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The best Black Panther comics to read right now

Long live the king

Art: Brian Stelfreeze/Marvel Comics via Polygon

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Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

If you’ve watched the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know the story of T’Challa of Wakanda — long line of kings, Panther God’s Chosen, hidden African nation — and you’re interested in reading more where that came from.

We can help. Let’s take a walk through T’Challa’s history in Marvel Comics, from his first appearance to the hottest current series, all of which you can easily find and read for yourself.

Black Panther’s first appearance

From the cover of The Fantastic Four #52, Black Panther’s first appearance, Marvel Comics, 1966. Jack Kirby, Stan Lee/Marvel Comics

I don’t always recommend starting with a character’s first appearance, and I don’t necessarily recommend that with Black Panther. While his origin has remained roughly the same as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee penned it in 1966, Black Panther stories have certainly reached greater tonal and emotional heights since.

But if you simply must start from the beginning, there’s no harm in getting some historical perspective. T’Challa’s first appearance and the first telling of his origin story occurred over the course of Fantastic Four #52 and #53, in which he recruits the Fantastic Four to help him with the return of his old foe, Klaue, who killed his father.

Those issues can be purchased individually on Comixology and are also available on Marvel Unlimited.

Panther’s Rage

From the cover of Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage, Marvel Comics (reprinted in 2016). Marvel Comics

Don McGregor’s Panther’s Rage doesn’t just hold a special place in Black Panther’s history. It’s also in the running to be considered the earliest superhero graphic novel: a novel-length tale told over multiple parts, and designed to tell a story of that length from the get-go.

Told as the main feature of Marvel’s Jungle Action anthology series, Panther’s Rage saw McGregor and a slew of the top artists of the time (including penciller Gil Kane and inker Klaus Janson) take the Black Panther on a globe-trotting quest. Panther’s Rage focused on the character’s adventures in Wakanda for the first time, placing him among his own people rather than in America with the Avengers.

McGregor’s work in Jungle Action was the first to take T’Challa seriously and sincerely as a solo character, fleshing out his mythos with a cast of supporting characters. Some of those characters are still a core part of Black Panther stories today, like Erik Killmonger, the central villain of the Black Panther movie.

You can read Jungle Action on Marvel Unlimited, or pick up a copy of the Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage, which also includes Black Panther’s debut Fantastic Four issues.

Black Panther (1998)

Everett K. Ross in Black Panther, Marvel Comics, 1998. Christopher Priest, Mark Texeira/Marvel Comics

Are you ready for something completely different?

The above image is taken from the very first panel of 1998’s Black Panther series, from the writer Priest (aka Christopher Priest, aka Jim Owsley), picking up with the U.S. State Department’s Everett K. Ross (cast very accurately as Martin Freeman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) in medias res. The “client” he refers to is the King of Wakanda, née the superhero Black Panther. Ross was charged with facilitating his visit to America, and things have spiraled from there. Priest’s run used Ross as a point-of-view character, and a necessary one for the major tonal shift he had planned.

1998’s Black Panther elevated T’Challa’s standing within the fiction of the Marvel universe — underscoring his kingship, displaying his political responsibilities and acumen, and exploring his outsider status among American superheroes. Priest’s run made sure that Black Panther was no longer interchangeable with any other “jungle” hero or martial arts master: He was the Black Panther.

You can read the whole thing on Marvel Unlimited, or pick up collections on Comixology. These issues also contain the first appearances of the Dora Milaje, the all-female bodyguards of Wakanda’s royal family — but they’re not quite yet the incarnation you’d recognize today.

Black Panther (2005)

S’yan, the uncle of T’Challa, as the Black Panther in Black Panther #2, Marvel Comics, 2005. Reginald Hudlin, John Romita Jr./Marvel Comics

2005’s Black Panther series was known for the writing of Hollywood director/producer Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Django Unchained) and the artistic talents of John Romita Jr.

Hudlin crafted a story that focused on T’Challa’s family and his rule in Wakanda. He gave the reader a closer look at the interior life of the Black Panther, humanizing him as a character, while Romita’s stylization showed off a kinetic and cinematic world.

The series also introduced the character of Shuri, T’Challa’s half-sister and heir to his throne.

Rise of the Black Panther (2018)

Evan Narcisse, Paul Renaud/Marvel Comics

But maybe you’re not ready for deep dive through a backlog of comics. All you want is one book to read to get a handle on the character’s origin story from a modern standpoint. Reader, go out and get Rise of the Black Panther.

Evan Narcisse and Paul Renaud’s six-issue miniseries is all about T’Challa’s earliest adventures as the Black Panther. The first issue alone retells his complete origin story in a concise 20 pages, giving you everything you need to know about Wakanda, its gods and its royal family in one, beautifully drawn installment.

Black Panther (2016)

From the cover of Black Panther #9, Marvel Comics, 2016. Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin/Marvel Comics

Among Marvel’s biggest comics these days is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther, which launched in 2016 to significant critical acclaim and the kind of mainstream attention that comics rarely get.

Coates’ first arc, “A Nation Under Our Feet,” drawn by veteran artist Brian Stelfreeze, found T’Challa at a crossroads. He had lost the confidence of his people, many of whom believed that he abandoned Wakanda for his work with the Avengers. The story guides Wakanda through its second massive transition of T’Challa’s reign, as the nation becomes a democratic, constitutional monarchy. Coates’ followed that arc with a deep dive into Wakanda’s spiritual history, and then a cosmic flight through time and space to a future where the Intergalactic Wakandan Empire reigns. Plus, his version of the rebellious and independent Dora Milaje had a considerable influence on the film version of the characters.

Shuri (2018)

Variant cover for Shuri #1, Marvel Comics (2018). Marvel Comics

If you know Black Panther from the Marvel movies first, and are just catching up on him in comics, the first thing you’ll notice is that his supporting cast got a big revamp for the film. Nakia, M’Baku and Okoye are all significantly different in the comics; at best, they’re merely flat in characterization and at worst they’re a villain in a racist costume.

In a superhero setting like Marvel’s where everything is canon, it’s been fascinating to watch Marvel Comics figure out how to retrofit those characters for a movie audience. In Black Panther, Coates has taken the series to space and the future in order to introduce a Nakia and M’Baku who resemble their movie versions. And with Shuri, a solo series for T’Challa’s own super-powered little sister, Nnedi Okorafor and Leonardo Romero are shifting the magic-focused Marvel Comics character in a more technology-driven direction.

And on top of that, they’re crafting a fun, complex and unpredictable story about Shuri, women in Wakanda, Wakanda’s place in African politics, and what they all do when T’Challa goes missing. As of the writing of this post, the series is in the middle of a strong first story arc guest starring the Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man, and you can pick it up on Comixology.


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