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To Be Continued #3 – Multiculturalism in comics and a magical summer day. Discovering Don McGregor’s BLACK PANTHER.

June 24th, 2013 | Posted by Eugene Son in Columns and Essays | Dwayne McDuffie Stories

TO BE CONTINUED… was Dwayne’s weekly opinion column on the comic book industry, hosted by Psycomics.com from October 1999-February 2000.

This is one of my favorite columns that Dwayne ever wrote. His amazing blend of entertaining story-telling, mixed in with a bigger point. Read the column, and then I’ll add my post-script-

To Be Continued #3

Brought to you by…

Alan Thompkins interrupted my one-on-none backyard basketball game with some important news. “The Hulk is gonna fight Thor. It’s supposed to be out already.”

If Alan said so, it must be true. He knew more about comic books than anybody in the whole neighborhood. Even though my interest in the subject was a good deal less fanatical than Alan’s, this was definitely worth checking out. Much of our rapidly-dwindling summer vacation had been spent in heated arguments over who would emerge victorious is such a contest. I was quite certain that the incredible Hulk would have no problem waxing a little guy who wore a cape and feathers in his hat. Alan however favored Thor, citing the Asgardian’s mighty Uru hammer and mystical control over the weather as the likely decisive factors. Maybe so but then, Alan also preferred Joe Fraiser to Muhammad Ali.

In any case, the solution to our debate was suddenly at hand. Only one obstacle remained. Lindsey Drugs, the “good comic store,” was over three miles from my house and I was expressly forbidden from going there. I concocted a clever story to cover my illicit tracks, “I’m going over Alan’s, okay?”

Mom went for it.

Alan and I hopped on our bikes and made the long ride. It was 1973.

We ran into the drug store and scanned the comic racks. The Hulk vs. Thor comic was nowhere to be found. Alan consoled himself with a bag of “Gold Rush” bubble gum. I had twenty cents burning a hole in my pocket and was determined to buy a comic book. I’m very glad I did.

The comic book was JUNGLE ACTION #6. It featured a super hero I’d never heard of called the Black Panther, but then, I’d never heard of the Black Panther political party either. The irony of a black character being the lead in a book called Jungle Action escaped me completely. What didn’t escape me was the powerful sense of dignity that the characters in this book possessed. I was instantly and hopelessly hooked.

My first Black Panther comic.
Way better than gum.

The Black Panther wasn’t the first black character I’d seen in comics. Blacks had already appeared in crowd scenes and even occasionally as supporting characters (the Panther himself first appeared in THE FANTASTIC FOUR). One Black character even starred in his own book. Marvel’s LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE had been running for over a year when I first discovered JUNGLE ACTION. But I never connected with Cage, a super-strong “angry black man” who wore chains around his waist, didn’t seem particularly bright and spoke in a bizarre version of “street slang” that didn’t even remotely resemble the speech of any Black people I knew. Spider-Man made sense to me, Cage? I just couldn’t relate.

In those days, when black people in comics weren’t busy being angry, they appeared either as faithful sidekicks, or worse, as helpless victims who begged white super-heroes to rescue them (“How come you never did nothing for the Black skins, Mr. Green Lantern?” And this was actually progress). The Black Panther was nobody’s sidekick and if there was any rescuing to do, he’d take care of it himself, thank you. Moreover, the Black Panther was king of a mythical African country where black people were visible in every position in society, soldier, doctor, philosopher, street sweeper, ambassador -suddenly everything was possible. In the space of 15 pages, black people moved from invisible to inevitable.

I’ve spoken ad nauseam about the importance of multiculturalism in fiction, as in life. I’ve preached about the sense of validation a kid feels when they see their image reflected heroically in the mass media. This particular summer afternoon, reading about the dastardly (but nuanced) Eric Killmonger’s villainous plot to usurp the Black Panther’s rightful throne, is precisely when it happened to me. I realized that these stories could be about me, that I could be the hero. Years later writing in my own comic I’d describe that wonderful feeling as “the sudden possibility of flight.” Milestone Comics was, among many other things, an attempt to pass that feeling along. It’s all about gaining the high ground. From up there, you gain the perspective to allow you to see the many possibilities open to you. This issue of JUNGLE ACTION single-handedly revealed to me that there were new heights to reach, new vistas to view. It also, not incidentally, entertained the Hell out of me.

Thank you, Don McGregor.

Of course, if you’re currently a comic book fan, you probably know that BLACK PANTHER is again among the best books on the stands. In the hyper-talented hands of writer Christopher “Don’t Call Me Chris” Priest (and whoever might be drawing it this week) the BLACK PANTHER monthly is a thoughtful, contemporary take on the Lee/Kirby creation that changed my life. If you haven’t tried it, you should. It’s much too good to pass up. That said, in my opinion the current run, terrific though it is, still comes in second by several lengths to writer Don McGregor’s epic JUNGLE ACTION saga, “The Panther’s Rage.”

For 13 bimonthly issues, over the course of nearly three years (yeah, I know. Let’s just say that Marvel wasn’t exactly a stickler for shipping dates, back in the seventies), aided and abetted by a number of artists, including the late, great Billy Graham, “The Panther’s Rage” was everything a super-hero comic should be. This overlooked and underrated classic is arguably the most tightly-written multi-part superhero epic ever. If you can get your hands on it (and where’s that trade paperback collection, Marvel?), sit down and read the whole thing. It’s damn-near flawless, every issue, every scene, a functional, necessary part of the whole. Okay, now go back and read any individual issue. You’ll find in seamlessly integrated words and pictures; clearly introduced characters and situations; a concise (sometimes even transparent) recap; beautifully developed character relationships; at least one cool new villain; a stunning action set piece to test our hero’s skills and resolve; and a story that is always moving forward towards a definite and satisfying conclusion. That’s what we should all be delivering, every single month. Don and company did it in only 17 story pages per issue. Compare this to the bloated, empty, ill-planned “story arcs” you see in many of today’s comics. Four 22-page issues to tell about one issue’s worth of story seems to be the norm. Ah, but now I’m just bitching.

I followed Don’s work and became a hard-core fan, first of the Panther, then Marvel and then of the medium. Meanwhile, Don McGregor has continued to turn out gems like KILLRAVEN, SABER, RAGAMUFFINS, NATHANIEL DUSK, ZORRO and LADY RAWHIDE. If you want a taste of the good stuff for yourself, run directly to the comic shop this instant. You may still be able to grab copies of the two exquisite DETECTIVES, INC. graphic novels Don recently re-released through Image. One has art by Gene Colan, the other by Marshall Rogers. You pays your money, you picks your genius. Or better yet, buy them both.

Well, I’d like to gush on this topic for another couple hundred words but I’m already way long this week. So let me take a little bit more space I don’t have to ask you guys for some feedback. What do you want to see happen in this column? How am I doing so far? Click on the link below and drop me a line, will you? Until then, this is TO BE CONTINUED…

The Incredible Hulk vs.(or, as we used
to say, “vizz”) The Mighty Thor.

Dwayne McDuffie is the creator of HARDWARE, BLOOD SYNDICATE, DEATHLOK II and ICON. In the fall of 1973, he and Alan finally got their hands on a copy of DEFENDERS #10, the Hulk vs. Thor comic book. The fight was a lousy tie.

Eugene’s post-script.

When I first read this article, I told Dwayne how much I loved this story. Dwayne revealed that after he got back with the comic, he got punished by his mother for going to the forbidden Lindsey Drugs store… AND HE COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW SHE FOUND OUT. And his mother wouldn’t tell him how she had figured out that he’d lied to her. Almost forty years later and she STILL wouldn’t tell him. Dwayne complained vociferously that it wasn’t like he could use this information to avoid getting caught the next time and that she was only holding back the information to frustrate him.

After Dwayne’s death, I told his mother about our conversation. She revealed to me that earlier that day, she had spotted Dwayne counting up his money. So when he later came over and said that he was going to his friend’s house, she knew he was lying.

Then she added, “A mother always knows.”

I told Dwayne’s mother how devoted Dwayne was to her. How even through the complaints, there was nothing but complete and total love for her. But she already knew. A mother always knows.