Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Black Panther -- 1st Appearances! Fantastic Four #52-53

Fantastic Four 52- Jack Kirby Stan Lee
Fantastic Four #52 (1966) Black Panther's Debut

Doug: Just a few preliminary thoughts on FF #52-53, which I read last night from Essential FF Volume 3 (perhaps THE Essential FF volume to own!) --

Significance of this story:
1. Introduction/origin of the Black Panther, Marvel's first black super-hero

2. Introduction of the African kingdom of Wakanda and its technology

3. Introduction of vibranium

4. Introduction/origin of Klaw (although not in costume)

Overall, a good yarn spun by Stan, Jack, and Joe. One of the more interesting scenes was T'Challa removing the Panther mask and lighting up a smoke! Wyatt Wingfoot has some major screentime, and the Inhumans' plight of being encased in the "negative zone" dome is dealt with. Interestingly, there is some Crystal/Johnny angst that I didn't include in my essay on the same subject.

FF #52
Sharon: The first thing that struck me (upon re-reading for this assignment...and I'm using the Essentials) was that the Kirby-Sinnott art did not seem as cohesive as it would become later on.  There are several panels in #52 where Joe's inks look pretty heavy-handed to me; that is, not as "fine" or "pretty" as we've come to expect from Sinnott.  One example is #52's college scene--Johnny in particular looks strange (facially) in a few panels.

I'm not crazy about the overused notion of hero fighting other heroes to prove himself, and the ending--Wyatt saving the day because he's a non-powered human--was clichéd. Wyatt had just been introduced (in #50), so it was interesting that he took such an active role so quickly!

The inclusion of the Inhumans in #52 was pretty superfluous, but this is exactly what was going on back then--Stan made sure the Inhumans were shown every couple of issues, to keep them in the readers' minds. They were such a smash hit, they almost functioned as co-stars. So while I view this particular inclusion as unnecessary, I admit it added texture to the story.
But I always found it a bit confusing as to why the Inhumans (the royal family and the Inhuman population in general) were so upset about being stuck behind a barrier --when they were introduced, they acted like they wanted nothing to do with humans, they were upset that Medusa (amnesiac) had left their sheltered land, and they wanted to be left alone in their land and among their people. I would think the barrier would fit in with their isolationist stance (obviously I'm not referring to Crystal but to the others; they presented themselves a very closed society when they first appeared).

I found Crystal's remark about wanting to feel Johnny's arms around her again puzzling, because as far as I know they hadn't embraced at all in any of the preceding issues. (Well, we saw their heads in a panel toward the end of #47, before Medusa pulled Crystal away with her hair; maybe the lovebirds were hugging but we just could not see it? I guess I should not take comic characters' statements so literally--and I understand she was spouting romantic longings--but her statement just struck me as inaccurate.)

Okay, the big deal about #52 is the introduction of the Panther. I don't know if the Panther was Stan or Jack's idea, but Marvel deserves credit for introducing such a strong black character back in the days of race riots/civil rights unrest. (I know Gabe Jones was around, but he was clearly a supporting player--Marvel obviously had bigger things in store for T'Challa).

Great character; he's presented very well (Ben's lack of couth is hilarious when he's talking to T'Challa) and in a flattering light, and #52's story served as a showcase for him...but IMO, the action was a bit pedestrian because it played out as expected.

FF #53Much better and less clichéd, plotwise (but Stan's dialogue does not age well, though, does it?). The art is beautiful throughout, and is what I expect of Kirby-Sinnott from that period. I really wish I had these issues in color! The story flows better, IMO, than #52's did.

I'd forgotten the ending, that it was the FF who convinced T'Challa to remain the Panther; I'm sure this has been retconned, has it not? I liked the last few panels showing Klaw diving into his sound transformer...his metamorphosis would not be revealed until a few issues later, so this was a nice teaser.
Fantastic Four 53-Black Panther
Fantastic Four #53 - Black Panther's Origin

Karen: Let me say that I originally read FF 53 long before I read FF 52. My uncle had 53 in his collection so that's what I saw first, and then it passed on to me. I finally purchased 52 about 5 years ago. So 52 is "fresher" to me.

First, a couple of purely aesthetic comments. One, I really like the Panther's original costume. It's very Kirbyesque, combining the skintight suit with the interesting short cape and chest band deal. Much more unique than just the plain skintight suit we generally saw later on. I also like the black coloring with gray highlights, as opposed to blue.

My second aesthetic remark is that (and I know you are looking at B&W, so forgive me Sharon) Marvel used a really strange color for the Wakandan's skin tone. Sort of a purple-gray color, that makes them look unhealthy. I much prefer the more natural brown tones used later on.

I thought overall this story was a weaker effort. The idea that the Panther would secretly bring the FF to Wakanda so he could test himself is pretty lame. The FF seemed beaten far too easily. The Thing in particular was portrayed as rather dim-witted (drinking the water in his enemy's lair?). The rescue by Wingfoot was so clichéd.

On the positive side, the introduction of the Panther was certainly a milestone. His technological prowess is clearly on display, seemingly putting him on par with Reed himself. (I must admit I found it amusing when Reed referred to T'Challa's high-tech stereo set-up, "complete with tape recorder!") Although some of the references to Wakandan culture seem to imply that they are primitive, I think Stan was really trying to make a point of culture clash, more than anything else. If anything it seemed like Stan was always trying to make it clear that he (and by extension, the Marvel Universe) believed all men truly were equal. The Panther may seem slightly arrogant but he also is tragic and heroic.

Some more nitpicky items: I noticed the unbreakable barrier around the Inhuman's Great Refuge is referred to as a 'negative zone'. I think this comic came out before the FF's first trip to the real Negative Zone, so I guess it's a case of Stan recycling terms. I also noticed during the fight, it's stated that Sue must turn visible to use her force field. That was a surprise. Can either of you recall any other times this was mentioned?

Sharon: Don't worry about me reading the Essentials and the coloring issue--I have a copy of #54, so I can see what you mean by the Wakandans' skin tone. It is weird! I think the colorists just didn't know how to "mix the palette" for black peoples' skin. (I'm sure we've all read or seen that in Gabe Jones' first appearance, he was colored fleshy pink just like the other Commandos!)

Originally, Stan uses the term Negative Zone to describe the barrier (back in #48).

The Negative Zone as we know it was featured in #51, the famous "This Man, This Monster!" (I think you have mentioned reading it before, right?)...but Stan calls it "sub space" or something! So in its original incarnation, what we normally think of as the Negative Zone is not called the Negative Zone.

So, you'll see Stan mostly use the term Negative Zone for the barrier and then (I think) in #62, when Reed gets stuck, all of a sudden "sub space" is referred to as the Negative Zone. One of Stan's famous memory lapses!

Originally Sue's only power was to turn herself invisible. Stan amped up her powers in an issue in the 20s, I believe (I don't have the exact issue number handy) she could also project force fields and turn other people/objects invisible. But there was a catch: she could only use one power at a time. She had to be visible to use her force field, for example. She could also turn other people or things invisible but had to be visible to do so. This persisted for many years, and was frequently stated in the exposition-heavy Silver Age FF comics ("Oh no, I've got to turn visible so I can use my force field!"). In fact, this is still the way I think of Sue (i.e., in her Silver Age incarnation) ...though from what I gather, this was changed at some point (so that she can use several powers at once, correct?) and she has since became infinitely more powerful than I remember her.

Doug: My feelings on these issues pretty much mirror what's been said. I thought, as I'd mentioned earlier, that the "divide and conquer" plot was tired. I also right from the get-go found it odd that Reed would just pack up the team and head off to Africa. He admitted that he didn't know T'Challa, and the Wakandan emissary who served as their guide was their only prior contact. If you've seen the second "Ultimate Avengers" animated movie, the Panther origin in that story hearkens back to this tale.

Like both of you, I still think Reed's tape recorder comment has a charm that kids today would find just stupid.

Karen, it's funny that you said you liked the little cape -- I have never liked that look, nor the modern depictions of T'Challa with claws, gold ornaments, etc. I don't mind that look (including cape) for ceremonial purposes, but I do like just the plain ol' body suit for Panthering about!
I agree about Sue's powers at this time. As I think I said, I don't understand why she just didn't put a force-bubble around T'Challa's head and drop him. Oh well. The sexism of the day, I guess.

Ben was a little overbearing to say the least -- but classic nonetheless.

Johnny was a minor player, as you've said -- overshadowed by Wyatt.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...