Mike Dell reviews the classic Marvel Comic by Jack Kirby!
Black Panther #2 (1977)
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Mike Royer
Letterer: Mike Royer
Colorist: Petra Goldberg
Editor: Jack Kirby
Consulting Editor: Archie Goodwin
I don’t know about you, but when I think of the Black Panther, I conjure images of African mysticism, political struggles, and a badass dude in a wicked cool costume carving fools with his vibranium claws. So, naturally, Black Panther #2 features our hero teaming with a princess and a dwarf to secure a brass frog figurine/time machine so they can return a space alien back to his home planet six million years in the future.
A statesman, scientist, and all-around swell fella from the African nation of Wakanda, the Black Panther derives his enhanced strength and agility from a mystical connection with the Wakandan Panther God and from ingesting a special herb. Remember, kids, don’t do drugs. In 1966, the Black Panther made his debut in the pages of Fantastic Four #52, becoming the first black superhero. Two years later, he joined the Avengers. Yet despite a string of subsequent guest appearances and a now iconic run as the featured story in Jungle Action, the Black Panther didn’t get his own series until 1977. That’s when Jack Kirby, who co-created the character along with Stan Lee, helmed the book as one of his first assignments after returning from DC, serving as the writer, penciler, and editor. King Kirby, indeed.
Our issue opens with a splash page of the Black Panther getting blasted by some unforeseen enemy, and then pages two and three combine for another giant splash panel revealing a big-headed space alien using his mind to toss around the Black Panther, some lady named Princess Zanda, and a room full of soldiers in yellow jumpsuits. One of the soldiers manages to sneak behind the intergalactic enemy, but as soon as the alien senses danger, he fires an energy bolt from the back of his head that disintegrates the would-be assassin. Oddly enough, I did something similar to win my third grade talent show.
With everyone else now terrified to move, the Black Panther opts for some trickery. He gets on his hands and knees and crawls toward the alien, trying not to appear threatening. Confused by the Black Panther’s movements, the alien asks what he’s doing. That’s right. The alien speaks English. Those Rosetta Stone courses really paid off. The Black Panther says, “We do push-ups here. It’s a sign of friendship and servility.” Immediately charmed, the alien, who by the way has “Hatch 22” written on his forehead, says he will take the Black Panther back to his home planet as his pet. That’s when the Black Panther springs to his feet and sucker punches the alien, knocking him senseless. Yes, sir, the ol’ push-ups trick never fails. That’s why, to this day, Richard Simmons has never lost a fight.
With the alien KO’d, Zanda wants to take the opportunity to shoot the alien right in his big brain, but the Black Panther snatches her gun. He tells her they won’t be murdering anyone and that they have to befriend the alien and get him back home. Pretty sure this is where Spielberg got the idea for “E.T.” Or “Schindler’s List.” Either one, really.
The Black Panther then hurries over to check on his friend Abner Little (not to be confused with Li’l Abner), who had apparently been shot by Princess Zanda’s soldiers in issue 1. Little is, well, little. He’s a dwarf. That Kirby was pretty, pretty clever. Anyway, the Black Panther is overjoyed to discover that his chum isn’t dead; Little had been wearing an armored vest beneath his stylish pinstripe suit. The tiny man dusts himself off and reclaims his hat and monocle. He’s kind of like a shorter Mr. Peanut. Only saltier. This Little guy is a real piece of work. And he’s mad at Princess Zanda for more than just trying to kill him.
It seems Little and Zanda are both legendary collectors who belong to the Council of Antiquarians, which is like the worst gang name ever. At the end of issue 1, they had been fighting over a brass frog figurine that was stolen from King Solomon’s tomb. But it turns out the frog is actually a time machine that pulled the space alien into their reality. Just go with it. Trying to understand the logic will only cause more anger.
While Little and Zanda continue to bicker over the frog, the Black Panther notices a cloud of ectoplasm filling the room. The crackling energy and sea of Kirby dots are actually the physical manifestations of the slumbering alien’s dreams. The Black Panther, Little, and Zanda watch in awe as the alien’s history plays out in front of them as blatant exposi– a tale of wonder and suspense. They discover the alien’s home planet has nothing but groups of flat discs along its surface, and these discs are actually numbered lids to individual hatches. When a gigantic space monster is about to devour the planet, the lid to Hatch 22 opens, and their sleeping friend rises up to confront the monster, obliterating it with a single blast from his super deluxe space monkey brain. That’s where the backstory ends, because the alien is starting to wake up and the ectoplasm is dissolving back into his head.
Remember, the Black Panther had just sucker punched this alien dude a few minutes earlier, and now he finds out the alien can destroy a monster the size of Texas. Hard to get happy after that one. But before the Black Panther wets himself, Little snipes the alien with a tranquilizer gun and sends him back to dreamland. The three unlikely allies realize they have to find a way to send the alien back to the future before he wakes up. Without a flux capacitor handy, they decide they must race to King Solomon’s tomb and find the brass frog’s twin, because if this frog can bring the alien into the past, another frog will surely be able to return him to the future. I mean, that’s just how brass frogs work. And of course there’s two of them. Why would there only be one? Quit asking stupid questions.
The issue ends with Little showing them his rocket. And that may or may not be a euphemism.
From a writing perspective, there’s not much to like here. The plot is pretty absurd. Whenever things hinge on a brass frog time machine, you’ve got worry. Even worse, the entire space alien angle just doesn’t fit with the Black Panther. This seems to be another example of Kirby shoehorning science fiction and Fantastic Four sensibilities where they don’t belong, which was a common complaint during his work on Captain America.
Kirby remained on the title for 12 issues before moving on to other projects. Sadly, the series ended just three issues later. Why did Black Panther’s series only get 15 issues? Because that’s all The Man would give him.
Kirby the writer didn’t do Kirby the artist any favors. Because the story is so devoid of action, Kirby doesn’t get much of an opportunity to display his powerful figures and dynamic pacing. His best work is in the aforementioned two-page splash panel at the beginning of the story, which is something you don’t get to see every day. The giant spread highlight’s Kirby’s legendary eye for composition and is a brilliant example of drawing comics “the Marvel way.”
“Blood thirsty female! Is the gun the only answer to your problems?!” – Black Panther
“And handsome, indeed. You’ve aroused my interest. I would do much to gain you as a willing ally!” – Princess Zanda
“It seems smooth as a billiard ball.” – Black Panther
“He could have gotten you from the rear, you know!” – Black Panther
“It’s a thing of beauty, Mister Little! And it looks like it could get us to our destination at the snap of a finger!” – Black Panther
There’s only one punch thrown the entire issue, and that’s when Black Panther coldcocks the space monkey. There really isn’t much action at all. Most of the issue is the Black Panther, Zanda, and Little either yapping or watching the alien’s dream unfold. I wanted more punching.
One page featured two memorable advertisements. First, at the top, was an ad for FOOM, which was the Marvel fan magazine. FOOM stood for Friends of ol’ Marvel, and the name positively screams Stan Lee. Three bucks got you a four-issue subscription. If you sent four bucks, you got the subscription plus the FOOM membership kit that included an I.D. card and a poster. FOOM ran for 22 quarterly issues, spanning from 1973 to 1978. Jim Steranko was actually the original designer and editor. The FOOM concept would be resurrected in 1983 as Marvel Age. It’s also interesting to note that the ad starred three characters: Captain America, Spider-Man, and… Howard the Duck. The 1970s were a wild scene.
The bottom of the page had an ad for Holo-Man, a creation of Atomic Comics. For five bucks, you got The Amazing Adventures of Holo-Man comic book, the Holo-Man 45 rpm Action Record, and the Holodisc, a laser-produced 3-dimenional pendant “created in a laser laboratory!” Did you hear that? Lasers! No word on what sort of laboratory created Holo-Man’s wacky yellow, orange, red, and green costume, but it was probably the same place that makes Fruit Stripe gum.
The Black Panther is going to be in the news quite a bit in the coming months, first for his guest appearance in Captain America: Civil War and then for the ongoing production of his own feature film scheduled for release in 2018. If you want to brush up on the character, I’d advise skipping this debacle. Instead, try to track down the “Panther’s Rage” storyline from Jungle Action, which is considered the definitive Black Panther tale.
Mike-EL is a Co-Producer and Founder of the Comic Book Syndicate TV series. He is an independent filmmaker, professional videographer and holds a PhD in Superhero Fun.