This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
The Essential Black Panther Volume 1
(Don McGregor, Jack Kirby, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard; Marvel -- originally published 1972, 1977)
"...all I wanted to do was write stories. And I wanted to write stories that meant something to me. All I wanted to do was write my books and be left alone." This is what Don McGregor told us when Essential Black Panther Volume 1 was released, and he ain't talkin' no platitudes. McGregor writes from his heart. It's just what he does. Love him or hate him, it's hard to be indifferent to his work and if you don't have a reaction to the two storylines that make up Essential Black Panther Volume 1 then I don't want to know you, you are dead to me.
Because back there in the 70's, when these stories were originally published, Marvel was trying to find something for McGregor to do. They thought they would just throw him a bone, toss him this "Jungle book" and tell him when he failed that, hey, they gave him a shot. By trying to bury Don, though, they helped unearth his genius. And that's what the work in Essential Black Panther Volume 1 is -- genius. These pages are a Master Class in story telling, and they're not just that (which is so much) -- they're also groundbreaking on so many levels.
As Don said in our conversation about this book,
"With this series, they set up the fact that it was going to be the Black Panther in Wakanda. But then it was an all black cast of characters and I would get called into the office all the time and told, 'You need to get white people in here, where's the white people?' And I said, 'This is a hidden African nation, you guys set up the idea of it, where are all these white people supposed to come from?' When I did Panther vs. the Klan all hell broke loose. I was actually in the office one time and very upset, I said, 'For two years you people have been bugging me for white people. Finally I added some. There's no satisfying you people.'"
That's McGregor in a nutshell. Incredulous, passionate, willing to piss people off -- all in the name of the story he wants to tell. The fact that Marvel finally got around to publishing Don's run on Black Panther in the Essentials format is something of a miracle. Back then, McGregor was as much of an iconoclast as a true pioneer, having to slice through swaths of bullshit moralistic and racist impediments to bring a new type of storytelling to comics; he cut the road that the modern graphic novel travels upon today.
As Don said in our interview, "There are certain human elements that are timeless. Whether it's the relationship between couples or the relationship of what you owe society in terms of your personal life. Those elements are eternal." We can always learn more about human potential, compassion, and acceptance. Having Essential Black Panther Volume 1 on the retail shelves and, more importantly for me, on my bookshelf, reminds me of that.
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