and Bob were now totally in the zone.
Since I never do anything simply or directly, I decided to take all of this continuity and add an even larger complication to it: Chiantang, Brother of the Dragon King. an old, fun, Godzilla-sized threat from my Power Man & Iron Fist days. Chiantang was re-dubbed "Black Dragon," which confused everyone since the dragon was green; we called him Black Dragon because, in human form, Chiantang wore a black version of Iron Fist's costume. He was to iron Fist what Black Adam was to the Shazam! Captain Marvel.
Black Dragon's backstory was immensely, unthinkably complicated. Why I thought draggin' all of that in would help me simplify PANTHER, I'll never know. The dizzying amount of plot threads and continuity we went into with ...Dragon was complicated all the more by there being a "silent" issue right in the middle of it. As a writer, this mess presented a unique challenge. As a reader, it must have been hell to try and sift through.
Sal and Bob, however, evolved to a new level of excellence, beginning with the drop-dead gorgeous Nightshade. A villain who'd always been depicted as a kind of sleazy hooker, Sal and Bob found her innocence and convinced Jennifer Schlessinger to lighten up her skin tones for a wholly dramatic makeover on the young physicist. Nightshade was never a sleaze, she was a party girl: someone who got bored by academia but genuinely wanted to love and to be loved. Sal and Bob really found her and once they found her, I found her, and she became a compelling through point of this series in Year Four, as she became the one person who could keep Happy Pants Panther — the Black Panther's mysterious twin— alive.
The opening scenes of ...Dragon involved a fierce catfight between Nightshade and the venerable Colleen Wing, an old friend I've dearly from Power/Fist. Colleen had a Wolverine-esque hair-trigger temper and the martial arts chops to back them up. By the end of the fight, Colleen had Nightshade at sword point (a violation of her samurai's oath: you never draw the sword in the first place unless you're going to use it), with Nightshade's halter top dangling around her kneecaps. Nightshade had no modesty about such things, though Sal and, I suspect marvel did as they chose judicious angles and, in one panel, colored half of Nightshade's breast to tone down the overall effect. I find that amusing considering the MAX line, and, say, the hellfire Club of the old X-men days, but I digress...
Nightshade loses her gun and her top to Colleen Wing's samurai blade in PANTHER #38 (color corrected)
Sal had hit a creative high, with Bob's brush work evolving to its slickest neo-Wrightson ever, as the two filled the book (in which Panther does not even appear for the first eleven pages) with beautiful women and scary dragons. And, somehow, these two guys made sense out of a story so twisted even I couldn't follow it.
The 'Nuff Said Month issue, #40, was another high water mark, as Sal and Bob took center seat and had to tell a story virtually without words. I created a narrative device, a children's book called "Bob's Big Book of Dragons," as a crutch to help explain some of what was going on here: that Ross was not trapped inside Mephisto's body but was trapped inside Black Dragon's body, which Black Dragon had changed to look like Mephisto to fool Ross in the first place. It was an impossibly complicated plotline that had to be explained without words in the middle chapter of an entirely overcooked caper.
The children's book became the comedic highlight of the issue. With great humor and unexpected clarity, Sal and Bob (who, I imagine, portrayed Sorcerer Bob himself) took us by the hand and led us thru this minefield of dangling plot lines, explaining things to us like we were four year-olds— which was precisely what the arc needed. The two then shifted into all-out mayhem mode as a deranged Iron Fist gave Black Panther the beating of his life, a moment that changed the Black Panther character forever, and some of the finest art on either character that I have ever seen. This was these guys at their very, very best, and amazing and enormous feat.
The remaining chapter of ...Dragon was jammed full of chases, battles, plot threads and so much crammed into 22 pages that I felt deeply sorry for the boys, but, again, Sal and Bob pulled out all the stop, making the Godzilla-style chase thru Manhattan and across the Atlantic into a truly epic bit of business (in an industry that tosses "epic" around far too easily, the dragon steeplechase in BLACK PANTHER #40 truly earned it). If anything, any single word, of Return of The Dragon made any sense at all, it owed entirely to the craftsmanship of these two outstanding artists, and their commitment to this series. By the end of ...Dragon, we'd wiped the slate clean. Issue #41, our big IRON MAN crossover, could be a Day One sort of deal. We had paired the series down and cleaned house.
Only, there would be no crossover. Mike Grell had replaced Tieri on IRON MAN, and we all felt it would be unfair to saddle him with a crossover to resolve some dangling plot stuff his first day on the job. So, rather than running two months in two books, ENEMY OF THE STATE II would run four months in PANTHER, with IRON MAN editor Tom Brevoort's unprecedented support (it is unheard of to borrow someone's character for four whole months, or to seemingly compete with the new writer at the same time). For a brief moment in time, Marvel was nearly publishing IRON MAN WEEKLY, as Shellhead appeared in his own title, THE AVENGERS and PANTHER all at the same time. I was able to delve into my more cynical take on Tony stark and the reasons for is discomfort with T'Challa (see detailed summary below), exorcising my own demons with the sickness of political correctness and race sensitivity in this country. best of all, I was allowed to put these two guys against each other. Both of them cunning, ruthless, and willing to bend the rules to win the game: the game being more important than actually who wins or loses (as such things are subjective designations, after all).
We got totally lambasted when the first chapter, issue #42, came out, where we reveal Panther has been spying on Iron Man all along, and where Panther decks Iron Man without even working up a sweat. IRON MAN fans HATED us and HATED Brevoort for allowing their beloved armored avenger— whom they really prefer to be unbeatable (yawn) on any conceivable level— to be kissing the mat after only a page and a half, but I was, frankly, out of pages and had to get Panther and Wolverine out of there right away.
At the same time, we were being lambasted for using Wolverine at all. Still one of Marvel's most popular characters, fans, oddly, seem to become enraged whenever someone uses him. Maybe that's because Wolverine's been chronically over-exposed over the years, or handled badly by peons like me. I hadn't written Logan since Spider-Man versus Wolverine #1, so I kind of took him back there, emotionally, and found his rhythm there. We were accused of using Wolverine as a sales stunt; that he had no real narrative purpose in the arc. which wasn't true. In fact, I was a bit annoyed that Marvel had decided to announce Wolverine's appearance in the first place, as I'd have rather that be a quiet surprise.
Wolverine most certainly did have a purpose, but not one I could announce or discuss with the fans (he was there to keep Alpha Flight from interfering with Panther's annexation of Canada (lonnnng story, see below), and iron Man was certain not a wimp, but I couldn't defend myself on him, either (I was shocked that NONE of the Iron man fans figured out Iron Man was actually one step ahead of Panther and was playing Panther; actually, I was really insulted that none of the Iron Man fans could figure out what 3was so blatantly obvious: Tony Is Not Stupid. Priest Is Not Stupid. They were calling me stupid, that I'd have Iron Man come on and lay down for Panther to stomp on, as if that could ever happen).
ENEMY OF THE STATE II
Saddles Ablaze grew out of editor Marts and my very first chat about PANTHER, where we were kicking around plot ideas, and Marts made some passing joke about Panther going back to the old west and teaming up with Marvel's western heroes. I was sold from Day One, and awaited an opportunity to do it. Giving Sal and Bob a much-needed rest after the long stretch of Enemy 2, Marts turned to Jorge Lucas who channeled John Buscema in a riotously funny clean break from the intensity of the previous half-year on this book. My only regret was discovering, while the drawing was in progress, that we were obliged to use the revamped versions of the Western characters from Blaze of Glory. I'd intended to use the original, Kirby designs with the goofy masks and cow spots and such. Learning I had to somehow make the Blaze of Glory characters funny and fun just took all of the fun out of it for me, and the western heroes were thus relegated to what became, essentially, a large cameo role. I just never got my mind wrapped around them and, all due respect to my good friend, the brilliant John Ostrander, Blaze just didn't do it for me.
By this time I was deeply depressed over the impending change in direction the series would undertake. Nobody held a gun to my head and made me change the book, but it was obvious PANTHER would keep reeling from bad to worse to inevitable cancellation unless we took some chances and tried some new things. The newest and likeliest thing was a change in creative teams and, for awhile, it looked like all of us— myself included— would be moving on. But it was ultimately decided that the few fans who do read PANTHER read it as much for what I am doing as for the character, so I was asked to find some new expression of the concept that might spike interest in the book and maximize Panther's new exposure in THE AVENGERS. Learning that I would have to move on without Sal and Bob sent me spiraling into depression, a dark mood that became the visual style of Sal and Bob's finest work on the series, The Death of The Black Panther.
I'm not quite sure why Sal is not the highest paid artist in comics, or why his work had not yet reached the fan-fave status a draftsman of his powers deserves. It could be that I am old, an ancient 41 at this writing, and my appreciation of draftsmanship is based on guys who can actually draw, the Stan Drakes and Neal Adams and Nick Cardys, Joe Aparo, Alan Weiss, Curt Swan (and Murphy Anderson!!!), and so forth. These are names many contemporary comics fans have only a vague notion of, but these men were master craftsmen in the classic style, much as Sal is. Sal is not a Manga Guy or an Image Guy or a flashy guy or a style guy. No giant feet and mouths stretched three feet wide. No giant breasts and tiny waists. when I ask Sal to draw a bus, I get a bus, not a matchbox with wheels on it. Write this down someplace: this man can draw. And, not only could he draw, but Sal and Bob were fanatically involved with this project. Now, maybe that wasn't enough to put us across the goal line in sales, but it should have been enough to trouble us to find a way to make them work.
Death of The Black Panther echoed my mood about moving forward at such a terrible price. Not only Sal and Bob, but everything about the book was being left on this side of issue #50, a milestone I believe Sal earned the right to draw but marketing considerations suggested it was better to launch the new version in an issue with a lot of attention on it. Issues #48 and 49, therefore, marked the end of this version of the series, and I chose to tie everything up in a bow, including Panther himself, as Sal and Bob's exit meant this book was no longer the same book, anyway. The boys left, so they needed to take their sacrificial and creative work with them.
At this writing, I am well into Year Five, and into a new PANTHER that I will be introducing on this site over the next month or so. Again, cancellation rumors swirl and I just get so tired of responding to them. BLACK PANTHER has been rumored to have been cancelled at issue #12, issue #24, issue #28, issue #30, issue #37 (we were sure our jig was up that time), and issue #50. Will be cancelled someday? Sure. Until then, obsessing about it, speculating about it and, ghah, talking about it, is just more than I care to do. I'd rather concentrate on this new book, a completely separate animal than this labor of love between Sal, Bob and I, and let the bean counters count.
I look anxiously forward to the day we can announce a new Priest-Sal-Bob project. I really enjoyed working with the guys, and can't wait to come home again.
Christopher J. Priest
Story Thus Far: Year Four
A deadly menace from Iron Fist's past returns, hell bent on revenge. What does that have to do with the Black Panther? Absolutely nothing. In fact, Panther may not have come into conflict with the malevolent, 100-foot BLACK DRAGON at all, if Black Dragon hadn't made the mistake of appropriating Everett K. Ross' body as a temporary host.
Way, way back in issue #30, the epilogue to STURM UND DRANG: A Story of Love & War, Ross went to his front door to meet his new boss. Only it wasn't his boss, it was MEPHISTO, waiting to grab him. Only, as we discover in PANTHER #35, it wasn't Mephisto at all, but a powerful magical entity who had taken on Mephisto's form and switched bodies with Ross.
Ross wakes up, during GORILLA WARFARE, and discovers he is living inside Mephisto's body (only it isn't Mephisto... stay with me). Ross searches fruitlessly for a cure, seeking help from anyone and everyone and, per the Black Dragon's plan, keeping everyone looking for Mephisto instead of for the Black Dragon.
All of that changes when BLACK PANTHER finally returns from abroad. Within minutes of seeing Ross, Panther realizes this is not, in fact, the work of Mephisto, but of some other entity, one whom Dr. Strange told Ross (in issue #35) was tied, somehow, to K'Un L'Un. Some quick research and, within the hour, Panther arrives at the Black Dragon's doorstep, and war is declared.
We discover what's been going on during GORILLA WARFARE: THE DEADLY NIGHTSHADE, a brilliant genetic scientist, resurrected Black Dragon for purposes of mischief and revenge against Black Panther. She set the dragon on a mission to capture Panther's U.S. State Department handler, Ross. However, the Black Dragon had plans of his own. Instead of capturing Ross, he switched bodies with Ross, for his own purposes. Which, inevitably, brought a Panther to his door.
Reeling from an initial setback at Panther's hands, Black Dragon seeks out a new champion to destroy Panther for him (since Black Dragon is currently stuck in Ross' body). Black Dragon reaches out for his old nemesis, IRON FIST. Fist had recently lost the power of the Iron Fist, so Black Dragon restores Iron Fist's power while sorcerously compelling him to do his bidding— DESTROY the BLACK PANTHER!
RETURN OF THE DRAGON features several world-class battles, the centerpiece of which is Panther versus a murderously unhinged Iron Fist in issue #39, all building to a final showdown between Panther and Dragon in the heart of Panther's kingdom— WAKANDA. During this world-spanning battle, Nightshade— imprisoned on a N'Yami battle cruiser— discovers the comatose "other" Black Panther, and uses her genetic skills to revive him. The battle culminates in the heart of a civil uprising in Wakanda: a war between rival tribes and Panther's own royal guard. Panther, who'd allowed the dragon to eat him back in New York, had strategically placed hi-tech genetic devices inside the dragon. At his command, Panther's men activate the devices, triggering the dragon's change back into human form long enough for him to be subdued by the Wakandan forces— guards and tribesmen alike, who had become united against the common foe.
Chiantang, the dragon, is saved by the unlikeliest of benefactors— the "other" Black Panther, now awake, alive, and ready to party! By Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Mike Marts.
Our most ambitious story arc begins with the murder of a hip-hop record executive in Chicago that brings U.S. Senator Rakim (last seen way back in issue #8) to Tony Stark's door, demanding the Avengers do something about police corruption and gang violence in Chicago. Stark, unwilling to commit the Avengers resources to what seems to him as a local issue, reaches out to T'Challa to try and convince him to go to Chicago as an avengers special envoy. This was kind of an olive branch, a gesture of comradeship, as Stark's and T'Challa's relationship had been rocky since the first Enemy of The State, issues 9-12. The discomfort between them continued in Cat Trap, DEADPOOL #44 and PANTHER #23. Sending Panther seemed a good way to get Rakim off of his back and smooth things over with Panther as well.
Attempting to contact Panther, Stark gets in touch with, well, the wrong Black Panther— the Panther's odd double, who was engaging in some tribal exercises while laughing hysterically and ordering a feast to begin. Stark is, at first, a bit confused by the "other" Panther, whom he, at first blush, suspects may be Achebe in disguise (Achebe pretended to be Panther back in DEADPOOL #44 and behaved oddly via a viewscreen discussion with Stark). Within moments, however, the screen flashes and a stoic, mature Panther replaces the Happy Pants versions, and Stark is reassured that he is indeed talking to the right guy. Only, the right guy wants no part of this business in Chicago, and bristles at Stark's motives for wanting Panther, of all people, to go out there. The discomfort between Stark and T'Challa polarizes once again, as Stark wonders why he even bothered.
The fact is, back in Wakanda, Panther has his hands full with the new Happy Pants Panther, for whom there is no explanation, and some mysterious illness that has begun to affect the real Panther: a tremor in his hand that he hides from everyone, but wonders about privately. In addition, Queen Divine Justice has bolted from Panther's camp and retuned "home" to her native Chicago, where she seeks advice and comfort from her "grandmother" (actually a Wakandan agent) over what to do about her duty as queen of the outlawed Jabari tribe and her love for Vibraxas (as the king's concomitant, QDJ can never love or marry any other man).
Panther speaks cryptically of a faction likely to "acquire" Queen in Chicago, and he keeps a close watch on her while leaving for Sault Ste. Marie, Canada and pleading with Happy Pants to stay put in Wakanda until he gets back. Of course, the minute Panther is out the door, Happy Pants gets Abner Little on the comm. link, and loads Ross and Nightshade on board a twenty year-old rust bucket Jet-Copter to leave on a glorious mission of his own—finding KING Solomon's FROG!
Queen receives a note from Vibraxas asking her to meet him in downtown Chicago. However, when she arrives, she finds not the lovesick Vibraxas but the enigmatic JUNTA (last seen in issue #9), who attacks her.
Meanwhile, Stark, doing a slow burn at Panther's aloof rebuff, stares at the Iron Man armor in his open suitcase, debating whether or not to fly out to Wakanda and slug the guy. Suddenly, Henry Peter Gyrich, recently demoted from his perk NSA position to being Panther's State Department gopher, appears in Stark's office grinning like a Cheshire cat, holding an envelope that reads, "ABC Wire & Cable," and asking Stark if he'd like to get one up on Panther.
And, finally, we cut to Salt Ste. Marie, where T'Challa has a meeting with a Mystery Man and lays his cards on the table: back in ENEMY OF THE STATE (issues #9-12) a coalition of trans-continental covert operatives (along with the Russian mob) forced a coup d'etat in Wakanda and took over Panther's government. Well, these guys are back, now calling themselves XCON, and they're at it again. Only, now, instead of taking over Wakanda, they're planning to take over THE UNITED STATES. The murder of the record executive was but one of opens of murders of covert ops and contract intelligence agents in and around the United States. These men, the record exec included, were virtually untouchable— agents of the highest security clearance. The fact that someone got to them and killed them was a fair indicator that a fundamental shift in power had occurred in the covert ops world— which poses a real threat to everyone. Canada most especially, since XCON is headquartered there in central Canada. Canada and the United States share the longest undefended border in the entire world, and XCON's scheme to take over the US was first tested and implemented in Canada— they'd secretly taken over Canada without firing a shot— and were now poised to do the same in the U.S. so T'Challa was seeking help from the best covert operative he knew who could help him liberate Canada and foil the plot to take over the U.S.— WOLVERINE.
Thus, lines are drawn: It's Panther and Wolverine versus Gyrich and Iron Man (and, ultimately, Queen and Junta) as the fate of Canada and the U.S. (not to mention the world) hangs in the balance.
The plot turns through a great many twists. The center piece of which involves Panther invoking an ancient land treaty between a drunken Frenchman and his grandfather, Assiri The Wise, which ceded ownership of a small Canadian island to the king of Wakanda. This island, part of disputed lands challenged by the Canadian First Nation tribes, is in proximity to the Soos Canals— the major sea trade lane in the Great Lakes region— and Panther annexes the island and the waterways in the name of Wakanda, forcing an international show-down.
Gyrich provides proof to Stark that ABC Wire & Cable— the company the manufactures all of the wire and cable at Stark International and Avengers Mansion— is actually owned by the Black Panther through several dummy corporations. It is likely, therefore, that Panther has been spying on Stark and the Avengers for years, and that Panther knows all of Stark's secrets— including the specs of the Iron Man armor. This infuriates Stark, who near destroys his office in a rage, yanking out every foot of cable and having it tested. The tests prove the cables are infested with nanites— microscopic robots designed to carry out simple instruction sets. Like, revealing all of Stark's secrets to Panther.
Stark and Gyrich travel to a casino boat off of Sault Ste. Marie which turns out to be the headquarters of XCON, where they attempt to figure out what Panther is up to. Here Stark finds T'Challa on board, and the two rich guys end up in a high-stakes poker game where Stark ends up taking control of Panther's U.S. company, Wakanda Design Group. Minutes later, Panther and Wolverine rob the casino, breaking into the master vault to steal a mysterious Pulp Fiction briefcase and cleaning Iron Man's clock (to the outrage of Iron Man fans) on their way out.
In issue #42, Iron Man reveals he allowed Panther to escape so he could figure out what Panther was up to. Iron Man tells Gyrich to find out what's in that briefcase as he takes off after Panther. There's a brief underwater scuffle, during which Pepper Potts calls Iron man on his comlink to tell him Panther has manipulated the economy of a small South American country and used that as leverage to take over Stark Enterprises. I could explain how this was done, but, honestly, go read the comic. angered by panther's damnable misdirection, Iron Man becomes distracted enough for Wolverine to slap some acidic gloop on Iron Man's armor that is designed to attack the liquid oxygen cells on Iron Man's armor. Iron man is forced to chose between pursuing Panther and saving his armor (if the cells implode, the damage to the armor could be unsurvivable). a furious Iron Man breaks off pursuit to tend to his armor, while Panther and Wolverine high-tail it to the island Panther has annexed, where they meet ALPHA FLIGHT on the beach.
The reason Panther recruited Wolverine now becomes obvious as Wolverine's task becomes to convince James MacDonald Hudson to not lock Panther up but allow Panther to run out his nutty annexation scheme. Panther pledges to return the annexed land to its rightful owner— the First Nation tribes. The price of Wolverine's trust in Panther? "The case, bub. what's in it." Panther reveals the contents of the case to Wolverine, who slams the case shut in disgust and disbelief.
Meanwhile, Junta captures Queen and Happy Pants Panther recruits Queen Zanda (who'd been working at The Ray's Clucky Chicken restaurant in Philadelphia) to go after King Solomon's Frog. The search takes them to Kiber Island (which was destroyed way back when in THE DEFENDERS), where they battle the minions of Kiber The Cruel and a host of other long-gone and long-dead dopey Kirby villains. These villains are images from the past, magically recreated by the frog they are seeking. Finally, the have the frog, and now, Happy Pants asserts, they can bring the game to a close.
The close involves King T'Challa lounging in Tony Stark's Stark Enterprises office, much to the annoyance of Stark himself, who arrives shortly before 8 AM, when S.I.'s vault stands down from secure status. Stark rightly figures T'Challa is there to get something from Stark's vault. Now that T'Challa owns Stark Enterprises, he is well within his rights to be there, and to gain access to the vault and its contents.
while they're waiting, Stark decides to play another hand of poker, in a sense, by putting his cards on the table, telling T'Challa everything he knows about this XCON business and what Panther is actually up to. Here we learn that Stark has, in fact, been cooperating with Panther al along. The "proof" Gyrich brought Stark about Panther owning ABC Wire & Cable was, in fact, fake— faked by Panther. And Panther knew the moment Stark saw this "proof" that Stark would instantly know it was fake, because Stark himself owns ABC and always has. But, realizing Panther was gaslighting Gyrich, Stark took this as a signal or a message, and decided to play along and wait to see what Panther's next move would be. Stark faked the "nanite-infested cable" and pretended to be in a rage to make things look good, and buddied up to Gyrich to play out his end of things, while never knowing exactly what Panther was doing.
Once Panther ditched Iron Man in Lake Huron, Iron Man instigated a little independent thought and, figuring Panther's annexation of Canadian lands must have them jumping down at the Prime Minister's office, heads over to the PM's office to play out a hunch— to see if all is well in Ottawa. What he finds in the PM's office is Hunter, The White Wolf. Here we learn what Stark suspected all along— there IS NO XCON. XCON, whatever it once was, was smashed to bits by Hunter. It was Hunter who killed al of those operatives and took over XCON's domestic operations. The key operation was using King Solomon's Frog to switch the Canadian Prime Minister with a hypnotized double summoned some six seconds from the future (long story). By replacing the Canadian PM with a Frog PM, XCON had taken over Canada. And, now, white Wolf had taken over XCON.
Stark's rant at T'Challa (he talks nearly the entire issue while T'Challa sits silently) admonishes T'Challa for not trusting him— for keeping Stark out of the loop. he cannot understand why T'Challa could not have simply let Stark in on the deal in the first place— why al of the evasive cloak and dagger?!? Happy pants and his crew arrive. They've got one frog, T'Challa has the other (there are two frogs: one summons a warrior from time and space, the other sends the warrior back). There's chaos in Stark's office until Happy Pants gasses Stark, leaving him asleep on his sofa, as the Panthers and friends exit.
Which is when a SECOND Tony Stark steps out of the shadows, and we realize why Panther could not trust Tony: he knew, in all likelihood, XCON would have Frogged Tony as well, and there was no way of telling which Tony he was talking to. Frog Tony produces Stark's secret weapon against Panther: an updated version of Iron Man's Stealth Armor, specifically modified to go after Black Panther. This sets the stage for the big showdown and finale in issue #45, a long-ish battle between Panther and Frog Iron Man, where we finally see what Panther was attempting to get from Stark's vault— the Ultimate Nullifier designed to destroy StarkTech circuits. Queen and Junta join in the mêlée beneath the White House, as the Frogged Canadian Prime Minister arrives to consult with the Frogged U.S. President. At the end of the day, both heroes lose the battle, but their un-Frogged counterparts intervene at the end (you gotta read it to understand this), and return Frogged President, Frogged P.M. and Frogged Iron Man to the time stream just before the entire cast are Frog Transported back in time to Aberdeen, Texas, 1875. By Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Michael Marts.
Trapped in the old west, our heroes find themselves right in the middle of THOR #370, wherein Loki, God of Evil, has stolen the Apples of Idunn— golden apples which provide the gods their eternal youth. a time-ravaged Loki hired a troll to steal the apples and hide them on Earth, but the troll had a last-minute change of heart and ended up being killed by Loki in Loki's mad attempt to find the apples. Ross is mistaken for Sundance, a local card shark who slept with the Sheriff's wife, and ends up in the town jail while Gyrich pretends to be a U.S. Marshal in an attempt to spring him. Before Gyrich can manage that, Sundance (from THOR #370) breaks Ross out of jail in the middle of the night, and the two eventually join up with a very old Thor, who warns Ross to not tell him anything of the future, because such knowledge— even in the hands of a God— can be dangerous.
Meanwhile, Happy Pants Panther, trying to be helpful, seeks to join the posse that is saddling up to pursue Sundance and Ross. But he finds Loki and his men instead, and Loki convinces Happy Pants (who has telepathic abilities) to mind-meld with him. In so doing, Loki discovers everything about the future, including that Odin, King of the Gods, dies and Thor ascends the throne. The very thought of his accursed adopted brother becoming king enrages Loki beyond all reason, and he sets about ensuring that the future dies there in Buzzard Gulch with the rest of them.
The real Panther gets into a scuffle with the locals, only to be helped out by Marvel's western heroes: Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt. Joining forces, they track down Ross, Sundance and Thor on their way to Buzzard Gulch, where Sundance was instructed by Loki to bring Thor. Thor is hoping Loki's vanity would not allow him to merely grab the apples and run, but that Loki would be waiting for him at Buzzard Gulch (which, he does in THOR #370).
What the heroes find is not Loki, but a sorcerously compelled Happy Pants Panther and a magic train and trolls and so forth. The whole crew is swept up and taken to Asgard, where they end up in a dark pit surrounding a boiling cauldron. Panther and Happy Pants improvise their escape, and the western heroes battle Asgardian trolls in a mini-Ragnarok until Sundance manages to get his hands on one of Idunn's Apples and serves it up to a dying Thor. Once revived, Thor saves the day and makes arrangements to wipe Loki's memory of future events and transport our heroes back to their own time.
Upon returning from the past, Happy Pants Panther becomes gravely ill. Nightshade's stop-gap measures, which were keeping him mobile and upright, now have no effect as Happy Pant's condition— a brain aneurysm— has become critical. They emergency medivac Happy Pants to Wakanda, and put him back into stasis while they pursue a cure.
In attempt to help Happy Pants, Queen Divine Justice wonders if the Jabari tribe— her people— might have some clue about his disease and what to do (Happy Pants had been in cold storage in the Jabari hinterlands until he was revived in issue #35). At this point, Queen learns that M'Baku the Man-Ape, her cousin, has been in prison since issue #35 and has not been arraigned or tried. Seeing M'Baku as a political prisoner, queen talks Vibraxas into helping her bust Man-Ape out of jail. She lets Man-Ape out on the condition that he will return for trial without condition when a trail date is set, and that he would not attack The Black Panther. Man-Ape agrees.
Meanwhile, an increasingly edgy Black Panther, distraught over Happy Pants' illness— an illness he himself has contracted (Happy Pants comes from the future, and the brain aneurysm that is killing him is the same aneurysm that is causing the real BP's hand tremors). Panther is confronted by Monica Lynne, his former fiancée, who is leaving for the United States. She keeps trying to say good-bye to Panther, but it never works— she figures it'll only be a matter of time before Panther comes barging into her life again, but she's going home anyway.
As soon as Monica leave, Panther is attacked by an enraged Man-Ape. which is fine with panther, who is a little unhinged himself, and needs someone to beat on. But Man-Ape reveals his oath to Queen to not harm Panther, and he's a man of his word. So he doesn't kill Black Panther— but he smashes Happy Pants' stasis tube— killing him instantly.
An enraged and unhinged Black Panther pursues Man-Ape back to Man-Ape's homeland, the Crystal Forest, where Panther's forces marshal, prepared to wipe the Man-Ape's Jabari tribe out of existence. Lots of baiting back and forth between Panther and Man-Ape, until Vibraxas, enraged by Panther's behavior towards the girl he loves— Queen Divine Justice— gets in the act. Panther accuses Vibraxas of treason and threatens him with death, but Vibraxas doesn't care. he renounces his loyalty to the crown. As this exchange goes on, Panther begins having a hallucination, wherein he converse with the long-dead MAGNETO.
Back in issue #23, Storm warned Panther that he was in danger of becoming just like Magneto, and now Panther's sleep-deprived rage manifests Magneto even while he is arguing with the boy Vibraxas. When Vibraxas attacks, Panther is seeing Magneto. And, when Queen intervenes between Vibraxas and Panther, Panther again sees Magneto—
—and sinks his Anti-Metal claws into queen, mortally wounding her. Man-Ape orders an attack, and war rages in the Crystal Forces, blood flying everywhere, until Queen, barely alive, pleads with her forces to stand down. Panther, sobered by the realization and the horror of what he's done, can refuse Queen nothing, and grants her petition to let her people, the Jabari, go, and to release her from the order of the Dora Milaje so she and Vibraxas can marry.
The non-victory in the Crystal Forest, his nearly killing his own Dora Milaje, his loss of Monica and the death of Happy Pants leads Panther to lock himself in his throne room for several days without food or water, where he continues conversing with Magneto as he slowly loses his mind. Ross, camped outside of the king's door for three days while a transport waits to take them back to America, finally decides he's got to go in there and see what Panther is doing. He opens the throne room doors—
—and The Black Panther is gone. By Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Michael Marts.
TOP OF PAGE