Q: For months, I was seeing previews for “Black Panther” every time I went to the theater. I’m curious about his history. How long has he been around and how’d he get so popular as to break box-office records?
Bob Hopkins, of Collinsville
A: If publishers keep hauling characters down from the comics attic and dusting them off, it appears they eventually can turn just about anything or anybody into a box-office blockbuster.
Just look at Groot, which (whom?) I wrote about three years ago. In November 1960, Groot popped up in Tales to Astonish No. 13 as the villain of one of those one-shot pulp science-fiction stories. “I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X!” the cover screamed. And this was when Tales to Astonish was still being issued under the Zenith Publications name, not Marvel. Today, of course, Groot and its (pardon the pun) offshoot have become beloved central characters in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Now, Black Panther is enjoying the same phenomenal success. Youngsters may think they’re latching onto something new, but this first-of-its-kind mainstream black comics superhero is actually old enough to join AARP. In fact, it was a little unnerving, but as soon as I saw the trailer for the first time, I swear I immediately remembered the moment when I first saw him — Fantastic Four issue No. 52 in July 1966, a month before I started high school.
Perhaps he left a deep impression on me even then, but I wouldn’t know why. At the time, he seemed he would be just another run-of-the-mill character out to save the world. In FF52, T’Challa had lured Ben, Sue, Johnny and the Thing to his hidden-away African country of Wakanda by sending them a state-of-the-art airship as a gift. But when they arrive, they find themselves in a massive mechanical forest, where they face numerous traps as well as attacks by the Black Panther and his Wakandan guards.
Working together, the Fantastic Four finally overpowers T’Challa, who then reveals the method behind his apparent madness: He was merely testing them to see if they were worthy of helping him defeat his own nemesis, Klaw. Naturally, they do just that in issue No. 53, leaving Black Panther to lament, “Somehow, I cannot believe it is over! I cannot believe that the Black Panther will stalk no more!”
Neither did Stan Lee and the rest of the Marvel bullpen, who quickly found that he was was comic-stand dynamite. So they kept bringing him back time after time, including an extended run starting with the Avengers No. 52 in May 1968. Eventually, he would command his own starring role in the critically acclaimed series Jungle Action Nos. 5-24 and finally his own comic in 1977. So what could have been a forgettable two-issue story arc in 1966 has turned into a gold mine for Marvel — and collectors. It shouldn’t be too surprising that I’ve found auctions for Fantastic Four No. 52 going as high as $12,000 and one individual sale reported at $83,000.
In 1972, what did Marvel briefly rename the Black Panther? Why?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: The door opens, and Greta Garbo gives the interior of the bar a once-over. She slowly shuffles over to a table, drops her valise and plops down in a chair. “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side,” she orders. Then, as the waiter hustles off to fill her order, she adds, “And don’t be stingy, baby!” It was Garbo’s first spoken line in an English movie, the 1930 film adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” with the Swedish-born actress in the title role. By then, talkies had been around for a couple of years, but movie studios held some talent — including Garbo — back, fearing they could not make the transition from the silent era. They didn’t have to worry. Garbo’s English was so good that she reportedly was asked to repeat certain scenes to give Anna a thicker Swedish accent. Her work earned her an immediate Oscar nomination, one of four she would receive during a 20-year film career.