Next month, the legend of the Black Panther is set to explode with a new movie. But this comic book character is more than just a costumed superhero.
King T’Challa, better known as Black Panther, was originally dreamed up by Marvel Comics legendary editor-in-chief Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1966 and he’s been tearing up the pages of comic books ever since.
Austin-based writer Evan Narcisse penned a new comic book series “Rise of the Black Panther” to go along with the film release. It debuted its first issue this month.
“I never thought they’d get around to Black Panther,” Narcisse says of Marvel’s film adaptations. He says his earliest memory of the Black Panther is from an old Avengers story.
“I can’t remember if he took his mask off, or if I knew he was black, in that first issue but it was something that stuck with me,” he says. “He’s got one of the best, sleekest superhero costume designs ever. So I thought that he was cool and then I looked for him in other subsequent issues of comics I’d read, and I’d learn more about him and about the fictional country of Wakanda, and I just fell in love with the whole concept.”
Wakanda is a major reason why Black Panther resonates with so many people.
“I get overcome when I see these trailers for the movie because it feels like nothing else Marvel’s put out,” Narcisse says. “There’s a stripe of Afrofuturist imagining in this movie that makes it feel like it’s going to be distinct, and Wakanda’s going to seem like the most amazing place in a universe full of amazing places.”
He says the Black Panther narrative fits within Afrofuturism, a powerful literary genre.
“It’s basically the concept that people from the African diaspora – not just Black Americans or Africans, but anywhere where black people have wound up – imagine lives for themselves that have full agency and full humanity in a fantastical speculative fiction environment,” he says. “Steven Barnes has a trilogy called “Lion’s Blood,” where slavery never happened and the African continent becomes the dominant political and socioeconomic power in the world. These are places where black creators imagine lives outside of white supremacy, white hegemony and where they have the kind of rights and privileges that were so often denied to us.”
Contributing to the Black Panther series is an emotional achievement for any superfan like Narcisse – and he says that the significance of the new movie, which is released on February 16, extends far beyond the world of comic books.
“It’s a moment. This is something that’s going to pull in people who have not been comic book fans ever,” he says. “Just because to see a cast like this movie – black people of all sizes and shapes, skin tones. There’s a certain amount of colorism that we see in Hollywood that’s not going to happen in this movie. There are dark skin women who are going to be front and center. If you’ve been waiting to see that kind of stuff – you know, you see genre movies like horror movies or science fiction movies and you can be like, ‘Oh, that black guy’s going to die.’ It’s a trope. That’s not going to happen in this movie. Because they’re all black guys, they’re all black women. And this is the kind of thing that people have been waiting for.”
Written by Jen Rice.