52 years ago in Fantastic Four #52, Black Panther debuted as the first black superhero in mainstream American comic books. His alter ego is T’Challa, head of the Panther Tribe and king of Wakanda, a fictional African nation in the Marvel Comics universe. T'Challa was married to Storm of the X-Men for six years and, as Black Panther, fought alongside the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. The character was never as well-known as these Marvel Comics heavyweights, but that appears to be changing. Actor Chadwick Boseman was lauded for his performance as T'Challa in Captain America: Civil War, and the Black Panther solo movie is setting records for advance ticket sales.
Which makes this the perfect time to look back at how Black Panther has evolved, starting with his genesis in 1965 and debut the following year. We've included every major costume within the mainstream Marvel Comics continuity except for designs worn for only a short time. We also look at his Marvel Cinematic Universe appearances plus three other superheroes who briefly took up the mantle as Black Panther.
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The Evolution of Black Panther Transcript
Black Panther debuted 52 years ago in Fantastic Four #52. Also known as T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, he became the world's first black superhero. Below we track every major change to his core uniform, not counting the special one-off suits only worn for an issue or two.
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee have both claimed it was their idea to introduce a black superhero. All we know for certain is that Black Panther began as a sketch by Kirby for a character called the Coal Tiger.
Marvel's owner Martin Goodman was always chasing the latest trend, so it might be no coincidence that this new hero was given a mask with ears the same year the Batman TV show became a smash hit.
For reasons unknown, at the last minute Stan Lee instructed inker Joe Sinnott to fill in the mask with black. Artist Jack Kirby wasn't informed of the change for months, Sinnott continuing to fill in the mask per Lee.
Kirby adjusted the costume just in time for a Captain America team-up in the pages of Tales of Suspense, removing the cape and collar. The new look debuted in Fantastic Four Annual #5.
Although Kirby had gotten the memo about the mask at this point, it appears Avengers artist John Buscema hadn't. Upon joining the team, Black Panther wore a half-mask for his first four issues.
Artists alternated between the "original" and "classic" look for decades until the launch of a new solo series under the Marvel Knights imprint. Artist Mark Texeira introduced gold accessories that added a contrasting color.
After the first twelve issues, the series moved from the Marvel Knights imprint to the Marvel Universe proper. New series artist Sal Velluto drew the gold accessories in a sharper and more tooth-like style.
The cape often disappeared and reappeared at random, remaining absent for longer and longer stretches at a time. By the end of Velluto's run it had essentially become the default look.
T'Challa rejoined the them in Avengers #66. Series artist Olivier Coipel brought back the lines on the gloves and boots, as well as the cape, while keeping the gold accessories and adding a panther head pendant.
Black Panther was relaunched with a new #1 and a new creative team. Series artist John Romita, Jr. drew him in a throwback to his original costume, but with two straps instead of one for a more symmetrical look.
2010—Man Without Fear
Daredevil asked to depowered T'Challa to replace him as the guardian of Hell's Kitchen. As the new Man Without Fear, our hero donned a new armored outfit drawn by Francesco Francavilla.
Upon Daredevil's return, Black Panther went back to his classic role and with it a variation of this "classic" costume. This time it included a toothy necklace similar to the "post-Knight" era, but in silver instead of gold.
To mark Black Panther's sixth #1 issue, his costume was given a slight update. Series artist Brian Stelfreeze made the necklace to look less tooth-like and drew a mask that looked more cat-like.
2016—Civil War Movie
The movie costume's concept by Judiaanna Makovsky and Ryan Mynerding was similar in appearance to the "Marvel NOW" outfit, but with more silver accessories and with intricate textures on the black bodysuit.
T'Challa's sister Shuri upgrades the costume in the movie, but in reality it was modified by costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who added more silver accessories but simplified the textures on the bodysuit.
Other Black Panthers
Erik Killmonger defeated T'Challa in ritual combat making him the new Black Panther and ruler of Wakanda, but became deathly ill from the power transfer, which required being part of the royal bloodline.
Kasper Cole pretended to be Black Panther in order to clean up his precinct beyond what his job as a narcotics officer allowed. He later became the White Tiger ("Cole" and "Tiger" are likely a reference to Coal Tiger).
When T'Challa was incapacitated, his half-sister Shuri completed a series of trials that made her the new Black Panther and ruler of Wakanda, until her death. She got better and joined the Wakanda council.
Sources: CBR.com, FanBros.com, KirbyMuseum.org, Marvel.com, TCJ.com, TyrannyOfStyle.com
Which era of Black Panther was your favorite? Are you a fan of the classic Jack Kirby costume? Or maybe one of the gold-accented designs starting in the 90s? (Gold shows so well against the black costume, but it’s downright subtle compared to some other 90s comic designs!) How about the Captain America: Civil War or Black Panther solo movie variants? Let us know in the comments! If you liked seeing how Black Panther evolved, you might be interested in our articles on Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, and Ant-Man! And if you’re looking for Black Panther costumes this Halloween, remember that we have a huge variety of superhero costumes to choose from.
Infographic Designed and Illustrated by Kate Willaert