Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Know Your Black Panther

The First Black Panther?
Did you Know...?, Scoop, Friday, July 21, 2006

Scoop is delighted to print this fantastic historical piece from our dear friend, Professor William Foster, an invaluable resource for any character or event that's part of the African-American experience in comics.

Every fan of the Black Panther knows the superhero was introduced by Stan Lee in the Fantastic Four comic book back in 1966. But did you know there was another Black Panther fifteen years earlier? In fact, there was an an entire group of Black Panthers!

In 1951, these Black Panthers appeared in the Tarzan syndicated comic strip as members of an evil, panther-worshipping cult. Ultimately they were defeated by Tarzan and his African allies in their evil plans to conquer and destroy.

It was not unusual for this kind of characterization to exist in both comic books and cartoons from as far back as the 1920s to right up to the 1960s. In comics as diverse as Mickey Mouse, Jungle Jim and Conan to name a few, a number of fictional African cults based on lions, leopards and panthers were introduced to naive readers. Rarely if ever were they represented in a positive light.

Only with the slow change that came about after the American Civil Rights movement did this particular image become unpopular and politically incorrect.

The image of a powerful but benevolent African king created by Stan Lee in the mid 1960s was worlds away from the evil cult of the 1950s who terrorized neighboring tribes and captured women (usually white women) for sacrifices to a pagan god.

It is an interesting historical note that Marvel's character, probably for the first time, successfully challenged the negative image of Africans as evil and superstitious savages. Now some forty years after his introduction, it is hard to believe that there ever was any other way to perceive the diverse cultures of an entire continent of people.

The images presented here were copyrighted in 1951 by United Features Syndicate.

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