Black Panther, also known as T'Challa, King of Wakanda, isn't all that well-known among non-comic fans, and certainly not the extent that Batman or Iron Man are known. But with Captain America: Civil War set to launch later this week, he's bound to get a lot more exposure among mainstream movie fans.
Despite being a bit of a lesser-known character, Black Panther has built up a lot of great stories over the years and we've shifted through the annals of comic history to find the 15 Black Panther Stories You Should Read Before Civil War and after that, his own solo movie.
15 His First Appearance in Fantastic Four #52
After receiving an invitation to visit the mysterious kingdom of Wakanda, the Fantastic Four find themselves the prey of the fearsome Black Panther. One by one, the Black Panther lures them into a series of cunning traps, besting them thanks to his supernatural gifts and his superior planning. Despite his failure to account for the Human Torch's friend Wingfoot, this issue firmly establishes that T’Challa is a tactical genius capable of overcoming any opponent if given the time to prepare.
This story also gives us the Black Panther’s origin, involving his father’s death at the hands of Klaw, as well as the secret to T'Challa's supernatural strength and speed. Admittedly, this story is a bit cheesy by today’s standards, but it’s still a fun read that features some amazing artwork by Jack Kirby.
This is likely to be the most controversial story on this list because it could, and it has, been argued that this is a great Dr. Doom story and a poor Black Panther story. The criticisms of this story aren’t without merit because, despite T’Challa’s eventual triumph, it is very much a pyrrhic victory. Black Panther is forced to destroy Wakanda’s supply of vibranium, greatly weakening the nation, and even gives up the throne to his sister, Shuri.
But, that sacrifice is the reason we are including it in on this list. Heroes are not only defined by their victories, but by their failures and how they react to them. Black Panther was forced to make an impossible choice, but, in the end, he made the decision that he felt was best for his kingdom and he bore responsibility for that choice. Black Panther is often portrayed as a king first and a hero second and this story highlights that because choice and consequence are inescapable aspects of ruling.
13 The Client
The beginning of Christopher Priest’s run, which would redefine the character for a new generation, saw T’Challa exiled from Wakanda to Brooklyn. This story serves as an excellent introduction to Black Panther because we get to see the story unfold from the perspective of bureaucrat Everett Ross, who serves as a sort of everyman caught in the middle of the insanity that is T’Challa’s life.
When reading this story, there are bits and pieces of Ross’s tale that don't make sense because he keeps jumping around and leaving parts out, but, by the end, everything comes together perfectly and the disjointed opening makes the conclusion all the more satisfying.
12 Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes
This is one of the older stories on this list and, like a lot of comics of its time, it might seem a bit dated, but it’s still a fun story that shows off the Black Panther’s combat skills. Black Panther enters the Avengers’ Mansion one night to find several members of the team killed. He’s originally blamed for the murders, but the true culprit, the Grim Reaper, eventually reveals himself, along with the fact that the Avengers aren’t really dead, forcing Black Panther to battle him on his own.
The story doesn’t have any major impacts in terms of T’Challa’s character, but it’s still a fun quick read that helps show just how good of a fighter he really is.
11 Avengers vs. X-Men #7
Let’s be clear, Avengers vs. X-Men is not a very good story. In fact, we’d even say it’s the weakest entry on this list by far. There were a few decent concepts, such as the Phoenix Five, but in general it was an ill-conceived mess. However, it’s on here for the simple fact that it was in Avengers vs. X-Men #7 that Namor, wielding the Phoenix, flooded the Golden City of Wakanda.
Namor’s attack left many people dead, including T’Challa’s sister Shuri, who was serving as the Black Panther. On a more personal level, it also led to the the breakup of T’challa and Storm due to his decision to exile the mutants from Wakanda. Avengers vs. X-Men wasn't a very good story, but it also had a major impact on T’Challa’s life, so we felt we had to include it.
10 A Nation Under Our Feet
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s take on Black Panther is the most recent entry on this list, and only time will tell how his work is embraced by fans, but judging by the first issue, released in April, it certainly has the potential to become one of the all-time great Black Panther stories.
Coates manages the difficult task of embracing past events, such as Doom’s invasion and the flooding of Wakanda by Namor, while still creating a story that’s accessible to new readers. Coates doesn’t tell the backstory of the Black Panther or Wakanda and instead focuses on telling a story of a nation in a time of crisis as the people of Wakanda began to lose faith in their traditions and government, leading to violence and unrest.
9 Strum Und Drang
One of the more interesting aspects of Black Panther’s character is that he is both a king and a superhero. A lot of his more interesting stories deal with him balancing that dual nature and struggling with what is best for Wakanda, versus what is best for the world.
Strum Und Drang is a great example of this, as T’Challa is forced to choose between saving an innocent child and thus risking war, or sacrificing that child in order to ensure peace for Wakanda. In a lot of ways, Strum Und Drang is an ensemble story, but the other characters aren’t heroes, but rather monarchs such as Namor or Dr. Doom. Forcing T’Challa to play politics with the likes of Magneto or Doom is a great way to get the character out of his element and test him in a way that doesn’t involve just throwing some new supervillain at him.
8 Enemy of the State
Following on the heels of The Client, Enemy of the State sees Black Panther and his allies unmasking a conspiracy deep within the U.S. government to topple the Wakanda regime and install a puppet ruler on the throne. In addition, we also get a rather interesting revelation about Black Panther’s role in the Avengers, which casts his relationship with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in a new light.
Like a lot of Priest’s run, this story is heavily tied into the mythology that Priest has built up, but considering it’s still fairly on in his run it’s fairly easy for new readers to jump into and it really captures the essence of Black Panther, with its emphasis on political allegory and social themes.
7 The Man Without Fear
After destroying Wakanda’s supply of Vibranium in order to keep it out of Dr. Doom’s hands, T’Challa gives up the mantle of Black Panther to his sister Shuri and takes Daredevil’s place in Hell’s Kitchen. He hopes to find out who he really is now that he is stripped of Wakanda’s technology and the powers of the Panther God. This leads him into conflict with New York’s newest crime boss, Vlad the Impaler.
Seeing the former king working as a manager at Hell’s Kitchen diner while trying to stay one step ahead of Vlad gives readers a rare glimpse into who T’Challa really is when he’s not serving as the Black Panther.
6 Bride of the Panther
When T’Challa was still a young man, he had left Wakanda to explore the wider world and was attacked by a group of men. Little did he know that this encounter would change his life as it led to his meeting Ororo Munroe, better known as Storm, when she helped save him from his attackers. They then travelled together for a time becoming close friends with hopes of being more. They were married during the Civil War and their wedding provided a bright moment at an otherwise dark time in the Marvel universe.
Their marriage endured the Civil War and other dark times in the Marvel universe, but came to an end after Namor’s flooding of Wakanda forced the Black Panther to exile all mutants from his kingdom. This caused a rift that wouldn't heal and the two separated, though they have tried to remain friends.
5 World Tour
A follow-up to the events in Bride of the Panther, we’re including this one as a separate entry because, while it certainly helps, you don’t need to read this story to enjoy Bride of the Panther. One of the better Civil War tie-ins, this follows Black Panther and Storm as they travel the world after their wedding.
Like Strum Und Drang, this is another story that places emphasis on the Black Panther’s role as a king over his role as a superhero. The addition of Storm to provide support and advice highlights, perhaps even more so than their wedding issue, that this is a couple that, despite their eventual breakup, really do love and care about one another and that’s one of the best things about this arc.
4 Enemy of the State II
Batman v. Superman, Hulk v. Thor, comic books are full of stories pitting hero against hero and one of the greatest (and least appreciated) is T’Challa v. Tony Stark. While Iron Man and Black Panther do eventually come to blows, but this is very much a game of wits and Tony and T’Challa make perfect foils for one another. Tony uncovers evidence that T’Challa, who risks an international incident when he annexes a Canadian island, has been spying on the Avengers.
A story as heavy as this one could risk getting bogged down in the details and all the back and forth and the “I was two steps ahead of you the whole time” game that Tony and T’Challa play. Luckily, Everett Ross is there to provide some much needed levity to the story, along with a surprise appearance by President Bill Clinton.
3 Panther's Rage
A list of best Black Panther stories wouldn’t be complete without Don McGregor’s epic story Panther’s Rage. It is one the characters’ most important stories for several reasons.
For starters, it was the first time the character appeared in his own comic as opposed to being part of a team. Panther’s Rage is a great example of a writer taking a limitation, such as only having 15 pages every two months, and turning it into a strength. Due to the limited page count, Mcgregor decided to use each issue to tell a single story about the Black Panther dealing with a civil war in his kingdom. It was one of the earliest examples of longform storytelling in comics and it remains one of the best.
2 Who Is the Black Panther?
If you can only read one Black Panther story before seeing Civil War, we recommend Who Is the Black Panther?. Not because it’s the best story on this list, though it is very good, but because it is an excellent introduction to the Black Panther, giving readers an updated origin story along with more insight into what it means to be the Black Panther.
This story also serves as an excellent introduction to Wakanda as whole, giving us a bit of the nation’s history and its place in the modern world. As an added bonus, this series also marks the first appearance of T’Challa’s sister Shuri who would one day take up the mantel of the Black Panther in her brother’s stead.
1 See Wakanda and Die
The Skrull Empire has conquered countless worlds and enslaved entire galaxies, so what happens when they invade the Black Panther’s kingdom of Wakanda? Simple, they die. After disabling each other’s weapons, the Skrull and Wakandans are forced to do battle with hand and blade.
Black Panther’s training and skill allows him to take on even the mighty Super-Skrull in single combat. T’Challa’s final plan for victory is a bit convoluted, but we’ll give it a pass because it highlights just how brilliant of a strategist he really is. Beyond that, this story has some amazing artwork and that final panel serves as a chilling warning to any who would think Wakanda an easy conquest.
Are there any essential stories we left off? What are you reading before Civil War? Let us know in the comments.