The Black Panther franchise has seen its popularity soar since the cinematic adaptation hit theaters in 2018. The newest installment into the Epic Collection, Panther’s Prey revisits Don Mcgregor’s 1988 work of the same name, Panther’s Quest (Marvel Present #13-#37) and the spackling of Black Panther micro appearances in SOLO Avenger’s #1, Marvel Fanfare (1982 #60) and Fantastic Four Unlimited #1. After Panther’s Quest, the collection features Black Panther in a series of standalone appearances. In The Vanities of Philip Whitehead, Black Panther teams up with Hawkeye against Plant Man.
Don McGregor and Billy Graham are partially responsible for Black Panther’s ascension to the mainstream masses at a time where most superheroes were white men. Billy Graham had previously worked on Luke Cage, and McGregor was one of the few writers of his day who had an interest in telling a great Black Panther story, so when the two met it was a match made in Wakandan heaven. The two created the now legendary Jungle Action series, which delved into T’Challa’s life more than any other series had done at the time.
Later, Don McGregor collaborated with Dwayne Turner as penciller for Panther’s Prey. This story is essentially a sequel to McGregor’s work with Marvel Comics Presents (#13-#37) but is direct, succinct and catches up with characters whose fate remained unknown from McGregor’s Jungle Action. Like much of McGregor’s other work, the series deals with difficult subject matter, and themes that are touched upon include apartheid, rape, slavery, and drug usage.
T’Challa goes to South Africa to find answers in regards to his mother – Ramunda. Ramunda was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by Anton Pretorious, a white South African man who was obsessed with Ramonda after meeting her at a protest against apartheid in South Africa. While in the comics Ramonda is not T’Challa’s biological mother, she still plays an important part in his reign and triumphs throughout the series. He rescues her after a bloody showdown with Afrikaneers, promptly returning to Wakanda – a symbolization of the rebuttal of colonization and racism on the continent. Self sustainability and autonomy are recurring objectives throughout these issues.
In this regard, Panther’s Quest and Panther’s Prey touch upon a lot of subjects in regards to African assimilation and rejection in the Western world. This could be a nod to pre-colonial times in African countries, where great Kingdoms existed before Europe plundered it for its resources. Vibranium is the resource through which Wakanda has remained a sovereign nation, free of Western influence. However, in Panther’s Prey, we see the destructive elements of Western society begin to permeate the seal of privacy Wakanda had enjoyed for ages. This is why, in many stories, there is a bit of apprehension towards T’challa’s aspiration to make the city technologically advanced.
Enter Solomon Prey. When not making extreme alterations to his body, Solomon devises a sinister plan to knock T’Challa off of the throne and secure the loyalty and trust of his partner in crime, Tanika. Solomon was a Wakandan but moved to the states, studied at Harvard and changed his name. His rivalry with T’Challa is definitely mired in jealousy but it is at the expense of a woman, which says a lot about the antagonists in this series. He becomes so blinded by his own envy that he submits himself to a grueling and painful surgery in order to become a Pteranodon super hybrid, and thus begins to plot the end of T’Challa. He teams up with the Lightning Lancers, who ‘domesticate’ Pteranodons and begins his assault against Kantu.
Kantu, a kid who once defeated Killmonger with T’Challa, is clearly troubled but has been feeling isolated and alienated from Wakanda. In a heartbreaking scene, Kantu admires his own statue in the heart of Wakanda. He is a grown man and the statue is of his youth and it is covered with bird’s droppings. He sees this and makes note that he is not the revered figure that Wakandan’s initially thought he was. Kantu is attacked by the Lancers, T’Challa running to his rescue. Kantu is saved but ungrateful and angry at T’Challa. Perhaps it is the residual trauma that was endured by the attacks from Killmonger – but the resentment is there. Kantu felt that his glory had faded while T’Challa remained on the throne.
Despite this, you can definitely assume that T’Challa cares about Kantu deeply and their relationship becomes clearer after T’Challa witnesses Kantu smoking crack. It’s not a secret that the largest affected group from the crack cocaine epidemic in the 90s were African Americans. This parallel also points out the stark contrast of Wakanda vs Western culture – whereas if Wakandans maintained their autonomy, they would not have to deal with the social problems the West deals with on the regular. This is an exaggeration because if anything, Wakanda remaining as an independent country only makes them a target in the world’s eyes – especially because of their vibranium. Undoubtedly, the idea of crack cocaine having an effect on Wakandans is a bit absurd, considering that it is today widely regarded to have been a genocidal attempt on African Americans at the behest of the U.S. government. The historical significance and the history of Wakanda doesn’t check out and it was better left out of the storyline.
Love and marriage is a consistent theme for T’challa throughout the series. He continues his turbulent relationship with Monica Lynne who makes appearances throughout the series. Monica was the love interest of T’challa while he was in New York. The pair were supposed to have been married but she had broken it off. She returns as a flashback of his better memories and is a reminder of the love he experienced while away from Wakanda. In addition, he has to find a woman to marry and produce an heir (cliche, eh?). With the growing list of antagonists on his heels, the need to secure the safety of the Wakandan monarchy becomes a consistent recurring story arc (although his sister Shuri does appear several years down the line to stand in his place).
Tanzika, who spitefully began a relationship with Prey because of T’challa’s decision to love an American, reminds us of how Monica also began a relationship with Killmonger in order to ‘hit’ T’challa where it hurts. It seems that T’challa is quite the catch and it’s bonkers that literal wars happen just to marry him. The women in the series consistently fall into the madonna/whore complex, which makes it difficult to get a feel for who they are outside of T’Challa.
There is also conflict between the women due to their respective nationalities, with Nakia of the Dora Milaje attacking Monica upon her arrival to Wakanda. This is a bit stereotypical, which is why I am elated that this storyline never found its way into the film adaptation of Black Panther. Black Panther does end up marrying Ororo Munroe (the X-Men’s Storm) and it is rumored that McGregor had planned on writing a series called Black Panther: Vows to highlight the tumultuous relationships he became involved in.
Overall, the collection is a nod towards the progression Black Panther endured in the numerous hands of creators. McGregor took quite an ambitious jump when he attempted to scribe the Ku Klux Klan vs Black Panther bit (which he never finished writing) and while he caught flack, we can only assume that he paved the way for more ‘controversial’ content to be created within the Marvel Universe.
T’Challa is a superhero that is dedicated to the Wakandan people, especially his father T’Chaka, who was viciously murdered. While he can be a bit egocentric, the fact that so many people are determined to take him down speaks volumes. Yes, the ‘natural’ enemy can be racism and white supremacy, but the majority of his personal villains are those that are closer to him. Venomm, Kaki, Kantu, Prey, Taku, Tanzika and Killmonger are the antithesis of what Wakanda actually stands for.
In order to have unity, we must overcome this idea of individualism, which at its best is a Western social concept. When the throes of western society mix with Wakanda, you end up with complete and total discord, not unlike the discord many African-Americans have had to endure on this side of the world. Unfortunately, the series ends with the ‘crack’ epidemic still having a place in Wakanda. I am still not sure if this was because of a lack of ideas or if it was a warning for the dangers of Western influence in Africa. Either way, it was a sloppy end to a valiant effort to put Black Panther on the map in the comics universe. Here’s to a brighter and more enlightened path for our favorite Wakandan.