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Black Panther & Black Supremacy

February 26th, 2013 by | Tags: , ,

This’ll make sense tomorrow, I promise. But for now, enjoy (and feel free to discuss) this exchange from the letters page of Black Panther #4, which was written by Reggie Hudlin, drawn by John Romita Jr, and collected as Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?. It’s a good comic, but I needed to excerpt this for another piece I’m working on elsewhere.

I typed all this out myself, so the errors are my own. Here’s the original joint:

panther-letters

Tomorrow: I’m throwing molotov cocktails at the precinct. We can discuss it rightchea if the comment thread on another site (I don’t know why I’m being secretive, it’s not like I write for anyone besides ComicsAlliance) isn’t to your flavor.


I read the Black Panther #1 relaunch with an open mind. I love the character and loved Priest’s run. Honestly, I haven’t liked much of the usual Marvel hype surrounding this new series (obviously aimed at Marvel’s perceived core audience of backwards-hat-wearing skateboarders), but I am totally willing to give the new writer a chance. The result was mixed feelings.

First, it seems that Reginald Hudlin can write comics. Marvel feels that only Hollywood writers can write decent comics; the truth is usually the opposite. I’m always wary of a new Hollywood writer, mostly because the aforementioned hype machine has wildly overrated their talents. But Mr Hudlin can visualize and write a coherent script. So far, so good. The penciling was fine. I did not care for how emaciated and anemic-looking John Romita Jr’s Spider-Man was, but he doesn’t make the same mistake with these characters.

The scripting started to break down about halfway through. Specifically, the meeting in the White House. The suggestion that a top military White House official would call blacks “jungle bunnies” is ridiculous and speaks to Mr Hudlin’s hatred of Bush more than his writing abilities. Really, President Bush has a much more diverse staff than any of his predecessors and the most diverse Cabinet that has ever existed. Is this President really going to tolerate racism in his staff, General or not? This scene did not ring true.

The white industrialists attacking Wakanda in the 19th century were a little more believable. This reflects the gree and racism of the time and besides, black tribes were also showing attacking. Wakanda is a rich nation, and as such is subject to attack throughout history by all sorts of forces. I bought this.

Then there was the Cap thing. I suppose there was a chance that on a really good day T’Chaka could take Captain America, but the scene just reeked of the “all black people are good, all white people are bad” attitude that permeated the story. And of course, our racist white General ferociously denies that such an event actually took place. I suppose this is Mr Hudlin’s way of telling fans like me that if we question that the great Captain America can be beaten (by a black man), we’re just as racist as the General. Sorry, not true. It’s just that it’s hard to beat Cap, period, regardless of the race of the protagonist. I’m still not sure if I buy that, but I suppose it’s possible. Then there was the fact that Cap’s shield was the wrong one for 1944. Of course it’s minor, and no, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story, but it’s just another way that NuMarvel in general, and the editor specifically, ignore any comic printed before 2000.

It’s too early to tell if Black Panther is going to be a good adventure comic or a soapbox screaming that every white person (and super hero) is, knowingly or not, a racist. Take a note from Priest on this; his run occasionally touched on racism, but he was never heavy-handed about it. I was impressed when Priest, a self-admitted liberal, depicted President Bush as a savvy leader during his original BP run. Priest managed to tell a story first, and stick in his personal agenda mostly not at all. Can this team do the same?

Again, because of my love for the character, I’ll stick around for the first storyline. I’ll never forget how cool I thought the Panther was in FF during the ’60s. And even cooler when he took off his mask and revealed that he was black (as you well know, black heroes were almost nonexistent at the time). So to the entire creative team, especially the writer and editor: story first, personal agenda nowhere.

——-

Ho-kay, Jerry. You grind quite a few axes with that letter — we lost count by the third paragraph, in fact. We think it’s only fair to let Reggie respond for the record. Reg’?

I respectfully disagree with you about JR Jr’s Spider-Man — you wanna see scrawny? See Ditko’s Spidey — and I love Ditko’s work! There is no doubt John is doing a great job on this book. That said:

Regarding your point that the White House sequence “is ridiculous and speaks to [my] hatred of Bush more than [my] writing abilities”: Whoah. I’ve been black for a very long time and I’ve met prejudiced people in every walk of life — regardless of race, creed, social position, or political affiliation. Acknowledging their existence does not imply that whatever group they belong to automatically shares their beliefs. As for whether such talk could occur in such rarefied circles, plenty of Presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, have been documented saying racist remarks. Do I think it’s in the realm of possibility that a White House staffer from either the Clinton or Bush administrations (remember, the story does not specify who is President) might make a racist comment? Yes. Would such a remark be tolerated? Well, in my story, the black woman who is running the meeting — Dondi Reese — summarily dismisses the idiot without breaking a sweat.

Regarding the Cap thing: I don’t engage in Hulk vs Thing debates, and I won’t engage in Cap vs Panther debates either. I am in the fortunate position of writing Black Panther, and the Panther beat Cap. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Captain America — I spent 200 bucks on one of those fancy shield replicas on eBay — but Panther beat Cap, baby. Live with it.

Regarding your assertion that the whole story was saying “all black people are good, all white people are bad,” all I can say is, this remark says more about you than the comic I wrote. Aren’t the first “bad guys” in the book black invaders with body part trophies from previous raids? If you think I’m vilifying the administration, isn’t that a black woman in charge? Clearly, all black people aren’t “good” in this issue. So maybe the problem, in your eyes, is that there aren’t enough “good” white people? Why? Captain America may have lost the fight with the Panther, but he certainly doesn’t say or do anything to betray the principles he stands for. And when one guy in the meeting says something stupid, everyone looks at him like the fool he is, and once he is dragged away, intelligent conversation resumes — so why brand the entire room as racist because of one guy’s comments? I wouldn’t presume that about them, so why would you?

Finally, regarding your concern that this book will become a “soapbox screaming that every white person (and super hero) is, knowingly or not, a racist,” let me say this: By necessity, many black people spend long hours analyzing the complex permutations of racism, while some of their white brothers and sisters have a harder time discussing the awkward and painful feelings the topic evokes. But sticking our heads in the sand only makes the problem worse. Until we develop a common language and a shared understand of each other’s experiences, these conversations will generate more heat than light. I don’t want to preach to the converted. I don’t want to preach at all. But I do want to challenge readers of every political stripe. I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to stick around. The more you read, the more you’ll see I’m an equal opportunity offender. The more you read, the more you’ll see I’m all about kick-@$$ action and heroics. And if you think Stan and Jack didn’t have a personal agenda, you’re wrong. Like The Beatles, they used their artistic genius to make the world a better place — and they succeeded.
–Reggie

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14 comments to “Black Panther & Black Supremacy”

  1. About Bush and the diversity of his cabinet … he actually did something very positive for racial perception that only he could have done.

    I’m a white guy, I grew up in a family that tried to be conscious of racial inequalities (my folks were nearly the only whites who showed up at one MLK Jr speech), and so I am always a little bit aware that, for every black man or woman in a position of authority, they very probably had to work harder and be better than their white competition. So I am really, really reluctant to dismiss them as stupid, misguided, or otherwise unsuited to their position, because if anything they are probably even more suited than I can perceive. That is, of course, a bias on my part, and in a perfect world such a bias wouldn’t exist.

    Well, the Bush administration taught me how to be exactly as critical of blacks in authority as of whites. For whatever good Colin Powell did in the military, he’s also the guy who went to the UN and knowingly tried to sell a war that brought nothing but harm to hundreds of thousands of people. For whatever genius Condi Rice might possess, she turned that genius to an unworthy calling, the defense of an administration that historians are already confident is one of the worst in US history. And sure as shooting I am convinced Clarence Thomas is a man unsuited to any position of authority at all, be it the Supreme Court or night manager of a Taco Bell.

    I’m still mindful that your Powells / Rices / Thomases probably had to work harder than their white counterparts, but I also see that they can be exactly as broken and wrong-headed as their white counterparts. So thank you George W. Bush for teaching me that important lesson about true equality.


  2. Even the relatively small percentage of Jerries in fandom is enough to make me for the most part stay the hell away from it.


  3. I think it’s a bit of a dodge for Hudlin to try and say that he’s NOT taking a shot at the then-in-power Bush administration when he went to the trouble to name that lady who was presented as some sort of high-level security/Cabinet member “Dondi Reese,” which is awfully close to “Condi Rice.” Though I suppose this WAS written about half a year before Kanye West at the Hurricane Katrina relief concert.

    Maybe it’s the fact that I kinda agree with the guy writing in, but I don’t feel like he had axes to grind as his reaction is a slightly more pronounced version of my own. After being shown his Secret Invasion tie-in and thinking “huh, this Black Panther dude’s pretty cool, what’s his deal” I was recommended to read this specific Black Panther story afterwards. And, well, “preachy author on soapbox” is EXACTLY the impression I walked away with after that first story arc. That stuff the person is writing in about jumped out so much to me that I was half-expecting Keenan Ivory Wayans to lean in from off panel and shout “MESSAGE!” before ducking out.

    A little while later, I heard there was going to be a Black Panther cartoon, so I checked out the first episode. It was more of a motion comic than full-on animation, which I don’t have much of a problem with. Unfortunately for me, the comic it was putting into motion was this one, so I didn’t stick with it. It’s one of those things where maybe Black Panther’s the kind of guy who is pretty awesome whenever he shows up in the Avengers comics and cartoons as a supporting character, but as the main lead there’s something kind of blah about it all.

    In other words, Black Panther is a whole lot like Superman.


  4. @Daryl Surat: Jason Aaron wrote the Black Panther Secret Invasion tie-in, not Hudlin.


  5. Maybe it’s because I’m on a phone but I had a hard one telling who was saying what when.


  6. Reg, that was graceful. As fuck.


  7. @Henry: I do indeed understand that the Secret Invasion tie-in was not written by Hudlin. What I’m saying is that I liked that one despite having no real familiarity with the character, asked “what should I read next?” and was directed to the Hudlin one, which is where this particular letters page is from. My use of “his” was a little weak, as I’d intended it to refer to the character “Black Panther” and not any particular author.


  8. Definitely interested to see what you have to write, David, as I haven’t actually read much Black Panther at all, and you’re the only person I know of who likes/recommends Hudlin’s run. Whenever the subject is brought up, I’ve heard/seen nothing but deprecation for it, and I haven’t had the opportunity to actually see it for myself.


  9. Here’s the piece: http://www.comicsalliance.com/2013/02/27/black-comic-writers-writing-while-black-one-punch-man/


  10. I know this has little to do with the main point of the article, but I’ve always liked JR Jr’s art. Not as much as Mark Bagley’s art, but I like it nonetheless.


  11. @Daryl: Yeah, I figured that out five seconds after posting, sorry. I’m a big fan of Black Panther, I got to him through McGregor, Kirby and Priest, but first and foremost Christopher Priest.

    I…didn’t much like Hudlin’s take on the character either. I thought his opening story was pretty weak, and it changed a lot of T’Challa’s origins in a confusing way. He jettisoned a lot of the cast that I loved, either ignored them outright or killed them off, and really dragged out that Luke Cage buddy-adventure stuff.

    Which annoyed me a great deal. Cage and Panther had known each other for a while by that point but the story played it like it was their first meeting. It was stuff like that that really irked me about his run. Continuity gaffes or changes that felt unnecessary to the character and the story.

    Stuff like making the Rhino a vaguely racist American and introducing a different Black Knight out of no where.A Black Knight who also happens to be a racist crusader invading Wakanda on behalf of the Catholic church ‘to enlighten the savage’. Having Doom spout out racial theory bollocks also sat the wrong way with me. There’s a story to be told about colonialization and the evils Europe has inflicted on Africa, but it could have been handled with a bit more wit. McGregor told stories that touched on that, and did it well in my opinion.

    Kudos to Hudlin on putting in a good Batroc appearance though, and JrJr’s art was pretty damn nice. I also liked Shuri a bit even though her existence confused me for five seconds, and the updated look of the Dora Milaje was pretty swell.

    If you hated Hudlin and want to get good Panther stories that aren’t as dated as the Kirby and McGregor stuff, hunt down the Priest run. For me its the definitive take on the character. You could say Hudlin put out a dumber version of Priest’s stuff, if you want to look at it that way.

    Mostly I’m just annoyed Christopher Priest isn’t writing comics any more. His Black Panther run was my intro to comic books(alongside Exiles) and the fact Marvel hasn’t given his run a proper trade release just gets to me and compounds my dislike for Hudlin’s stuff.

    Wow, that turned into a bit of a rant.


  12. Henry: Priest still makes the occasional dabble into comics. Just last year he contributed a story to the African-American Graphic Classics book.

    But yes, just the first year of Priest’s Black Panther has been collected into trades. Hudlin? Even his Shuri-Panther stories have trades.

    I think from the first issue it was clear Hudlin’s Panther was going to be challenging for those of us who enjoyed Priest’s work. Between rewriting the T’Chaka/Cap encounter into a story about Cap losing a fight (rather than the bridge-building from Priest’s tale) and Everett K. Ross suddenly being a middle-aged dude, it wasn’t courting us.


  13. Can I just say that I haven’t read a Panther comic since the original Stan/Jack era comics (in locally printed big black and white reprints)but I heard the good word on Priest’s run just in time for him to be replaced with Reg Hudlin.

    I only have so much cash to spend on comics per month so I shrugged and moved on. After reading Mr Hudlin’s response above…. ummm… I guess I’m gonna have to earmark some dollars for back issues :)


  14. I just wish they would make the Priest Panther series available on Comxolgy, because I would spend the hell of my money to get legit copies of that to read on my tablet. But no, one freaking issue out of everything he did…

    This illustrates one of the differences between DC and Marvel perfectly: DC keeps things in print out of spite, while Marvel keeps them out of print for the same reason.