Why Black Panther is Important to Comics
Call him what you want: T’Challa, the Wakandan King, Bearer of the panther god’s blessing, etc. Black Panther is one of the most important characters in comics. Created by the legendary partnership between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the protector of Wakanda is the first black superhero to ever grace the pages of mainstream comics. But that’s not the only thing that makes King T’Challa a huge and progressive presence in comic books.
Yes, race representation has been one of the hot topics of late in the comic book industry, and we are going to say that representation doesn’t end with just having token appearances by other ethnicities without any bearing to the story at all. Worse, there is always the looming threat of falling into the whole stereotype trap where one’s intentions may, intentionally or otherwise, portray other nationalities, ethnicities, and racial groups in a negative light. And that, of course, is not right.
The thing is, T’Challa is somewhat unique among all other black superheroes out there in that he doesn’t have to get embroiled in all the issues surrounding race representation. That’s a good thing, if you ask us: T’Challa has been portrayed so well in the comics that he doesn’t need to make use of his race in order to make him stand out. You see, characters like Luke Cage and Black Lightning, as awesome and empowering as they are, are still sometimes approached as “those black superheroes.” Another perfect example would be the relatively recent promotion of Sam Wilson as Captain America: people don’t see him just as Captain America; he’s “the black Captain America.” And as good as they represent race in comics, it’s still rather saddening to have that sense of novelty whenever people see a non-Caucasian superhero. And that’s the thing that makes the Wakandan King so important: He just is a generally cool character who happens to be African. Now, we’re not saying that T’Challa is a rather neutered representation of race akin to token characters. What we are saying, though, is that we are willing to go so far as to say that Black Panther epitomizes the ideals of race representation in comics. Here we have a character that doesn’t necessarily have to deal with race issues; He’s a king, god damn it! And kings don’t have time for things that the closed-minded and ignorant revel in. To put it differently, Black Panther is one of those rare characters that belong to a different racial group and was able to transcend it, and become more than a character that holds the torch for race representation. As a result, readers don’t have to care that the character is black or the he’s from Africa. And that’s a good thing: it means that with T’Challa, race is not an issue anymore. And that’s the whole point: that we are able to lose the novelty behind any character that belongs to another ethnicity means that we view the character as what he or she is fundamentally, which is human.And that is just beautiful.