The First Marvel Graphic Novel
story in comics over the last five years is the rise of the
graphic novel. Comic series are now most often written so
that they can be collected together in trade paperback form.
There are reports that some writers are being told to extend
their plots in order that they will better candidates for
collection into trade paperback form.
ways great for the industry, but it is a real sea change from
the way that comics used to be done. It used to be that closed
plotlines were by far the exception rather than the rule.
mean that there were no comics that had stories intended to
be read as a full novel. For example, there were real character
arcs in Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four over time. But there
were few stories created as one long novel with a beginning,
middle and end. It wasn't until the 1970s that this approach
even began to be considered.
were an odd era at Marvel comics. The line was continually
expanding. Though editors would keep a watchful eye on what
was being done in the top-selling comics such as Amazing
Spider-Man, Hulk, Avengers and Conan, the comics
that had lower but steady sales weren't looked at as closely.
of this benign neglect, many interesting and unique series
were released in during those years. One of the most distinctive
is the comic that can be seen as Marvel's first true graphic
novel, "Panther's Rage."
had produced many great comics in the '60s and '70s, but "Panther's
Rage" is the first comic that was created from start
to finish as a complete novel. Running in two years' issues
of Jungle Action (#s 6 through 18), "Panther's
Rage" is a 200-page novel that journeys to the heart
of the African nation of Wakanda, a nation ravaged by a revolution
against its king, T'Challa, the Black Panther.
Don McGregor's intelligent and passionate novel explored the
country and its ruler, chronicling the often complex and contradictory
impulses felt by people in real life. There is pulse-pounding
action and excitement in this arcl, but with an interesting
philosophical side. It's really like no other comic written
before and since, and works extremely well as a complete novel.
Jungle Action featured reprints of old 1940s and '50s
stories about white jungle warriors like "Lorna of the
Jungle." The stories are painful to a modern eye, racist,
ridiculous and old-fashioned. With issue five, it was decided
to place The Black Panther, at that time as now a member of
the Avengers, in his own series. Issue five was a reprint,
but with issue six, McGregor, previously an assistant editor,
joined artist Rich Buckler to create the first chapter of
an ambitious work.
spectacular piece that is exciting on more than one level.
The series begins with a brutal battle between the rebel Erik
Killmonger and T'Challa, and then moves to battles between
T'Challa and Killmonger's lieutenants like the fascinating
Venomm and the evil Baron Macabre, master of zombies (zuvembies?).
also battles natural forces such as a rhino (in issue 9, gorgeously
illustrated by the great Gil Kane) and the awesome white gorillas
of Wakanda (in issue 13). The action is wonderful, but what's
more striking about the comics is the absolute passion and
commitment in the comics.
captions that McGregor is famous for are really pervasive
in "Panther's Rage," but they only add to the story,
working on a deeper level to intensify and deepen a reader's
understanding of the events. T'Challa passes through a physical
and emotional gauntlet before Killmonger is finally is defeated,
and McGregor's writing brilliantly conveys T'Challa's extreme
exhaustion from all his ravaging battles. McGregor is amazing
at conveying the doubts even a great king like T'Challa feels
with the burdens of his office, even as the Panther escapes
the latest fate that traps him.
the page that best conveys the feel of "Panther's Rage"
is the last page of issue 16, the next-to-last chapter of
the story. It goes against the grain. At this point in the
story, the Panther is at the mercy of Venomm, a man who had
nearly defeated T'Challa earlier. Venomm has the ability to
control snakes, which are rapidly closing in on T'Challa and
his fellow warrior Taku. Taku and T'Challa are at Venomm's
mercy and there is no way to defeat the man with force.
Taku uses his emotions and intelligence to get Venomm to stop
attacking and, in fact, give up his part in the revolution.
One might expect, based on the usually violent nature of comics,
that Venomm would ignore Taku's entreaties and continue to
try to kill T'Challa. Instead Venomm chose a non-violent path
that was espoused by a man he had become friends with. Taku
had been taking pains to visit Venomm in jail, trying to reach
the good soul he saw living under Venomm's scars.
Venomm walk away from a fight shows tremendous personal growth
in the character, and also shows how a good man like Taku,
through the power of honest friendship, can help his friend
turn his life around. McGregor has often referred to the relationship
between these two characters as being the most dangerous one
in the comic and it's easy to see why.
also interesting is the nature of the conversation. Instead
of pleading with Venomm, Taku takes the highest possible road.
He appeals to Venomm's intellect, building on conversations
the two men had had in previous issues, pushing Venomm towards
a moment of clarity.
very human moment in the midst of a very human story. That's
the power of this novel in particular and McGregor's writing
in general - the feeling that things aren't just happening
to characters, but that people with brains, hearts, libidos
and passions are living through unique experiences. The characters
are fully fleshed out, rather than the two-dimensional "Hulk
smash" qualities of most mainstream comics.
trying to think of other comics where a violent threat ends
without the use of more violence, and the only story that
popped to mind was Alan Moore's first Swamp Thing story,
where Jason Woodrue is trying to destroy the "flesh"
in the world so plants, "the green" as Woodrue calls
it, can rule supreme. Swamp Thing, recently having come to
peace with his inhuman nature, confronts Woodrue.
asks him, "Why do you want to stop me?" Swamp Thing
looks at him, with great calm in his eye, and says "Because
you are hurting the green." Woodrue quickly feels his
power escape him. The power of peace beat the power of violence.
It's a tremendously satifying moment because it comes from
the characters themselves. The same is true of this page.
Rage" is pretty much forgotten now. Though it's an outstanding
comic, it also reads at times like a comic from the 1970s.
The recent Black Panther series was an interesting,
and very different, exploration of the character, and it makes
sense that Marvel fans would dwell on that comic more than
this one. But "Panther's Rage" is worth seeking
Jason Sacks wrote this article for Once Upon a Dime and Fanboy Planet back in 2003 -- he is now currently the excellent editor-in-chief of Comics Bulletin.