Archive for the 'black history month ’08' Category

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Black History Month 31: I Can’t Sleep (On This)

May 1st, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Nasir “Nas” Jones is one of the best rappers alive.

It’s as plain as the chipped tooth in his mouth. Illmatic is one of the top five best albums ever. It’s that good. New York State of Mind, to pick one song, is infinitely quotable (“I never sleep, ’cause sleep is the cousin of death” “Rappers I monkey flip ‘em with the funky rhythm I be kickin'” “I got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane/ Life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain” “Never put me in your box if the shit eats tapes”). If I tried, I could probably kick half the rhymes on the album with an instrumental.

The problem with coming out swinging on your first try is that your second looks lame by comparison. So it was with Nas– basically every album has been seen as lesser than Illmatic, to the point where Nas released Stillmatic. I’d say that Hip-Hop is Dead is his closest to Illmatic and a thoroughly awesome album.

The thing about Nas is that he’s scary clever and intelligent. It’s like if Tupac had kept up with the tone of his first album (Brenda Had a Baby, for example) with a bit more black power in. He is a sick storyteller. He isn’t the free-association kind of storyteller like Ghostface is. He’s in the Rakim school of telling stories– really straightforward and just in the mix. Ether is still basically the anatomy of how to make a diss song.

(If you’ve ever seen me make reference to spitting ether or ethering someone, just know that I’m not talking about the chemical.)

What I’m saying boils down to Nas is smart. The corollary to that is that he should know better.

Case in point, from King Magazine (vaguely nsfw, bikinis):

Do you remember the first time you were discriminated against because you were black?
The first time I opened up a Superman comic book. The first time I saw Flashdance, with the light-skinned, beautiful bitch who’s chasing after some white cat, which…I don’t have nothing against interracial relationships—love ’em, actually.

This is Nas’s career in a nutshell. He’ll hit you with something profound and then follow it up with something off-kilter. “The first time I opened a Superman comic book.” “The first time I saw Flashdance, with the light-skinned, beautiful bitch.”

He’ll drop The World Is Yours and then hit you with Hate Me Now. He’ll go from Nasty Nas to Nas Escobar. Illmatic to It Was Written. He put One Mic, one of my most favorite songs ever, on an album with Braveheart Party, a song so bad that Mary J Blige asked for it to be removed from the second pressing of the album. Braveheart Party makes me want to fight Nas. One Mic makes me want to hang out with him and chop it up.

Nas’s next album is called Nigger. I trust him and his skill, particularly lately, to be able to pull it off. The first single is harsh, but I’m digging it. It took me a minute to open up to it.

What will it say about the record industry if Def Jam drops you, 10 albums deep, over a single word?
That starts a revolution. It sparks something within the hip-hop community, within the streets, within the people outside the streets. It raises an eyebrow to the situation, you know? Nobody wants to deal with the word “nigger,” because what comes with the word “nigger” is a whole history where you show so much injustice, and you show so much that has not been fixed yet. So it’s a scary thing. But it’s also uncomfortable when I’m dealing with it. Like, no one can tell me what to do. None of the black leaders, none of these motherfuckers, record companies, none of them can tell me what to do. Because you can’t stop what I want to do, you understand?

Nas is smart. Nas is stupid.

I say that this is Nas’s career in a nutshell, but it’s also bigger than that. It’s emblematic of a bunch of black men all over the country. Actually, let me dial that back– I am right there with Nas.

I’m not perfect. Sometimes I slip. Sometimes I roll my eyes at certain things like “*smh*, white people.” Sometimes I look at something and the only comment I’ve got is “That’s mad niggerish, man.” Sometimes I want to just box the entire internet’s ears and and scream on someone.

I’m smart. I should know better.

It’s a constant struggle. This is why I don’t like snarky things– it’s too easy. Anyone can toss off six sentences of ill will without really looking at something. I try to keep from doing it if only because I hate it. I force myself to think things over. I force myself to adjust to new information. I force myself to produce real content, for good or for ill.

I love Nas. I don’t want to be Nas.

From Nas’s verse on Kanye West’s “We Major”:

I heard the beat and I ain’t know what to write
First line, should it be about the hoes or the ice?
Fo-fo’s or Black Christ? Both flows’d be nice
Rap about big paper or the black man plight?

Nas knows what I’m talking about. (Kanyayo does, too, but that’s another conversation.) You can go low brow or you can go high brow. I can talk about ice or black man’s plight, which one do I pick?

I like Luke Cage and Storm. At the same time, I hate Luke Cage and Storm and everything they represent. They’re two sides of the same coin– the dangerous thug and the whitewashed safe one. The problem is that that coin represents a false dichotomy.

It isn’t that simple. Very, very few things are black and white. Racism and sexism definitely aren’t as simple as racist/not racist or sexist/not sexist, no matter how hard people on both sides of the argument try to make it seem that way. 99% of people are Nas– stuck in the middle. Smart and stupid. Gifted and wasted talent.

Pedro of FBB and I talk pretty much daily, and one thing we often talk about is how the level of discourse online and off embraces dichotomies way too easily. People want to be able to point and say “That’s wrong” and be absolutely right. It’s the “Manichean murder machine” that The Invisibles talks about. Nine times out of ten, it isn’t as simple as with me/against me. Real life is not in black and white. Real life is in shades of gray. I feel like it’s important to take that into account when writing.

On the one hand, Lil Wayne is the dude who coined “Bling bling.” On the other, he’s dropped incredible verses on “Georgia… Bush” and Rich Boy’s “Ghetto Rich” remix. (“Fuck being like Mike, I wanna be like pop/ Then I picked up a mic, I wanna be like ‘Pac/ Please put down the pipe, you don’t need that rock/ Please put up a fight for the kids that watch/ Us in the spotlight, and then they mock/ But caskets get closed and then they drop.”) David Banner can drop “Like A Pimp” or “Play” (NSFW) and then be that dude who basically did a better job raising money for the Hurricane Katrina support effort than the US government?

Is T.I. the idiot who got caught trying to buy illegal guns, or is he the guy who stays working with single parents and Boys & Girls Clubs, trying to make life easier for them?

This is what I think about. I write for a living, so I take this writing thing pretty seriously. I want to be sure that I’m on point, because my words reflect who I am. I’m not afraid to pull back and tell myself “It’s just comics,” but I’m not going to be that guy who is talking out of the side of his neck and end up looking like an idiot.

I hadn’t realized it until I sat down and thought about it, but Nas was probably the first “conscious” rapper I heard. I’m saying, I knew PE and KRS and them, but I know Nas way better than I know them. Maybe that’s why he’s so prominent in my mind. I heard KRS and PE. I paid attention to Nas.

I could talk about the man and his career all day. I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing about Nas on my comics blog and I don’t entirely know where I’m going with this. He wanted to draw comics as a kid, though, which ties into my usual point that black people reading comics isn’t a new or remarkable thing. Don’t call it a comeback new trend, ’cause we’ve always been here. Pay attention.


Basically, Nas and L-Boogie would be the best duo in music ever.

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Black History Month 30: Call Me Nat Turner With a Burner

March 3rd, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Warfare’s inevitable, Rebel I hold several government official
Issue thirty-eight specials, that step through
Like Nat Turner create a spectacle
I may die in the scuffle, but I’m takin’ forty devils

–Inspectah Deck, “The City”

I watch my small home burn to the ground. My wife and daughter’s screams stopped over half an hour ago. I should get up, but I can’t find the reason or the strength. My world has been destroyed, and the cruelty is that I have survived it.

After a long time, I find a reason to move. I can’t say it’s a good reason, or a Christian reason… but it’s reason enough.

I head into the direction of the white triangles.

I head into the dark.
–John Henry, New Frontier

Steel Drivin’ Man

I was really big into American folk tales for a while, real or fictional. Paul Bunyan, John Henry, George Washington Carver, and so on. They were infinitely interesting, but one that kept catching my eye sounded like fiction, despite the fact that it actually happened.

Nat, commonly called Nat Turner, (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an American slave whose slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, was the most remarkable instance of black resistance to enslavement in the antebellum southern United States. His methodical slaughter of white civilians during the uprising makes his legacy controversial, but he is still considered by many to be a heroic figure of black resistance to oppression. At birth he was not given a surname, but was recorded solely by his given name, Nat. In accordance with a common practice, he was often called by the surname of his owner, Samuel Turner.

Nat Turner is an icon, and kind of a hard one to explain my interest in. I mean, his mission was to straight up kill white people and free slaves. “Hey guys, I heard this awesome story about this dude named Nat. He helped kill like fifty white people and–”

Yeah, that’s about as far as you get before the funny looks start, huh?

I guess if I had to nail it down, it’d be the fact that Nat was up against a wall in an untenable position and didn’t just sit there– he reacted. He made a choice. One thing that pretty much every black kid I knew would do was brag about how if they were alive back in slave days, they’d fight back, kill the master, and take over the plantation. You’d think you were looking at an entire generation made up of Huey Newtons and Malcolm X’s the way we used to talk.

I’m older now, and to be honest, I’m not sure how I would react. Would I stand tall? Would I bend? Heaven forbid, would I buckle and break? I know which one I’d hope to do, but I can’t say for sure.

John Henry in Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier is a character I love dearly, and it was very cool to hear Cooke say that it was some of his favorite writing and best scenes in the book. Including him in New Frontier greatly increased my enjoyment of the book and, in a way, summarized a lot of the time going up to the civil rights struggle. There have always been people trying to do good– however, they were ahead of their time. So far ahead of their time that they ended up dead.

One connection that I happened upon, that may or may not have been intentional, is the one between Nat Turner, the legendary John Henry, and the New Frontier John Henry. New Frontier John Henry’s real name was John Wilson. He seemed to have been a well-established dude, with a wife and daughter, before he “died.” When he came back from the dead, he became a mix of two black folk heroes: Nat Turner and John Henry.

The iconography is John Henry with a twist. The hammers are John Henry, but the hood and noose are new. The hood and noose are bold statements. “You can’t kill me,” the noose says. “You tried, you failed, and here I am again.” The hood has a similar message. “I am no one. I am everyone.” It turns John Henry into an idea.

The actions, though? Those are a more focused Nat Turner. Instead of indiscriminate murder, he’s going after the people who do wrong. He’s going after the problem. He’s taking a stand. He’s standing tall. He’s striking back. It’s all he has left to live for.

It’s a mix that really speaks to me, I guess. Two of my favorite heroes in one person and beautifully illustrated. I feel like the John Henry sequence is a vital portion of the book, if not the best portion, and was pretty brave to include in the final product. I’m curious as to whether or not DC editorial had any qualms, but at the same time? It went through. That’s the important part.

Wondercon was a trip and a half for me. I had GDC on Monday through Friday, and then Wondercon on Friday through Sunday. I did a lot, saw a lot, found a lot. I’m still recovering and my sleep schedule is awful. However, it was also worth it because I bought the best page of art from New Frontier.

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I win.

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Black History Month 29: Black Is Black

February 29th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

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from marvel comics’s truth: red, white, and black by bob morales and kyle baker
Love us or leave us, we have always been here and we will always be here.

Black history is American history.

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Black History Month 28: We Fly High

February 28th, 2008 Posted by david brothers


Black Panther
you ain’t ready
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Blade and Brother Voodoo
“There are worse things out tonight than vampires.”
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Cage
amandla, man. (sorry)
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The Crew
don’t start none, won’t be none
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Flippa Dippa
look man, i got nothing.
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John Henry Irons, Steel
steel drivin’ man
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John Stewart, Green Lantern
taking him for granted would be a mistake
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(one more day!)

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Black History Month 27: Dirty Harriet

February 27th, 2008 Posted by david brothers


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no-nonsense but common sense in droves
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Azteka
my favorite one-shot hero
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Misty Knight
the best fake pam grier ever
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Storm
first lady of the marvel universe
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Black History Month 26: Escapism

February 26th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

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art from dc comics’s mister miracle. words by grant morrison, art by freddie williams ii
“Look, I’ve never had a dream in my life
Because a dream is what you wanna do, but still haven’t pursued
I knew what I wanted and did it till it was done
So I’ve been the dream that I wanted to be since day one!”
Well! The nurse jumped back,
She’d never heard Lucy even talk,
‘Specially words like that
She walked over to the door, and pulled it closed behind
Then Lucy blew a kiss to each one of her pictures
And she died.

–Aesop Rock, “No Regrets”

This is an easy one: hope.

There is nothing that cannot be fixed. There is nothing that cannot be turned around and made better. There is no problem that is unsolvable. Anything can be done.

Pessimism isn’t the answer. It’ll get you nowhere but unsurprised and depressed. The majority of problems aren’t done on purpose. There isn’t a secret conspiracy of people out to get you or hurt you. It’s just ignorance (in the purest sense of the word) and non-thinking.

The answer is speaking. Education. Each one, reach one. Each one, teach one.

You gotta work to fix things. Working is worth it.

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Black History Month 25: Halle Berry? No Surprise.

February 25th, 2008 Posted by david brothers


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art from marvel comics’s black panther. words by hudlin, art by sal larocca, scot eaton, and cafu.
Whether chocolate or vanilla, or you’re somewhere in between
A cappuccino mocha or a caramel queen
Rejected by the black, not accepted by the white world
And this is dedicated to them dark skinned white girls

–Murs, “DSWG”

This is kind of a hard post to phrase, ’cause, man, it’s rooted in old school prejudices. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to shake, you know? So, let’s just get right into it.

When Halle Berry was announced as Storm for the first X-Men movie, there was really just one response from most black people I knew who read comics, including my uncle who put me onto them in the first place: “Well, if that ain’t just the worst and most apt casting ever.”

Halle Berry has made a career out of being the “safe” black actress. She’s part (half?) polish and she’s fairly light-skinned. She’s just white enough to be nonthreatening, if that makes sense. I’m not dissing her for that, of course. She can’t help how she was born or why she sometimes gets roles. It’s just that, well, she’s got a reputation.

So, in a way, she was the perfect Storm and the worst possible Storm they could have picked. Storm is a regal, powerful, arrogant African Queen. Storm possesses some of the most powerful abilities on the X-Men and in the Marvel U. She’s a powerhouse. Storm also has long, apparently super-permed white hair, blue eyes, and distinctly non-african features for the majority of her lifespan.

That’s the crux of Storm right there. For a long time, she was only black in skin tone, and barely even then. Claremont built her up into this amazing goddess in Africa (and that is something else entirely), a master tactician (making for three on the X-Men), and generally just this amazing character. Thing is, she looked black. She doesn’t read black, she doesn’t feel black, and to a lot of people, that means that she’s barely black at all.

I mean, look at how long it took her to hook up with a black dude. Heyooooooo I’m here all night folks, try the veal. You guys are a great audience, really.

The thing is, Storm was all we had for so long that she’s kind of the pre-eminent black female of the comics world by default. I might find Misty Knight more interesting, but I like crime comics and blaxploitation. Misty pushes my buttons, but she can’t really go cosmic. Who else is left? Vixen can’t carry that burden. Natasha Irons is still way too green. Who’s left? Bumblebee from Teen Titans? I hadn’t even read her in Teen Titans before Tiny Titans came out, but I hate shrinky people, so that’s a big fat en oh.

This is the problem with only having a few black characters in comics way back when. You have to latch onto someone, and sometimes that someone isn’t really what you’re looking for. You settle for second best, basically. You can’t get the Smurfs, so you settle for the Snorks. You can’t get Beast Wars, so you settle for Extreme Ghostbusters. That sort of thing.

In a way, Storm is one of the best black females in comics. In another, she’s one of the absolute worst.

I love Storm, but I hate her, and what she represents, so much sometimes.

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Black History Month 24: Static and Manhood

February 24th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

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from milestone comics’s static. words by mcduffie/washington, art by john paul leon
Dear Sean–
What’s goin’ on? Not much to say
Just checkin’ in wit’cha trying to see what’s wrong today
I know there’s gotta be something kickin’ your bruises
How’s the love? How’s the music? How’s the self-abusiveness?
Got a lot to lose, it’s breakin’ your shoulders
So you let your paranoia place your bets for you

–Atmosphere, “Little Man”

I really enjoy Static. Honest to goodness, he’s one of the best “new” characters to hit in the ’90s. I think that McDuffie & Co. did a wonderful job creating and realizing him. They took the Spider-Man prototype and took it to the next logical level. I spoke about this a few days ago, but I wanted to get back at it. I’v got some breathing room during Wondercon, so you guys get to reap the whirlwind!

Static is probably the most accurate depiction of a young black male to ever hit comics. I haven’t read every comic ever, but Static just rings true on basically every level. He’s also a great example to show just how black masculinity goes sometimes.

You could a decent case for Virgil having gotten his powers because of a girl. One day at school, he met a girl named Frieda. A bully embarrasses him in front of her, but waits until she leaves to beat him down. Virgil crumples and can’t do much but cry. His friend rescues him from the bully, probably saving him a trip to the hospital, and helps him up. He lets Virgil know that he’s got a gun for him if he wants it. Virgil goes home.

When he gets home, his mom chides him for getting beaten up. He’s supposed tos tay out of trouble at this school, not fall into more. He’s got to learn to take care of himself. Virgil goes up to his room just in time to catch the phone ringing. On the other line is Frieda Goren, the girl from before. She compliments him on not being about “that macho stuff” and says that that’s why the bully chose him to attack.

Whoops.

Let me tell you, speaking as a former black teenager– there is nothing in the world worse than looking like a chump in front of a cute girl. Honestly. Getting beaten up would be one thing, but having that girl basically say “You aren’t a real man and that’s why you got beaten up,” regardless of the reason, is like being kicked in the junk by like four different people at once. It’s that Hitchcock zoom– the world zooms out, your face zooms in, and you can’t do anything but grimace in pain.

The second issue of Static uses this as part of Static’s origin story, and it’s a good hook. Regardless of how ridiculous or nonsensical standards of manhood are– they exist. You can be a “real man,” for varying definitions of “real man” depending on your location, upbringing, and state of mind. There are certain thing that you should do and are expected to do and if you don’t do them? Well, dude, sorry, but you aren’t gonna fit in. You’re a sucker, a mark, a punk, a whatever your local regional slang calls a dude who can’t stand on his own two feet.

Virgil was already feeling low because of the beatdown, but this was strikes two, three, four, and five all at once. The secret ingredient to being a boy is that being around girls makes you do stupid things. They don’t even have to say or do anything to you– girls are kryptonite. Kryptonite makes Superman weak. Frieda’s comments, no matter their trustworthiness, made Virgil weak. He calls his friend and asks for a gun. He’s going to put one between the bully’s eyes.

That’s the other half of being a man. Regaining lost manhood. It’s just as bad as kryptonite. Thing is, regaining your lost manhood isn’t a matter of “how far will you go.” It’s a matter of “You’ve already gone too far. How far over the line will you go?” Putting a .38 slug into a dude because he beat you up and made you feel like a chump? That’s way over the line.

There’s something I picked up years ago from music. Knowledge is all about knowing the ledge. That means knowing your limits, knowing the edge, knowing how far is too far, and just knowing period. If you’re “not knowing?” You’re not right. You’re doing wrong. Virgil was not knowing.

This is that fine line that you have to learn to walk. You put on that mean face and treat everyone like a threat. If you’re smiling and walking around like it’s all good, you’re a target. You have to learn what being a man means to you, not to other people. If you don’t mind a bit of punnery, you’ve got to be a self-made man. What means “a man” to you? You have to decide early, otherwise you’re stuck following someone else’s definition.

It’s almost like a competition, only there aren’t any winners in this race. You’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses and look better than the next man, but you don’t realize that those people you’re trying to keep up with? They’re trying to keep up with you at the same time. It’s a zero-sum game.

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Black History Month 23: Best Friends, Better Brothers

February 23rd, 2008 Posted by david brothers

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art from dc comics’s hitman. words by garth ennis, art by john mccrea
I call my brother “son” ’cause he shine like one.
–Method Man

Just a quick one today. I’ve got a ridiculous weekend on tap, so I’m gonna have to let the images do the talking for me this time. Sorry! I wanted to go more in-depth on Natt, as I think he’s kind of an awesome character, but time is working against me.

Basically, Natt the Hat is an old friend of Tommy Monaghan’s. They were in Desert Storm together and formed a bond there that lasted for years. When they reconnected, they went into business together. Tommy would get a call for an assassination, he’d call Natt up, and then they’d go kill somebody.

The thing about Natt is that he’s a no-BS kind of guy. He’s very much straight and to the point. If it needs to be done or needs to be said, Natt says it. He’s big on doing what you’re supposed to do, but also in being honest with yourself.

Natt quit cursing when a loved one asked him not to on her deathbed. He went twenty-odd issues without saying a curse word, or at least Ennis’s censored curses. When the SAS came after him and Tommy, he quit quitting. The quitting was an affectation, something he did because it was nice and he was supposed to. But, he recognizes that when you get down to brass tacks, affectations have to go out of the window. You have to be able to do what you need to do to survive.

The scene above shows Natt’s personality perfectly. He calls Tommy on the idea that there’s an honorable hitman. Whether or not you kill cops doesn’t matter– you still pull triggers for a living. Pretending to be anything else is just window dressing. You have to be honest with yourself, and then work your way up from there.

Natt and Tommy are close enough to be brothers. They know each other very well, which is what prompts this scene. It’s a good one, and a good example of the character work Ennis did during Hitman. Yeah, Natt is from the ghettos of Detroit. Yeah, he’s a black dude who uses slang. Yeah, he uses guns for a living.

But, you know what? He’s fully realized. He isn’t a cardboard cutout. He’s got all 360 degrees that good characters have. He’s just as important to the book as the main character, and that’s a wonderful thing.

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Black History Month 22: Panther’s Quest

February 22nd, 2008 Posted by david brothers

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art from marvel comics’s panther’s quest. words by don mcgregor, art by gene colan.
I still remember the first comic featuring Black Panther I ever read. It was Marvel Comics Presents 15. It might have been 16. I had both. Amazon tells me that the line-up was “Ann Nocenti (Author), Don McGregor (Author), Bobbie Chase (Author), Fabian Nicieza (Author), Rick Leonardi (Illustrator), Gene Colan (Illustrator), Dwayne Turner (Illustrator), Javier Saltares (Illustrator).”

Not bad for a first look at a book, huh? Nocenti and Nicieza remain favorite writers for me. The rest of the team is just as awesome.

Anyway, the storyline was called “Panther’s Quest.” It was by Don McGregor and Gene Colan. It was probably my first book by those two, as well. Double my pleasure, then. As a kid, I just remember the story being about tube-socked Black Panther being in the desert, dying slowly, and sometimes running into barbed wire and getting cut or meeting up with a big game hunter in the woods and getting shot. It was bloody, disturbing, and I didn’t understand all of it because it was 25 parts long. Back then, I got comics by trading them. Buying new ones was rare. So, I read maybe three or four issues of this storyline, only two of them sequential, and forgot about it until recently.

I looked the story up and re-read it, this time in its entirety and in one sitting. Wow, what a great story that was. It dealt with apartheid, reality, family life, how far a man will go, and how corrupt a man can get. McGregor’s script was awesomely well-written, not to mention exciting. I wish I’d read the complete story as a kid. It’s exactly what I would have needed to actually like the Panther, ’cause the Avengers books never did it for me.

A huge part of my love for this book is Gene Colan’s art. It’s gritty and realistic and really very violent, but in a way that fits the story, rather than titillates. It made a huge impression on me as a kid. I hadn’t seen art like that before. Gritty? Yeah. Violent? Yeah. But it was always done by Image guys, so it was just a cartoon. When Colan draws the Panther writhing in pain, struggling with an enemy, or collapsing, you feel it. It looks like it should, so it looks like it hurts.

This is another of those books that really needs a reprint volume. The new Marvel Classics Premiere Hardcovers would be perfect for it. It’s about 200 pages, I believe, so the page count is bang on target. I think it’s one of Marvel’s forgotten classics, if that makes sense. You can reprint Infinity War until the cows come home, but Panther’s Quest is just languishing. It shouldn’t.

I threw up a pretty hardcore preview of 16 pages at the top of this post. That’s the first two parts of the story. Hopefully it doesn’t run into fair use troubles! I just wanted to show you guys a bit of the storytelling, setup, and art.

C’mon, Marvel! Get us a hardcover of this story.

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