwards, in the surface of the river. I have come to think of these chapters a little self-contained stories of their own, each contributing to a common goal, and this one gets off to an action-filled start. Monica is being held in a "cell" (albeit an opulent one) until her guilt or innocence regarding the murder of Zatama can be determined. T'Challa insists she's been framed, of course, but he can do nothing to free her lest he be seen as siding with the "outworlder" again.

    He goes back to the small burial site to retrieve M'Jumbak's body and is again attacked by "zombies" rising from the ground. This time he learns that they are men, and each of the "graves" conceals a tunnel which leads to the "Dark Realm" of King Cadaver. He follows the tunnel and emerges in a room of mirrors where he is met by Baron MaCabe and King Cadaver. McGregor desribes King Cadvaver as "a terrifying sight, flesh malignantly swollen, an obscene face, bloated with sac-like glands! The King's eyes are everywhere!... And they are bulging, lined with weins that pulse with concentration!" (Actually, he looks not unlike one of the aliens from the "Mars Attacks" cards.) He attacks the Panther with his hypnotic gaze, the mirrors serving to amplify the effect. He does manage to defeat them, though, and discovers that, behind the room of mirrors is a vast, underground computerized complex. He also finds a cache of Wakandan weapons, stolen from his own weapons depot, which means Killmonger has been raiding right in the heart of central Wakanda and using their own weapons to slaughter them.

    This issue's story is supplemented by pin-ups of Jack Kirby's original design for the B;ack Panther "Coal Tiger"), Rich Buckler's original design for Erik Killmonger, and another illustrated recap page.

    DON McGREGOR on Billy Graham: "My artistic luck held with Jungle Action #10. My old friend Billy Graham became the artist. Now I had an ally on both titles I was writing: Craig Russell on Killraven; Billy Graham on the Panther. Billy often gave me a place to stay when I was first trying to seel my stories in New York City. When the Billt Graham drawn Sabre run is finally collected I'll write about our many adventures during that time. Billy was one of the few truly Renaissance people I have ever met. He was effervescent, although that was often his word for me. I remember the momentous, dramatic first time we met; and I recall the last words we ever spoke together."

  • JUNGLE ACTION #11:

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    The Black Panther leads an all-out attack on Killmonger's village, N'Jadaka. I mentionioned previously that Killmonger's original name was N'Jadaka and I had wonder whether he was named for the village or the village was named for him. ANSWER: The Village was named for him. Killmonger is not there, but his other lieutenents are, and a new one, Karnaj, is introduced. Taku and Venomm haven't had any scenes together since #8, but the attack on N'Jadaka was planned using information Taku gleaned from their conversations. Taku: "We talked in friendship. I have betrayed a confidence... and is so doing have betrayed myself as well. I'm still not seeing any indication that these two characters are supposed to be gay.  Most of the issue is a battle between the forces of T'Challa and those of Killmonger, giving McGregor to pontificate on war.

    In the midst of the battle, the Black Panther's thoughts flash back to scenes of Monica Lynne and the resolution of Zatama's murder. (Note: I realized that Monica's "cell" does have bars, but it opulently furnished with cushions and potted plants and marble columns as well.) The flashback opens and closes with "freeze-frames" that fade from one scene to the next, very cinematic and quite well done. Essentially, it was Monica's attendant Tanzika, a jilted lover, who murdered Zatama and framed her for the crime. Here's how she did it: on the night of the murder, she served shish kebab to T'Challa and Monica for dinner. After the meal, she unscrewed the tip from Monica's skewer and added two additional sections to create the "spear" which killed Zatama.

    Back in the present, a young boy is killed in the midst of battle, and the normally pacifistic Take beats Karnaj nearly to death before the Panther stops him.

    This issue's "extras" include an illustrated text feature pointing out six clues from previous stories which T'Challa used to determine Tanziks's guilt, and Jack Kirby original, unpublished version of the cover of Fantastic Four #52. Future writer/editor Ralph Macchio has a letteer published in "Junglr Re-Actions!"

    DON McGREGOR: "Now, along the way, editorial wanted to know where the white people were. Always, 'Where are the white people?' And my response was, 'This is a hidden, technologically advanced African nation. Where are the white people supposed to come from?'"

     

  • JUNGLE ACTION #12:

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    Don McGregor has described his approach to this series as being akin to a movie serial, yet one which didn't end in a cliffhanger every issue. That has been true, but each issue's chapter has begun with whatever the opposite of a cliffhanger is, an action scene in medias res, like the way Lee/Kirby used to stort Captain America stories in Tales of Suspense, to draw the reader in and be explained "as they barrel along." In this case, the Panther and his men are in pursuit of Killmonger himself, who has crossed the Chasm of the Chilling Mists to climb a snow-capped mountain to the Altar of Resurrection. Before I get to that, though, I'd like to adress something I brought up yesterday on another thread. I mentioned that sometimes the at-times-unconventional artwork of the series and the lettering worked against each other to often cause me to read captions and balloons out of their intended order. No sooner dis I say that, though, than the very first panel beyond the splash of #12 put the lie to my words.

    In this panel, the captions begin i the top center, then proceed clockwise arond the right ride and across the bottom, flawlessly leading the eye. The letterer of Jungle Action has not been consistent from issue-to-issue, but in this case it's Dave Hunt. While I am discussing the letterer, I may as well also mention the colorist, who has been consistent, Glynis Wein, née Oliver. About her, McGregor said: "Glynis Oliver was coloring the book, and I lucked out there, too, because if glynis hadn't wanted to do the book, her talent would have been considered wasted on 'Panther's Rage.' Glynis didn't stay on the book because of me, although we always got along famopusly, but because the Wakandan locale was so different from much of what she had to color, which was primarily New York City."

    He goes on to say, "I had definite ideas about the color in 'Panther's Rage." The moon was not supposed to ever be a pale yellow. there was always a Frank Frazetta moon in the sky, as I would tell Billy and Gynis. And the ambiance of Wakanda should always show. It was distinct, magical reality. There were certain kinds of blues that I felt were perfect for the Panther, and others that would dull his figure in night, so lighting on him was always of key importance to me. And Billy and Glynis got it." And I would like to add thatthe slick paper of the omnibus is far superior in displaying those colors, obviously, than the original newsprint. Moving on!

    The Panther's men remove the chains from Tayette and Kazibe, Killmonger's less-than-efficient henchmen captured last issue, and giving them the benefit of the doubt, arms them with spears and allows them to redeem themselves by accompanying him across the roope bridge in pursuit of their former (?) boss. (Under the circumstances, I question the wisdom of this decision myself.) In any case, the three of them proceed across the bridge through the "carnivore pink" mist. Ahead of him are Killmonger and King Cadaver, on their way to the Altar of Resurrection to meet yet another of his lieutents, Sombre. The Altar of Resurrection is built above a "piece of burnt-out star" (probably a radioactive meteor). It is this radiation which turned King Cadaver into what he is, and they are them to expose him to its rays again (for some reason). It is at this point that the Panther arrives and engages in hand-to-hand combat with Killmonger for the second time. After a brief but visious battle, Killmonger picks up the Panther and hurls him bodily into the pit!

    The scene shifts to the family introduced in #9. M'Jumbak, the father, had been killed, remember, and his son Kanto is suffering from depression. Medinao (the herbalist introduced in #8) has been studying with "outworld" doctors and has notified Monica Lynne that the boy needs help. She goes personally to help, but Karota, Kanto's mother, reamins distrustful. Monica does her best to win the her over, and seems to get through.

    Meanwhile, the Panther has executed a series of highly unlikely acrobatic moves to save himself from the pit. He crouches to resume the fight, but is blindsided by the "acid touch of Sonbre [which] burns into the Panther's flesh like the touch of a branding iron carving it's mark into a side of beef," knocking him unconscious. He awakens outside, in the snow, about to be attacked by a pack of wolves. He fights them off, then seeks shelter for the night.

    This issue's special feature is a double-page map of Wakanda, overlayed with pictures and captions illustrating where major events of "Panther's Rage" have occurred, and foreshadowing some to come [such as "Domain or the White Gorillas (Mostly Uncharted)"]. "Jungle Re-Actions!" features a letter written by future Eclipse Comics publisher Dean Mullaney.

  • JUNGLE ACTION #13:

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    The cover blurb may say, "Within these pages you will meet the man called Sombre," but we actually met him last issue.

    The issue begins with the Black Panther attacking Jakak and Wenzori, Killmonger's thungs apparently replacing Tayete and Kazibe. From them he learns that Killmonger and King Cadaver have left the mountain, but Sombre remains. Sombre is watching from afar, and knows that the Panther is trailing him. He is on his way to dispose of victims who did not survive the radiation exposure at the Alater of Resurrection by sacrificing them to the legendary White Gorillas, which represent Wakandas other major religion, in addition to the Panther religion. No clear reference is made to Man-Ape, but he is obviously a believer in the White Gorillas. Incidentally, Jungle Action #5 (one issue before "Panther's Rage" began) was a reprint of Avengers #62.

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    Speaking of Tayete and Kazibe, by this time they have rejoined Killmonger, who is aware thet they led the Black Panther to the Resurrection Altar. For whatever reason, he decides to punish just Kazibe for the offence, by beating him with his spiked leather strap. "Kazibe's rips under the spikes from chest to stomach," but his life is saved by Tayete's grovelling. I don't recall from the one time I have read this series before (40 years ago), but I can't help but feel they're going to turn on Killmonger at some point. If they don't, I'll be disappointed.

    By this time, the Panther has caught up to Sombre... and the White Gorillas themselves. The leader of the pack moves to attack.

    The next scene is set at the Medical Center in Central Wakanda, where Monica Lynne has taken Karota to be treated for malnutrition. She is treated by Mendinao, the herbologist she knows from her village, but runs away when he gives her an injection rather than treating her with a poultice.

    This is followed by a short scene showing W'Kabi;s home life, introducing his wife, Chandra, and their two young sons. All along we have seen W'Kabi as T'Challa's councelor of war, but now we see the turbulence his job brings into their home, and its effect on his wife and kids. He actually strikes Chandra before the scene is through, as the boys watch with tears in their eyes. (Don McGregor would later return to these themes in Detectives, Inc: A Terror of dying Dreams, which would in turn inspire Malcolm Deeley to publish a book titled Poets Against Abuse to help raise money for victims of domestic violence.)

    The issue ends with a three-page battle-to-the-death between the Black Panther and the White Gorilla, but I'll let Don McGregor himself explain what he was gettig at.

    DON McGREGOR: "In 'The God-Killer' I was sure it examined the nature of religious belief, and that we all have potential to be the God Killer of what we learned in our youth, or that we sustain that belief and become committed to it. We received one letter threatening to bomb the Marvel Comics offices because this anonymous reader believed I was advocating that all black people kill all whites!"

    #13's "extras" include a page spotlighting the art of Frank Giacoia and Sam Grainger from Avengers #73 and a pin-up of Venomm. "Jungle Re-Actions" prints another (quite lengthy) letter from Ralph Macchio.

     

  • JUNGLE ACTION #14:

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    The Black Panther has tracked Sombre's spoor to Serpent Valley, where dinosaurs still exist. They fight, and Sombre gets the drop on him. Sombre is not a vampire, but he does have the ability to suck blood. At the last moment, the Panther flips him into the marsh where he lands in a pool of quicksand. The Panther tries to save him, but fails. Then a puckish figue named Mokadi appears. Mokadi is small, bald, and speaks in a high-pitched voice. He reminds T'Challa of a pixie or an elf or a woofland nymph. The Panther tries to get information about Killmonger from him, but he can't get a straihgt answer. He follows Mokadi to a stagnant river where Killmonger and his men are emptying barrels of oil into the brackish swamp, presumably to capture the dinosaurs. This time Killmonger is taunting Tayete rather than Kazibe, pushing him into the thick, oily water. When they see the Panther, Killmonger orders a Tyranasuarus released from its cage.

    The scene changes to Tranguility Temple in Central Wakanda, where W'Kabi is having a heart-to-heart talk with Kono, his older son, and probably revealing more about his relationship with Kono's mother than is appropriate. Nearby, Monica Lynne bonds with Taku over recent events. He takes his leave of her to go visit Venomm, Horatio, who thanks him for his friends ship, but warns him that he will one day escape ands warns him not to get in his way. I don't wanna hafta kill ya--but that won't stop me from doin' it." (Needless to say, I still don't see any hint that these two are gay.)

    Back in Serpent Valley, the Panther finds himself in the claws of the T-rex. Prying himself free, he flees from the dinosaur by scaling a cliff. When he gets to the top, he jumps to a nearby tree, his weght bringing the top of it to the ground. While he struggle to hold it down, Mokadi helps him maeuver a boulder on top of it. When he lets go, the boulder takes down the T-rex like David taking down Goliath. Mokadi has disappeared, and the Panther remebers that "Mokadi" is the Bomitaba tribe's word for "spirit." 

    "Jungle Re-Actions" prints a letter from future Marvel scribe Peter B. Gillis.

    DON McGREGOR: "[Editorial] wanted the Avengers in there. They wanted white people helping the black people out. I'm sure part of the ir reasoning was, if you guest-star the establishe white characters, you have bigger sales. I have no idea if that is true. Maybe. Maybe not. But there's the thing, we were doing something unheard of in comics, and the books hadn't dies, as predicted, they were still limping along, or however they were selling. And maybe, just maybe, we were giving something to some people somewhere. I felt there could be something of importance about this.

    "It was my decision. I did not want the black hero to have to rely on white heroes to save the day for him. I stood firm on it, then. I stand firm on it now."

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