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The king of Wakanda springs into action and shouts his name. He is … the Black Leopard?
Those were the perplexing words Black Panther fans read in the pages of 1971’s Fantastic Four No. 119, a comic that began a brief but strange chapter in the history of Black Panther. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had created the character in 1966, with Marvel’s first black superhero debuting several months before the Black Panther Party civil rights group formed. After a while, Lee sought to distance the character from the group. For a time, he was known as just Panther. Then came something more drastic.
“Stan directed me to try calling him the Black Leopard, which I didn’t care for, but I did as I was told,” says Roy Thomas, who wrote the issue. In the issue, T’Challa acknowledges his name has taken on “political connotations” in America and explains the change: “I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name — but T’Challa is a law unto himself.”
Black Leopard did not last long. In fact, this was the only issue with that name for the character. He appeared in Avengers No. 99 a few months later as simply T’Challa, and in 1972’s Daredevil No. 92, writer Gerry Conway had restored the character to his Black Panther name. “I am not a stereotype. I am myself. I am — the Black Panther!” the character explains the following month in Avengers No. 105, written by Steve Englehart.
Lee had long injected civil rights messages into his work, including a 1968 column in which he decried “bigotry and racism,” but there has been speculation that during this era, both Marvel and rival DC were concerned that embracing too many progressive attitudes about race could spark distribution boycotts in the South. Thomas, though, says he never heard of those fears and notes that Lee did not seem worried about them. “He was taking care to make certain that readers knew the Panther was black,” he says, “even if that word was no longer being used as part of his name.”
This story first appeared in a February stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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