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Black Panther is one of those characters I like a lot in a supporting role. I've been a fan of Black Panther for a long time, but I have to admit that I've never read a full solo run of the character. I guess there's just some comic characters I like in smaller doses. He's an awesome hero with a really cool costume design, but I'd rather see him and go, "Cool! Black Panther!" every now and then than follow him on a regular basis.
That said. . .
Because I DO like Black Panther, I wasn't able to resist a short stack of 6 pretty banged-up Jungle Action comics I spotted on a trip to some antique/junk stores my wife wanted to check out a couple of weeks ago. I figured for five bucks each, I might not be bringing something too "valuable" into my collection, but I WOULD have something fun to read out on the back porch after dinner.
I was a bit interested to learn that one of them (the comic at hand) was sort of a minor "key" issue because it has the origin of Black Panther. Mine isn't in the best condition (it's actually pretty bad), but I still always get a kick out of finding a little something unexpected for my collection, especially at a random junk shop.
Which brings us here. . .
Let's crank up the Longbox Junk time machine and head back to 1974 for a look at the origin of Black Panther, shall we? That's right. . .it's another Longbox Junk retro review nobody asked for!
Watch your step boarding the craft. Please make sure all items are secure. Fasten the safety belt for your protection. All set? Next stop. . .THE BRONZE AGE OF COMICS!
JUNGLE ACTION #8
MARVEL COMICS (1974)
COVER: Rich Buckler
MALICE BY CRIMSON MOONLIGHT
SCRIPT: Don McGregor
PENCILS: Rich Buckler
INKS: Klaus Jansen
They don't make 'em like THAT anymore!
It's a real Bronze Age beauty, with vibrant color and a nice feeling of motion and action. Black Panther looks great in his iconic dark costume against the bright primary colors of the background. The whole thing is a feast for the eyes, and just looking at it makes me happy. There's nothing I don't like about this cover! Let's get inside.
We begin our tale in the forest outside of the Wakandan Palace, where Black Panther is engaged in a test of his physical power. . .fighting off a large group of attackers. . .as part of a ceremony to fully imbue him with the Panther powers locked within a mysterious heart-shaped herb that cooks nearby.
Unknown to Black Panther or his royal aides in attendance at the ceremony, an agent of Erik Killmonger has infiltrated the palace. Her name is Malice and she's on a mission to find and rescue another recently captured agent of Killmonger's called Venomm.
Malice makes her way through the palace, interrogating guards until she discovers Venomm's location. As she approaches, she hears Venomm talking with his guard, a friend and Lieutenant of King T'Challa named Taka. Malice listens as Venomm confides the strange origin of his ruined face and fall to evil to his sympathetic guard.
A savage attack by a bully with a bottle of acid when Venomm was young led to his becoming withdrawn from society and taking company with snakes. He managed to build up immunity to all but the strongest venom. . .a skill that Erik Killmonger admired, and so he recruited Venomm to his cause.
As Malice listens to Venomm's sad tale, in the forest outside the palace, the ceremony continues. Black Panther's guest from the United States, Monica, hears strange chanting in the woods and investigates. She sees Black Panther laying on the ground, surrounded by dark figures!
Not knowing what is happening, Monica leaps to rescue Black Panther, unwittingly disrupting the ritual of the heart-shaped herb! After a tense confrontation with his royal attendants over the forbidden outsider interrupting the sacred ritual, King T'Challa abandons the ritual against the protests of his attendants and escorts Monica back to the palace.
When they arrive, Panther immediately senses something is wrong, and discovers the unconscious palace guards. Before he can react, Malice attacks! Black Panther is taken by surprise and is amazed at the strength and skill of his attacker. He recovers quickly and engages Malice, who becomes distracted by Monica and the arrival of T'Challa's royal attendants.
As T'Challa's attendants recapture Venomm, Malice makes her escape. Black Panther doesn't pursue her, instead choosing to stop one of his more vigilant Lieutenants from killing Venomm.
To be Continued. . .
There are also a few pages of supplemental material in the back of the comic, taking the place of the reprint backup story from the original 1950's Jungle Action series that usually ended the issues in this series. There are some images of Black Panther by various artists reprinted from previous appearances in other comics. . .
As well as a map of Wakanda reprinted and corrected from its original appearance in Jungle Tales #6 of this series, as well as a map of the interior of the Royal Palace. . .
And there it is. Jungle Action #8. . .the Origin of Black Panther. Let's break it on down!
Sooooooooo. . .
Despite saying so on the cover and being bumped up in collector "value" because of it, this is NOT a Black Panther origin story. The previous issue and some of the following issues have more origin material for Black Panther than this issue does!
Except for a little bit of information regarding the "heart-shaped herb" that gives the Kings of Wakanda their powers and the physical test that comes before that sacred ritual, there isn't ANYTHING in this issue that could give cause to label it an origin issue. Actually, there are a solid two pages devoted to VENOMM'S origin, making this more of an origin issue for Venomm than for Black Panther!
It's pretty disappointing and even a bit strange to have no origin in an origin issue. . .and it's even stranger knowing that there are people who are out there paying more for this comic on the collector market because it's being sold as an origin issue.
Is it misleading, or is it "buyer beware"? To me, there's nothing in this issue that would make it any more "valuable" than the one before or after it. But I guess it's a pretty good example of how a lot of comics being sold these days aren't being read. People will pay more for a Black Panther "origin issue" just because they're told it's a Black Panther origin issue and therefore is "worth" more.
I'm going to resist getting into a rant about comic collectors who don't actually read comics here, so let's just leave the missing "origin" of Black Panther behind and take a look at what we actually have here.
This issue is the 3rd part of an extended 13 issue story called "Panther's Rage" that ran through most of the 24 issues of this series. This story introduced Black Panther's greatest foe, Erik Killmonger. We don't get any Killmonger in this issue, but his presence is felt through his agents Malice and Venomm.
As a standalone issue, it's not very new reader friendly at all. There are a lot of people and events in this issue that are firmly connected to previous issues. That said, as part of the ongoing story (That I read online to fill in the gaps between the issues I have), it's a great little break. . .a sort of segue between Killmonger initially being in T'Challa's face, and then working through agents to try and collapse the monarchy of Wakanda.
Overall, the complete "Panther's Rage" is some darn fine Bronze Age storytelling. . .it's commonly regarded as one of the stories that started moving Marvel toward tighter continuity and longer storylines. Unfortunately, unlike a lot of Bronze Age comics that can be read on their own, reading just one issue out of context (like this one) isn't the best experience.
That's not to say this issue isn't well-written. It is. There are some great descriptive passages in here that really set a mood of simmering intrigue and conflict that Black Panther doesn't understand yet. There's some good writing in here.
The art? The art is good. . .not great. It tells the story well and even has a few standout moments. Just that there's not enough of those moments to push the visuals into anyplace remarkable. If I had to describe the art in one word, that word would be "solid".
So, the writing is good, the art is solid. The main thing holding this issue back from being more enjoyable is the tightly connected place it holds in an ongoing storyline.
What we have here is a fine example of how comics can become "valuable" just because someone says it is, and the buyer doesn't question WHY. But this isn't the place for THAT can of worms to be opened.
This is part of an ongoing story that is an interesting piece of Bronze Age comic history in being one of the first multi-issue tightly connected storylines. . .13 issue stories were pretty much unheard of at the time. Most continued stories were 2-4 issues at the most.
As a part of that story, it's a very nice transition issue. As a standalone comic, it's decent, but not great.
If you are a Black Panther fan and haven't read "Panther's Rage" then I certainly recommend you do. It's been collected and reprinted several times so it's pretty easy to find. As far as just reading this single issue. . .I can't really say it's a great idea. It's not a BAD read, but it's definitely out of context by itself. And one more time, buyers beware. . .this is NOT a Black Panther origin issue!
Up Next. . .
It's been a while since I reviewed an entire series from top to bottom, so why not?
I've recently completed the full run of Marvel's 19 issue 1980-83 series of King Conan. Let's take a look at what sort of sword swingin' fun is going on in there, shall we? WE SHALL!