Friday, February 09, 2007

In Praise of: Jungle Action #7 by McGregor and Buckler

Lost is much of furor about the other 1970's books are the accolades, the poetry, the sheer "different-ness" of Don McGregor's work. And while some may prefer his Killraven/War of the Worlds work, I personally find far more to mull over and appreciate in his Black Panther work. And there is no better place to start than at the beginning of Marvel's long lost epic, Panther's Rage.

What, you've never heard of Panther's Rage? Shocking, because this is most likely the least read, most forgotten, most ambitious piece that was attempted back in 1973. Don, in one of the most singular display's of hubris that I can imagine given the constraints of comics creation back then, decided that he could and would actually make the Panther relevant to the 1970s. Not an easy task considering race relations back then, combined with his interest in politics, sex, and trying to make superheroes work in the real world.

Panther’s Rage would pull T’Challa away from the Avengers (where Steve Englehart would be dragging Wanda and the Vision into cross-race allegories and adult jealousy with Mantis) and drop him down into Wakanda in the midst of complete turmoil. To top it all off, T’Challa would bring back a western woman, black, but western. And that doesn’t make anyone happy. If that isn’t enough drama, we have one more introduction.

Enter Erik Killmonger. In the age of badasses, where Frank Castle was just starting to holster his rubber bullets, Eric was the ultimate badass. And he removed the Panther’s one easy out: to physically beat up the villain. T’Challa was about to go through the wringer.

Over the next 6 or 7 issues, Don would push the envelope again and again, making the ugliest villains, Venom, actually have a heart; taking black on black race relations into new areas, and pushing the letterers on the book to find new corners in which to cram text block after text block after text block. All within the context of Marvel 1970’s melodrama. Fun stuff.

I will say that the ending of Panther's Rage was one of the only disappointments that I can recall, as it ends on the fringes of Wakanda, in wastelands that we had never seen before, and far from the social/political center that McGregor was using as a counterpoint to whatever his point was that issue. While compelling, it divorced T'Challa from his Wakandan center, one that Don was just in the middle of finding. I sometimes get the feeling that the story got away from. And while I've met Don a few times over the years, I don't know him well enough to ask whether or not this is true.

There really are two Marvel Comics epics that deserve to be reprinted from the 1870s that haven't been done yet: Moench and Gulacy's Master of Kung Fu series, which will never be collected due to reprint rights with the Sax Rohmer estate, and this, Panther's Rage from the bowels of the forgotten Jungle Action book.


plok said...

I have a couple issues of Panther's Rage that I've been dying to dig out again...I do remember thinking it was absolutely wild, different, challenging, experimental etc. at the time, and I'm really curious to see what it reads like now. Odd that you should mention Frank Castle in connection with Killmonger...I was just thinking that there are a lot of similarities between the T'Challa that we see in Panther's Rage, and the Daredevil we come to know in Frank Miller's run...similar problems and a similar atmosphere, even similar comic-relief characters. Of course I may be misremembering...

Your calls for material that needs collecting are bang-on, bravo!

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

excellent correlation on the supporting characters, especially the comic relief. Turk and his buddy in Daredevil are direct analogs to Teyete and whats-his-name in Panther's Rage. I hadn't even thought that far down into the story!

The real issues is that Panther's Rage goes on so long that it takes on a number of different moods and spends quite a lot of time on some very different subjects. Hard to encapsulate all that in one review. In that, it is the most ambitious of all the great marvel 70's series; it is simply not the most fully realized. McGregor's reach exceeded his grasp, but thank god he tried!