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JUNGLE ACTION Volume 2, Number 14 (March 1975)
IX. THERE ARE SERPENTS LURKING IN PARADISE
Synopsis: This chapter picks up with the Black Panther surreptitiously following Sombre, the High Priest of Resurrection Altar, through the steamy jungle of Serpent Valley. The narration tells readers that T’Challa has spent the last 4 days and nights trailing Sombre in the steep, dangerous descent from the Land of the Chilling Mist.
That descent took place down the Grand Canyonesque walls of the Chasm of Chilling Mist, which terminates thousands of feet below sea level in Serpent Valley. Down this low there are no surface deposits of vibranium to absorb all the heat energy from the air like in the Land of the Chilling Mist.
That means that in Serpent Valley the “mist” is no longer “chilling” but is instead a heavy, humid natural steam bath. Serpent Valley’s mist is so thick that the sun can never be made out in the sky at all. The steamy mist simply becomes brighter with sunlight (and greater visibility) during the day and more like fog at night.
This sweltering, figurative green house was so thoroughly insulated from meteorological changes in the outer world above that countless species of dinosaurs and other creatures from Earth’s distant past still thrive in Serpent Valley.
We learned last time around that the Black Panther’s foe, Erik Killmonger/ N’Jadaka, plans to further his rebellion against T’Challa’s rule of Wakanda by rounding up dozens of Serpent Valley’s dinosaurs, training them and then using them as a mounted force in a major attack on Wakanda City. (And this was long years before either Jurassic Park OR Dino-Riders.)
Presently, T’Challa moves in to attack Sombre before he can reach Killmonger and warn him that the Black Panther still lives and was not killed by the Devil-Wolves or by the White Gorillas.
In the resulting battle it’s the Black Panther’s greater than human strength, agility, stamina and senses against Sombre’s own superhuman strength, deadly claws and ability to turn intangible. Think of Daredevil’s foe Death Stalker for a general idea of Sombre’s powers and tactics.
Also like Death Stalker, Sombre’s mere touch can be used to jangle the nerves and kill an ordinary human.
While T’Challa and the self-designated priest do battle our hero taunts Sombre about how he had to flee the White Gorillas after he (T’Challa) killed the large male that Sombre had sicced on him.
Sombre replies with barbs about how causing the death of a sacred White Gorilla must have been tantamount to dismantling his own religion for T’Challa. As we saw last time around the villain is absolutely right about that and about the pain it caused the Black Panther to thus lose his religion.
As he did in the battle at Resurrection Altar, Sombre manages to touch T’Challa’s shoulder, incapacitating him.
The superpowers that our hero gained from the Panther Herbs keep him alive, just like last time, but he is momentarily helpless. This time Sombre means to finish off the Black Panther for good.
He opens the mouth of the articulated Holy Mask which has become fused to his face thanks to the extra-terrestrial energies of the asteroid in the pit of Resurrection Altar. The mask and its decorative features like the large, pointed fangs are as one with his body now. Sombre’s fangs penetrate the still-paralyzed T’Challa’s throat and the villainous priest begins draining his blood.
The narration makes it clear that Sombre is NOT a vampire and does not drain blood from his prey out of any vampiric compulsion, but simply because it’s the easiest way of feeding on whatever he preys upon, be it the occasional lone Devil Wolf or elderly and infirm White Gorilla. Or, in this case, a human being.
Through sheer force of will the Black Panther begins moving his limbs just well enough to sort of judo-flip Sombre over him. The villain lands in quicksand and – accepting defeat (prematurely in my opinion) – he defiantly refuses to save himself by floating free or by letting T’Challa pull him loose. He will be no prisoner for T’Challa.
Sombre sinks, defiantly refusing to answer any of the Black Panther’s questions about Killmonger’s plans and activities. Once he is sure that Sombre is dead, T’Challa rests for a moment, filled with combined fury and wonder at the late villain’s placid acceptance of his fate.
Suddenly, T’Challa is startled by a human voice asking “Does this man’s death mean you have won, stranger? Does this man’s death mean you will take your madness and leave Serpent Valley?”
The Black Panther locates the source of the voice and it is an imp-sized black (as in African in this case) humanoid being watching him from the trees. T’Challa asks who he is and the being asks “Would a name mean anything to you? Would a name give you an identity against which to fight?”
Our hero then asks the impish being if Killmonger sent him and it replies with even more questions of its own: “And who is this Killmonger? Is he another whom you wish to fight? And what end will there be this time?”
The conversation continues along these lines, but the figure does eventually convey to T’Challa that its name is Mokadi and it does eventually agree to lead our hero to Killmonger and his troops.
NOTE: Ultimately it is revealed that Mokadi is one of the spirits of the ancient humanoids who lived in Serpent Valley. Mokadi’s people were wiped out thousands or maybe even millions of years ago but how and by whom is never made clear. Mokadi’s enigmatic way of expressing himself leaves it open to interpretation.
Mokadi and his extinct race figuratively “haunt” Serpent Valley the way the aboriginal inhabitants of many other locations around the globe haunt or populate the myths of the cultures that followed them. To the Hawaiians the Menehune, in Madagascar the Vuzemba, in Bellona and Rennell the Hiti, in the islands of the U.K the various versions of Little People, etc.
In Mokadi’s case in his exchanges with T’Challa there are hints at recriminations regarding the way the Black Panther wants to fight Killmonger and his troops. If this was strictly a science fiction setting it would play like one of those oft-used bits where a race of pacifists primly disapprove of the way Captain Kirk and company take action.
In those cases the pacifists are often depicted as having a point that maybe the space explorers should have listened to. In this story, however, T’Challa’s experience with Killmonger and his like leave him convinced there is no way of peacefully dealing with him.
In a reversal of expectations our hero’s assertions that one’s high-minded principles become useless if one is driven to extermination by less-principled opponents seem to give Mokadi food for thought.
He and T’Challa find common ground by agreeing that the kind of “is this necessary” questioning and soul-searching favored by Mokadi SHOULD always be addressed, but it is suicidal folly to ALWAYS assume that fighting back is NOT the answer.
Mokadi and his people, like the exterminated Menehune, Vazimba, Hiti (and on and on) can smugly look on from oblivion all they want, but high-minded masochism not only leaves one’s own people but others at the mercy of people like N’Jadaka.
Meanwhile, back in Wakanda City, T’Challa’s Royal Consort, the popular American singer Monica Lynne, finds herself surprised at how badly she feels for the family problems experienced by W’Kabi, the Security Chief who governs Wakanda in the Black Panther’s absence.
W’Kabi has been even more hostile to Monica than the rest of T’Challa’s subjects, all of whom disdain her as an Outworlder. Yet as she and Taku observe W’Kabi with his son Kono she hopes that their family will be able to survive the tensions brought on by W’Kabi’s extra duties from Killmonger’s uprising.
Taku leaves Monica for his daily visit with Venomm/ Horatio Walters, one of Killmonger’s supervillain operatives held prisoner in the Royal Palace. Venomm is in an ugly mood and is growing stir crazy since he was captured by T’Challa even before Malice, Baron Macabre and Lord Karnaj were.
Horatio warns Taku that, even though he’s treated him well during his imprisonment, he plans to escape some day and if Taku makes the mistake of getting in his way on that day, he’ll kill him as surely as he would anyone else trying to stop him.
Back in Serpent Valley, Killmonger stands alongside his Lieutenants Tayette and Kazibe as he supervises the continuing roundup of various species of dinosaurs, plus their caging and then transport toward the far-off Forest of Thorns leading out of Serpent Valley.
As always, the author Don McGregor draws a stark contrast between the callously confident Killmonger, who never doubts himself or his actions, and our hero T’Challa, who has been plagued by doubt, fear and other pains throughout the war.
McGregor is setting his readers up for what was already a literary trope but which presumably would have been new to most young comic book readers of the day: the eventual revelation that T’Challa has been strengthened by having to confront those issues, enabling him to eventually emerge triumphant against the seemingly stronger and doubt-free villain, Killmonger.
(Surely I don’t need a spoiler warning regarding the Black Panther’s eventual victory? He IS the star of the comic book.)
In the course of his conversation with Tayette and Kazibe, Killmonger’s attention is drawn to the fact that T’Challa is still alive and has been spotted in the nearby jungle. As usual, Erik acts as untroubled by T’Challa as T’Challa is by Tayette and Kazibe.
He plans to lay a little trap for the Black Panther and as Tayette and Kazibe follow close behind, the kind-hearted Tayette notices that a small bird has gotten mired in the oil that Killmonger’s men have been dumping to render some of their dinosaur prey helpless.
The poor bird frantically tries to free itself, flapping its wings futilely. Tayette reaches out to free the terrified creature but Killmonger grabs his hand before he can do so. Erik twists Tayette’s wrist, causing him to recoil in pain, and the bird remains mired and slowly suffocating.
Killmonger chastises Tayette, telling him that “If we were to stop to help every weaker being that we encountered on our path to greatness, we would never reach our destination.”
THAT callous intercession on Erik’s part is a very crucial moment that will ultimately serve as a metaphor for Killmonger’s eventual, well-deserved downfall. Again, for a young reader who wants to write some day, Panther’s Rage very competently lays out for them the whole process of foreshadowing, revelation and resolution.
Getting back to our LITERAL storyline, the Black Panther and Mokadi are by now on a nearby cliff, with a panoramic view of Killmonger’s mammoth, sprawling operation of capture, caging and transport of these enormous beasts. In contrast with Erik/ N’Jadaka’s usual contempt toward T’Challa, our hero can’t help but be astonished and impressed by the sheer scale of what his adversary has accomplished.
The engineering and military feat would seem impossible, but as the Black Panther observes, the impossible does seem to be Killmonger’s specialty.
Another nice moment of subtext and another nice moment of growth for T’Challa. Our hero is learning to be a better man and ruler, just like Mwindo and Gilgamesh in their similar ancient tales. There is nothing to be gained by downplaying Killmonger’s obvious abilities, so T’Challa acknowledges them. Erik would be too blinded by his own feelings of superiority to ever do the same regarding T’Challa.
As the Black Panther and Mokadi make their way down the hill to try to overtake Erik, Killmonger springs his trap, using remote control to open the cage holding a Tyrannosaurus Rex just as T’Challa passes it.
Another long battle results as our hero struggles to survive against the T-Rex. Mokadi has been persuaded by his debates with T’Challa, rather than the other way around, and actually does what little he can on the corporeal level to help our hero defeat the attacking dinosaur.
The battle has gone on so long that by now it is well into the night. Killmonger, his troops and their captive dinosaurs are well away from the immediate vicinity. Mokadi is gone as well, perhaps with a lesson learned for himself and by extension all his slain people regarding the difference between pacifism and passivity.
As a closing note T’Challa notices the bird that Tayette tried to save earlier. It has died still trapped in the mire, saddening our hero, but ensuring we remember it and its metaphorical meaning down the road. +++
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR PART TEN. 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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