Resin Heroes

No one can keep Black Panther down

Do popular comic book characters matter anymore? Last year DC Entertainment released their long-awaited Justice League movie to tepid reviews and weak box office. The film featured three of the most well-known comic book characters in history including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, yet rather than running out and seeing Justice League fans of the genera went and mostly saw Thor: Ragnarok instead.

Thor might be a well-know character these days but just a few years ago I doubt anyone outside of comic collectors were aware of him.

This has been a theme for Marvel Studios — taking characters few outside of fandom knew of, like Thor, Doctor Strange and Ant Man to name a few, building interesting movies around them and creating substantial movie properties audiences want to see. The biggest of which is the Guardians of the Galaxy, a superhero team that was completely unknown outside of comics fandom prior to their debut 2014. Since then, Guardians of the Galaxy has become a billion dollar franchise with the likes of Starload, Gammora and Groot becoming well-known characters.

So I wonder, does it really matter that audiences might not know who the character of Black Panther is, other than him having a role in the Captain America: Civil War movie a few years ago? And, more important, does it matter for the upcoming Black Panther movie if they don’t?

When I was collecting comics, if Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were second-string characters then Black Panther was a third-string character. At best. In fact, I collected lots and lots of comics from the 1980s to the 1990s and I can’t think of a single issue that featured Black Panther I ever bought. And, even more telling, I can’t think of a time when the character guest-starred in the comics I bought either.

Black Panther was one of the earliest African American superhero characters who was originally introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1966. Black Panther was really T’Challa, king the fictional country of Wakanda that’s concealed from the outside world via special technology. Think Captain America with him being stronger than and faster than the average man yet still mortal and very human and you’re close to what kind of hero Black Panther is.

For a long while, Black Panther was an important character who had his own comic title and would turn up in other titles too. But over time his popularity would wain until he was surpassed by other characters over the years.

So, when I heard a few years ago a Black Panther movie was in the works I was a little surprised. I didn’t know anyone who collected Black Panther comics or was into the character at all. Well, almost no one. Calvin, the son of one of my friends, has been a Black Panther fan for years now. He said he discovered the character via the cartoon The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and had loved him ever since. Calvin said that he liked the idea behind the character, that he’s got a cool costume and is an expert at martial arts.

And now, of course, Calvin’s super-excited about the upcoming Black Panther movie, now in theaters.

Starring Chadwick Boseman as the title character, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o, in the film Black Panther must return home to Wakanda and defend it from outside forces and internal ones like the dreaded “Killmonger” who want to take the country’s riches for themselves.

Here’s the thing — I don’t think it matters at this point whether people, other than Calvin, of course, are all that familiar with Black Panther or not. I think audiences see the Marvel Studios brand as a sort of mark of quality. They mostly know what they’re going to get with a Marvel film and are willing to take a chance on an unknown character like Black Panther since every other time they’ve gone to see a movie from Marvel Studios they’ve had a good time.

And this has paid off handsomely for Marvel, and now Disney, with the top five Marvel Studios movies having earned more than $2 billion at the box office. And that’s just the top five — so far there has been 17 movies from Marvel Studios, the majority of which have been very successful.

So if I were a betting man I’d say that more likely than not, at this time next year Black Panther will be a fan-favorite character to millions of people and not just Calvin.

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