BLACK PANTHER #48-49 (2002): The Death of Black Panther

As it was released in 1998, this book was a critical smash hit but a sales laggard. I’m sure the fact that the lead was a black man didn’t help, but this comic has also been highly unconventional and complicated–it’s very hard for new readers to find an entry point. Even avid readers found themselves having to study this comic with a level of attentiveness they were not used to.

And so Priest makes art imitate life. Over the past couple arcs, Panther’s behavior has become increasingly erratic and in these issues we learn why: He has an inoperable brain aneurism (incurred during his fight with Iron Fist). Isolated and alone, he starts succession planning for Wakanda.

We see in recent past, Man-Ape smashing his way through the palace and finds alternate reality Black Panther (who has been with this book for awhile) lying in stasis. He kills him. This leads to a war with Man-Ape’s people in which T’Challa goes to extreme measures to win–including involving Magneto. His friend, the young Queen Divine Justice, nearly dies in the battle–due to Black Panther’s own rage and recklessness (influenced by his brain issue). Wounded, Queen Divine Justice begs him to stop being king–to set Wakanda free from his own, driven rule.

Back in the present, T’Challa realizes he is becoming like Magneto–a man so convinced by his own righteousness that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get his way.

And so, in the end of this arc, Panther does not die–he turns his leadership over to a council and walks away from his identity.

Fittingly, Everett Ross gets the last words here. He started this masterpiece of a series, and he gives it an ending.

This was written as the capstone to the series, but Marvel decided not to cancel it.

Instead, it was treated as a soft relaunch intended to bring the complex “life as a king” narrative to a close and try to shift the book into something that could appeal to new readers. Oddly, at a time when Marvel cancelled a bunch of books and gave them new #1s, they did NOT do that for Black Panther. The next issue is #50 with a new Black Panther. T’Challa is presumed dead, but we learn soon after this issue that he’s actually in New York and…His brain anyeurism is never spoken of again.


But that wasn’t Priest’s fault. The series finally ends with issue #62, before he gets a chance to resolve it and nobody at editorial bothers to give us closure.

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