Collected for the first time, Panther’s Quest sees the young King T’Challa of Wakanda search for a mother that he has never known.
Panther’s Quest is the second run for Don McGregor on the character, having previously penned his first solo series in Jungle Action #6-24 (which was collected in a single volume in 2016). Rather than running in its own title, however, the “Panther’s Quest” story ran across twenty-five issues of the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents.
The story here, presented in beautiful detail by artist Gene Colan, centers around T’Challa infiltrating apartheid South Africa to rescue his mother, whom he has never met. The story is incredibly personal and political. McGregor notes in his foreword that due to the changing laws in South Africa, they opted to date the story to better match his research. There are no super powered villains in Panther’s Quest, just the evils of an unjust society, and McGregor does a great job capturing that brutality and the T’Challa’s journey through it.
McGregor’s Black Panther is incredibly far removed from the images seen in the marketing for the Black Panther film – Wakanda does not appear in the text, nor is T’Challa shown with a genius intellect or bulletproof habit. What McGregor gives to T’Challa is a sense of immeasurable willpower and a distinct air of nobility. It isn’t fair, but the vast discrepancy between the T’Challa in these pages and the one populating adverts on every screen right now is likely to cause an impasse for some potential readers. McGregor’s writing style, with his poetic captions, marks an additional contrast from more modern sensibilities, though it allows for a great deal more nuance in characterization.
Gene Colan’s artwork however really gets at the heart of the story. Similar to Panther’s Rage, T’Challa is forced through a series of grueling trials, highlighting his triumph of will over his mental and physical prowess. Colan captures T’Challa’s intensity in his pencils. A particularly grueling highlight comes as T’Challa rushes to get a young boy to a hospital after the child is caught in a fire. The pages are an emotional rush as T’Challa races through his own pain. Colan gives T’Challa a possessed look, removing the pupils from his eyes, showing the almost supernatural strength of will T’Challa draws on to get the child to the nearest hospital.
Is It Good?
Blisteringly political and emotional, Panther’s Quest is a unique chapter in the Black Panther mythos. Don McGregor and Gene Colan have crafted a powerful tale, but one that uses a Black Panther that has not quite reclaimed the high-tech throne that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee built for him in 1966. If readers can accept the difference in takes, they’ll find an entertaining and challenging story.