Thursday, February 23, 2017

Panther's Rage - Serpent Kings!

In the fourteenth issue of Jungle Action by Don McGregor and Bill Graham things really kick into a higher gear. The artwork to my eye improves as Klaus Janson (who had done a fine job establishing mood and atmosphere) is replaced first by Pablo Marcos, then Dan Green and finally what appears to be Graham himself on inks. The art is lush and has a real flowing movement to it.

(Unused cover for issue fourteen by Graham)
The Black Panther pursues Killmonger and his forces into Serpent Valley, an isolated world surprisingly close to the heart of Wakanda but unknown to its residents. It's a strange world where time has stopped and ancient beasts from Earth's long past still roam the swampy mists. Dinosaurs are the target of Killmonger and his men as they seek to capture several behemoths who have descended from Brontosaurs.They hope to use these giant creatures as part of their ultimate attack on the central section of Wakanda. The Panther follows Sombre but has to switch plans when the latter dies in quicksand. Later the Panther battles a Tyranosaur-like monster and is able to use his skills to defeat the inhuman monster.

Left behind by Killmonger's forces he attempts to follow them again but is stopped by another of Killmonger's transformed allies, this one a thorn laced enemy named Salamander Kruhl.

After being struck by an arrow he is strung out and made helpless for an attack from above when Pteranosaurs descend upon him.

He actually displays great skill in not only surviving the attack but actually seems for a moment to wrangle the flying monster before dashing out its brains in a perilous descent to the ground. He finally heads for home.

Finding his way home at last the Black Panther recovers from his many many wounds and as time passes he and Monica Lynne renew their love affair.

Meanwhile Taku continues to try and develop a friendship with Horatio the man code-named Venomm by Killmonger. But both Take and W'Kabi are unable to stop Venomm from escaping after long months of capture and W'Kabi is seriously injured.

The Panther pursues Venomm to his lair where he keeps his snakes and the two battle it out. But the fight is a stalemate when Taku is able to convince Venomm to leave the Panther alive as the villain stalks off.

And that sets the stage for the exciting climax of "Panther's Rage" which lands tomorrow.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Panther's Rage - Cold Wastes!

After the counter attack on the home village of Erik Killmonger, the Black Panther tries to take the initiative in this ongoing war in his kingdom. He leaves his aides and Monica Lynne behind and heads into to the frozen mountains led by two of Killmonger's less capable solidiers, the comedic duo of Tayete and Kazibe. The press into the mountains,  the domain of the mythical White Apes. He finds Killmonger's forces and the secret of his weird allies, an altar errected over the radioactive output of a long-forgotten meteor.  But in a battle with his foe and his weird ally Sombre he is diverted by attacks from deadly wolves which stalk the frozen landscape. Left for dead he fights off the attacks but his fate is left hanging.

Surviving the wolf attacks and using their pelts to survive the deadly cold the Panther returns to the weird altar and confronts Killmonger's ally Sombre who captures him and puts him in the lair of the deadly White Gorillas, a small band of the creatures made ferocious by having long been fed the unfortunates who died on the altar which bred Killmonger's bizarre allies.

The Panther is in for the fight of his life as the Gorillas are ferocious, but once again he survives to pursue Killmonger who has left the coldness of the mountains for a different land altogether.

It's in these issues that we bet more of a glimpse into the background of Killmonger's operations and for me it shows what a deadly cult of personality he had constructed across the broad and diverse landscape of Wakanda. Sombre is his high priest, a deadly fanatic who is more than ready to kill to progress his agenda. That lack of concern for others is what makes him a villain and it's what defines Killmonger too.

"Panther's Rage" continues tomorrow.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Panther's Rage - Cemetery Plots!

After Rich Buckler stepped away from the "Panther's Rage" saga he was replaced for on the ninth issue of Jungle Action by the reliable Gil Kane. Frankly I'd forgotten this was the case, but I clearly see that Kane would've been a worthy replacement had he stayed on the book longer. He and Don McGregor tell a tale here which has a proper atmosphere of horror.

T'Challa investigates tales of the walking dead in a village cemetery and finds Jumbak one of his loyal citizens dead, This is a death which will resonate throughout the rest of the saga by the way. And the Panther also finds a strange opponent in Baron Macabre, a weirdly tall figure who fires lasers from his wrists. The Panther escapes this weird opponent with is life.

Returning to the cemetery a day later, his return stalled because of the murder of Zatama and Monica Lynne is implicated, the Panther gets to the bottom of the problem and finds not only Baron Macabre but his seeming master King Cadaver. While it is shown that Macabre is a fraud to some extent, the weird mind powers of Cadaver seem to emanate from his repulsive head. The Panther again survives the fight and defeats Macabre for the moment. But he learns that Killmonger's people are getting the technology the use from the very technological jungle he himself had created beneath Wakanda.

With Monica cleared of her crime, the Panther leads a counter attack against the forces of Killmonger in the village N'Jadaka (the original name of Killmonger himself) and find there not only Baron Macabre and the deadly Malice but a new villain named Lord Karnaj. It seems Killmonger fancies these dramatic names for his henchmen. The battle is ferocious and people die but the village is taken and Killmonger's men are captured.

These last two issues were drawn by the late Billy Graham, a rarity in the comic book business, a black man. While many will come into the fold in the following decades only a few had made any mark to this point and time. Richard "Grass" Green was having some success in the independent market and Wayne Howard had made quite a mark at Charlton, Many years earlier Matt Baker had been regarded as one of the best "good girl" artists in comics. But like the heroes themselves, black faces were relatively rare. Graham had made his mark at Warren Publishing with horror stories and would also draw Marvel's first American-born superhero title Hero for Hire. Getting him on this series was a major coup, and he and McGregor seemed to find a synthesis which brought out the best in both of them.

More "Panther's Rage" tomorrow.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Panther's Rage - Jungle Action!

There is little doubt that the Black Panther epic story "Panther's Rage" which ran for two years in the pages of Jungle Action remains one of Marvel's great tales. Not only does it give us the Black Panther in his first series (the slightly troubling "Jungle Action" title notwithstanding) but it is the first showcase for the loquacious writing of Don McGregor. The story began as a partnership between McGregor and Rich Buckler, but sadly the artist had to step away from the series after the first several issues. He was eventually replaced by the great Billy Graham so the story was well served nonetheless. Over the next five days I want to take a look at the story and reflect on this epic over forty years after it first blasted onto the comics racks.

King T'Challa has been away. As noted elsewhere this month, the Black Panther became a vital member of the Avengers and that duty kept him located in New York City where he also developed the identity of "Luke Charles" and dabbled in teaching. His forays into western society allowed him little time to keep up with affairs in his kingdom of Wakanda and as we'll see, things have been changing. In the sixth issue of Jungle Action the Panther returns home with a lover, Monica Lynne, a modern American woman who is not all that comfortable in a foreign court, especially one which regards her with suspicion.

T'Challa swiftly discovers the threat of a new enemy named Erik Killmonger, a giant warrior of great strength who is attempting to take over the hidden kingdom and to do that he needs to kill T'Challa. He seemingly accomplishes that when he throws the Panther off a raging waterfall as the opening chapter closes.

But in Jungle Action seven the Panther survives (a short series otherwise) and washes up back at his royal court to lick his wounds.

Killmonger soon learns that his enemy has survived and sends the ghastly Venomm (a man named Horatio) to kill the Panther yet again. Venomm does not succeed and is captured by the Panther and imprisoned. Meanwhile the court intrigue continues to brew as Monica fends off the cold barbs of resentful court servant Tanzika. Many of T'Challa's advisors are fleshed out and we learn that Taku is a sensitive intellectual reluctant to fight, W'Kabi is a militant young man who harbors resentment against T'Challa for leaving this kingdom, and Zatama is an idealistic rebel who aspires to make Wakanda better. As part of his battle against Venomm, T'Challa learns that the Killmonger are digging out Vibranium from beneath the sacred mound, and apparently this is the source of funding for the revolution.

In the third installment of "Panther's Rage" in issue eight of Jungle Action, the last by Buckler, Killmonger sends his female agent Malice into the Panther's compound to free Venomm. Amidst much in the way of palace intrigue Malice makes her way inside.

Her plan to free Venomm ultimately fails but the Panther begins to realize that Killmonger employs agents with great power and its source is a mystery.

It is in some ways regrettable that Buckler could not continue on the series. He was clearly in another of his chameleon modes. He was an artist with a distinctive style of his own  but he also could mimic great artists like Jack Kirby, Neal Adams and John Buscema. In the Panther stories he is using his own style with a whisper of Buscema and Adams but clearly he is attempting in places to evoke Jim Steranko's classic storytelling as revealed all too readily by the double-page splash for the eighth issue.

Tomorrow "Panther's Rage" continues.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Black Panther - Kiber The Cruel!

The eleventh issue of the Black Panther finds T'Challa healing from his exposure to the Vibranium mound when he defeated Jakarra in the previous issue.

While he heals he is having weird dreams of ghoulish warriors who attack him through the walls. He seems to generally have increased psychic abilities as a result of his exposure. While he mends Khanata is captured by soldiers who look just like those in the Panther's dream and taken to a secret location where their leader Kiber the Cruel imprisons men and sacrifices them to generate pure energy for his own use.

Khanata's absence is noted and the Black Panther against doctor's orders goes to search for him and finds himself captured by Kiber's thugs and taken to his lair.

He discovers that the ghostly Kiber is actually a projection and fights to reach his true location while Khanata leads a revolt with the other prisoners gathered to feed Kiber's machine.

And that my friends is where the King left the building again. The very next issue, the third and final chapter will be by new talent, Kirby having left off working for Marvel for a second time in a decade when he finds editorial interference too much to worry with. Some will argue that his glory days were already past him and I see the point, but there's still a great deal of work to come from Kirby's drawing board, but none of it would be for Marvel ever again.

As for the story itself, Jim Shooter plots and Ed Hannigan scripts a tale that Jerry Bingham draws which shows that Kiber is actually a man who has mangled his own flesh by dint of teleportation experiments and he uses his captives to supply life and energy to his mutated form. The Black Panther is able finally to end his threat but it proves to be at the cost of many lives. He and Khanata are left standing and the Black Panther will live to fight another day.

No more to come unless you don't count the extensive look at "Panther's Rage" all this next week. See ya!

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Black Panther - Drums Of Wakanda!

While finishing up his affairs with the Collectors and their mad schemes, the Black Panther is away from his duties in Wakanda and that proves to be a danger to everyone.

Then we meet Jakarra the step-brother of T'Challa who seeks to take control in his absence and confronts the regent left in charge. But Jakarra reveals that he has exposed himself to the Vibranium mound which the Wakandans guard and that this power is changing him making him more powerful. But with that power comes seeming danger. Meanwhile the Panther finally escapes the clutches of the Collectors and is headed home.

The story opens with a flashback sequence which adds some detail to the origin of the Black Panther and shows a trial by combat which had him officially take the mantle of the Panther from the predecessor.

The regent of Wakanda N'Gassi calls for all of the royal family to assemble to face the threat of Jakarra who continues to change because of the Vibranium exposure. Answering the call are Joshua Itobo a doctor, Khanata a race car driver, Ishanta a financier, and a heavy-set woman named Zuni. These four are confronted by the menace of Jakarra and agree to help. Meanwhile the Panther saves two men from the sea and discovers they are notorious criminals who attempt to hijack his plane. It crashes and he and the surviving mob boss named Scarpo seek to survive.

While T'Challa still tries to get home, carrying the notorious mobster Scarpo on his shoulders he falls finally in the desert and discovers a strange robot.

It seems he's found a movie set in which a science fiction movie (an oddly familiar one it seems too) is being filmed and he leaves Scarpo with them  and attempts to leave by stealing a jeep.

Meanwhile the "Black Musketeers" (the four members of the Royal Family we met last issue) team up to try and stop the monstrous Jakarra with limited effect. (This is a low point for the series for certain.)

The battle against Jakarra continues while the Panther still tries to make his way back to Wakanda, this time being stopped by Sudanese security forces.

He steals their plane and finally reaches home just in time to be briefed on threat. Meanwhile the "Black Musketeers" are attempting to inject a formula which will neutralize the threat of Jakarra who has become a complete monster and threatens to destroy the whole world by activating immense power of the Vibranium mound. The Black Panther appears in the nick of time to inject the formula and Jakarra's threat is ended and mound subsides but the Panther's fate is unknown.

A little bit more Kirby to come.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Flight Of The Falcon!

Although this month has been largely dedicated to Marvel's first black superhero The Black Panther, I do want to take a few moments to focus on Marvel's first African-American hero The Falcon. Like the Black Panther before him, the Falcon appears in the pages of Captain America and fights alongside the Living Legend against dire menaces. Whereas the Panther's partnership with Cap led to his longtime membership in the Avengers, the Falcon would eventually find a longstanding partnership with Cap himself and would even for many years share the title of Cap's own book.

But like several of the Marvel heroes of this era such as the Human Torch, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and the Vision, the Falcon is something of a reboot of a Golden Age hero created by Carl Burgos no less. Appearing in only a few stories in the pages of Daring Mystery Comics, the first Marvel Falcon was a white district attorney who battles the mob.

In the pages of Captain America, the Falcon is a displaced citizen of Harlem who first dons the costume at the behest of Cap himself so that he and his pet falcon Redwing can strike a wee bit more terror into the benighted hears of the Red Skull's former allies the Exiles.

The story had begun a few issues earlier when Cap had been defeated by his arch enemy the Red Skull who had come into possession of the Cosmic Cube once again. This powerful tool had allowed the Skull to have his revenge on Cap by switching bodies with him, forcing Steve Rogers to have to deal with the consequences of being the Red Skull, Not surprisingly he is attacked by the police and even his own allies the Avengers, none of whom will believe his story. The Red Skull meanwhile works to ruin Cap's reputation and takes glee in hurting his friends such as Rick Jones who wanders off to find his own new destiny in the pages of Captain Marvel. Eventually the Skull sends Cap to the island of the Exiles, the Skull's former allies, a murderous gang of former Axis agents who seek revenge on the Skull himself for abandoning them. Thinking Cap is the Skull they attack him and he barely escapes thanks to the interference of a falcon.

That falcon is named Redwing and is the pet (partner?) of Sam Wilson. Wilson reveals that he is a man from Harlem who was always fascinated with birds and ended up in South America where he took up falconry. He came to the island to supply the Exiles with sport but soon learned of their repressive ways against the natives of the island and has made it his goal to stand against them. Cap having ditched his Red Skull mask, helps him to do just that by training him and helping design the identity of the Falcon.

The two men take the fight to the Exiles with no small effect, as it is shown again that men with bravery and smarts can stand up to an overwhelming threat. But the Red Skull, who watches them from afar with the Cosmic Cube changes the game when he abandons his role as the bogus Cap and returns to his Nazi castle in Germany.

He uses the Cube to bring Cap and the Falcon to the castle and returns Cap to his old self so that he can watch him die. But things fall apart for the Skull when unknown to him the forces of A.I.M.(Advanced Idea Mechanics) use their technology to destroy the Cube so that no one might use it against them. The Red Skull is defeated and Captain America is restored and a new hero named the Falcon is ready for the world.

The Falcon and Cap part company in the streets of Harlem in the very next issue as Cap heads off to new adventures, but it's not long until the Falcon returns.

It is not very long until the Falcon returns and helps Cap battle a smalltime crime lord named Diamond Head.

And it's less than a year later when the Falcon's name is added to the cover masthead giving Marvel its first black hero with his own regular comic book venue.

Cap and the Falcon would become friends and longstanding partners throughout the Bronze Age. The Falcon eventually gets a makeover, losing his green and gold duds and adopting a red and white costume (oddly more similar to the Golden Age Falcon in some respects) and also getting the power of flight added to his repertoire thanks to the technological expertise of all people, the Black Panther.

These days we know that "Sam Wilson" as portrayed by Anthony Mackie is a big deal at Marvel and in the Captain America movies he's become one of the best characters they have.

His great line in the first teaming of the two in which he says in regard to his role with Cap that "I do what he does, just slower." is one of my favorite lines in all of film. It encapsulates the philosophy of a man who like a soldier knows how he fits and is comfortable in being who he is on his own account as well as a part of an effective team. Cap and Falcon were a partnership that worked, and that's why blessedly it lasted so very very long.

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