Feb 11, 2018

Challenging Preconceptions: On Galactus and the Black Panther

So how's this for a roundabout way of getting into one of the most legendary runs of all time? The first Thor movie made me into a full-blown Thor fan, which then led me to reconsider the work of the great Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the character. Then when Taika Waititi incorporated a bunch of Kirby designs into Thor: Ragnarok, I decided I needed even more classic Kirby in my life, so I pulled out the second Fantastic Four Omnibus, which is when the run really gets going. The introduction of the Inhumans in the 45th issue also happened to be when Joltin' Joe Sinnott took over as Kirby's inker, providing a level of depth the previous inker didn't and bringing Jack's work to life the way it was meant to be.

Challenging Preconceptions
On Galactus and the Black Panther
by Duy

There are a couple of characters at the height of this Fantastic Four run that were created by Stan and Jack that kind of buck some preconceived notions about art, commerce, and diversity. Let's take a look first at the man of the hour, T'Challa, the king of Wakanda, the Black Panther.

Panther had, in my book, the greatest first appearance by a hero of all time, taking out Marvel's then-premiere superteam on his own with an intense amount of preparation. He was basically Batgod before Batman was Batgod.

Now here's the preconception that we tend to have as fans: Diversity shouldn't be introduced for the sake of diversity, or to pander to diverse fans. Rather, it should be completely organic, on outgrowth of the story.

But this is a tough dilemma for creators, because everything is a choice. There's no organic need, ever, to have an adventure in an African nation; Stan and Jack chose that setting explicitly. There's no need to have the king of said nation take down all four members of Marvel's first superteam; that's a choice that was made explicitly.

When Jack Kirby was asked about the Black Panther by The Comics Journal, he said:
I came up with the Black Panther because I realized I had no blacks in my strip. I’d never drawn a black. I needed a black. I suddenly discovered that I had a lot of black readers. My first friend was a black! And here I was ignoring them because I was associating with everybody else. It suddenly dawned on me — believe me, it was for human reasons — I suddenly discovered nobody was doing blacks. And here I am a leading cartoonist and I wasn’t doing a black. I was the first one to do an Asian. Then I began to realize that there was a whole range of human differences. Remember, in my day, drawing an Asian was drawing Fu Manchu — that’s the only Asian they knew. The Asians were wily...
The Black Panther, in short, was created so that the black readers enjoying the Fantastic Four had someone to represent them on the page.

Now let's go to Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. Galactus was created to represent God and Judgment Day. Obviously comics have escalated the threat level since with characters such as Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet and Darkseid of Apokolips (also a Kirby creation), but in 1966, Galactus was it: the be-all, end-all of worlds.

This is actually from Thor. Because that story's better.

Here's the preconception: Art should be done for art's sake, and commerce should be secondary.

But that puts creators in a tough spot too, because without sales, they won't continue to get their books published. So let's see what the King has to say about it. In the documentary Masters of Comic Book Art, he said:
My inspirations were the fact that I had to make sales. And I had to come up with characters that were no longer stereotypes. In other words, I couldn't depend on gangsters. I had to get something new. And for some reason I went to the Bible. And I came up with Galactus. And there I was in front of this tremendous figure who I knew very well because I’ve always felt him. 
And I remember in my first story I had to back away from him to resolve that story. And of course the Silver Surfer is a fallen angel. And when Galactus relegated him to Earth he stayed on Earth. And that was the beginning of his adventures. 
And they were figures that had never before been used in comics. They were above mythic figures. And of course they were the first gods. 
And I began thinking along those lines. And the New Gods evolved from those lines. And I began to ask myself: “Everybody else had their gods. What are ours? What is the shape of our society, in the form of myth and legend? Who are our Gods? Who are our Evil Gods? 
And who are our Good ones?” And I tried to resolve them in the New Gods.
And I came up with some very, very interesting characters. And very good sales. Which satisfied me immensely.
Long story short: Jack Kirby came up with Galactus as a way to find something that sold more than what was currently selling, and it led the way for his DC work, which was vindicated by sales figures.

I understand ideals such as organic storytelling and doing art for the sake of art without giving a whiff about commerce. But we also have to think about the practicality of such positions because at the end of the day, it is a business with a diverse audience, and all that entails.

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