Black Panther faced a very harrowing event that very few other superheroes have involuntarily undergone. He was unmasked to the public. It was done in a very gradual fashion, however: no one even knew what readers of the Avengers have known from hang-out scenes. The Black Panther is *gaaaaasp* black.

 

It’s a great set-up for a plot device, and one that builds effortlessly from Marvel’s history, and is actually the first involuntary unmasking this superhero scholar can conjure. Initially introduced as the king of a technologically advanced, and secluded, African nation, T’Challa undergoes a secret catalogue of rituals and diets that enhance his senses and athletic prowess. Kept as a secret from king to king, he also gets the complete black body covering of his panther suit, one which he apparently wears as a symbol of his power and title, and not to mask his identity.

but, soon after encountering the Fantastic Four, and following a villain out to capture the precious natural resource that only his kingdom’s soil produces, Black Panther soon realizes that his costume can still be a symbol of power to the world outside of Wakanda, but that his own identity will be misinterpreted and will hinder his travels. And so he takes his paternal instinct from his kingdom to the entire world after Captain America abdicates his leadership position in the Avengers, and suggests that T’Challa will best fill his role, having known his father well and having fought alongside him against zombie nazi Baron Zemo in Captain America’s first solo comic. The rest quietly consider that path. In a story arc that we could later call as an old soldier undergoing post-traumatic stress syndrome (the term wasn’t coined until after the Vietnam war), Captain America just can’t handle the language associated among teammates, and keeps remembering his partner, Bucky’s, death enough that he must revisit it.

Anyways, while Captain America goes off on his own quest to find who he should be after remaining in cryogenic stasis for two decades while the world continued without him, the avengers mull over the captain’s suggestion, and are attacked by The Grim Reaper, and cast into comas that resemble death.

In one of Roy Thomas’ moments of fan-fiction level hoke, T’Challa decides at this moment to test the avengers’ security measures by a tempting to sneak into their mansion. As he successfully evades all their security measures, he proves his worth and is framed for the murder of the avengers. An issue later, he heroically saves the team and is welcomed aboard as their leader. In between his first Avengers appearance he goes from wearing a Daredevil like mask with an open mouth

to donning his traditional face-covering mask, that he wears in every other appearance.

It’s very possible that Roy Thomas just wanted to present an uncommon guest star as black without having to textually comment on the fact.

It’s also very possible that Stan Lee or John Buscema forgot how every artist depicted his creation (that was more likely than not all genesis from Jack Kirby). What I find positively unfathomable is that Roy Thomas forgot that design on his costume. That man remembers everything that has touched something that has touched a cape.

Ahh, but I’m doing a terrible job of talking about Black Panther’s Unmasking, aren’t I? When describing unmasking, it is of utmost importance to discuss masking, however.

The rest of the avengers comics would have the Black Panther more publicly (and markedly) lead the avengers to many victories, even accept a robotic member onto the team while learning of Hawkeye’s gangster haunted past. After fighting Kang the Conqueror for the second time, Black Panther decides to take a leave of absence to his native Wakanda, allowing Captain America to once more lead the Avengers. While passing over the continent of his home, he dismantles the notion of Africa as a “dark continent”, first referring to its vast plains decorated by sunlight.

Meanwhile, unbeknowest to the panther on his pilgrimage, equal employment office buildings are blown up, and vocal black late night talk show hosts are assaulted. During his time, Roy Thomas had no equal in weaving a conflict as large as an entire planet with but a few details of its urban life. Now, he only really has two equals able to depict a world leveling catastrophe: Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. The threat escalates as the Black Panther saves the lady, and has his own certainties about american authority cast into doubt.

He also reveals to the very first civilian that he is black.

Apparently, he wanted to make his mark on the public world without his skin being an issue.

Hah!, the naivete of the isolated. At least Black Panther doesn’t take a lot of time to grow up. He quickly realizes the value of his race, and proceeds to infiltrate the base of those who attacked and attempted to kidnap the dame, unintentionally giving himself up because he stole the clothes of a serpent initiate, but failed to realize they had a specific oath they recite to each other to verify their company. Saturated by American values for the first time in his life, his folly was assuming that identity was only what you put on, as well as what you do.

It’s also very possible that he just reviled the oath enough not to speak it. Astute readers of the comic know from the first page that the words he could not speak were the last bits of the oath, reprinted here in context and boldened for those without a copy of Avengers #73 handy:

“We who wear the Serpent’s robes are the destined masters of America!

As the first serpent drove Adam and Eve from Eden…

SO SHALL WE DRIVE FROM THIS LAND THE FOREIGN-BORN…THE INFERIOR!

We are the sons of the serpent!”

After becoming the prisoner of those who (apparently) wish to remove the African-American from America, the sons of the serpent dress one of their own in the panther’s costume, and have the imposter bomb many businesses owned by the sons of the serpent (including the first building of the saga, whose destruction the panther tried to stop).

The Avengers are unsure what to do. Their former leader, who impulsively left for his homeland, suddenly appears on television screens blamed for the destruction of businesses by a group that is a little racist against blacks as a matter of public record.

Roy Thomas dramatizes this conflict by showing us the arguments of two late night talk show hosts, Hale and Dunn, who stand on opposite ends, Dale supporting the sons for ridding America of the black man while Hale incredulously stands to the side, unable to say very much other than “I doubt”. Dunn’s rhetoric, that the Black Panther is symptomatic of every Black Man’s desires, must have struck a chord in the hearts of readers. When first introduced, the organization itself was just starting to make itself known to the American public. When these comics arrived, the Vietnam war was in full swing and all of America was finding some new way to rebel and define itself. When late night shows talk of a black force potentially racist and certainly violent named “the black panther”, there could be no doubting the politics behind such a move. Dunn demonizes every black man for the actions of a single public figure, and all the “spokesperson for the African people” can do is sit idly by, doubting.

As the panther remains imprisoned, an imposter wearing his costume and using his name bombs more locations, further ruining his credibility. The Avengers, themselves champions of their former leader, find themselves compelled to search for the Panther to at least get some answers. One can find traces of pro-civil rights MLK supporters finding themselves contrasted against violent Malcolm X supporters, and having to search out their own brother. The Avengers conduct this search with little joy in a moment recalling the x-men’s themes.

Meanwhile, the escalating damage from the imposter panther do little to help his cause. The entirety of America begs more desperately for the capture of a man already in chains. The Sons of Serpent then publicly declare their capture of the panther, and announce the unmasking of America’s trouble. At least, the trouble that’s on its mind as well as television screens that, of course, interrupt every regularly scheduled programming to bring you……..

The leader of the Son of Serpents unmasking an anonymous black man, to the shock of many. Fortunately, the filming of the incident allows a location to be ascertained, and the avengers can rush to the rescue (abetted by how talkative the main villain is!). There, they find that even a black man (actually an agent of the racist agenda) speaks the creed everyone fears and no one believes,

“No Black American Can Rest… While a White American lives!!”

The creed that justifies white racism of blacks (as based from black racism on whites) stands revealed as the truth for but a few seconds. Vision enables the Black Panther to escape and take off the black-man mask of the fake panther to reveal talk show host Hale underneath.

As he stands revealed, and more televised pummeling begins, another mask falls off from a serpent goon: that of Dunn, the black talk show host who weakly defended his race.

Somewhat confused, a disembodied voice asks the question, how can a black man be a son of the serpent. Laughingly, they reveal that racism is but one tool of many that those who remain in power use to stay in power. It keeps people from asking the real questions, such as what voices are really influencing the talk show hosts? Does this political conflict come as distraction to the collateral damage the institution of politics itself causes?? Does this world need saving???

That last question is answered easily by a woman once distressed, and now happy and physically safe. Next to this the Black Panther stands, unmasked as black and more determined than ever to right the wrong of the African in America. More determined to help the individual than the Earth.

After he stood without the anonymity of his cowl, Black Panther would soon take his leave of the Avengers and, after a year of sporadic guest appearances, arrive with his own solo feature in Jungle Action, what some call “the first graphic novel marvel published” . They really are marvelous comics. One day, I may even write about them.

For now, though, the Panther’s trail continues on into other avengers comics, with diminishing presence. He retells every Avenger his origin, his many secret identities besides T’Challah that he has used to gleam knowledge from the world.
And he also becomes a teacher, stating the intent of the rest of his crime fighting career.

He continues to help the Avengers from time to time, but he largely becomes a guest star in a couple Daredevil issues and then the feature of Jungle Action!, where he reclaims the throne of Wakanda from its absence.Next up: I ditch the Marvel Age of Comics. Crisis DC FOREVER!!!!!!! (but not the crisis mode you might expect). it’s all arriving in Sequential Critique 20!

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