black & white: a crime novel

My essential premise for the new direction in Panther became, in essence, a dark satire of Spider-Man, structured around the nuclear family concept of The Hero Who Could Be You. Kasper's motive is to wear the costume so he wont be recognized by the good guys or the bad guys as he goes about cleaning up his precinct so he can get a promotion to Detective so he can make enough money to marry his pregnant girlfriend and move them all out of Harlem.

Read ScriptThings were changing. Terrorists had destroyed the World Trade Center, only a few miles south of Marvel's offices, while I struggled with a deadline in Colorado. Peter David's public spat with Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas yielded new and exciting projects from both Peter and Bill, and Captain Marvel was re-tooled to maximize the book's market position in light of the publicity stir surrounding Captain Marvel, Spider-Girl and Black Panther. Somewhere along the way, Joe and Bill convinced the bean counters to not raise the prices on the three titles,  and we were all given  a window to spin gold out of straw. Black Panther was to be re-tooled, addressing concerns of the book's over-complexity and the weight of 35 years of continuity.

Editors Michael Marts, Mike Raicht and I commenced marathon sessions trying to re-create the wheel, looking at a variety of directions (including a really cool one where T'Challa became a villain and another, Raicht's idea, where Queen Divine Justice became The Black Panther). Much as we liked some of these ideas, even the best of them relied too heavily on established continuity. We were all reluctant to put someone else in the Panther costume because for us, that diminished the weight of the work we have all (including JoeQ, the series' original editor and co-creator) worked so hard to establish. But we had to lighten up: lose a lot of the weight of the continuity that, while serving the series, was not efficient for storytelling.

I'm not sure which of us came up with the notion of having some guy literally steal T'Challa's identity. I'd love to say it was me, but by now, we had Joe Quesada, Tom Brevoort, Jemas, the Mikes and whomever else we could get to stand still and listen contributing ideas and notions. As we left our continuity, T'Challa, fearful of becoming a villain (as Magneto prophesied) and dying of an incurable disease, abdicated his throne and vanished. Of course, he reappeared almost immediately in the pages of The Avengers, and our great irritation about that is that we would no longer be in a position to benefit from Geoff Johns' brilliant work on that title. Geoff and I had had extensive discussions about Panther and his role in the AV's, and we were in wonderful sync. We all were anxious to see what impact T'Challa's reemergence in The Avengers might have on his own book.

However, the conflicting imperatives of our limited window afforded by the David-Jemas "bet" and other considerations meant we either had to take a chance on something new, or just keep doing what we were doing and, likely, be out of business within a few months. Nobody held a gun to my head, nobody said you must do this. But we all felt Panther needed a shake up, and that the time was now.

Once we decided that someone would be impersonating the Black Panther without Panther's permission, I thought this could be a kind of cultural awakening for this new character: some guy who starts this gig, essentially, as a scam, but who evolves over the curse of time to embrace and appreciate the rich heritage and culture of the Lord of the Wakandas.

We all felt, if we're going this new direction, then let's hammer down.  My essential premise for the new direction in Panther became, in essence, a dark satire of Spider-Man, structured around the nuclear family concept of The Hero Who Could Be You. Panther would not have quite the whimsical satirical tone of Steel, but rather will be a very dark and very violent urban drama along the lines of Denzel Washington's Academy Award-nominated performance in the film Training Day.

Kevin "Kasper" Cole, our unlikely Peter Parker, is a young narcotics officer with the NYC Police, an extremely tough plainclothes cop molded after Denzel's Training Day character. Kasper- so called because Cole, a Mulatto, is so fair skinned many people think he's white- is a predator, with a predator's instinct and a predator's ferocity. His is a culture of violence, and Panther, the book, would be written in the language of violence with the poetry and artistry of violence, similar to early Frank Miller operatic revisionist takes on Japanese samurai comics.

Kasper comes into possession of one of The Black Panther's old uniforms (a ruined one discarded in Panther#16), and initially wears the bullet-proof costume under his street clothes in lieu of the much heavier (and easier to detect) department-issue bullet-proof vest. However, when circumstances within Kasper's own precinct threaten him and his family, Kasper is forced to go on the offensive against corrupt cops. Kasper dons the Panther's cowl, and temporarily, in his mind at least, assumes the long-missing and presumed-dead Panther's identity to root out the evil in his own department.

Our dysfunctional Uncle Ben is Kasper's father, "Black" Jack Cole. A seasoned police department veteran, Jack Cole was nonetheless caught up in a police scandal and sent to prison, from where he offers his son advice in an attempt to both protect Kasper and absolve himself of his own guilt.

Kasper lives with his mother, our dysfunctional Aunt May, Ruth Cole. Ruth is a plump, fifty-ish Jewish mom who inhabits a blithely disconnected space where she fixates on pasta and Mahjong tournaments while Kasper struggles for his life and his integrity. Ruth provides both dramatic tension and comic relief as Kasper's oddball domestic life shifts the mood from Training Day to Everybody Loves Raymond and back again.

Our dysfunctional Gwen Stacy is Gwen, Kasper's pregnant Korean-American girlfriend. Her well-to-do parents have thrown her out, and Kasper has taken her in; the three of them sharing a cramped Harlem apartment and surviving on Kasper's meager pay.

Kasper is under tremendous financial pressure: the rent is always late, he is constantly harassed by bill collectors, and his utilities are always on the verge of being shut off. Personal stress (his girlfriend constantly rides him about his irresponsibility), political pressure at work and very real danger from the cell of corrupt cops in his own precinct contribute to the vise-like pressure he deals with every day.

His only way out is to attain his hard-sought goal: the gold shield of a New York City Detective. At Detective 3rd Grade pay grade, Kasper can provide for his family and get himself transferred out of the precinct and away from the corruption. But that's not going to happen unless Kasper brings down the bad cops, and he has to do it without becoming a rat for the Internal Affairs Bureau- career suicide for a cop.

Tom DeFalco once taught me that Spider-Man's motivation for being Spider-Man was to patrol the city looking for crimes so he could photograph himself in the act of stopping the crimes and sell the photos to Jameson to raise money to pay his rent which was always late.

Kasper's  motive is to wear the costume so he wont be recognized by the good guys or the bad guys as he goes about cleaning up his precinct so he can get a promotion to Detective so he can make enough money to marry his pregnant girlfriend and move them all out of Harlem.

Like Spider-Man, Panther is not, by any stretch, a super-hero. He regards "them," whoever "they" are, as super-heroes. Panther is Kasper Cole, and he has no intention of wearing the costume beyond the five days of his suspension from the police force. Only, something unexpected happens: Hunter, The White Wolf, comes calling.

Curious as to why this kid is running around pretending to be the Black Panther, Hunter becomes an inquisitor/antagonist/confessor and, ultimately, Kasper's mentor, training him and providing the fledgling Panther with tools and resources. It is an odd alliance and a unique status quo (a villain mentoring a hero), until the arc takes an even weirder twist around issue 3: the Real Black Panther returns.

T'Challa, the Real Panther, appears, ruining some of Kasper's best laid plans. He warns Kasper the White Wolf is an evil man who is using him. Mysterious and even more aloof than he presently is, T'Challa deals with Kasper in a severe fashion, similar to Anthony Hopkins's handling of Antonio Banderas in Mask of Zorro. At first Kasper doesn't know whom to trust- Hunter, who has been kind and who has always been right thus far, or the coolly indifferent T'Challa, who simply appears, Dracula-like, out of the blackness, spoiling Kasper's big moves before vanishing into the night.

BLACK PANTHER: BLACK & WHITE is, therefore, about a war between The Black Panther (T'Challa) and the "white panther" (Hunter) over the soul of this young kid. What's at stake is as much T'Challa's own soul- and the conscience of the king- as anything else as these two powerful men battle it out by proxy in the Vietnam metaphor of the New Lots section of Brooklyn.

We banged around on this idea for awhile before recruiting my old pal Oscar Jimenez to handle the art chores. Oscar dove into the project, coming up with our model for Kasper Cole: Vin Diesel. Once we had the Vin idea and the right color palette and such, Oscar just ran with it, researching and designing hardware, clothes, locations and all manner of other things. The energy level was off the chart and The Mikes and Oscar and I were totally jazzed about the new Panther. Then, something odd happened: Oscar disappeared. I'm not sure if it was scheduling conflicts, personal issues, government takeovers or something else, but Oscar's loss was an enormous blow, taking the wind out of our very full sails as we turned around trying to decide what to do.

Dan Fraga stepped in as our white knight, bringing incredible energy and verve along with him as he took the ball and ran with it, evolving the new concept even further as he refined Oscar's concepts. Back on track and on schedule, we moved forward and, while I can't swear to it, I do believe there was dancing. Then we lost Dan. I was about to jump out of my office window (it's on the first floor) when Jorge Lucas, the brilliant artist of our Blazing Saddles parody, stepped in. Fresh off of his stint on Wolverine, Lucas brought his own unique energy and edge to the project, and finally we were on our way.

Regrettably, there were some language and cultural barriers between Jorge and I, and some of our pop culture concepts (Kasper as Vin Diesel, for instance) got lost somewhere along the way. None of which in any way diminishes Jorge as the hero of the day, as someone who performed heroically and turned in terrific and exciting work. Nonetheless, despite everyone's best and most heroic efforts, somewhere along the way some things went missing. More than a few fans have asked me to post the scripts here to help them fill in the blanks (and, perhaps, introduce Kasper Panther to new fans who may be nervous about jumping into the deep end of the pool at Chapter 5 of a 6-chapter arc).

At this writing, Black Panther #55 is on sale, with #56 going on sale any day now. I've posted the prologue and first four chapters (SPOILER WARNING) to help our current fans fill in the blanks, and invite new fans to jump in as the brilliant Jim Calafiore takes the artistic reins with the tail end of BLACK & WHITE and we go onto ASCENSION, Kasper's rite of passage.

Christopher J. Priest
10 April 2003

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