As an African American youth, I loved all kind of comic books, but sometimes wondered what the writers were thinking when they decided to not include as many heroes in their stories. The X-Men had Ororo, or Storm. There was Luke Cage, an invincible kick-butt kind of guy. The Green Lanterns also added, John Stewart,an African American Lantern after Hal Jordan was out of the picture for a bit. In all of these additions though, there was not one that I had read that was centered in it’s own myth. It bothered me a bit, again, because as a young man, I wanted something that I could really relate to on a more personal level. Imagine my surprise to discover T’Challa in the land of Wakanda. You may know him as his hero name, Black Panther. I was instantly in LOVE!!!
T’Challa was the son of the King of fictional African country of Wakanda, T’Chaka. Per the original storyline, after his father was killed by a mercenary intent on taking and exploiting the country’s rich vibranium resources, T’Challa almost kills the mercenary. He was stopped, but in disgust, he eventually leaves Africa for America and Europe, spending time gaining valuable education and life experiences before returning to Wakanda. Upon his return, he fights and defeats the current Black Panther, thus claiming the mantle and connecting to Bast, the Panther God. This imbues him with ancient and powerful magical abilities. It also effectively made him the new King of Wakanda. Despite fending off enemies from within his country and from the outside, T’Challa creates a country that becomes a world leader in weaponry and defense. He uses his powers to protect his people, but still effectively keeps them closed off from the rest of the world. Eventually, as he sees opportunities to further his kingdom’s interests, he opens up to help from other heroes of the day, including the Avengers most notably. These connections loosen his isolationist practices, but also open Wakanda up to more enemies than ever.
What I love about this comic book is that at one point, T’Challa has to deal with some real world issues, like the KKK, who try to come in and threaten his country’s resources. Even as a young man, I understood how much of a metaphor for the real world these issues were. Using true to life groups who were engaged in active conflicts against African American growth and independence was a genius way to keep those issues in the forefront of society. It spoke to me that a young man was not only willing, but excited to take on the mantle of responsibility for an entire country of people.
This story still speaks to me as a father and a teacher. While I live in an area devoid of an immense African American populous, my wife and I do all that we can to instill in our children the fact that African Americans have played a major role in the development of this country, that there are battles we will wage that are worth it, and that it is an inherited responsibility for us to be civil servants and further the agenda that everyone is equal. When I look at the story of T’Challa, I see a man like myself. I see a man who struggles to walk the line between who is is, and who he is expected to be. I see a man conflicted about his mistakes, and how they can sometimes outweigh the joy of a triumph. Even with all of his powers, T’Challa has to constantly defeat the voice within him that wants him to quit and give up, but even in those heated moments when giving up would be the easiest thing in the world for him to do, he remembers that his country and people come first. He refuses to let Wakanda fall while he holds the power to help it stand.
I say this about our world. What if we took on this mindset in everything? What is we thought about the impact that our actions have on our countries, our families, our next generations? What if we lived with a devout sense of responsibility to our fellow man or woman? What if we relied upon superhuman compassion and empathy to defend others with the same vitriol that we sometimes excoriate those who simply need understanding and love? To me, the Black Panther is not merely symbolic of the struggle of African American acceptance, both from without and within, but it is also a commentary on how powerful the human race could be if we simply allowed ourselves to be powerful.
Marianne Williamson’s quote has always spoken volumes to me, but especially in the light of thinking about this comic book.
“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most.”
Marvel Comics speaks truths through this epic story line. While not well read, it still continues to endure as a beacon of the frightening light, that within all of us is a hero just waiting to be embraced and unleashed.
Be that hero. Thank you, Marvel Comics, for helping a young African American gain a worldview without even realizing it at the time.
And yes, I know that I did not even mention the Black Panther organization in this post. To do so would require another post entirely!!