Retro Trade Review: Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage By Lee, Kirby, McGregor, Buckler, Graham & Others For Marvel Comics

Retro Trade Review: Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage

Contains Fantastic Four #52 & 53, Jungle Action #6 to 22, 24 (July 1966 to November 1976)

Written by Stan Lee (Fantastic Four #52-53), Don McGregor (Jungle Action #6-22, 24)

Pencilled by Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four #52-53), Rich Buckler (Jungle Action #6-8, 22, 24), Gene Colan (Jungle Action #9), Billy Graham (Jungle Action #10-22), Keith Pollard (Jungle Action #24)

Inked by Joe Sinnott (Fantastic Four #52-53), Klaus Janson (Jungle Action #6-12), P. Craig Russell (Jungle Action #13), Pablo Marcos (Jungle Action #14), Dan Green (Jungle Action #15), Billy Graham (Jungle Action #16-17), Bob McLeod (Jungle Action #18-22), Jim Mooney (#22), Keith Pollard (Jungle Action #24)

Coloured by Glynis Oliver/Glynis Wein (Jungle Action #6-12, 14-16, 18), Tom Palmer (Jungle Action #13), Michele Wolfman (Jungle Action #17), Petra Goldberg (Jungle Action #19), Janice Cohen (#20), Phil Rachelson (Jungle Action #21), H. Paley (Jungle Action #22), Al Wenzel (Jungle Action #24)

Spoilers from forty-three to fifty-three years ago

If you’ve followed my writing on this site over the years, you would know that the Black Panther is an all-time favourite character of mine, something that was solidified during the Christopher Priest run.  I’ve previously written about the Panther in these columns, but I’d never actually read the classic Don McGregor story Panther’s Rage. I did read its sequel, but didn’t fully appreciate it, lacking context.

I recently picked up the Epic Collection trade that contains the whole run, as well as the Panther’s first appearance in Fantastic Four.  I know that I’m not looking forward to the Lee/Kirby stuff, but I’m excited to see what McGregor did, and to finally read the iconic issues with Killmonger.

This book features the following characters:

Villains:

  • Klaw (Fantastic Four #53)
  • Kazibe (Jungle Action #6-7, 9, 11-14, 17-18)
  • Tayete (Jungle Action #6-7, 9, 11-14, 17-18)
  • Erik Killmonger (N’Jadaka; Jungle Action #6-8, 12-17)
  • Venomm (Horatio Walters; Jungle Action #7-8, 14, 16-18)
  • Malice (Jungle Action #8, 11, 17)
  • Baron Macabre (Jungle Action #9-11, 17)
  • King Cadaver (Jungle Action #10, 12, 15, 17)
  • Lord Karnaj (Jungle Action #11, 17)
  • Sombre (Jungle Action #12-14)
  • Jakak (Jungle Action #13)
  • Wenzori (Jungle Action #13)
  • The White Gorilla (Jungle Action #13)
  • Salamander K’Ruel (Jungle Action #15, 17)
  • Madam Slay (Jungle Action #18)
  • Mute (Jungle Action #18)
  • The Dragon’s Circle (Jungle Action #19, 24)
  • The Ku Klux Klan (Jungle Action #19-22)
  • The Soul Strangler (Jungle Action #22)
  • Wind Eagle (Jungle Action #24)

Guest Stars

  • The Thing (Ben Grimm; Fantastic Four #52-53)
  • Invisible Girl (Sue Richards; Fantastic Four #52-53)
  • Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards; Fantastic Four #52-53)
  • The Human Torch (Johnny Storm; Fantastic Four #52-53)
  • Wyatt Wingfoot (Fantastic Four #52-53)

Supporting Characters:

  • W’Kabi (Jungle Action #6-11, 13-18)
  • Monica Lynne (Jungle Action #6-22, #24)
  • Taku (Jungle Action #6-12, 14-18)
  • Tanzika (Jungle Action #7, 9-11)
  • Zatama (Jungle Action #7-9)
  • Mendinao (Jungle Action #8, 13, 16)
  • Kantu (Jungle Action #9, 12, 15-16)
  • Karota (Jungle Action #9-10, 12-13, 15)
  • M’Jumbak (Jungle Action #9)
  • Chandra (Jungle Action #13, 15, 17-18)
  • Mokadi (Jungle Action #14)
  • Kono (Jungle Action #14, 17-18)
  • Kevin Trueblood (Jungle Action #19-22, 24)
  • Sheriff Tate (Jungle Action #19-21, 24)
  • Jessica Lynne (Jungle Action #19, 21-22)
  • Lloyd Lynne (Jungle Action #19-22)

Let’s see what happened in the comics, with some commentary as I go:

  • The book opens with the Panther’s first appearance, in Fantastic Four #52, by Lee and Kirby.  Confession time – I do not like reading Lee and Kirby. I find Lee’s dialogue so forced and filled with outdated slang (that I suspect sounded outdated when it was written), and the plots so creaky and dull, that I I can’t really get through these comics.  The Panther has sent the FF a technologically advanced flying car thing to get them to come and visit him. They pick up Johnny Storm from college, and take his sleeping roommate Wyatt Wingfoot with them when they fly to Wakanda where the Panther has laid some odd traps and hunts them in his technological jungle that doesn’t look at all like a jungle.  Then they turn the tables and surround him, so he takes off his mask and tells them his life story. More or less – I skimmed.
  • Fantastic Four #53, which is still pretty unreadable, so I mostly just looked at Kirby’s art, opens with the Fantastic Four being treated to a performance of African dance that they don’t appreciate, before retiring with T’Challa to his lavish personal apartment (where he has such technologically advanced items as a stereo with a tape recorder, that really impresses Reed).  He’s also a little impressed with the vibranium that T’Challa shows him. At the same time, a big red ape and elephant attack some border guards, the black one of whom wears a fez. T’Challa talks of his childhood, and how his father was killed when Ulysses Klaw found his way to Wakanda. Young T’Challa grabbed Klaw’s sound cannon and shot him with it, shattering his hand, making him leave.  T’Challa learns of the big red animals entering his territory, and suits up, going with the FF to fight them. While the FF fight, T’Challa heads to a hidden cave, where he finds Klaw, who at this point still looks human but wears a funnel thing over his wrecked hand. He’s using sound to make red sound creatures, sending a panther to fight the Panther. Eventually the Panther wrecks the machine, and collapses the cave on Klaw, which also destroys the creatures that he’d made.  Believing Klaw dead, T’Challa thinks he doesn’t need to be the Panther anymore, but the FF convince him to continue to be a hero (although the Thing just makes fun of him, which has been a thing throughout the issue). We see that Klaw is not dead, and puts himself into his machine, which Iguess wasn’t actually destroyed.  
  • Issue six of Jungle Action was the first to print new stories featuring T’Challa (#5 reprinted an older issue of Avengers that featured him prominently).  It seems that after being away from Wakanda for some time, while adventuring with the Avengers, T’Challa has returned but feels somewhat out of touch with his nation.  He comes across an older man in a cage, suspended from a tree, with two men with spears stabbing and questioning him. T’Challa makes quick work of the men, who are apparently working for someone named Killmonger.  He frees the old man, but he’s too badly injured and dies. T’Challa walks him into the Central Wakandan village, which is inexplicably a mix of grass and mud huts and his massive technologically advanced palace. W’Kabi is hard on T’Challa, and it’s clear he thinks that the king abandoned his people.  Monica Lynne, T’Challa’s girlfriend from America is with him, and she mocks his culture before realizing he’s sad that the old man is dead, and then she tells him to get over it. The next day, T’Challa, W’Kabi, and Taku head in canoes to investigate claims that a river village has been attacked. W’Kabi is still on T’Challa’s case, but Taku defends him.  We learn that in his absence, power in Wakanda centralized around smaller population centres. We also learn that Killmonger is behind the attack on the village from some survivors. T’Challa goes to Warrior Falls, a waterfall, and finds the same two men he fought the day before. Killmonger, a huge guy in white tights and jheri curls attacks, and T’Challa’s best kick doesn’t faze him.  His white leopard, Preyy, attacks T’Challa, and comes close to defeating him. T’Challa works his hands into the leopard’s mouth, and is about to break its jaw when Killmonger steps in, saving his cat, and tosses T’Challa off the falls.
  • As T’Challa falls, he manages to avoid most rocks, and Killmonger leaves him to drown.  Monica Lynne is brought to the river to bathe by Tanzika, and she discovers the Panther, dragging him to shore.  In the village of N’Jadaka, where Killmonger rules, a corpse-faced white man called Venomm dances with snakes. Killmonger, who doesn’t like being called N’Jadaka anymore, talks to him, and sends him with the Death Regiments to the vibranium mines.  T’Challa, wearing a rope net as a shirt, sits in his throne room with his court. Tanzika is indifferent, and Zatama, who we haven’t met yet “seethes with righteous rebellion”. T’Challa tells the story of how Killmonger was abducted back when Klaw killed T’Chaka, and only returned to Wakanda recently after contacting the Panther when he was with the Avengers.  T’Challa has sympathy for Killmonger, but Zatama wants revenge. His insolence angers W’Kabi, who spent the whole last issue giving T’Challa grief. They receive word that soldiers are around the Warrior Falls, being led by a corpse-like person with snakes. T’Challa goes to investigate and attacks the same two goons he’s fought before. He sees the Death Regiments walk through the falls and follows, discovering a secret mine under the Great Mound.  He is attacked by Venomm, and they fight for a bit before the Panther takes him down, vowing to shut down Killmonger’s plans.
  • T’Challa fights a group of men as part of the ritual of the heart-shaped herb, which is used to strengthen his panther powers.  As he fights, Mendinao prepares the herb. At the same time, in the palace, the villain Malice holds a spear to Zatama’s throat, and demands he tell her where Venomm is, as Killmonger has sent her to find him.  Mendinao and W’Kabi discuss how his time in America has changed T’Challa. Having finished with his fight, T’Challa requests the herb again. Malice makes her way to Venomm’s cell, but finds him talking with Taku.  Horatio tells the story of how he was an outsider as a child, and how some kids threw acid in his face, disfiguring him for life, but also leading him to his study of snakes. Later, when he was in college, some guys jumped him and N’Jadaka saved him.  Monica Lynne is out for a walk when she comes across T’Challa lying on the ground, taking part in the ritual. Not understanding, she interrupts the ceremony, which infuriates W’Kabi. T’Challa decides to forgo the rest of the ritual in order to take Monica back to the palace.  They find Zatama unconscious, and it is only because of a yelled warning by Taku that T’Challa avoids the spear that Malice throws at him (with enough force that it goes right through a marble column). The Panther starts to fight Malice, who has been enhanced by Killmonger. W’Kabi and the others from the ritual arrive, and W’Kabi stops Horatio from escaping, while also taking verbal shots at T’Challa.  Malice escapes, and W’Kabi almost kills Venomm, but T’challa stops him.
  • The Panther saves a boy named Kantu from an angry black rhinoceros, killing the creature (which, you know, is now extinct).  Monica consoles the upset boy, but that makes his mother, Karota, angry. T’Challa chats with the father, M’Jumbak, and then they return to the palace, where T’Challa sits around with Monica at his feet.  Tanzika makes it clear that she has contempt for Monika, and then she talks to Zatama about his anger, which comes from the fact that everyone hates him for opposing T’Challa’s inner council. M’Jumbak walks past a traditional Wakandan burial site, and is attacked by a man who rises from a grave, and killed.  Zatama takes a rifle to T’Challa, and tells him that W’Kabi wants to kill Venomm. Karota comes to the palace to tell T’Challa that M’Jumbak has gone missing, and that she thinks he’s in the haunted burial site. She tells him that it’s haunted by Baron Macabre. T’Challa suits up and goes to investigate, where he finds the almost skeletal Baron commanding the dead.  The Baron can fire blasts from his hands, and his dead capture T’Challa. Zatama sits in his chamber, and hears a knock at the door. Someone, who he recognizes but we don’t see, drives a spear into his chest, killing him. T’Challa fights the Baron some more, and the Baron gets him on the ground and starts choking him. Kazibe and Tayete, Killmonger’s goons, come and are surprised by what they see.  The Panther escapes Baron Macabre, and runs off, saying he’ll be back. He returns to the palace, where he finds W’Kabi and Taku arresting Monica for Zatama’s death, claiming her fingerprints are on the spear that killed him.
  • T’Challa sits by a river, thinking about stuff, when he is attacked by a crocodile.  He fights it for a few pages while Taku comes to stand around, before finally killing it.  He and Taku sit for a bit, and talk about how T’Challa has lost the support of W’Kabi, and how he blames Killmonger for all that’s gone wrong in the kingdom.  Later, he visits Monica in the palatial prison cell they’ve put her in, and talks about how he’s sure she was set up. Then he sits in his throne room, dealing with Tanzika’s attitude when W’Kabi yells a bit, and Karota shows up to learn that her husband is dead.  Remembering this, T’Challa goes back to the burial site, in the dark, to retrieve M’Jumbak’s body, when once again, the dead come digging out of their graves. He fights them, and discovers that they are living people made up to look dead. One answers that there is a “Dark Realm” below the ground, ruled by King Cadaver.  T’Challa jumps into one of the holes they dug, and finds his way to a mirrored throne room, where Baron Macabre stands next to King Cadaver, very ugly being. Things get weird here, as the King gets into T’Challa’s head, until he starts smashing mirrors, and bashes Macabre against a wall, smashing his mask, revealing him to be a normal man as well.  Next he attacks the King, trying to take his mask off, learning that it’s actually his flesh. He smashes Cadaver through another mirror, and realizes that he’s in an underground Wakandan weapons complex, which Killmonger has been raiding to outfit his rebel army.
  • T’Challa leads a small force, including W’Kabi and Taku, to the village of N’Jadaka.  He sneaks in, first coming across Tayete and Kazibe, who he takes out. Warriors emerge from the central building, ready to do battle.  Their leader, Lord Karnaj, also emerges and starts firing sonic disruptor guns, killing one of T’Challa’s men. T’Challa has more forces come in from the other side of the village, and a big battle begins.  Baron Macabre almost kills W’Kabi from behind, but the Panther saves him, which, when coupled with his fury in battle, makes W’Kabi regain respect for him. As the battle rages, T’Challa thinks back to earlier, when he visited Monica Lynne in her cell, and told her that he had figured out the true identity of Zatama’s murder, as Tanzika delivered food.  He hung out in a tree that night, and surprised W’Kabi who was also creeping around, but he knew that wasn’t his prey. Instead, he stalked the real killer, who he saw burying a box. He approached, and it was revealed that Tanzika killed Zatama, because he had used her and tossed her away, and because she hates Monica. We learn that the spear she used was really some shish kabob sticks, which is ridiculous.  In the present, Malice joins the battle, and when Karnaj fires his blasts and kills a boy from the village, Taku becomes enraged, giving Karnaj a huge beating. T’Challa pulls him off, and it looks like the fight is over. W’Kabi feels good about things, but he’s the only one.
  • The Panther travels with a couple of flying ships that contain Taku, Monica, Tayete, Kazibe, and some other people to some mountains, where a long bridge is obscured by pink mist.  He intends to follow Killmonger to The Land of the Chilling Mist, and to take the two bumbling rogues with him as guides. He says goodbye to Monica and they head out into the snowy region.  Killmonger, with King Cadaver and some others, is well ahead of him; we learn this is where Cadaver was transformed into what he is now. Killmonger’s party arrives at their destination, and are greeted by a tall masked man named Sombre.  T’Challa and his companions have trouble crossing an icy river. Inside Sombre’s temple, there is a deep hole containing some kind of burnt-out star remnant, that is what changed Cadaver. That misshapen villain is placed on an altar above it, and that is when T’Challa arrives and strikes at Killmonger.  Killmonger tosses him into the pit. Monica goes to check on Kantu and Karota, who at first doesn’t welcome her, but they get to talking about grief. The Panther manages to maneuver his way out of the pit, but is brought down by Sombre’s acid touch. T’Challa wakes up out on a snowy plain, with only a spear.  He is attacked by a pack of wolves (because I guess he has to fight some animals in every issue or they can’t call it Jungle Action), and after a couple of pages, beats them back.
  • Still in the mountains, the Panther finds his way back towards the Resurrection Altar, where he fights two guards stationed by Killmonger, Jakak and Wenzori.  They have mace nunchucks and laser pistols, but the Panther, tired and cold as he is, still manages to take them out, although he doesn’t learn anything from them beyond the fact that Killmonger and Cadaver have already left.  T’Challa sees large footprints in the snow and begins to follow them, not knowing that he’s being watched by Sombre. Killmonger has gone into Serpent Valley, a tropical place always eclipsed by the mists that cover it. He turns on Kazibe, whipping him for having led the Panther to the Resurrection Altar.  Tayete pleads with him to spare his friend, which was actually a test of his loyalty. Killmonger says he can have first dibs at “breaking” one of the legendary serpents in the valley. The Panther follows the footsteps to the edge of a valley, where he sees a gathering of massive white gorillas, the foundation of Wakanda’s other religion.  Sombre speaks to the gorillas, telling them that the Panther has been brought to them as a sacrifice. T’Challa turns, and sees the largest gorilla in front of him. Monica brings Karota to Central Wakanda’s hospital (a modern facility, surrounded by grass huts), wanting to help her overcome her chronic malnutrition. When Mendinao injects her with vitamins, she freaks out, thinking that he has also become tainted by the outside world.  W’Kabi goes to his chambers in the palace, where he starts to argue with his wife Chandra about how little time he spends with his family. He ends up slapping her, which his sons see, and she walks away from him. The Panther fights the gorilla, recognizing that Sombre has manipulated these events. Finally, he knocks the gorilla off a cliff-face, and it falls on the massive ribcage of a long-dead creature, impaling itself, while the Panther deals with the fact that he has killed a mythical being.
  • The Panther follows Sombre into the Serpent Valley, and finally attacks him.  While they fight, the Panther hears a voice asking why they are fighting. He manages to toss Sombre into the marsh, which acts like quicksand and drags him down to his death.  T’Challa sees an impish figure in the trees, and tries to grab him, but he seems to teleport away. He asks him where Killmonger is, but the sprite, who reveals his name as Mokadi, leads T’Challa into tracking him himself.  Killmonger and his people are working in another area, capturing large dinosaurs in sludge similar to the stuff that killed Sombre. Killmonger tortures Tayete a little, tossing him into the stuff. The Panther and Mokadi stand on a ledge looking at this scene, and the Panther wonders at Killmonger’s ability to accomplish big things.  Tayete spies the Panther climbing down a ledge, and Killmonger has one of his new Tyrannosaurus Rexes released to attack him. In the Wakandan palace, W’Kabi talks to his son Kono about how hurt he is that Chandra is no longer with him. Monica and Tabu walk through the gardens, talking of W’Kabi’s depth, and Taku’s sadness and growing fondness of Venomm.  Taku goes to Venomm to let him know that his snakes in N’Jadaka are all still alive, and Horatio talks to him like a friend, before reminding him that when he escapes, if Taku stands in his way, he’ll kill him. The Panther fights the T. Rex, and bleeds some more. Truthfully, these animal fights are getting monotonous, even though they escalate in size with each issue.  Eventually, he manages to bend a palm tree and use it to launch a boulder into the dinosaur’s head, killing it. Victorious, he can’t find Mokadi, and remembers that that name means “spirit”.
  • The Panther, feeling the accumulation of his injuries, stumbles through the forest of thorns, a collection of cacti in the Serpent Valley, not seeing the tumorous man named Salamander K’Ruel, another agent of Killmonger’s, taking aim at him with a bow tipped with napalm-containing arrowheads (which, weirdly, the script keeps calling a crossbow, even though it’s clearly not).  He is merely grazed by the arrow shot at him, and manages to dive into water so that the explosive is submerged when it goes off. Salamander K’Ruel goes to find T’Challa’s body, but is instead attacked by him. They fight, and we learn that Salamander, who was changed on the resurrection altar, can fire needles from his skin. He captures T’Challa, and ties him to some cacti (how do cacti grow in the jungle?), to leave him there so he can go get Killmonger.  T’Challa, very weak at this point, hangs there for a while, remembering a pleasant moment in his childhood, and is bothered when a small newt climbs across him. A pterodactyl, flying by, spots T’Challa and tries to eat him, ultimately freeing him from his bonds. Monica Lynne, missing T’Challa after a week, walks with Taku to Karota and Kantu’s house. Monica keeps up a monologue about circus plate spinners, so that Karota suspects she’s crazy, until Taku points out that she’s lonely.  W’Kabi continues to argue with Chandra. Killmonger, King Cadaver, and their party arrive at the village of N’Jadaka, to find it in ruins. This makes Killmonger want revenge against T’Challa even more, and he plans to march his dinosaurs through the central village. The pterodactyl drops T’Challa towards some thorny cacti, but then tries to grab him again; T’Challa ends up on top of the beast. K’Ruel is almost out of the thorn forest, when the T’Challa rides the pterodactyl right at him, jumps off it when he fires an arrow into its head, and knocks K’Ruel down.  Somehow, T’Challa manages to drag K’Ruel for two days back to his palace, where he collapses into Monica’s arms.
  • T’Challa and Monica take some time together, swimming and riding giant turtles, before chatting about their futures and the ways in which T’Challa has changed Wakanda, and then making out as the sun sets.  Taku talks at length with Venomm, and we learn he’s been in custody for a whole year. W’Kabi comes to question him some more, and we learn that Killmonger had planned to have T’Challa smuggle Venomm into Wakanda while he helped Erik pack up his stuff in Harlem and return home.  Having told his story, and the story of why Killmonger is so angry, he strikes, and pulls a knife on Taku, using him as a shield. W’Kabi, wanting to protect his friend, gives over his weapon, and Horatio knocks them both out and escapes. T’Challa and Monica find them a half hour later, and call for medical help.  Taku comes to and tells them what happened. T’Challa takes a sonic craft to catch up to Venomm. Horatio returns to the destroyed village of N’Jadaka, and finds his snakes waiting for him. Panther lands his craft, and finds Kantu brooding at the edge of a river. They talk about the boy’s hatred of Killmonger. Later, the Panther approaches N’Jadaka, and finds Venomm waiting.  One of Venomm’s snakes attacks him, and we get another overly-narrated animal fight. More snakes are sent, and while T’Challa manages to beat them off, he’s not upset when Taku arrives to help him. Taku talks to Horatio about revolutions, and how they don’t solve anything. Venomm leaves.
  • Killmonger finally makes his move, marching his dinosaurs through Central Wakanda to trash all the buildings while his forces engage T’Challa’s warriors.  T’Challa checks on Monica to make sure she is okay. Kantu rushes towards the village, wanting to warn everyone, before seeing that he’s too late. T’Challa’s sonic gliders engage the dinosaurs, with Taku trying to coordinate the battle.  The Panther and Killmonger face each other across the battle, and the Panther starts wading through Killmonger’s men to get to him. W’Kabi lies in the modern hospital, recovering from his injury at Venomm’s hands. Chandra and his children visit him, but Chandra is still not prepared to show him love.  The dinosaurs stomp on the palace, releasing the prisoners. Malice, Lord Karnaj, and Baron Macabre run to join the fight, but no one helps Salamander K’Ruel, who is trapped under debris. Venomm watches this. The Panther wades into these villains, while W’Kabi gets out of his bed to watch through the window, as a dead dinosaur busts through the wall, crushing his arm.  King Cadaver digs into Taku’s mind, but he’s saved by Venomm, and then crushed by a dinosaur. Monica takes out Malice. The Panther makes his way to Warrior Falls, where Killmonger has challenged him to another fight. Their battle is brutal, and reaches the point where once again Killmonger is holding T’Challa over the edge. Kantu comes out of nowhere, and pushes Killmonger, knocking him into the river, and saving T’Challa.  They walk away together.
  • It’s been two months since Killmonger’s forces trashed Central Wakanda, and T’Challa’s palace.  A new piano is delivered to the ruins, so Monica can play again. Taku accompanies Venomm, who is being sent back to the US.  The underground computerized complexes were left untouched, so they head with T’Challa to the hangar. It looks like Tayete and Kazibe are working for the Panther now, and the bumbling comic relief figures are now in charge of prepping sonic jets.  Venomm and Taku board and depart, and somehow manage to take Tayete’s loincloth with them. W’Kabi and Chandra talk about how their needs for affection have changed, with Chandra now feeling like she doesn’t need W’Kabi. We see that W’Kabi’s arm has been replaced by a metal one.  A pair of hunters track a leopard through the jungle, but are attacked by a woman wearing leopard print and a very tall man, leading a pack of leopards. Later, T’Challa and W’Kabi track the missing hunters, and talk about the changes that W’Kabi has gone through. They find the bodies, and chase away hyenas before being attacked by the big silent guy.  He knocks them both out. T’Challa awakens and finds himself in front of the woman, Madam Slay, who is surrounded by leopards. It turns out that she was Killmonger’s lover, and that she and her companion, Mute, are angry that Erik is dead. She has Preyy, Killmonger’s pet, and another leopard run, dragging T’Challa behind them over jagged rocks. They head towards a razor-sharp rock formation that will cut T’Challa in half.  He manages to jump over it, and land on the leopards, riding them back towards the cave where Slay is. T’Challa takes down Mute, while W’Kabi uses his new laser attachment hidden under his metal hand to free himself, and to knock down Madam Slay. The battle over, T’Challa has Mute carry Slay as they head back to the palace.
  • T’Challa is in a tree in a graveyard in Georgia, USA, watching as a group of robed figures approach with torches and knives towards Monica Lynne, who is standing at the grave of her sister Angela.  She remembers them fighting as children, but still reacts when the Panther attacks her would-be attackers, tossing one into an approaching car. T’Challa takes down the fleeing robed figure, while the driver of the car punches out another.  T’Challa takes out the last one, and our main characters meet the driver, Kevin Trueblood, a reporter who has come to talk to Monica about her sister’s murder, which is what brought them there from Wakanda. He tells Monica that her sister found just how involved the Ku Klux Klan is in their town’s life, although T’Challa points out that one of the unconscious men is black, making it unlikely that they fought the actual Klan.  They take their prisoners to the police station, where the men refuse to explain why they were in the cemetery. At Monica’s parents’ place, T’Challa enjoys a good meal, and we get a sense of Monica’s upbringing. T’Challa wonders why those men, who he now knows are part of something called The Dragon’s Circle, were carrying Klan insignias and a Klan newspaper if they aren’t in the Klan. Other members of the Dragon’s Circle approach the house from one side, guns drawn, but on the other side, some members of the actual Klan toss a molotov cocktail.  T’Challa jumps through a window to intercept it, and begins to fight the Klansmen gathered outside. Some of the Dragon’s Circle guys see the Klan guys. T’Challa takes out more of the Klan, eventually driving off all but one, who he takes prisoner. Monica’s father is sure that their problems aren’t over.
  • Monica has taken T’Challa to the grocery store, in his Panther habit, which gathers some attention.  As he is down another aisle, two guys approach Monica and threaten her at knifepoint, telling her to keep quiet about the stuff her sister was investigating, or they will kill her too.  They make it sound like they are with the Klan. T’Challa attacks them, but when the police arrive, they of course think he is the problem and start beating on him. Monica tries to calm things down, but it’s not until Sheriff Tate arrives and stops things that T’Challa is safe.  The Sheriff isn’t that helpful though, and informs them that the Dragon’s Circle guys were released on bail. T’Challa and Monica make out. Later, T’Challa goes to the Klan gathering her learned about, and starts fighting them while Monica and Kevin Trueblood talk at her parents’ place.  Kevin explains that Monica’s sister had learned that the Klan was behind some land deals in town, and while he keeps explaining the, the Klan manage to take the Panther down, and tie him to a cross, which they set on fire. Kevin is being all patriotic.
  • The Klan watches as T’Challa’s cross burns.  Monica and Kevin are still talking, and they eventually decide to drive out to where the Klan is meeting to look for T’Challa.  He, meanwhile, manages to break off the bottom portion of the cross, and then come running at the Klansmen with it still burning on his back.  He runs into a swamp to douse it, while Kevin and Monica drive around. They don’t find him though, but when Monica calls home from a phone booth, she learns that T’Challa is in the hospital.  They rush to his side, and joined by the Sheriff and Monica’s parents, talk out what’s going on. Kevin lets them know that the Klan is holding another rally, and the Sheriff doesn’t want them interfering, as the Klan has a permit.  The Sheriff then explains everything he knows about how Angela, Monica’s sister, died, which is still believed to be a suicide. Some Klan folks speak a lot at their rally, and then T’Challa approaches with Monica and Kevin. Kevin tries to challenge their rhetoric, and one of the Klansmen pulls a gun on him.  T’Challa attacks him, and then gets into a fight with a guy operating a crane. After he’s dealt with that guy, another Klansmen is about to shoot T’Challa in the back, but Monica’s dad throws some playing cards at him, fouling his shot.  
  • Issue twenty-two is an odd one, featuring art by both Billy Graham and Rich Buckler.  Everyone is at the Lynnes’ house, where Mrs. Lynne is feeding them pie. Monica gets her mother to tell the story of Cousin Caleb, who lived in the 1860s.  Jessica starts to tell the tale, and as she does, we see both an accurate portrayal of what happened, and Monica’s imagining of it, picturing T’Challa as part of the action.  Caleb was an emancipated slave who was harassed by some Klansmen led by someone called the Soul Strangler. In Monica’s vision, T’Challa helped Caleb, but in reality, he was manipulated by some local officials into giving up his land.  Caleb ended up fighting back and was lynched.
  • Issue twenty-three featured a reprint of an issue of Daredevil and was not included in this book.
  • Issue twenty-four opens on T’Challa strapped to a water wheel outside a mill on a large country club estate.  He’s having a hard time keeping himself conscious as he keeps ending up in the water. Before this, we see that T’Challa, the Sheriff, Monica, and Kevin tracked down Monica’s sister’s boyfriend to question him about Angela’s death.  He reveals that someone was in the office that Angela went to late at night (he was following her), but he doesn’t expect justice to work in Angela’s favour. We see that T’Challa and the others are being watched by a flying man. They group next goes to the Water Crest Country Club, where they attempt to confront Angela’s boss, who is sitting with his powerful friends.  As they talk, the flying man lands on the roof. As the rich men ignore him, T’Challa sends the others home and decides to hang out and wait for the guy. Instead, he is attacked by the Wind Eagle, who is working for some reverend. As they fight, the Panther is hit by a speeding car, and knocked out. We see Wind Eagle’s connected to the Devil’s Circle folks, and that’s who straps T’Challa to the wheel.  Now we’re caught up, and T’Challa works to free himself from the trap. Successful, he walks towards Wind Eagle, ready to fight.

Jungle Action was canceled with issue twenty-four, as Jack Kirby had decided he wanted to write and draw a Black Panther comic, and what Kirby wanted, he got in that era.  That left McGregor’s story unfinished, although he would return with the Panther’s Prey miniseries in the early 90s, and then a serialized story in Marvel Comics Presents that I read as it came out, but cannot remember at all now.  I’m not sure if any writer ever addressed T’Challa’s complicated dealings with the Klan and the Devil’s Circle, or if Wind Eagle ever showed up again, but I also kind of don’t care.

This Epic Collection book might have been better off leaving out the Klan story, which I will come back to in a few minutes.

The opening two Fantastic Four comics I found pretty unreadable, but I’ve always felt that way about Lee and Kirby.  I appreciate the contributions they made to the art and business of comics, but don’t actually enjoy reading their work, especially Lee’s writing.  They established Wakanda as a very strange place, and that was continued with McGregor’s first storyline, Panther’s Rage.

I know that T’Challa had been knocking around the Avengers comics for a few years by this point, and that some more information about Wakanda likely dribbled out in that book (especially the issues featuring Man-Ape), but it was really McGregor that got to explore the nation, and he chose to portray it very strangely.

To begin with, T’Challa’s retinue of friends, advisors, and servants is never really introduced here.  They’re just around, and it’s a little hard to understand what role they place, especially the always angry and rebellious Zatama.  Taku’s role as communications officer is clear because he always has a gigantic walkie-talkie strapped to his back, and Tanzika is always serving food, but it’s a little harder to understand what W’Kabi is there for, other than to get angry at T’Challa because Monica’s around.  Even T’Challa as king is a little hard to swallow, as he never seems to do any monarchical things other than sit around in mesh shirts with the same small supporting class attending to him.

Monica, for the most part, is treated strangely.  Her relationship with T’Challa is not all that convincing, as there doesn’t seem to be much connection between them.  It’s unclear why she’s in Wakanda in the first place, as she doesn’t seem to be too happy to be there, nor do the people take to her easily.  Her relationship with the widow Karota is perhaps the most interesting aspect of her, but it’s abandoned when the action shifts to America, and is never given much space to begin with.

The portrayal of Wakanda in the Jungle Action comics is also kind of weird.  To begin with, it appears to be a nation of very small villages, and we see only a handful of grass huts outside of T’Challa’s massive and technologically wonderful palace.  It doesn’t make sense that people live in such poverty (the child Kantu appears malnourished and sickly) while T’Challa has a massive “techno jungle” under their feet. Nor does it make sense that the Wakandan army has access to flying vehicles working off vibranium technology while Taku carts around a massive WWI era walkie-talkie to complete his job as communications officer. 

Obviously, this is a product of its time period, and was probably considered somewhat progressive when it was published, but the contrast in how the comics hold T’Challa’s reign up as a paragon of advancement and science while relying on Western notions of African inferiority is difficult to swallow.  We are given no clear indication of how Wakanda is governed, and beyond base superstition, what the people think. I got the feeling that some of the stuff that Lee and Kirby established about Wakanda were things that McGregor wanted to ignore or avoid.

I also found it interesting that a small nation like Wakanda would contain such a variety of ecosystems, as we find deep jungle, Antarctic conditions, and places where dinosaurs still roam.  And yet, so many of these places are surprises to T’Challa, the hereditary ruler of this small place.

I thought that Killmonger was an interesting character.  It took a while for his motivations to become clear, and I’m not sure I ever bought into his reasons for wanting to take control of the nation.  What I really couldn’t understand is how he received so much support from the people. If there were that many grievances against T’Challa’s rule (which is understandable, given that he’d just spent years with the Avengers), I would have like to have seen them aired a little more clearly.  It’s also not clear where the military support he so clearly enjoyed was coming from – he somehow had the means to cage and transport massive dinosaurs, but his home village was shown as a primitive place.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a comic that came out in the 70s and was called Jungle Action.  It’s clear that Marvel’s understanding of this comic was that T’Challa should fight an animal in every issue, as that is exactly what kept happening.  He took on the mundane, like a crocodile or rhinoceros in the earlier issues, and then leveled up to fighting mythical gorillas, and finally dinosaurs.  Reading these stories in rapid succession left me wondering how many costumes he had (his tends to get torn apart in each issue), and how he recovered from so many cuts (he likes to put his hand or arm in animals’ mouths, it seems).

As much as I saw problems with the Wakanda issues, I did enjoy the Killmonger arc, and the strange characters that McGregor and his collaborators filled the comic with.  The abandoned American arc had a lot more problems going for it.

I love the idea of a character like T’Challa taking on the Ku Klux Klan in a comic from the 70s, but I wish that it had been better thought out, edited, and allowed to end.  There was just too much going on in this story, with the mystery of Monica’s sister’s death moving in and out of centre stage, and the strange confluence of two societies of robed men who like to walk around with daggers and torches.  It was hard to follow which organization was doing what, and then the story didn’t end.  

The issue where Monica imagines T’Challa defending her ancestor was surely very progressive at the time, but was kind of clunky from today’s perspective.  Likewise, McGregor’s writing was pretty clunky throughout. He has a tendency to over-describe what the artist is showing, in prose that reminded me at times of Chris Claremont at his most self-indulgent.

The art, however, is something that I really can’t say anything negative about, especially the issues drawn by Rich Buckler and Billy Graham.  There is a fluidity to their layouts that was very new at that time, and that still feels fresh today.  

As a whole, there are a lot of problems with this book, but what stands out and sticks with me is the richness of T’Challa’s character and world.  Lee and Kirby did something unheard of in creating this character, and McGregor added many layers to him and expanded his world. Later writers (and McGregor himself, when he returned for two more stories) continued to build on this foundation, eventually leading to Christopher Priest’s legendary run, which revisited Killmonger’s anger and ambitions, and made much more sense of Wakandan society and its structure.  From there, it was a short hop to the movies, and the character gaining the recognition and cultural importance that he enjoys today.

This volume leaves me wanting to revisit the Panther’s Prey series, and dig out the Marvel Comics Presents issues, to better understand McGregor’s vision for the character, problems and all.  

You can check out my Retro Review archives, including my columns on the other Black Panther runs, here.

If you’d like to read this trade, follow this link:
Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage

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