Reginald Hudlin has been the regular writer of Black Panther for over four years now. After Hudlin renewed interest in the character with “Who Is the Black Panther?”, T’Challa went on to take a much more active role in the Marvel Universe, including help lead the fight against Iron Man’s pro-Registration forces in Civil War and temporarily joining the Fantastic Four.
With Dark Reign remaking the Marvel Universe, Black Panther has followed suit by undergoing some drastic changes. The series recently relaunched with a new #1 issue, wherein T’Challa was grievously injured and Wakanda was left without a Black Panther. With Wakanda’s enemies closing in, an all-new, all-female Panther must rise to defend her homeland.
As this turns out, this storyline will be Hudlin’s last. After almost five years and dozens of issues, Hudlin is leaving Black Panther, making way for a new writer. That writer is horror novelist Jonathan Maberry. Maberry will be joined by new regular artist Will Conrad.
The two writers will collaborate on August’s Black Panther #7, after which Hudlin will move onto a new Marvel project and continue work on the upcoming BP animated series. Hudlin will still be involved with the series as a consultant going forward. We chatted with both writers – as well as editor Axel Alonso – about the past, present and future of Black Panther, and how Maberry plans to steer the series forward with its new lead.
IGN Comics: Let’s run through the creative changes that are in store for Black Panther. Reggie, you’re stepping aside as writer and Jonathan is coming aboard – but you guys will be co-writing for an issue, right?
Jonathan Maberry: Yeah, we had a blast banging ideas back and forth. Reggie’s been lighting a lot of fires in Wakanda and that gave me a chance to hit the ground running. I did a little consulting on the second half of the “Deadliest of the Species” arc. We worked as a team on BP #7, which is the first installment of the “Power” arc, and we bounced so many intriguing ideas off of one another that the arc starts with some eye-opening events.
Reginald Hudlin: When we relaunched the book, I had over a year’s worth of plans starting with the attack on T’Challa that would lead to a bold new direction for the series. I was very happy that the first arc is being as well-received as it is. We were going to co-write the second arc together, but by the time I finished the first issue, I was ready to move on.?? IGN Comics: Will we be seeing an artistic change for the series as well?
Maberry: Yes –Will Conrad is penciling it and I’ve seen about half of the pages for #7. Outstanding! Will’s style really suits the new story direction, too. There are new characters and even new villains, and Will will get a chance to put his stamp on that.
IGN Comics: Reggie, what was behind your decision to leave the series? It’s our understanding you’ll still be a consultant on the series – what will that entail? Will you still be providing plot ideas or long-term plans?
Hudlin: I started this book as a mini-series, not an ongoing series. But the guys at Marvel liked my work enough to turn it into a regular series. Then out of the blue I got a corporate world as the President of Entertainment at Black Entertainment Television. I carved my Black Panther commitment out of my deal because it was a great creative outlet during a time when I didn’t have the time or latitude to do my own projects. But it was always a juggling act. When I was doing Panther and Marvel Knights Spider Man while being an exec it almost killed me. Once I left BET, I could really devote myself to the new arc. But once it got out there that I was available, suddenly there were a lot of film, television and other comic book projects popping up. I had to make some hard choices.
One of the things that makes writing a monthly comic really tough these days are the big events that dominate the business. As a reader I love stories like Civil War and Dark Reign, and as a writer they have provided springboards for some of my best work in this medium. But they also call for lots of planning and haggling over characters, like pleading for Dr. Doom a year in advance. It’s a lot easier for me to write a mini-series as opposed to an ongoing series.
Right now I’m working on Marvel Knights limited series that I’m very excited, with an artist and friend I’m very excited about. We’ve worked with each other in a number of media over the years, but we’ve never done a comic together before!
IGN Comics: Jonathan, some of our readers might not be familiar with your work. What’s your background and how did you become attached to Black Panther?
Maberry: I’ve been a writer for over thirty years, and I’ve had a chance to do a bit of everything. I’ve done a dozen books on martial arts and half a dozen books on supernatural folklore. My first three novels – Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising — were horror thrillers, the first of which won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for Novel of the Year (though I lost to some guy named Stephen King). I won a second Stoker –this time for nonfiction—for The Cryptopedia, an occult & paranormal dictionary I co-authored with David F. Kramer. My most recent nonfiction book, Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead won the Black Quill and Heinzman Awards and is nominated for a Best Nonfiction Stoker.
But the novel that brought me to Marvel’s attention was Patient Zero, a bio-tech thriller in which a Special Ops group square off against terrorists with a zombie pathogen. My agent is fielding offers on an option for that as a possible TV series.
I also have an extensive background in martial arts and combat science. I’ve been practicing and teaching jujutsu for forty-five years and hold an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu and a 5th dan in kenjutsu (Japanese swordplay). I worked as a bodyguard in the entertainment industry, taught self-defense and martial arts for fourteen years at Temple University, and ran a company that gave tactical workshops for all levels of law enforcement, including SWAT, ATF and FBI. So, I bring a lot of practical experience in applied combat, martial arts, special ops tactics, and related sciences. That’s definitely going to seep into Black Panther.
IGN: Axel, what made Jonathan the ideal choice to succeed Reggie?
Axel Alonso: Jonathan had just written a Punisher one-shot for me – “Naked Kill” – and we were discussing what might come next. It came up that he was a massive fan of the Black Panther and we just took it from there.
IGN Comics: Jonathan, a simple question of sorts – who is the Black Panther to you? To the Marvel Universe? What makes this character stand apart from the thousands of other heroes?
Maberry: The Panther has always been a favorite of mine. I grew up in a very white racist neighborhood in Philadelphia and it was initially through reading, particularly comic books that I learned about racial equality. I remember the landmark story from Fantastic Four #119, in which the Panther is imprisoned in what is essentially South Africa. The Torch and Thing help his break out, and break down the walls –literally and figuratively—that stand for segregation. That blew my mind and made me want to learn as much as I could about the clash between races. I can say with complete honesty that the Black Panther was responsible for setting me on the path to understanding the nature and dangers of bigotry.
Over the years I’ve always grabbed any book in which the Panther appeared, and I always wanted him to do more than be the straight man in the Avengers. Yeah, it was nice that he was there, but here was a character who was a brilliant scientist, a fighter on a par with Captain America, and the king of technologically advanced nation –and they rarely gave him center stage.
I really loved the Christopher Priest run, and was blown away when I read Reggie’s “Who Is the Black Panther?”. Finally the Panther got a chance to be the true hero he should always have been.
As far as I know the Panther was the first black super hero, and he’s been iconic ever since. It may be my own rationalization, but I believe that the existence of the Panther as a symbol –comic book or not—helped in some way to pave the way for the kind of political change we now have in America.
Because the Panther has only been a major leading character for the last few years, there are so many stories to tell. Whether we’re talking T’Challa or the new female Panther, there are so many great adventures to write. And, the Panther has been an icon of integrity since his debut in the FF. There aren’t too many characters you can say that about.
IGN Comics: Obviously Reggie has laid the tracks for a particular storyline in the opening months of this series. Jonathan, are you largely following his game plan or do you plan to depart from that path?
Maberry: A bit of both. Reggie’s taken the book in a lot of exciting directions and laid the groundwork for some compelling storylines that will be a part of the Panther landscape for years to come. At the same time, I have my own vision for where storylines can go. But understand…even when one writer is scripting a book a comic is a collaborative effort. I don’t own the Black Panther anymore than Reggie does. We’re each part of a creative team that includes editors and assistants, artists and other creative folks. It’s like making a film –the actor, director, cinematographer and composer each add a dimension to the story created by the screenwriter.
That said, there are some things I want to do with the book that no one’s done before, and that’s the challenge any new writer faces. We want to make the book as much our own as the collaborative process allows, while honoring and including the elements from those writers who had it before.
With the arc I’m currently writing, the new female Panther is in America to track down the people responsible for the attack on T’Challa. We know that Doom was the bad guy, but Wakanda has other enemies and sometimes their agendas overlap…or even collide. The new Panther will have a new set of supporting players (her P.R.I.D.E. –and, no I can’t divulge what the acronym stands for), new gadgets and weapons, and new villains.
One of the joint ideas –laid down in Reggie’s arc and continued through the new arc—is that T’Challa is going through some serious changes. He’s not the Panther anymore and readers are going to be blown away by his journey, his motivations, and his choices. I can pretty much guarantee that people will be talking about this for a long time.
Hudlin: Every writer has to make the book their own. Priest freaked people out with his changes, but now everyone is grateful for the fantastic work he did. I think Jonathan will be quickly embraced by fans.
IGN Comics: Issue #3 seemed to definitively show that Shuri is the new Panther. Were there other options considered along the way?
Maberry: Don’t jump to any conclusions as to what’s going to happen to Shuri or who will ultimately wear the costume. You haven’t read the rest of Reggie’s arc. There are some major surprises coming.
Hudlin: Don’t assume!??
IGN Comics: Storm seems determined to return T’Challa’s spirit to the mortal plane. If she fails… will T’Challa be out of the book permanently?
Maberry: There are some real surprises coming in the T’Challa story, and unless Marvel whacks me over the head for saying so, I think Wakanda’s noblest son will be around –in one form or another—for a long, long time.
Hudlin: T’Challa will always be in the book. It’s just how he appears…
IGN Comics: Even if T’Challa doesn’t return, will Storm be a part of the series?
Maberry: Storm is T’Challa’s wife and is a part of the Wakandan royal family. She hasn’t packed her bags to leave the country.
Hudlin: T’Challa is married to Storm. So if he’s in the book, she’s in the book.
IGN Comics: Morlun has managed to kill Spider-Man. How does a relative rookie like Shuri stand a chance?
Maberry: Well, Shuri is part of the unified Wakandan resistance to Morlun’s invasion. He’s bigger and badder than ever before, and he’s going to cut a bloody path all the way up to the palace gates. Heroes will fall. I won’t give away any spoilers, but the Battle of Wakanda is going to be big, violent, and messy and that beleaguered nation is going to suffer some major losses.
What Shuri’s role in all of this remains to be seen.
Hudlin: It’s a bad situation for her. I had been wanting to use Morlun in the?book for years, since I wrote him in Spider Man. I just needed some time between his last appearance so folks would be shocked to see him again..and using him as an opponent for the new Panther seemed especially cruel. Which meant it must be done.??
IGN Comics: Morlun’s goal is to absorb the energy of the panther totem. We’ve seen Mephisto attempt this in the past only to fail due to the totem’s pure power. Can Morlun actually succeed where the Lord of Darkness failed?
Maberry: As I said, Morlun is bigger and badder than ever. And as a devourer of totems he poses a unique threat to the Panther that even Mephisto didn’t.
Hudlin: Not to uncut Mephisto’s weight as a baddie, but other than tricking Spider-Man, what has he succeeded at? And his “victory” was just getting someone out of a marriage, and I know a lot of guys who’ll take that deal. Morlun, on the other hand, does really kill people all the time. So yeah, he can succeed.
IGN Comics: It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Avengers and Panther interact. Is there a chance she might do just that?
Maberry: Who knows what will happen with the new Panther. There’s a lot of story to tell, and there’s pretty solid odds the Panther will cross paths with a lot of key players.
Hudlin: It’ll happen sooner or later. The question is – on what terms?
IGN Comics: Is there anything else you guys would like to add about the future of the series?
Maberry: We’re going global with Wakanda and its problems. For the first time in its history the nation’s economy takes some hits and there’s some new threats coming from within the population. Like most countries, Wakanda is a troubled house and that will shake the Royal family to its core.
I’ll be adding some elements of espionage, paranoia, and betrayal to the story mix. And it’ll be fun to follow the new Panther as she learns how to be the hero and the symbol of an entire country. I’m also going to have some fun with T’Challa’s story. There’s lots of cool things in store for him.
Hudlin: I’ll help out, but it’s on Jonathan now.
IGN Comics: Reggie, any last thoughts as you prepare to move away from your role as writer? Jonathan, any thoughts coming aboard?
Maberry: I like where the book went with Reggie at the wheel, and I’m looking forward to putting some miles on the odometer myself. This is going to be fun.
Hudlin: This Black Panther run has been a great education in the comic book business. This would not have happened without Axel Alonso as a great editor who makes things happen. At the same time, the next project I’m working on is going to rock. Especially having seen some early sketches. I can’t talk about some of the other stuff yet, but this change will lead to a best of all world scenarios for myself and for folks who enjoy my work.?