Character Reinvention: Christopher Priest's Black Panther

(Notes: This article primarily covers Black Panther(1998) #1-5 written by Christopher Priest and art by Mark ‘Tex’ Texiera, so a fair spoiler warning for those..)

In any written medium, good characters are important universally. I stand by a belief that any story should possess layered characters that we can understand. The great thing about characters is that the more stories they appear in, the more intricate they become. They become more complex, develop more history, those layers that I mentioned only build. That’s one of the many reasons that I’ve always been so drawn toward comic book superheroes. The mountains of continuity and mythology that envelopes these characters are so vastly interesting to me.

However, with a medium that contains decade-old characters, some of which may be older than you reading this article, there’s bound to be times when these characters turn a bit stale. Sometimes things need to change. We’re going to talk about how Christopher Priest’s iconic run on Black Panther serves as a perfect example of character reinvention

To first understand, we need to set up a little bit of context. The year was 1998, Marvel Comics at that time was attempting something new. An imprint known as Marvel Knights. Marvel Knights was an idea spearheaded by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti and the goal of which was to create more mature, edgier stories with some street-level Marvel characters.

Marvel Knights would produce several titles such as Daredevil: Guardian Devil by Kevin Smith, The Sensational Spider-Man by Mark Millar, Punisher by Garth Ennis, and also Black Panther by Christopher Priest just to name a few. The chance to write either Daredevil or Spider-Man would be a pure dream of mine, but who cares about Black Panther?

Asking a question like this now would certainly turn some heads or spike some downvotes. Black Panther is now an iconic figure in not just comic books but also pop culture, a character now synonymous with the late Chadwick Boseman. Black Panther may’ve transformed into an icon now, but he wasn’t so much of a hit before then.

In SYFY Wire’s The Making of Marvel Knights: Black Panther, Priest mentioned his initial disdain toward learning he was going to be writing T’Challa. “When he[Quesada] started making noise about, about the Marvel Knights project I thought: ‘well hey, here's my chance to write Daredevil’. You know, I've always wanted to write Daredevil, I still want to write Daredevil. When he said Black Panther I was like: ‘Who?’ I was so focused on Daredevil that it took me a while to hear him when he said Black Panther, and I had no interest in writing Black Panther.”