If you've got "Black Panther" fever and can't wait for the movie to premiere Friday, here's a (graphic) novel idea: Catch up on the best of the Black Panther comics.
First, this is a must: Read the introduction of the Panther in "Fantastic Four" No. 52-53 (1966), however or wherever you can find those issues. Fortunately, they're available in a lot of "Fantastic Four" and "Black Panther" collections at comic shops, bookstores and online.
Admittedly, those 52-year-old comics haven't aged flawlessly. Some of the African representations are kind of icky, and at one point the Panther says of battling the Invisible Girl, "I do not consider females to be fair game!" Because, you know, girls are fragile.
Two of the most legendary names in comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, decided that what the world needed in 1966 — 1966! — was an African superhero. And not just a superhero, but a king. And not just a king, but a king of an African nation that — unlike every other depiction of African nations at the time — was the most technologically advanced nation on Earth. The audacity was stunning.
And then came "Jungle Action" in 1972. It was "Jungle Action" that gave T'Challa his first solo series — one that brought the character back to his roots. Heck, this series almost invented those roots. In the 19-part "Panther's Rage," by writer Don McGregor and several superstar artists, King T'Challa faced an existential rebellion from a tribal leader named Erik Killmonger. The threat from within Wakanda's borders gave us tons of info about this mysterious nation. Bonus: Killmonger is a major player in the movie, played by the magnetic Michael B. Jordan.
After "Rage," there was some weirdness. Panther co-creator Jack Kirby returned to write and draw the character in the first eponymous "Black Panther" series in 1976. Kirby, at the end of his career, jettisoned everything unique about the character and treated him as a generic superhero. He battled a yeti, searched for the Sacred Water-Skin and traveled through time via gewgaws called King Solomon's Frogs. It took another decade for a decent Panther series. It was worth the wait.
A writer named Christopher Priest took on the Panther, emphasizing his diplomatic responsibilities and his contrast with American superheroes. T'Challa had never seemed so formidable, so serious. One of the major lasting changes Priest wrought in the series was the introduction of the Dora Milaje. Wakandan for "Adored Ones," the Dora Milaje are the all-female bodyguards for the Wakandan royal family (and they're in the movie).
Sometime after Priest, filmmaker Reginald Hudlin tried his hand at "Black Panther." That 2003 series was entertaining, but took place while T'Challa was married to Storm of the X-Men. Since that marriage was annulled, most of this series is rendered irrelevant to the movie and the Panther's current status.
Which brings us at last to perhaps the greatest Panther run of all. Ta-Nehisi Coates' newest "Black Panther" series is the best to date. The celebrated nonfiction writer has taken a deep dive into Wakanda in his first comic series, developing its language, customs, internal tensions, mythology, diplomatic relations, religion and various geographic locations.
So, here's your Black Panther reading list: Lee-Kirby, "Panther's Rage," Priest, Coates. Afterward, you might want to say "N'cos" ("thank you").