“Captain America: Civil War” brings several new players into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but one of them hasn’t had four movie origins since 2002… Allow us to introduce you to The Black Panther! Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Fantastic Four #52 awaits!
FANTASTIC FOUR #52
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Sinnott
Colorist: Stan Goldberg
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2,800.00
Previously in Fantastic Four: Though this book came out in the summer of ’65, the story-behind-the-story starts in 1957, with Martin Goodman, publisher of Marvel/Timely/Atlas Comics. Mr. Goodman was well-versed in catching the cultural zeitgeist and getting his comics written and drawn quickly, but in matters of distribution, he was in a pickle. The company that distributed his books had gone under, leaving Goodman little choice but to sign with Independent News distribution. The good news was, the books would get to the spinner racks and newsstands, but the bad news was I.N. was owned by the same company as DC Comics, and thus placed heavy restrictions on rival Marvel’s publishing line. By 1965, a major comics boom was in full swing, and Marvel had achieved much success with Spider-Man, The Avengers and more. Unfortunately, when Stan & Jack wanted to debut new books for The Inhumans and an African character known as Coal Tiger, they were prohibited from adding new titles to the books already in play.
Unwilling to cancel one of their ongoings, they instead chose to fold those characters into their flagship title, leading to this issue’s impressive opening salvo…By the time this issue hit the stands, though, the aforementioned Coal Tiger had morphed into the much more dynamic-sounding Black Panther, whose advanced technology impresses even the brilliant Mister Fantastic. Returning to Earth (but not before throwing a few loops and barrel rolls in, upsetting The Thing’s equilibrium), Reed Richards accepts the offer from the mysterious Panther: Be his guest in the far-off land of Wakanda!
Using a device that sounds remarkably like modern wireless communications, the emissary sends a signal back to his King, alerting him that the Fantastic Four have agreed to accept his hospitality. The King’s response, however, is the first indication that something is very wrong in the state of Wakanda…
Gathering their fourth member from college (along with his roommate Wyatt Wingfoot), the FF set out for the wilds of Africa, but once again the marvels of Wakanda take them by surprise, leading them into a massive mechanical jungle…
…and A TRAP!
The Human Torch is immediately trapped in an airtight cell and imprisoned, while the remaining three members find themselves hounded and hunted. While the heroes deal with the Panther’s various booby traps, the resourceful Wyatt Wingfoot sets off to scout out any weaknesses in the defenses. (There is some very dated language regarding his Native American heritage, but to Stan & Jack’s credit, it’s not as offensive as many 60’s portrayals.)
The team is separated, and one by one…
Ben Grimm falls to an icy trap, but Wyatt Wingfoot disables the Wakandan communications network. In the process, he discovers a strange heat-source beneath the floor, realizing that the Human Torch is signalling him from below, and sets off to free the youngest member of the Fantastic Four while the team’s leader meets the Black Panther in combat…
Moments before the Black Panther triumphs over Mister Fantastic, he is distracted by a burst of flame, and faced with the full might of the FF again, thanks to Wyatt’s cleverness and stealth. With his meticulous plan undone by an unexpected (and non-powered) factor, he surrenders, giving his word not to attack again. But why did he do it in the first place?
Tune in next issue, fifty years ago for the full details! (It involves Wakandan Vibranium, also known as anti-metal, the menace of Ulysses Klaw, and a full-fledged team-up, so it’s worth tracking down.) Still, you have to give Marvel credit for this debut, with the Panther showing himself to be quicker than the Torch, strong enough to face the Thing, more clever than Mister Fantastic and The Invisible Woman. Though there had been a handful of black characters before (including Gabe Jones of the Howling Commandos, another Lee/Kirby joint), none had been full-on superheroes and certainly none of them had displayed this level of competence and power. In retrospect, it’s really a bummer that T’Challa didn’t get his own comic book back in ’65, as it would have predated the first black headliner in comics and Marvel’s first black solo hero, Luke Cage. Even so, Fantastic Four #52 is an impressive issue in one of the most eventful runs in comic book history, earning a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars overall. With a first appearance like this, it’s easy to see why he gets such an important place in the new movie…