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JUNGLE ACTION Volume 2, Number 12 (November 1974)
VII. BLOOD STAINS ON VIRGIN SNOW (But I think the cover title Devil Wolves of/ from the Chilling Mist would have been more appropriate given this issue’s introduction of Wakanda’s Land of the Chilling Mist.)
Besides which, Blood Stains On Virgin Snow sounds like the title of a Mickey Spillane novel. (“Mike Hammer IS the Black Panther in Blood Stains on Virgin Snow!”)
Synopsis: It’s been several days since T’Challa/ The Black Panther led the successful military assault on N’Jadaka Village, the Capital City of Killmonger’s blood-soaked revolution against T’Challa’s rule.
Killmonger’s supervillain lieutenants Lord Karnaj, Baron Macabre and the supervillainess Malice have joined Venomm in the Royal Palace’s high-security prison. The hundreds of other prisoners taken are being interrogated and investigated by W’Kabi’s staff (W’Kabi is the Black Panther’s Chief of Security).
The story proper for this time begins with a pair of Wakandan Quin-Jets landing on one of the Primitive Cliffs that encircle Wakanda and help isolate it from the outside world. The passengers from the two aircraft exit and we readers see T’Challa, his Royal Consort Monica Lynne, W’Kabi, Taku, plus Tayette and Kazibe, Killmonger’s comic relief lieutenants who are always easily overcome by the Black Panther.
Everyone but T’Challa is bundled up in heavy winter clothing. This mountain region is the threshold to Wakanda’s Hidden Lands, which are meteorological impossibilities in the real world but very real in the comic book world.
For the next few issues to make sense this portion of Marvel Comics’ 1970s map of Wakanda is required.
At the start of this chapter of Panther’s Rage, the Black Panther and the others are located where they are overlooking the Grand Canyonesque “Chasm of the Chilling Mist.”
To be more specific, they are right where the rickety wood and vine bridge spans the Chasm of the Chilling Mist. (By the way, as depicted on the map that bridge is in NO WAY to scale. People would have to be hundreds of yards tall to build and use a bridge that enormous!)
At any rate that wood and vine bridge spans the narrowest point of the Chasm, with Serpent Valley lying thousands of feet below. We’ll visit that valley in a few issues, and after that we’ll even visit the Forest of Thorns which is shown at bottom, serving as a natural barrier to normal, on-foot penetration into Serpent Valley.
For right now, the Black Panther will be crossing the rickety wood and vine bridge over the Chasm so that he can enter the Land of the Chilling Mist, beyond which lies the Realm of the White Gorillas.
We readers are told that Tayette and Kazibe have confessed to W’Kabi’s interrogators that that is where Killmonger had journeyed to with King Cadaver and the large percentage of his Revolutionary Army which was not at N’Jadaka Village when T’Challa struck.
Despite the urging of Monica Lynne, W’Kabi and Taku, the Black Panther refuses to take any additional men with him in pursuit of Killmonger. His reasoning – more like an excuse – is that a large body of troops would slow him down and that Wakanda City and the villages still loyal to T’Challa will need as many soldiers on hand as possible if Killmonger eludes the Black Panther and launches a counter-offensive.
Monica is not fooled and realizes T’Challa wants to take on Erik Killmonger alone to avenge his defeat at Erik’s hands at Warrior Falls back in the opening chapter of Panther’s Rage. Killmonger has been making the Black Panther feel very outclassed by the way Erik easily beat him in physical combat AND out-generalled AND out-politicked T’Challa every step of the way in the war’s opening phases.
As it is there are still outlying villages that remain loyal to Killmonger despite the Black Panther’s recent victory at N’Jadaka. T’Challa will be accompanied only by the thoroughly cowed Tayette and Kazibe, who have promised to lead our hero to Resurrection Altar, in the heart of the Land of the Chilling Mist.
That altar is where Killmonger – in ways not comprehended by Tayette and Kazibe – transforms some of his followers into super-powered operatives like Malice, King Cadaver and others we will soon meet. (Malice’s origin was later ret-conned but not for decades.)
T’Challa has so little reason to be afraid of Tayette and Kazibe that he even condescendingly arms the former with a spear to calm his fears a little at the dangers that lie ahead. The Black Panther says his temporary goodbyes to Monica, Taku and W’Kabi, then he, Tayette and Kazibe cross the rickety wood and vine bridge. The area’s ubiquitous mist soon shuts them off from view, seemingly swallowing them up.
The Chilling Mist that perpetually shrouds the “Chasm” and “Land of” same is really just humidity from the jungle climate of the region. We readers were eventually told that surface deposits of vibranium – like gold deposits in streams – automatically absorb all the heat energy from the air, turning the humidity into a chilling, sleet-like mist.
The Land of the Chilling Mist thus remains a snowy, icy region despite its location in the middle of the African jungle. Temperatures at night can drop to forty degrees below zero and daytime temperatures never get above freezing.
(God, vibranium absorbs energy in truly amazing ways and was as crucial to the Marvel Comics universe as adamantium. And yes, they named it adamantium after the metal in Greek myths.)
The author Don McGregor uses the clinging, chilling, debilitating mist as a metaphor for the stresses, fears and doubts that T’Challa has been wrestling with – and at times almost paralyzed by – during Killmonger’s rebellion. Still, our hero has no choice but to force himself onward, enduring the elements the same way he has had to cope with and adapt to governmental issues that can’t be solved by punching them.
The subtext is a bit overdone, but hey, it’s a comic book. However I WILL point out once again that if the overrated and overpraised Alan Moore had written Panther’s Rage it would have been adapted for film or as a cable miniseries long ago. Marvel Comics’ writers of the late 1960s to mid 1970s blazed a lot of trails that the unbearable Moore is usually given credit for.
And, best of all from the writing angle in this 13-part serial, McGregor flips the coin as we rejoin Killmonger. Erik strides casually through the ankle-deep snow, bare-chested as always except for his bandolier of spikes. The elements don’t seem to bother Killmonger at all, causing his men to feel even more than their usual amount of awe toward their leader.
McGregor was using the literary device common to many earlier stories, myths and legends: dwelling on the contrast between the callously confident leader (Killmonger), untroubled by doubt or fear and seemingly superior in every way to their opponent (T’Challa).
And yes, McGregor is headed in the same direction with the narrative. The ordeal of doubt, fear and other suffering that our hero must endure strengthens him in the end, leaving him a better – or at least more fully developed – human being and thus better equipped for the manifest challenges involved in governing his people.
T’Challa is learning how to cope with situations in which violence would be useless or counter-productive. It’s doubtful that Killmonger/ N’Jadaka would ever feel the need to look beyond violence to resolve a problem. In this regard a superhero story like this one nicely substitutes for the heroic myths and legends of the past in which violently overcoming menaces was every bit as much a part of the established formula.
To cite two examples I’ve already written about here at Balladeer’s Blog, there was The Gilgamesh Epic, in which the title figure slowly becomes a better man and a better ruler and no longer relies on just his brawn and his weapons. The second example was Africa’s Mwindo Epic, in which the title hero underwent the same arc.
I have no idea if Don McGregor had ever read The Mwindo Epic but T’Challa’s pursuit of Killmonger through Wakanda’s Hidden Lands over the next few issues puts me in mind of Mwindo’s pursuit of his evil father through the subterranean realms of the Nyangan gods.
Getting back to the story, Killmonger strides along chatting with King Cadaver, who is reminiscing to Erik about how terrified he was the first time he visited Resurrection Altar, since he knew he was designated as one of the men to be experimented upon. After that he gained his superhuman abilities and Killmonger rechristened him King Cadaver. (Not Lord Carcass, which would have been just plain silly.)
The King questions Killmonger about his use of an Outworlder language for the revolutionary names he bestowed on himself and select followers. The rebel leader jauntily replies that if the King had spent any time in the outside world like he has then he would appreciate the poetic (well, poetic-ISH) lilt of the colorful names.
“I like the insolence of the name Erik” Killmonger says in conclusion.
Presently Killmonger and his troops arrive at Resurrection Altar. (Again, if Alan Moore had simply used the evocative name “Resurrection Altar” in a sentence, comic book fans would have been squee-ing about its awesomeness and its depth and its maturity for decades.)
They are greeted by the High Priest named Sombre (sic). The following day, after the troops have rested and eaten Sombre oversees a solemn ritual attended only by Killmonger and King Cadaver. That ritual finds King Cadaver once again strapped to the actual “altar” at Resurrection Altar.
That altar is suspended above a pit in which lies the remains of a meteor or asteroid that landed there thousands of years ago. The fallen stone from outer space gives off cosmic energies and King Cadaver’s powers are strengthened by this second exposure to them. His body changes again, not in outer appearance but in height, as he shrinks by several inches and is now only about 4 feet tall.
As Cadaver’s ritual exposure to the rays goes on, Sombre and Killmonger turn the place into Exposition Altar with their conversation. It turns out Sombre was the first man to be exposed to the cosmic energies of the place and live. That was well over a hundred years ago, when he was the first Wakandan to venture into the Land of the Chilling Mist alone.
Sombre gained extraordinary longevity from his exposure to the rays, in addition to other powers. Sombre also became immune to the temperatures of the Land of the Chilling Mist and could even float in defiance of gravity. (He can’t fly or rise into the air per se, he can simply resist falling.)
The self-designated Priest renamed the huge, sprawling cavern Resurrection Altar and resumed his extensive explorations of the Land of the Chilling Mist and the Realm of the White Gorillas which lay beyond it. At some point he even used his ability to float and constructed the long, long, loooong wood and vine bridge across the Chasm of the Chilling Mist.
Very few pilgrims had visited Sombre at Resurrection Altar over the decades but Killmonger was one of them. On his most recent previous visit Erik had Sombre strap several of his followers – one at a time of course – to the suspended altar above the crashed meteor/ asteroid.
Most mutated horribly and died in agony. Out of all of those exposed to the cosmic energies only Malice and King Cadaver survived. Now that the King has been strengthened with a second exposure to the rays, Killmonger and Sombre intend to use another batch of Erik’s followers as experimental guinea pigs to see if he can gain even MORE super-powered subordinates this time around.
Before they can even unstrap K.C. (King Cadaver) from the altar, the Black Panther crashes the ceremony. He and the reluctant Tayette and Kazibe have caught up with Killmonger and his men.
T’Challa and Killmonger engage in another thrilling battle, and, in a very unexpected turn of events, the Black Panther finds himself being outfought AGAIN by Erik. Killmonger’s mocking laughter and sneering insults cut deep and T’Challa realizes with horror that he himself is Killmonger’s Tayette: a non-threatening foe to be manhandled and overcome at will.
Erik tries to knock the Panther into the pit but T’Challa agilely manages to reach the suspended altar, on which King Cadaver is still strapped. The altar begins swaying on the ropes that suspend it, and Sombre responds to the blasphemy of all this by floating behind the Black Panther undetected and touching T’Challa on the shoulder.
Another of Sombre’s powers is a touch that jangles the nerves and would kill a normal man, but the Black Panther’s super-powers save his life. He is knocked out for several hours, however.
When our hero comes to he finds that he has been dumped in the middle of nowhere in the Land of the Chilling Mist and that nighttime has fallen. Again, Killmonger shows his contempt for T’Challa by leaving him alive since he considers him no threat (again, like T’Challa treats Tayette). Adding to the insult, Erik has even left behind the spear that the Black Panther permitted Tayette to arm himself with.
The nearly frozen T’Challa must force himself to move around and become battle-ready, because he can hear ghastly howls which signal the arrival of the Devil Wolves of the Chilling Mist. These preternatural creatures can lie hibernating in the snow for months on end until a rare meal comes along.
The smell of T’Challa’s “virgin blood stains on the snow” has attracted them and the rest of the issue is devoted to the Black Panther’s savage battle with the pack of Devil Wolves. They tear and gash at T’Challa but, using the spear that Killmonger contemptuously left behind, our hero survives the fierce battle.
He even uses the spear-tip to skin some of the dead Devil Wolves, then limps to a small cave to wait out the night. Don McGregor’s narrative ends on a reasonably upbeat note, against all the odds.
The point is that T’Challa refused to give in to the despair that the Chilling Mist has been a metaphor of throughout this chapter. Our hero recognizes the enormity of the challenge that still lies ahead – even if he survives the night – but just as he did not surrender to the hopeless odds he faced against the Devil Wolves, he refuses to surrender to the odds against him in his continuing war with Killmonger.
Look, I’m not trying to pretend that comic books are High Art or anything, but I am still impressed with the writing at Marvel Comics back then. This ongoing story is up there with – and maybe even above – certain sci-fi or fantasy television material of the 1970s. +++
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR PART EIGHT. SAME PANTHER-TIME, SAME PANTHER-CHANNEL.
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MAIN LIST OF CENTAUR COMICS SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MAIN LIST OF THE RURAL HOME/ CROYDON SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MEMBERS OF INFINITE HORIZON CLICK HERE
FOR THE AUSTRALIAN SUPERHERO PANTHEON CLICK HERE
FOR MORE SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE: Superheroes
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