Notes on Black Panther for non-comics readers

(from a semi-reader of Black Panther)

After viewing #2 of the movie, here goes:

–The Dora Milaje (most obviously seen in Danai Gurira’s General Okoye) were an invention of–you know this is coming, right?–Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira. Priest brought them in in Black Panther #1 (Volume 3, if you must–the first volume was Kirby’s short-lived one, the second Gillis and Cowan’s 4-issue mini). They served a different role (somewhat) and acted rather differently there: they were brides-in-waiting in addition to the King’s guard (T’Challa never considers them literal brides-in-waiting, but considering their name translates to “Adored Ones”, it’s less surprising the English translation was never given in the movie, as it would’ve been confusing as shit and seemingly make no sense. They exist in this role as a political manoeuvre: they come from many of Wakanda’s tribes, and encourage the King to choose his wife from among them, thus maintaining their place in the nation’s leadership.
–The Dora Milaje do not speak English. They speak Hausa, and they only speak it to the King (!). This is the tradition at least, and it…was possibly violated later (see: Queen Divine Justice aka Chanté Giovanni Brown aka Ce’Athauna Asira Davin)
–The original pair of Dora Milaje we meet are named: Okoye and…Nakia. Nakia appears in the movie, but in a notably ‘mutated’ form: she’s not part of the Dora Milaje (she’s actually part of the Hatut Zeraze, but we’ll get to that), she’s not barely-an-adult, and she’s not lovesick over T’Challa (!). T’Challa and Nakia were not lovers–under the influence of Mephisto (a demonic-like entity who is most associated with–you guessed it, the Silver Surfer!¹) T’Challa unwittingly kissed her, thinking she was Monica Lynne (his then-former fiancée). She…went off the deep end, and did some messed up stuff. Whee!
–The “War Dogs” were typically translated as “Dogs of War”, and were most often referred to by their Wakandan name, much like the Dora Milaje (as you’d expect): the Hatut Zeraze. Ah, now we’re here! Yes: the Hatut Zeraze, which we saw a *lot* of members of in the movie, were a group of spies and assassins with…morally questionable tendencies (they favoured torture, kidnapping, and, as the word sorta suggested, assassination). T’Challa was not a fan, and disbanded them, half-successfully. They had been run, however, by T’Challa’s adoptive white (!) brother, Hunter, aka The White Wolf (!!). Hunter ended up scheming to prove his group’s value to T’Challa in a rather fucked up fashion, largely unsuccessfully because T’Challa is a badass.
–Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother, was not Wakandan. She’s also his adoptive mother, as his mother (N’Yami) died in childbirth. It’s because of her outsider status as a South African that she is so willing to mother the orphaned Hunter (see above, RE: Hatut Zeraze). She also wasn’t around at the time of T’Challa’s coronation–she was kidnapped and presumed dead, then.

–Everett K. Ross, amusing but competent CIA agent, etc in the movie, was originally the self-described “Emperor of Useless White Boys” and an attaché from the Office of Chief Protocol for the U.S.–an ambassador, of sorts, tasked with supporting and assisting the visiting King of Wakanda (whom he perpetually refers to in narration from his reports as “THE CLIENT”). Ross is more prone to questioning how close he is to peeing himself than he is holding his own in any fight. He was memorably chased with a hockey stick by then-President Bill Clinton over events stemming from T’Challa’s diversion to the U.S. over a child’s death related to a charity he was involved with.²

–Zuri (portrayed in film by Forest Whitaker) is a much gruffer, more boorish sort of character–think M’Baku, perhaps. Ross has a killer line about Zuri regarding his opinion on how to deal with a formal event in Vol. 3 #6. He ends up friendly with Thor–somewhat boozy, good-natured, boastful, trouble-seeking Thor–over their common ground.

–You might’ve noticed I mentioned T’Challa’s adopted brother, but not his sister Shuri. That’s because he didn’t HAVE a sister, until a certain writer decided to ignore basically everything that came before him³ and added her in the fourth volume out of nowhere.
–So, speaking of that…lots of articles right now are rambling on about Reginald Hudlin’s run (eg, one I saw suggesting he put the “black” in “Black Panther”). This is baffling, for the simple fact that, until recently, I’d only ever heard people talk serious shit about Hudlin’s run. You might think, “Maybe this is because Hudlin was the first black writer, and people feel this brought something to the series…?” Which is an interesting thought, but completely wrong. After an apparently questioning set of letters, Christopher Priest wrote an essay in Black Panther #12 that included the phrase, “I’m black”, and was essentially a meditation on how that affected the book and what it might mean to readers.
“Ah,” you might say, “Then it must be because Hudlin had the longest run!” Nope–Priest wrote volume 3 from issues #1-56, and then came back three issues later to finish the volume with #59-62. Hudlin wrote #1-38 of Vol. 4 [and its annual], and #1-6 of Vol. 5, co-writing #7, as well as a 4-issue mini about a predecessor of T’Challa’s with Captain America.  So, he hasn’t written the greatest number of issues [49 most generously] or even the longest uninterrupted run. I guess Hudlin did invent Shuri? I really have no idea why they’re obsessed with Hudlin. Maybe because he was famous for non-comics work before writing, as a writer/director?!
Honestly, I think most of us in comics world–at least most I know–regard Hudlin’s run as a misfire at best, with its notoriously forced and usually-regarded-as-stupid marriage to Storm. Priest’s run has been talked of (in the comics world, and by current writer Ta-Nehisi Coates) as “definitive”. So, this really kinda irritates me.
–So, Christopher Priest: Priest is somewhere in my top ten or even top five comics writers. He’s a nice dude to meet at a con (though in general terms, he’ll describe himself more acerbically). He has never shied away from race in trying to explain himself or write his books (which further makes the “Hudlin put the ‘black’…” title irritate the hell out of me). He was the first ever (!) regular African American writer in mainstream comic books, as well as the first African American editor. Not that–as he’ll brazenly tell you himself–this is noted anywhere (and adding that the same is true for other milestones in representation from comics creators–women, for instance). Priest invented many of the concepts and characters that appear in this gigantic movie (see above: Everett Ross, Zuri, Okoye, Nakia, the Dora Milaje, the Hatut Zeraze… basically everyone but Klaw, Killmonger, Ramonda, M’Baku, and Shuri–one of those characters being from a pre-100 issue of Avengers [#62, in fact], one being from early Fantastic Four [#53/56], two from Black Panther’s first major writer, Don McGregor, and…one from Hudlin). Of course, if you ask him, the person who deserves the most credit for Black Panther in general and the movie in particular is Don McGregor, who wrote Black Panther in Jungle Action in the 1970s (after complaining that a book with that title, set in Africa, was pretty damned white) and again in the late 80s in a long-running serial in Marvel Comics Presents. I can tell you this because he told me as much to my face, suggesting McGregor should’ve gotten credit in the movie alongside Lee and Kirby, and dismissing his own obviously notable contributions to the movie as minor.

What’s the point? Read Priest’s run. Read Priest’s work. It’s a good time. If you meet him or read his personal writing or interview thoughts, prepare for some bold comments. They flit into his work, too, to be honest, but he’s even more frank outside of it…he had some choice snark on the title of Jungle Action and the title he half-expected to follow it (which I shan’t repeat, but you may be able to guess).

Also, there are some super spoilery notes to be made, but I shall leave those out here. They’re a bit more “fun trivia” anyway. Mostly…I’ll just say a river is involved.
¹I’m going to bet no one guessed that. You already knew that, or had no idea and are wondering what the everloving fuck is going on right now. Sorry, it’s complicated.
²Not kidding.
³Those who regularly read my random comments on comics may assume I mean “fan-favourite Brian Michael Bendis”–so-called because the phrase is attached to his name with hilarious regularity, despite his divisive reputation for the last decade+–but I actually don’t. Keep reading from this footnote and it may all become clear…


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