Black Panther – The not so secret superhero

T’Challa, the Black Panther, is a very unique superhero. Much like Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, T’Challa is a hero that breaks the mold of conformity. Not only was he one of the first black superheroes to come into existence in comics, he is also one of the few non-American superheroes out there. One of the things that I find interesting about T’Challa’s story is that he doesn’t hide behind a mask, everyone knows who he is. Now some people would think this would make for a boring hero because there is no conflict in his identity, but to those people I will say you are very wrong. T’Challa is the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda but ultimately sees himself as a scientist. This personal identity struggle is something that is very refreshing in a comic book because even taking away his mask and his powers, there is still a personal struggle that T’Challa is going through. That kind of a personal struggle is a very powerful tool that Ta-Nehisi Coates uses very well throughout his story in “A Nation Under Our Feet”. T’Challa’s struggle between being a king and being a scientist may not seem very relatable on the surface but it boils down to the struggle of leadership vs. self-interest. I feel my connection to this message is much more powerful through T’Challa than Superman (who had the same struggle in All Star Superman) because his being a superhero can be completely removed from the equation while leaving his struggle completely intact.

I also find T’Challa’s growth throughout the story to be extremely encouraging. In All Star Superman, Superman is doing everything in his power to keep the world safe after he is gone but he struggles throughout the story to find a way to bring Superman & Clark Kent to be one. T’Challa, on the other hand, begins to resolve his personas of king and scientist in Vol. 2. In Vol. 1 he meets with his advisers and expresses the need to show his strength and suppress the revolt that is starting to take shape because that is what he believes a king would do. But his scientific nature isn’t so easy to push aside. In Vol. 2, T’Challa is getting intel about the funding behind the revolution and is meeting with dictators to get their opinion how to deal with revolution, but all of that is really just him gathering the data he needs to make an informed decision. His meeting gets exposed to the public but that doesn’t deter him from his plans as he goes on to expose the non-Wakandan faces behind the revolt. A lot of the decisions that T’Challa makes in Vol. 2 are completely contrary to the advice he receives, whether it is from his advisers or the dictators. I think this shows that T’Challa is deliberating on the information he gathers.

Superman – A God Among Men (Or Not?)

This week’s discussion focuses on Superman,specifically All Star Superman by Grant Morrison.  Superman is one of the most well known comic book superheroes to date.  He stands for truth & justice and he’s the defender of the weak.  He is a figure that for many represents the epitome of masculinity and is seen as a god among men.  In many ways all of these ideas are present in All Star Superman but G. Morrison also presents a vulnerability to Superman is in many ways a polar opposite to the hero admired by people around the world.  The story follows Superman’s exploits and preparations after he learns that he is dying.

One of the most prominent themes throughout the 12 comic run is the duality in Superman. Is he man or is he god? Is he Clark Kent or is he Superman?  The duality of Superman is something that is ingrained in the character and part of what draws the audience into the character.  The uncertainty that this creates in the character is what makes the character relatable.  Uncertainty and doubt are a part of the human experience and this is a clear sign of the human side of Superman.  Having grown up among and being raised by humans has instilled Superman with a value system that is warm, welcoming and helpful.  This is in direct contrast with how Kryptonian society is protrayed in the comics.  Kryptonians are usually protrayed as a cold and sometimes ruthless people that rely on science and cold-hard facts when making decisions.  All Star Superman makes great use of the duality of Clark Kent/Superman as almost polar opposite extremes of the same spectrum.  Morrison uses this to great effect when Superman is trying to convince Lois Lane that he is in fact Clark Kent. Lois doesn’t believe it, saying that there can be no way to reconcile the the clumsy, bumbling Clark Kent with the sure, straight-backed Superman.  The writing from Morrison and artwork from Quitely does a a fairly good job of showing these stark differences while also showing a reconciliation between these two polar opposites.  While there are scenes showing the clumsy Clark Kent, the story is drawn and written in such a way that it feels like these moments are premeditated by Superman to protect his identity.  His premeditation shows a concern for his friends and loved ones.  This shows that Superman’s motivations are based on human emotion.

The last point I would like to make is about the duality of Superman as man and god.  The second half of the run follows Superman completing “twelve labors”, as they are described in the comics, before he can finally die.  This immediately draws parallels with Greek Mythology and the story of Hercules, son of Zeus.  In the story, Hercules is tasked with completely 12 labors under King Eurystheus in order to atone for murdering his wife and children.  What is interesting in this comparison is that Hercules is a demi-god, the result of a coupling between a god and a mortal.  Morrison uses this reference  to further show that Superman is neither an all powerful god or a mortal human being.  Superman is in fact the modern day version of a demi-god.  Morrison uses this reference to very succinctly reconcile Superman’s image as a god with his human upbringing.