Heart-Shaped Herbs1 of 12
From his debut in Fantastic Four to today, the Black Panther has remained a crucial part of Marvel Comics history. Now with Black Panther in theaters amidst rave reviews and record-shattering pre-sales, he looks to be an important part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well!
The excitement for arguably the greatest Black superhero of all time to make his solo film debut is unprecedented. But when the credits roll, there’s only really one place to get more of Marvel’s mightiest monarch. So we’re counting down the ten greatest Black Panther stories ever told!
#10 "The Man Without Fear"2 of 12
Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513 - #523
At first glance, there are a lot of similarities between Black Panther and Batman. And “Man Without Fear” has some fun leaning into that with a little help from Francesco Francavilla. His moody artwork immediately calls to mind the aesthetics of Batman: The Animated Series.
But writer David Liss throws some curve balls here. With T’Challa stripped of his throne and his powers, he has to make ends meet as the manager of a diner while also finding a way to answer the call of heroism. It’s a side of T’Challa we don’t always see and that’s what makes it work.
#9 "Enemy of the State II"3 of 12
Black Panther #41 - #45
How does a king keep himself, his country and its greatest export safe? He keeps tabs on everyone that might be a reasonable threat. Unfortunately, that means that the dignified African dignitary might make enemies out of some of his friends - namely, Tony Stark.
The two characters are master manipulators playing a chess game with each other and their assets that is endlessly entertaining. It’s a question of who can be two steps ahead of each other at all times and provides a further foundation that while T’Challa is a match for most superheroes physically, he’s also one of the most cunning and intelligent characters in the Marvel Universe.
#8 "Killmonger’s Rage"4 of 12
Black Panther #18
As much as Christopher Priest’s run pushed the Black Panther forward, the writer was also fond of looking back in the character’s history to put his own mark on the elements that made the man.
One important piece of the puzzle is T’Challa’s relationship to Erik Killmonger and so Priest honors the legacy of Don MacGregor’s “Panther’s Rage.” But Priest was able to take him further. His Killmonger is a Wakandan corrupted by Western values - an antithesis to T’Challa and Wakanda as well as a challenge to them. “Killmonger’s Rage” sees Priest forcing T’Challa to face in interesting mirror of himself - what would happen if he succumbed to the ways of the rest of the world - and shows how T’Challa rises above it.
#7 "Bride of the Panther"5 of 12
Black Panther #14 - #18
The marriage of Black Panther to the X-Men’s Storm is one of the biggest in Marvel history. After Hudlin explored their meeting and relationship earlier in his run, the two characters came together in the middle of Marvel’s first Civil War event.
The arc provided an interesting stage for the two sides of that conflict to meet on neutral ground while also acting as a real celebration of two of the Marvel Universe’s most enduring characters. Their relationship would not last after Namor flooded Wakanda and Storm chose her mutant family over T’Challa’s royal one, but the impact of their pairing is still felt to this day.
#6 "The Client"6 of 12
Black Panther #1 - #5
This is the arc that really made the Black Panther synonymous with Christopher Priest. T’Challa travels from Wakanda to New York City to investigate the murder of a young girl and in the process, Priest showcases the skills and dignity that separate T’Challa from his fellow heroes.
Priest uses Agent Everett K. Ross of the Office of the Chief of Protocol as a framing device for the story that according to the writer allowed him “bridge the gap between the African culture that the Black Panther mythos is steeped in and the predominantly white readership that Marvel sells to." He also introduces new elements to the mythos including Black Panther’s now-iconic female bodyguards, the Dora Milaje.
#5 "A Nation Under Our Feet"7 of 12
Black Panther #1 - 4
Sharing its name with Steve Hahn’s Pulitzer prize-winning book about the evolution of African American political power in the six decades following the Civil War, this arc establishes the Black Panther for a modern era by putting him in direct conflict with our ever-changing world.
To borrow a couple of lines sang by Frank Ocean that practically sum up this arc: “What's a mob to a king? What's a king to a god? What's a god to a non-believer who don't believe in anything?” Political intrigue abounds throughout Ta-Nehisi Coates’ story as T’Challa loses control of his country to civil war and is forced to confront his relationship with his family, his people and with the mantle of the Black Panther.
And it never hurts to have all-star artist Brian Stelfreeze handling the art even as the story hits some of its slower moments.
#4 "Panther's Rage"8 of 12
Jungle Action #6 - #18
Don McGregor’s “Panther’s Rage” took the headstrong hero into new territory for the first time. Instead of playing second fiddle to the Avengers, McGregor placed T’Challa at the forefront of his own story and in his own country for the first time.
In the pages of Jungle Action, McGregor and a bevy of talented artists including Rich Buckler, Klaus Janson, and Gil Kane among others, were finally able to deepen the mythos of a character who had been little more than a guest star elsewhere. And in doing so, they gave Wakanda and T’Challa a history and supporting cast that has remained including the first appearances of the villainous Erik Killmonger.
#3 "Who is the Black Panther?"9 of 12
Black Panther #1 - #6
How do you follow up Priest’s legendary run? You hand the King of Wakanda off to Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr. and allow them to dive back into who T’Challa is and what the mantle of Black Panther means in the Marvel Universe.
Hudlin tied T’Challa’s personal history to Wakanda’s political one showing us what makes the man but also how the country informs him as a person and a hero. It’s here that we see how T’Challa met Storm and pits the Black Panther against the threat of American Imperialism - informing a larger metaphor about Africa’s relationship to would be colonizing countries. Hudlin reminded readers that “the personal is political” and this opening salvo to his run has been referenced as the inspiration behind Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of the Black Panther.
#2 "See Wakanda and Die"10 of 12
Black Panther #39 - #41
Jason Aaron followed Hudlin briefly on Black Panther and delivered one of the Wakandan King’s greatest stories even in the midst of a big Marvel event.
With the Skrulls invasion of Earth under way, Aaron shows us the impressive resiliency of Wakanda. The country that has never been conquered remains true to its reputation, beating back Skrull forces at every front. But technology fails both sides and they are forced to fight hand-to-hand. As told through stunning artwork from Jefte Palo, T’Challa proves his mettle by taking on Super Skrull and setting a plan in motion to help Wakanda win the day. Aaron and Palo help solidify T’Challa’s legacy as a warrior, strategist and king.
#1 "Enemy of the State"11 of 12
Black Panther #6 - #12
Obviously, Priest’s run is one for all-time. But “Enemy of the State” is the crown jewel amongst it. With Priest again using Agent Ross as a way into the Black Panther’s story, T’challa uncovers a plot by the United States to undermine and replace the current Wakandan regime in order to control the country.
Priest believed that T’Challa’s role as king should have real political ramifications especially considering that Black Panther really had more in common with fellow monarchs Namor and Doctor Doom than any run of the mill heroes. His exploration of that gave the book a reputation among fans as “The West Wing of comics.”
But there was plenty of superheroing as well as readers learned about T’Challa’s motivations for joining the Avengers that cast his entire history in a new and intriguing light.
“Enemy of the State” and Priest’s run on the Black Panther overall stand as a testament to what happens when talented creators believe in the stories they are telling and are able to let loose. We think of Chris Claremont when we talk about the X-Men. We think of Walt Simonson when we talk about Thor. When we talk about Black Panther, one name comes to mind.
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