Don McGregor covers his 1980's work on T'Challa, tackling apartheid and much more!
Pick up the Path of the Black Panther retrospective with part one, chronicling T’Challa’s formative appearances and seminal 1970’s adventures…
The Panther Never Sleeps
After 24 issues total, JUNGLE ACTION came to an end, but with Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in 1977, the Black Panther wouldn’t stay at rest for long.
BLACK PANTHER #1 gifted T’Challa with his first series under his known name, kicking off one of the wildest Panther tales to date. After Kirby’s departure from the title, writer Ed Hannigan took over the narrative, which continued into MARVEL PREMIERE. A four-issue BLACK PANTHER limited-series followed in 1988, by Peter B. Gillis and artist Denys Cowan.
One year after the limited-series, in 1989, writer Don McGregor made a new trek to Wakanda to revisit old friends and see what they might be up to since his legendary JUNGLE ACTION run a decade before. The result became “Panther’s Quest,” beginning in MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #13.
“[If you ask me what I’m proud of] I guess I feel proud of ‘Panther’s Quest’ for what we did, when we did it,” he says. “‘When’ being the important word. At the time, in the mid-80’s, there were few stories being done about apartheid and South Africa. It was [editor] Michael Higgins who first called me in the mid-80’s about coming back to write the Panther and Killraven. Michael took me to dinner a number of times.
“I was resistant to coming back to do T’Challa again because, along with the exhilaration that came with doing those books, there were so many scarred wounds as memories. Some people think I wanted to fight every issue. No, I didn’t. Yes, I fought for the books the best I could; and I believed the fight was worth the stand. And yes, I was probably particularly naïve. [In 1989] I was older now, and I had seen how the business worked, and I did not want to expend the energy fighting, with all the negative impact that has.
Marvel Comics Presents art by Gene Colan
“After a number of discussions I agreed to do the final Killraven. Michael and I had discussed it over a couple of months. As soon as I told Michael that I would write it if Craig Russell was drawing it, he said, ‘Great! And we’re doing the Panther, too!’ And I went into my usual litany of why I loved the character but no, I did not want to fight with everyone over every issue. This time, though, I added a line about having this idea I had always wanted to do about the Panther searching for his mother in South Africa.
‘Okay, we’ll do it!’
‘No, Michael. This isn’t going to be the kind of story where a super hero goes in and solves apartheid. It’s not what I have in mind at all.’
‘Not a problem, Don,’ Michael assured me. [And so,] Michael Higgins convinced me to do the Panther. He called me about midnight, on the day I was working on the first pages of the script.
‘I’m off MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, Don. I’m not editing the book,’ he told me.
I was positive he was joking, that he was getting back at me because I’d taken so long to agree to come back to the Panther. ‘Get out of here, Michael! You’re not going to sucker me into buying this.’ Michael was telling the truth.
“I called Tom DeFalco, who was Editor-In-Chief at that time, to inquire about what was happening, and where that left this series I had just begun. He said it didn’t matter who the editor was. I insisted that it was to me, and I had to meet with whoever the new editor was. I met Terry Kavanagh for the first time, and we went to have lunch at a fabulous place called The Sumptuary. By the end of that lunch, I knew I had an editor who believed in what I wanted to do, believed in me as a story-teller. Terry backed me on ‘Panther’s Quest,’ every step of the way. I know he took a lot of heat as the series progressed. Terry Kavanagh kept his word to me on every book we did together, and I treasured working with him.
Marvel Comics Presents art by Gene Colan
“Comics are normally set in cement that dries quickly. Whatever the format of the month is, it is basically unbreakable. MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS had started doing eight or 10-part stories, at eight pages an installment. When ‘Panther’s Quest’ was at 10 or more, Terry told me every editorial meeting they were on him about how many chapters it would be. I came up with 25 off the top of my head. I had no idea how long the story would be. I was still researching apartheid, and trying to include as many facets of what was happening there at that time into the series.
“I spent a lot of time at the Shomberg Museum up in Harlem. The staffs were really helpful in getting me material, articles and photos. Some asked, ‘Are you really doing this for Marvel Comics? This is going to appear in a Marvel Comic?’
‘I’m going to write it. If you see it, then they did.’ That was the only answer I had.
“This was definitely worth the doing, and with people who believed in it. It was by chance that Gene Colan came to draw ‘Panther’s Quest’ when I came back to Marvel after Nathaniel Dusk [at DC]. In fact, Gene wasn’t going to be able to start drawing it for awhile when we first talked about it, but then a series at DC fell through, and he needed pages within two days. I had just figured out why the Panther’s mother had disappeared, and what was going on in South Africa, and now I had to create pages for Gene to draw in two days! While I had the flu!
“When people ask me about Marvel collecting the Panther books, I wish they would do this one. It is in 25 issues of MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, which probably was the only way I would have been allowed to write a series dealing with apartheid in that time period, since they did not have to cover-feature the subject matter.”
McGregor’s time with the Black Panther didn’t end with “Panther’s Quest.” The writer returned once more to helm the 1991 BLACK PANTHER: PANTHER’S PREY four-issue limited series, with artist Dwayne Turner.
Black Panther: Panther’s Prey #3 cover by Dwayne Turner
“When Gene could not draw PANTHER’S PREY, I started seeking an artist,” he notes. “I was at the Xerox machine after the normal work hours, and Chris Ivy came up and asked if I was going to use Dwayne Turner for the series, and that the Panther was his favorite character. I made one of the wisest artist decisions I ever made when I chose Dwayne. My feeling was I would rather have an artist who was starting out rather than a more established one for whom this would just be another gig. I had a great time working with Dwayne, and we became good friends during the daily effort to bring this to life.
“My favorite sequence in that series is the third issue, with Monica Lynne. By all rights I should not have done such an extensive sequence on her life after ‘Panther’s Rage,’ but it was one I thought was most effective. Coupled with the last half of that book, where T’Challa and Monica discuss all the reasons they should not have sex, I cherish the intimacy of the scene between the two, and the palpable sense of lust and love they have for each other.
“When I was writing the stories, it was important to me that they were the best comics I could do. I worked hard on them; I cared passionately about them.”
The story of the Black Panther continues later this week on Marvel.com, as the character pushes into the 1990’s! Visit marvel.com/75 for more Marvel 75th anniversary content and join the conversation on Twitter using #Marvel75