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JUNGLE ACTION Volume 2, Number 17 (September 1975)
XII. OF SHADOWS AND RAGES
NOTE: This is the climactic chapter (Or T’Chapter if you prefer) of Panther’s Rage. The next, thirteenth part is the epilogue. The showdown between the Black Panther and Killmonger takes place this time around.
Synopsis: As this installment opens up, Erik Killmonger’s rebel army has begun its final, lightning campaign to overthrow T’Challa as the Chieftain of the Wakandas. Killmonger (N’Jadaka), his supervillain operatives Venomm and King Cadaver plus his comic relief lieutenants Tayette and Kazibe are all on hand.
Erik has committed all of his remaining troops to this assault, with many of his soldiers serving as Mounted Regiments riding into battle atop the dozens of dinosaurs that Killmonger and his men rounded up in prehistoric Serpent Valley recently.
Through training and electronic bits placed in the dinosaurs’ mouths these captive monstrosities are proving very effective at destroying and crushing all the beautiful monuments and government buildings of Wakanda City. The high-tech weapons and vibranium shields and spears wielded by Killmonger’s troops are taking a deadly toll as well.
The Black Panther’s own forces are trying to counter this brutal, devastating attack but are without their usual leader, W’Kabi the Security Chief. W’Kabi is still hospitalized after he was seriously wounded in Venomm’s escape from prison days earlier.
As a contingent of brontosauruses and their human passengers/ soldiers begin reducing the Royal Palace to rubble, our hero the Black Panther officially joins the fray, hurling himself from the crumbling rooftop to take out several of Killmonger’s mounted troops in his agile descent.
T’Challa’s Royal Consort, African-American singing star Monica Lynne, soon shows up at her man’s side, commenting on how she had no idea how terrifying these beasts would look in person. (And remember, this story came out long years before Jurassic Park and Dino-Riders.) For his part the Black Panther is horrified to see so many products of Wakandan culture and history being wiped out so swiftly and mercilessly by Killmonger and his army.
Wakandan Quin-Jets at last arrive on the scene, and their deadly weapons take a heavy toll on the rebel forces, both human and dinosaur. When ray-blasts from one of the Quin-Jets’ winged guns decapitate a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Black Panther barely manages to save Monica Lynne from being crushed by it as it falls.
Taku, T’Challa’s Communications Technology Chief, comes running to the Black Panther with word on how, typical of Erik’s brutality, he’s directed an entire division of dinosaurs, mounted troops and infantry at Wakanda City’s sprawling hospital centers. T’Challa orders Taku to commandeer as many regiments as he can and do everything possible to prevent Killmonger’s forces from reaching the hospital buildings.
Meanwhile, far to the north of Wakanda City we find Kantu, whose father was killed by Erik’s subordinate Baron Macabre back in the 4th Chapter. Kantu has been regarded sympathetically by T’Challa because the boy’s grief and anger over his father’s death remind him of his own feelings back when Ulysses Klaw murdered his (T’Challa’s) father T’Chaka.
The author Don McGregor uses narration to inform us readers that Kantu was visiting his father’s grave right at daybreak when Killmonger and his army swept through the farming region which supplies much of Wakanda’s food. Kantu could only watch helplessly from hiding as Erik/ N’Jadaka had some of his mounted troops run roughshod over the area, wiping out the cemetery during their obliteration of the country’s figurative “bread basket.”
Obviously Killmonger will be leaving the Wakandan nation on the verge of starvation whether he wins or loses, though it’s impossible to picture Killmonger ever entertaining the notion that he might lose. It’s more likely that the vicious revolutionary plans to inflict such a high body count via the battle AND political purges afterward that what food supplies are left can be “magnanimously” shared with his loyal devotees and anyone smart enough to pledge allegiance to him. Everyone else can starve.
NOTE: And again, I’m not trying to present comic books as High Art, but you have to admit that Don McGregor’s depiction of N’Jadaka/ Erik Killmonger would meet Aristotle’s ancient definition of dramatic characterization: the revelation of details about a character which tell us how that character would react in situations other than those presented in the plot.
The moment I questioned the motive for Killmonger to wipe out so much of Wakanda’s food supply I could practically see comic book panels featuring Erik grandly outlining the reasoning I went on to detail above. Once again, this 1973-1975 superhero story shows better story-telling fundamentals than some movies and television shows of today.
Getting back to our literal story, Kantu – weeping over the figurative Second Separation from his father by the annihilation of his grave – forced himself to run south toward Wakanda City hoping, in his childlike way to issue a Paul Revere style call to arms. From off in the distance, he can eventually see that his call to arms would be very, very late as the Battle of Wakanda City has obviously been raging for quite some time.
Weary, weeping and feeling hopeless, Kantu makes his inconsolable way to the west, toward the River of Grace and Wisdom.
Meanwhile, back in Wakanda City, Venomm unleashes his own division of dinosaurs, their riders plus conventional soldiers on the prison section of the Royal Palace. The rampaging dinosaurs and other forces trash the containment area, freeing the hundreds of N’Jadaka Village POW’s as well as Killmonger’s other supervillain operatives being held captive by T’Challa.
Malice, Baron Macabre, Lord Karnaj and Salamander K’Ruel try to make their way to freedom in the chaos. K’Ruel gets pinned down under some falling wreckage and Malice and the others rush by him, telling him he’s on his own.
It’s a bit rushed so I’m not certain, but it’s possible this scene is supposed to be comeuppance for Salamander K’Ruel for abandoning his own subordinates in the Forest of Thorns when they were too injured to keep up with him. If so it also ties into the whole “bird in Serpent Valley” metaphor, too, which I’ll revisit shortly.
From a distance Venomm contentedly observes the prisoners fleeing the place where he, too, was incarcerated for so long. The Black Panther arrives on the scene, once again defeating Baron Macabre in battle, then trouncing Lord Karnaj. Malice is still on the loose, however, using her super-strength and super-speed to fight the Wakanda City soldiers.
Killmonger and the Black Panther stand separated by the battlefield but Erik shouts a few mocking remarks to him. In grand villain style he also tells T’Challa that in a way he’s glad the Black Panther didn’t die in Serpent Valley or the Land of the Chilling Mist before it. He tells our hero that this final battle would feel anti-climactic if he wasn’t here.
Still, he patronizingly tells T’Challa that if he can’t fight his way to him (Killmonger) he’s not worth the breath he’s wasted on him. He shouts to the Black Panther that he’ll be waiting for him where they first met in battle: Warrior Falls. And in Don McGregor’s positively cinematic sense of drama AND subtext, we see that Warrior Falls is where the weeping Kantu has made his way to.
The comic book panel continues to dwell on the oblivious Kantu’s face as Killmonger completes his shout to T’Challa about facing him where they first fought … “At Warrior Falls. It will give our battle a sense of symmetry!” And yes, dammit, it may be one of the most heavy-handed instances of foreshadowing in the history of story-telling but by holy hell that picture of the grieving Kantu’s face as Killmonger – from miles away – makes that remark about how “it will give our battle a sense of symmetry” is the kind of visual cue that most movies no longer bother to give us.
As Erik struts off toward Warrior Falls, T’Challa begins to fight his way through the ongoing climactic battle to meet his main adversary there. Killmonger’s comic relief lieutenants Tayette and Kazibe are laughably convinced that the Black Panther is coming for one of them (as if they would be worth the effort).
Tayette, as usual, out-argues his friend and convinces Kazibe that “the Panther Devil” is coming for him (Kazibe). Full of bravado as usual Tayette even claims he’ll try to protect Kazibe from T’Challa like he tried to protect Kazibe from Killmonger’s wrath back in Serpent Valley. He plants himself directly in front of Kazibe to shield him from the approaching Black Panther and promises his friend that he won’t be moved from that spot.
As another nice bit we get to see that Tayette is more frightened of T’Challa than of Erik. As the Black Panther approaches he snarls at Tayette to get out of his way and – rather than at least attempt to remain defiant as he did against Killmonger, the terrified Tayette says “Yes, Panther Devil, right away Panther Devil” and scurries out of his way.
Naturally, since T’Challa wasn’t really coming for either Tayette OR Kazibe he simply keeps going, fighting his way through more of Killmonger’s troops. Kazibe angrily points out to Tayette that, despite his promise, he moved.
Tayette blusters that “Of COURSE I moved, Kazibe, don’t you think I know that? But you know something, Kazibe?” Kazibe asks “What?” And Tayette replies “I hope he GETS Killmonger.” It’s another bit that would play well cinematically and you can easily picture a theatre audience erupting in cheers over Tayette’s very unexpected remark.
Elsewhere, Taku’s hastily assembled forces are trying to hold off the division of dinosaurs, mounted troops and infantry being led by King Cadaver against Wakanda City’s hospitals. Inside the hospital, W’Kabi is still bed-ridden and he, his wife and their children huddle together, fearfully watching Killmonger’s forces draw near. Sections of the hospital around them are already collapsing from the assault.
King Cadaver has spotted Taku as the officer in charge and now uses his super-powers to invade Taku’s mind. He is starting to reduce Taku to a human husk or shell, kept animated only by King Cadaver himself.
From out of nowhere, Venomm appears, lassoing King Cadaver with one of his whips, breaking the King’s concentration and freeing Taku from his mental grip. Before Cadaver can turn his powers on Venomm, the disfigured man uses his whip to toss King Cadaver in front of an approaching brontosaur.
The brontosaur squashes King Cadaver to death and Taku expresses gratitude to the defecting Venomm for honoring their bond of friendship even in the heat of this battle. Venomm acknowledges that the battle may be going against Killmonger’s forces which are attacking the hospitals but the only way to really end the war is if its raison d’etre – Erik himself – is defeated.
Malice bursts out of the surrounding chaos, telling Venomm she’s going to tear him apart for killing King Cadaver and betraying Killmonger’s revolution. Monica Lynne catches Malice by surprise, however, and bludgeons her into unconsciousness.
With all side issues now tucked away, we switch to the Main Event. At Warrior Falls, the Black Panther attacks Killmonger and the two engage in their third and lengthiest battle of the Panther’s Rage saga. Kantu, unnoticed by either of them, draws closer as the two men clash.
The dialogue between T’Challa and Killmonger as they fight rehashes some of the territory that the subtext handled in previous installments: It’s the old story of one figure – in this case Killmonger – SEEMING to be superior because they behave like they’re above introspection and allow no trace of doubt or fear to slow them down.
Meanwhile, the many, many doubts and pains and fears that T’Challa has had to face and overcome has made him the more enlightened man, and therefore the better figure to rule the nation of Wakanda.
The Black Panther acknowledges to Erik how the latter had him starting at shadows for most of the war, holding the upper hand and setting the agenda while T’Challa came to grips with issues that could not be dealt with through violence … The violence which is all Killmonger has left remaining to him; the violence which represents the sole arena in which his callousness and savagery give him the advantage over our hero .
Erik proceeds to demonstrate that, despite any truth to what T’Challa is saying, one violent assassin can kill a score of statesmen, nullifying their life’s work. In terms of brute force the Black Panther still cannot overcome Killmonger, who – despite the longer struggle – once again overpowers T’Challa and announces he is about to break his spine.
Though this tableau would seem to invalidate every point the Black Panther just made in his rhetorical exchange with Killmonger, the author Don McGregor is merely setting us up for the thematic punchline:
So T’Challa can’t best Killmonger in terms of physical strength or fighting prowess … So what? To use a grandly inappropriate comparison, would it have made Abraham Lincoln wrong if Jefferson Davis could beat Lincoln in a fistfight? Or would it have made Franklin Roosevelt wrong if Adolf Hitler could just overturn Roosevelt’s wheelchair and kick the life out of him?
Back in Serpent Valley in part Nine I pointed out the metaphorical setup for this moment. Killmonger would not even let Tayette spend the brief moment it would have taken to save the life of a bird jeopardized by their military campaign. As Killmonger pithily stated “If we were to waste time helping every weaker creature we encountered on our path to greatness we would never reach our destination.”
Erik has lived that philosophy. For him the leadership of a nation is nothing but someone like him riding herd on “weaker creatures” who are mostly beneath his notice. In contrast T’Challa has learned that the leadership of a nation is all about looking after the people that one governs.
In our previous chapter the Black Panther faced a similar situation to the “bird in the mire” bit in Serpent Valley. He could either keep to his “path of greatness” as Erik would put it and completely ignore the suffering of Kantu last time around, or he could lose precious time – and as it turned out, nearly lose his life – by pausing to ease the boy’s suffering.
In other words by treating Kantu as a fully realized person whose concerns are just as valid as those of his political superiors. NOT by dismissing Kantu as “a weaker creature” not worth pausing for.
And so here we are at the climactic moment of Panther’s Rage. With Kantu representing “the people” it’s clear which of our two combatants deserves and has earned the regard of those who are to be governed. And with Kantu likewise representing the much younger, unenlightened T’Challa driven by anger over the slaying of his father it’s clear what action needs taken. (“It will give our battle a sense of symmetry!” But not in the way Erik intended.)
Kantu – whom Killmonger would ignore with a sneer of contempt but whom T’Challa would try to console by drying his tears – lets loose with a primal scream and charges forward. With Killmonger momentarily distracted by the unexpected sound (and in an awkward position as he holds the struggling Black Panther up over his head), Kantu throws himself at the villain, knocking him over the ledge to die (well, at least for a few decades).
Having avenged himself on his father’s killer, just like T’Challa did at Kantu’s age so many years ago, Kantu next proceeds to help our hero, who agilely twisted in mid-air and managed to hold on by his fingertips to avoid joining Killmonger in falling to certain doom.
T’Challa clambers back up, reflecting on the raw symbolism of all that just occurred. He and Kantu head back to Wakanda, where Erik’s now leaderless troops have lost the war.
Okay, I know a lot of people may feel that Kantu being the cause of Killmonger’s defeat is anticlimactic, but I like it from a storytelling angle for all of the reasons I laid out above.
I repeat: so T’Challa couldn’t beat the physically stronger Killmonger in a one on one battle. Big deal, especially in light of the larger issues that have been at play in Panther’s Rage. This is the type of thinking outside the box for a superhero story that has made Alan Moore one of the most overrated and overpraised comic book figures of all time, yet Don McGregor presented it in 1975.
And not only did Panther’s Rage come long before The Watchmen or V For Vendetta or a lot of Moore’s other works, but I would certainly put its unconventional ending above a squid-gina (The Watchmen) and at least on the same level with the notion that we ALL must be prepared to embody the spirit of rebellion (V For Vendetta).
Lastly, Killmonger’s death at the hands of what he would most certainly dismiss as “a mere child” robbed him of any martyrdom. As we’ll see next time around it’s the devotion of a lover, NOT the fanatical zeal of acolytes and imitators, which unleashes the final acts of violence in the name of Erik Killmonger.
At any rate, the 13th, Epilogue chapter will wrap up any loose ends, including what to do with the inevitable acts of reprisal following the fall of a monumental revolutionary leader.
SCRIPT DOCTORING: I would have written the ending in such a way that, given Wakanda’s advanced technology, Taku had made it so that T’Challa’s battle with Killmonger at Warrior Falls was being viewed live by the warring forces in Wakanda City. He IS the Communications Technology Chief so have him tap into a satellite or something so that the Panther vs Erik is figuratively playing on a jumbotron in the background of the street to street fighting in the capital city.
Having Erik’s troops see their revered, nearly superhuman leader die at the hands of a little kid would have given readers/ viewers a much more immediate sense of climax, as Killmonger’s demoralized army abandoned hope and surrendered all at once. +++
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR PART THIRTEEN. SAME PANTHER-TIME, SAME PANTHER-CHANNEL.
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