Marvel Comics Presents #13-37 (Black Panther)
Issue(s): Marvel Comics Presents #13, Marvel Comics Presents #14, Marvel Comics Presents #15, Marvel Comics Presents #16, Marvel Comics Presents #17, Marvel Comics Presents #18, Marvel Comics Presents #19, Marvel Comics Presents #20, Marvel Comics Presents #21, Marvel Comics Presents #22, Marvel Comics Presents #23, Marvel Comics Presents #24, Marvel Comics Presents #25, Marvel Comics Presents #26, Marvel Comics Presents #27, Marvel Comics Presents #28, Marvel Comics Presents #29, Marvel Comics Presents #30, Marvel Comics Presents #31, Marvel Comics Presents #32, Marvel Comics Presents #33, Marvel Comics Presents #34, Marvel Comics Presents #35, Marvel Comics Presents #36, Marvel Comics Presents #37 (Black Panther story only)
Then later i started filling in the issues of my Don McGregor Jungle Action run, the Panther's Rage storyline, and was really impressed with it. So i wanted more. But at that point i had access to the internet, and i saw that McGregor's Panther vs. the Klan storyline never got completed (by him). And, amazingly, i saw that this Panther's Quest storyline never got collected as a trade, and i had no immediate interest in wading into 25 issues of Marvel Comics Presents because of all the other crap that i'd have to take along with it. But thanks to this project, i eventually got the Klan storyline (which turned out to be disappointing, and not just because McGregor didn't get to finish it himself), and i've also forced myself to collect and review all the Marvel Comics Presents stories.
So i approach this with a combination of apprehension and excitement. Will this be as good as Panther's Rage, or even better thanks to the Colan/Palmer art and important topical subject matter? Or will the Marvel Comics Presents format, which i utterly loathe, exacerbate McGregor's tendency towards plodding that i saw in the Klan story?
Before i get to my own reaction i should note that the reception to this story in the lettercols is generally positive. In the beginning it's entirely positive with the exception of one tentative person concerned that addressing a real life problem in a comic will work out too unrealistically (and indeed Marvel had the Panther tackle the topic of Apartheid in 1988's Black Panther mini-series and that ended with the fictional Azania agreeing to reforms). As the series goes on, the responses continue to be positive although peppered with a few comments saying the series is "boring" or "too slowly paced", and with even some people liking it still saying that it really ought to have been published in a different format or collected as a trade. It is said that a trade will be forthcoming, although that never happens.
You might think that the complaints about pacing might have been the reason why Marvel started to increase the page count towards the end. Part 21 is 10 pages instead of the usual 8, and parts 24-25 are 16 pages each. The only other case of an increased page count for a story throughout all of the Marvel Comics Presents run is the final part of Bary Windsor-Smith's Weapon X story, which runs 24 pages. But this story was billed from the beginning as being 25 parts, so the increased page count was likely not due to reader complaints about pacing (although it might have been due to the story moving too slowly and so additional pages were necessary to reach the conclusion). And again, for emphasis, most letters were positive; the complaints about the pacing were not the majority and even those complaints were usually of the "it's good, but..." variety.
We start with some unusual layouts and generally nice art from Colan and Palmer.
The text is sure to remind us that the Black Panther's costume is "of religious value" and not (just) a super-hero suit. But more importantly, the story sets up the fact that the Black Panther is sneaking into South Africa to investigate rumors that his mother, Ramonda, is still alive. As the Panther himself kind of says in this segment, we've never really heard anything about the Panther's mother and it was always just sort of assumed that she was dead.
One thing to clear up is that later stories will say that Ramonda is T'Challa's stepmother. T'Challa's biological mother did indeed die in childbirth. But there's no hint of that in this story. Ramonda will nonetheless play a role in future Black Panther stories.
Characteristic of McGregor, the narration provides a second stream of information often independent from what's depicted in the art. But at the same time the art provides important symbolic information, like the difference in how the Black Panther treats a stray dog vs. the way the Panther's informant, Patrick Slade, does.
You'll also notice the guy with the knife at the end of the first part of the story. That is the sort of cliffhanger thing that is forced by this format, but part two doesn't begin with the knife being thrown. First there are about five pages devoted to describing in detail what kind of man Patrick Slade is and having Panther imagine possible outcomes when he hears Slade say that T'Challa won't like what he has to say about his mother. So with part #2, we can see that this is a story that is going to take its time. When that knife finally gets thrown, we see that T'challa and Slade's conversation was being watched by a group of paramilitary types, at least one of which has the strength to throw the Black Panther around like a rag doll.
As the big guy, Elmer "Sex and Violence" Gore, introduces himself to the Panther (including a deep delve into his personal history and how the kids used to make fun of him for sharing a first name with Elmer Fudd and even after he changed his name he kept the "Elmer" part as a reminder), Slade manages to pull the knife out of his arm and escape. The Panther lays among the barbed wire for a while, possibly hallucinating, but then gathers enough strength to break free and escape. Elmer tells his men to hold their fire to avoid alerting the police. The Panther passes out again nearly immediately after getting out of sight from Elmer's squad. It's not an auspicious beginning for our hero. The Panther will go through a lot of suffering in this arc, which is another common complaint about it but obviously a deliberate choice.
Next issue gets us touching on the subject of Apartheid for the first time, aside from a few stray comments in the narration in the previous parts. The Panther staggers upon a man, Zanti Chikane, on his way to work.
Again, the story takes its time. I've skipped over pages of description of Zanti, the way things were different in his father's time, and a contrast between his enjoyment of sunrise and the Black Panther's dread of the same because of what it will do to his wounds. Plus a little handwaving over how the Panther was able to become so injured so badly despite the heart shaped herb that gives him his powers (such as they are). It's all nicely written, and in fact it's quite nice how McGregor fleshes out the details of every minor character in this story. But you can see why this thing needed to be 25 parts. If it were just that it was a deep and slow story, that would be fine for me at least now, reading it all at once as opposed to over 50 agonizing weeks. But even now there's the problem of the cliffhanger stops at the end of each segment.
Our cliffhanger for this segment is the arrival of an army jeep. One of the soldiers, a Percy Boraine, is shocked to see a "kaffir" wearing a midnight blue cat suit. McGregor delves into Percy - his lack of interest in being a soldier, his desire for his girlfriend, the lack of thought he gives to the black people in the country - and then Black Panther knocks out him and his partner, and more or less forces Zanti to drive the army jeep to his sonar glider. You can see McGregor's philosophizing narration going even as they drive away.
Issue 18 (part 6) changes focus for the first time, showing us the other major character in this story: Anton Pretorius, South Africa's Magistrate of Communication.
He's recognized the international implications of the soldiers having been beaten up by the Black Panther, and he's brought Percy Boraine to him.
He says that no one knows the exact location of Wakanda.
But he uses the incident with Percy to launch a wider military effort to search for the Panther.
The Black Panther and Zanti eventually make it to the glider, where the Panther uses its video monitors to find out why there are so many additional soldiers that they've had to dodge. The Black Panther also has Zanti apply a healing salve to his wounds. Instead of then maybe using the glider to go back to Wakanda or otherwise laying low for a while (not to mention getting poor Zanti home to his wife), the Panther takes Zanti back to the site where the mercenaries first attacked him and Patrick Slade. After talking a while longer, the Panther decides to go to the curio shop that Slade owns, and he tells Zanti that he can go home. But as Zanti is walking away, he notices a man staked out on top of a hot tin roof. Zanti goes back to warn the Panther and the man on the roof contacts Elmer. The Panther, meanwhile, is getting an earful from Slade's wife when he notices a boy playing in the street about to get run over by a van. And that's our cliffhanger.
It's not a van by the beginning of the next part.
Notice that all through the rescue, we're getting narration from the boy's point of view. He's given a full name, and we go off on a tangent about his mother's constant nagging. Every scene, every moment in this story is an opportunity to do a mini-vignette. And they're all well done; it's just a lot to take in.
The Black Panther goes after the army truck, which is spraying tear gas throughout the town. Going after the truck aggravates his recently healed wounds, and he winds up taking a bullet from one of the soldiers. But (next issue) we find out that the bullet exited cleanly, so he gets back up to take out the soldier. Meanwhile, Zanti and a woman struggle to get the tear-gas covered clothes off the boy.
The Panther seems only half aware of what's going on. He's busy thinking about his mother.
But he does challenge the soldier to fight him one on one, without weapons...
...and he defeats him easily when the soldier declines.
But while he's teaching the soldier a lesson, more soldiers arrive.
These soldiers don't start shooting right away...
...and this gives the Panther an opportunity to speak out against Apartheid.
His speech and defiance rallies the people in the town. But when the Black Panther tries to lead the troops away from the protestors, he winds up putting his foot through an aluminum roof.
So literally half of issue #23's offering is the Black Panther pulling his leg out of the roof.
This is in broad daylight with troops looking for him. But the idea is that the soldiers can't get on the roofs and don't know where he is, and the Panther represses his urge to cry out in pain. For McGregor, the Black Panther's heroism going all the way back to Jungle Action has been displayed in his ability to take abuse as much as anything else, and that's certainly the case in this series.
Then he goes back to Slade's story and gives the wife money and asks her to have her husband contact him, and then goes back to his sonic glider and falls asleep listening to Anton Pretorius' colleague Doeke Riebeeck, the Minister of Security, rant about Communists.
Next issue is an interlude of sorts as Zanti works up the nerve to go back and see if T'Challa is ok. It's worth taking a look at how McGregor, Colan, and Palmer handle these human moments.
There's humor and humanity when Zanti makes it back to the Black Panther too.
It really is a good story, or at least has all the makings of one.
Issue #25 (part 13) is one of the issues that i read in realtime. And it's a good illustration of the problem with this feature. After i had read to death the stories about Havok, Nth Man, and Ursa Major, i finally had no choice but to read the segment on (supposedly) the Black Panther. And the segment is almost entirely Ministers Pretoriu and Riebeeck arguing with each other about how much force to use against the Black Panther. And then three pages of Zanti and the Panther going somewhere and kicking down a door and saying "It's too late!". That was the whole damn thing, but it had more words in it than the other three stories combined. No action, no super-heroism, nothing supernatural or cool or anything. Reading it now, it's a fine little bridge portion; if anything the "It's too late!" ending is a minor annoyance. But at the time, it certainly didn't feel like anything that was worth my time.
Issue #26 has the Black Panther stopping an incident of "necklacing", which is when anti-Apartheid rebels would fill a tire with gasoline and put it around an enemy, and light it on fire as a form of execution. The "enemy" was often also black; someone suspected of being an informant, or a black police officer.
The guy that was going to be executed is indeed a "bad" guy that works with Elmer "Sex and Violence" Gore.
For getting involved and for bringing increased military presence into the area, the Black Panther himself winds up in a "necklace".
The Panther is helped by the boy he saved from the van/truck earlier.
Notice again the second stream of narration.
The boy gets badly burnt helping T'Challa.
T'Challa rushes him back to the sonic glider, and then flies it to the white hospital.
Unfortunately, the boy still dies.
In the face of that, the summary in the table of contents in issue #29 says, "His quest to find his mother in South Africa seems almost inconsequential now." But after some reflection, the Black Panther does continue his quest. He goes back to Patrick Slade, but Elmer and his crew are waiting there. Slade has betrayed him.
The Panther manages to get Elmer away from Slade, and Slade finally tells him what he knows. Slade had been in a hospital to visit a friend when he came across a Zulu servant that was in the hospital after being hit by the bus. She grabbed Slade mostly at random and told him about the Black Panther's mother, who is being held at the estate where she worked.
Before Slade can say who the servant's employer was, Elmer shows up and kills him.
Panther escapes and goes to tell Slade's wife about her husband's death. She's already aware, and she's got a letter left by another of Elmer's men.
It's purportedly from T'Challa's mother, telling him to go away and stop causing so much trouble.
Next issue (#32, part 20) has Black Panther going to Johannesburg.
He's after Strike, the guy that left the letter.
I have a friend who is terrified of escalators. Never let him see these panels.
Panther had already guessed that the person holding his mom is Anton Pretorius (we'll learn next issue it's because of the speed of the response to the Black Panther's incursion and the fact that Pretorius knew the name of T'Challa's father, which is apparently not public knowledge), and he tricks Strike into confirming it.
The recap included in the table of contents for part 21:
Well, gang, you don't really think we can re-cap twenty chapters in three or four sentences, do you? Of course not. And anyhow, you've all been following the Panther's harrowing quest through South Africa, trying to locate his mother. - So what do you need with a re-cap?
Anyway, on we go. Part #21 opens with the South African military having discovered the Black Panther's sonic glider and trying to break their way in. Meanwhile, the Panther is bringing Zanti back to his wife (accompanied by a long winded explanation of how the Panther knew that Pretorius held his mom and his feelings on the matter). Panther hears the soldiers trying to break into his glider and goes to investigate, telling Zanti to stay behind. But he doesn't. So after the Panther fights his way through the soldiers and gets in the plane...
...Zanti follows and gets himself shot.
The next segment opens up with what feels like a wonderfully depicted scene, but it could be that i'm biased because of the comic books.
It turns out that Zanti isn't even that badly wounded, and he gets up to stop the soldiers from shooting at the Panther's glider.
The Panther then swoops him up into the glider.
When T'Challa drops Zanti off, he invites him to visit Wakanda some day.
From there, the Black Panther heads to the house of Anton Pretorius. He contemplates flying directly there and launching into a headfirst assault, but ultimately decides that no, we've still got 3 segments left to this story, so we'd better go the longer route.
The long route involves fighting Pretorius' guards, specifically the guy that the Panther rescued from the necklacing earlier.
And then, while fleeing an attack dog ("there would be no calming this animal, as he did the stray that first night"), another brutal injury.
In part #24, in what would have been the entire segment if it were only 8 pages, the Panther tries to the get the serrated clamp off his leg in time to battle the dog.
But we are double-sized (so to speak) at this point, so the Panther does make it into Pretorius' compound...
He briefly sees his mother...
...but then has to fight Elmer "Sex and Violence" Gore.
While the Black Panther struggles to not drown, we see Pretorius with Ramonda, the Panther's mother. It's really our first confirmation that she's there against her will.
The Panther does manage to escape Elmer, in part by targeting and re-opening the scar on Elmer's head, and Elmer dies in the resulting final battle.
Then T'Challa gets to have his meeting with his mother, and his fears that ran throughout this series - that she left voluntarily, that she didn't want to see him or wouldn't think he was a good son - aren't realized.
Then Pretorius arrives.
Pretorius is self-deluded, and doesn't really believe that what he feels for Ramonda isn't love...
He even asks Ramonda to stay with him.
And with that, the Black Panther takes his mother home.
If my review seems even more disjointed than usual, it's because i've tried to capture my own ups and downs and conflicting emotions about this story. To simplify my opinion, i think it's a diamond in the rough; a near masterpiece marred by the format and perhaps even some meandering that isn't due to the format. As i've said before about McGregor's work, it's a story that really deserves re-reading. I'd like to give it some time and then go through it again. There are many layers: the plot, the second-stream of philosophical narration, the quotes that introduce each segment. It's a story that really deserves to be rescued from the back issue bins, hidden away inside Marvel Comics Presents, and made into a trade paperback. Perhaps the upcoming Black Panther movie from Marvel studios is an opportunity for that to happen. Despite owning these issues, i'd buy the trade to be able to read the story with less interruption.
As it is, my initial experience with this says it is a sometimes frustrating and exhausting story but nonetheless very rewarding with a lot of really powerful moments. There's a lot of secret humor in this story, a lot, but not all, coming from the character of Zanti. And the take on Apartheid is more subtle than the aforementioned Black Panther mini-series or, say, Fantastic Four #119. It provides the background as a corrupting, demeaning influence on all parties, but this story definitely shouldn't be seen as the Black Panther waging war against Apartheid or anything like that.
I also don't want to neglect the Colan/Palmer art, which perfectly captures the mood of this story. But Colan's big, loose layouts also contribute to the meandering aspect. When you've got only 8 pages and most of them are big flowing splashes with some inserts, it really feels content-light (or at least plot-light, since McGregor's verbose narration certainly gives you plenty to read).
One thing i've always been on the fence with regarding McGregor's Panther is the degree to which the character is just abused. McGregor writes the character as someone that perseveres despite massive amounts of injure that is inflicted on him. Kind of like Wolverine but without the overt healing factor. On the one hand, that makes the Panther a noble fighter with an indomitable spirit. On the other hand, he's not exactly an inspirational super-hero; he's a guy that constantly gets torn to shreds. And McGregor doesn't like to play up the super-power and super-science aspects of the character. Those aspects are there (the healing herbs, the sonic glider, Panther's super-senses) but they are not the focus. A very different Black Panther than, say, Jack Kirby or Christopher Priest's.
I really do think the format of this story was its downfall. Twenty five parts was just too long for Marvel Comics Presents. I can see how this book clearly falls into the spirit of the early issues of the series in the same way that the Steve Gerber Man-Thing and Doug Moench Master of Kung Fu stories were. Very much a return of one of the 1970s critically acclaimed series that probably couldn't stand on its own so well in the late 80s. But at the same time, Marvel was releasing prestige format books and graphic novels on unproven things like Shadowmasters and Rick Mason, the Agent. Once it was determined that this story was going to be 25 parts, it probably should have been shunted to one of those formats.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
You know, you make this feel like a very worthwhile story.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | November 21, 2014 5:43 PM
I realize that I'm looking at this from a different perspective from you, fnord, since I never tried reading Panther's Quest in one reading but I felt Panther's Quest was perhaps the worst paced story that Marvel ever published. And it can't just be blamed on the format. It seemed like McGregor couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted to tell a story illustrating the horrors of apartheid or a story about a guy trying to rescue his mom. The major conflict should be between T'Challa and Pretorius's agent Gore but we get plenty of detours where the Panther fights soldiers, black vigilantes, etc.
Posted by: Michael | November 21, 2014 10:48 PM
The Panther/roof sequence="Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" reference?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 22, 2014 3:47 PM
One more weird thing- why does the first page say "June 1986" when this was published in 1989?
Posted by: Michael | November 23, 2014 9:04 AM
Oh yeah. I initially wondered if we were starting with a flashback, and then i forgot about it. And the MCP place this after the 1988 West Coast Avengers annual. As far as i know, the series isn't referenced until Panther's Prey in 1990.
Could it have been in production that long? In the article you linked to, McGregor does say that Higgins first contacted him in the mid-1980s.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 23, 2014 10:54 AM
Yeah, but on the other hand, he says that he just working on the first pages of the script when he heard that Michael Higgins was off Marvel Comics Presents, and he called Tom Defalco, who was Editor in Chief at the time. Higgins' firing was announced in 1988 and DeFalco became Editor-in-Chief in April of 1987.
Posted by: Michael | November 23, 2014 12:28 PM
Michael, there had been a build-up of resistance to security crackdowns that had been occurring since the late 1970s, culminating in an initial riot in early 1985 which led to a number of deaths and hundreds injured.
Police then forcibly removed over 50,000 people from their homes at Crossroads between May and June which lead to further riots and the SoE then being declared.
If you look online for the history of Crossroads you should find out more:)
Posted by: Nathan Adler | November 23, 2014 8:05 PM
Nathan, maybe I should have worded my question a bit more clearly. McGregor placed this story in June of 1986. Is there any reason in South Africa's history that he would have done that?
Posted by: Michael | November 23, 2014 9:14 PM
Maybe it's less about what did happen and more about what might have happened. In other words, to prevent this story from becoming an Unintentional Period Piece, in case something (good or bad) changed the situation in South Africa, McGregor made it a deliberate one. Or maybe it was to avoid Marvel universe changes instead of real ones, since Byrne was using Black Panther in Avengers.
Regardless of why, i wonder if i should allow it to affect placement. With the sliding timescale the actual year becomes irrelevant anyway, but listing that year (and month) does seem to signal that McGregor intended for it to take place in the past.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 23, 2014 10:45 PM
Michael I'd suggest McGregor's placement of the story at this time is to suggest it was this event that lead to the SoE being declared for 4 years.
Posted by: Nathan Adler | November 24, 2014 12:14 AM
Nathan Adler?!? Ah, holy time slide! It is GREAT to see you roving the Internet, re-considering and re-phrasing the Marvel Universe!!!
Posted by: Cecil | November 24, 2014 6:31 AM
It looks like this is getting a collected edition in December.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | September 24, 2017 10:43 AM
Yes, I got the trade recently, and I thought it read very well. It didn't seem like the MCP format was too much of a hindrance; recaps and redundancies seemed to be at a relative minimum.
Posted by: mikrolik | January 18, 2018 11:47 AM
After reading the collection, something jumped out at me near the end. Ramonda calls South Africa her "homeland", so how did she get to Wakanda to begin with?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 27, 2018 3:40 PM
Maybe I'm in the minority, but I hated this. I find McGregor's work to be mostly unnecessarily long winded and boring. This exact story could have been told in less than half the issues and still captured the same essence. I've read everything up through 1989, and this is one of my least favorite runs so far.
Posted by: Vancelot | June 4, 2018 2:54 AM
Comments are now closed.
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