Comic Wire

Thu, December 14th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

'SOMEBODY TO BE FEARED AND RESPECTED'

PRIEST ON 'BLACK PANTHER'

If you're a fan of writer Christopher Priest, chances are you're a fan of a cancelled DC, Marvel or (depending on the day of the week) Acclaim Comic.

Three years ago, few people would have expected Marvel Comics' Black Panther to have his own series, much less one that's still chugging along, more than two years later, to critical acclaim. The book seems an unlikely success where Priest's "The Ray," "Steel" or (depending on the day of the week) "Quantum & Woody" folded.

Priest himself has a theory.

"Biscuits," Priest told the Comic Wire on Monday. "Lots of biscuits.

"I don't know; I'm certain 'Panther's small but vocal support base has a lot to do with it. It is also a critic's darling, for the most part, and Marvel certainly benefits from having well-review books in its stable. But, ultimately, I have to credit [former Marvel editor-in-chief] Bob Harras with sticking with the book when cutting and running would certainly have been more expedient. I think most everyone at Marvel, certainly new EIC Quesada who is this Panther incarnation's daddy, is rooting for the title, but the book's ultimate fate rests in the hands of the fans themselves.

"Sal [Velluto], Bob [Almond] and I are obviously gratified by the company's support for the book and the energy they've invested and are investing in helping 'Panther' find a wider audience."

The just-begun major story arc in "Black Panther" seems destined to get some attention from one of Marvel's core constituencies, the X-fans, by dint of one guest star.

"Storm's appearance was scheduled before I actually had the notion about the larger story arc. I was going to wait until she left to start 'Sturm ...' but then it occurred to me to dovetail the two, and make Storm the catalyst for the arc."

The arc once again concentrates on the Black Panther not as a Spandex-clad sometime-Avenger, but rather as the monarch of a nation.

"'Sturm Und Drang: A Story of Love and War' is a political drama about military brinkmanship between Wakanda and the Deviant Lemurians that ends up escalating to military conflict between Wakanda and Atlantis and Wakanda and the United States and threatens to escalate to world war," Priest said. "It is, possibly, one of the first times war is presented as the political chess match most wars are, and we see how fragile peace on earth in the Marvel Universe is."

[Black Panther #27]In addition to the Black Panther's nation of Wakanda, Namor's Atlantis and the United States, another political force in the Marvel Universe, Doctor Doom, ruler of Latervia, will also be getting involved. The cover to "Black Panther" #27 -- which went on sale yesterday -- thus bears a certain resemblance to the covers of the Doom/Namor 1970s series "Super-Villain Team-Up." Priest cautions fans looking for a fistfight between hot-headed kings that it's a battle royale of a different kind.

"The cover to #27 makes me a little nervous in that fans may come to the table expecting Doom and T'Challa to come to blows. There's fairly little of that in the arc (well, other than Atlantean troops landing on Wakanda towards the end), but this isn't a slugfest between Magneto, Doom and Panther. There are 187 comics published every month where you can read slugfests. This is about politics and political treachery, and alliances formed and shattering. I'm certain some segment of readers, arriving for the first time mainly to read about Panther versus Namor, will be disappointed that it's not a 20-page battle between the two, and the possibility of a kind of hype backlash makes me a little nervous."

"Sturm Und Drang" also marks another stage in Priest's reinvention of T'Challa, the Black Panther. But to his way of thinking, it's not so much of a new incarnation of the character as it is turning back the clock.

"I think the ultimate goal of the series is to re-position T'Challa within the Marvel Universe, away from the bland, passive, generic Kitty Man standing in the back row of the Avengers, and more towards an inscrutable, enigmatic guy who does things in his own way and for his own reasons. It may seem preposterous to some that Panther could demand a summit with Doom, Namor and Magneto; I'd like to change that net impression among fans and make Panther somebody to be feared and respected and in the same league, in the mind of the fan, as the Marvel heavyweights; somebody Magneto would respect, if not fear.

"I think Panther, as created by Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] in 'Fantastic Four' #52, was a fearsome, powerful, crafty character who employed duplicity and technology to defeat the FF. Over the years, he just got, well, bland, to me. And it's very difficult to overcome the notion that Panther is boring or uninteresting because that's more or less how he's been presented. FF #52 is the baseline we have returned to with our interpretation of him, and our goal is to rehabilitate the general presumption of Panther in the mind of the consumer."

The changes aren't done, of course. Priest, as always, is a man with the plan.

"The war takes its toll on the public perception and acceptance of Wakanda and its king, which opens an interesting chapter in Panther's life as the average American (and even some of Panther's super-hero peers) begin to see him in a very different light, and we explore some of the consequences of this shift in perception."

Finally, it wouldn't be an online interview of Priest without asking what the status of cancelled/uncancelled/cancelled/uncancelled "Quantum & Woody" over at Acclaim Comics.

"Nobody from Acclaim has called me about their recent announcement that comics will not be in their publishing plan," Priest said. "This is not unusual, I tend to read my Acclaim news the same way everyone else does," he smiled. "Will 'Quantum & Woody' #22 ship? I have no idea."

FOUR ULTIMATE MARVEL COMICS IN 2001,

MARVEL CREATOR-OWNED COMICS COMING

[Bill Jemas]
Bill Jemas
Fans haven't even seen their second title in Marvel Comics' new "Ultimate Marvel" line, but the company is betting they'll like "Ultimate X-Men" and the forthcoming Ultimate Spider-Man team-up book so much that they're already planning a fourth Ultimate book for next year.

In a Wednesday telephone press conference, Marvel president Bill Jemas said that the fourth title, to be written by "Ultimate X-Men" writer Mark Millar, would likely be it, so as not to drown fans in new Ultimate titles.

"If a movie comes along, we're just as likely to swap one out as to create a fifth book," he said.

If that's a change to how Marvel has operated for the past decade, it's not the only change coming: Jemas said a recent Ultimate Marvel dinner included a discussion of what the Ultimate incarnations of Marvel standards should be like. Jemas himself talked about the possibility of making the Ultimate Captain America black, to better reflect the makeup of the real US armed forces.

"Ultimately, the guys have a much, much better idea for Captain America."

In the meantime, Marvel's much-ballyhooed attempt to regain the newsstand audience, Ultimate Marvel magazine, makes its debut on January 16, featuring abridged versions of the two issues of the "Ultimate Spider-Man" comic. Subsequent issues of the monthly magazine will mix in Ultimate X-Men as well.

The success of Marvel's Ultimate line, judging from preorders, is a message to Marvel, Jemas said.

"It shows 'don't be afraid. Do what you need to do your product and do it well, and you'll be successful.'"

Elsewhere in the House of Ideas, Jemas says that the first "Amazing Spider-Man" script by "Babylon 5" creator J. Michael Straczynski will live up to the hype.

"Guys like me are given to hyperbole, but buy lots of socks, because he's going to knock your socks off," Jemas said. "He is a brilliant man and you're going to see this on every single page. … He's willing to shake up some of the underpinnings of the book now, but he won't be shaking up the underpinnings of what we like about the character."

Many fans have also been waiting for more word of the oft-promised "mature readers" line from Marvel. While not yet willing to announce titles or creators, Jemas said work on the line is progressing.

"A majority of the mature readers imprint will be creator-owned or creator-shared. … That doesn't mean that everything that is creator-owned will be mature readers, certainly. But it's not a coincidence," he chuckled. "Because we have some pretty far-out there creators in our constituency, a lot of what they want to do that's creator-owned is for mature readers."

Finally, there have been some conflicting reports online about whether or not Chris Claremont's forthcoming monthly X-Men title, which will run alongside "X-Men" and "The Uncanny X-Men" will be in continuity.

"It is within continuity," Jemas said. The book will also take place within the current Marvel Universe. Probably. "But look, if Chris has a brainstorm with that book, it's very hard for people to say 'look Chris, it won't be good.'"

FORMER DC PUBLISHER JACK LIEBOWITZ DEAD AT 100

DC Comics lost its first publisher Monday.

Jack S. Liebowitz died in Great Neck, NY at the age of 100.

Along with his business partner, Harry Donenfeld, Liebowitz invested in the first comics by DC founder Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, distributing them through his Independent News Company. In 1937, Liebowitz and Donenfeld bought out Wheeler-Nicholson and launched Detective Comics, which later was to provide the company with its name.

"Jack Liebowitz was the best of his generation, one of the extraordinary entrepreneurs who not only helped found DC Comics but the comics industry itself," Jenette Kahn, DC's president and editor-in-chief, said in a DC press release. "In addition, he was the most successful of his generation, taking DC public in 1961 under the title of National Periodical Publications. Mr. Liebowitz later pulled off his most foresighted coup, selling DC Comics to Steven J. Ross as one of the building blocks of his fledgling corporation, Warner Communications, Inc. He remained continuously active, coming into his office at Warner Communications every day and serving on the Warner board until he was past 90. We are forever grateful to Mr. Liebowitz for his risk-taking and prescience and will miss his life long commitment to the companies he helped launch."

Private services were held Wednesday.

SON OF THE COMIC BRIEF

Here's what's news (and press releases) in CBR's Comic Brief since the last edition of the Comic Wire:

  • Second charge against Texas retailer dismissed

  • Marie Severin Provides Cover for Supernatural Law

  • TIME Magazine announces their top 10 comics of 2000, plus the worst

  • Preview: 'Spectre' #1

  • Preview: 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Jonathan' #1

  • Jetcat sets up her clubhouse at Oni Press

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