Friday, June 24, 2005

Black Panther: Family Ties

One of the most powerful moments in Batman Begins was the murder of the Waynes. After two shots, young Bruce is left standing over his parents' bodies in an otherwise empty alleyway. Nolan captured the atmosphere and pain of the scene perfectly, closing with the suddenly-orphaned Bruce standing alone, no police or passersby spontaneously rushing to his side. His loneliness is palpable, and I actually teared up a bit.

Being an orphan is one thing that T'Challa has long shared with Bruce. He's always been the only son of King T'Chaka and Queen N'Yami, but his family was torn apart very early on. N'Yami died while T'Challa was still very young, possibly in childbirth. T'Chaka remarried a South African woman named Ramonda some time later, and she became the only woman T'Challa would ever call "mother." But even that wouldn't last, as Ramonda was kidnapped when T'Challa was about eight, and she was held captive for years thereafter.

Thus, when Klaw came to Wakanda, T'Chaka was the only family that T'Challa had left. As such, T'Challa idolized his father ("To me, he was more than father - more than warrior - to me, he was like a god!"), T'Chaka looked upon his son as the most important person in his life, and their relationship was all that a father and son could hope for. But Klaw ended all of that, and took the life of the single most important person in T'Challa's life. T'Challa was left on that battlefield not only a newly arisen king of Wakanda, but also as an orphan. By the age of 13, he had lost every loved one in his life, and was left alone to rule over a nation.

Presumably, Hudlin didn't like this dynamic, jettisoning T'Challa's orphan status and reforming his family. N'Yami no longer died when T'Challa was young, but was instead present at her husband's murder, and is still alive during the current 'Year One' arc. Plus, she was pregnant at the time, and subsequently gave birth to T'Challa's younger sister, Shuri. Ramonda, presumably, has been completely retconned away. Hudlin also gave T'Challa a younger brother, who was killed by Klaw during T'Chaka's assassination.

So all of the drama of being orphaned and alone is gone. Instead, T'Challa has a mother to go home to. There's a world a difference between losing one parent and losing one's only parent, between losing a loved one and losing everyone one loves. Imagine the scene from Batman Begins, but with Bruce having an older brother to turn to. It's not nearly as powerful. (And the Silver Age tried messing with that, creating a brother in Thomas Wayne Jr.; is it any surprise he was promptly forgotten and never mentioned again?)

(It's worth mentioning Priest's addition of Hunter, T'Challa's adopted step-brother. I liked him, but he doesn't really function as a brother in this context. Given the twelve-year age difference, their relationship is closer to uncle-nephew than that of brothers, and T'Challa has long had extended family members. Plus, their relationship is not at all a close or loving one, as exhibited by T'Challa's prompt disbanding of Hunter's secret police upon becoming king and Hunter leaving Wakanda for foreign work.)

When I've argued this elsewhere, some have said that T'Challa still suffered a great loss. I don't dispute that; losing a father is never easy. But what Hudlin's done with the family has changed what the effect of that loss will be on T'Challa, and it changes the drama and symbolism of the event for the reader. And I cannot see how the change is an improvement over the original.

Consider the murdered brother in isolation. Being dead, he doesn't particularly affect T'Challa's life after the assassination. But does he really add anything? Is T'Challa's origin actually improved by having him lose a father AND a brother? Particularly a brother who I'm not sure is even named? Furthermore, the addition of a sibling interrupts the singular father-son bond between T'Chaka and T'Challa, of icon and heir. At worst, the brother lessens the uniqueness of T'Challa; at best, he's merely a superfluous and unnecessary character.

Like Batman, I view the Black Panther as someone who was greatly affected by the loss of his only family. Once orphaned, both turned inwards, seeking to steel their hearts and better themselves, so as to improve their respective communities. Both overcame their losses and made themselves into pinnacles of what man can achieve. But both still dwell on those fateful days, and their struggles to make themselves self-sufficient has left them both unable to relate to others normally.

But that's not true of Hudlin's Panther. He lost half his family, but he still had the other half to rely on. His loss is still significant, but not nearly as great as before. And as a result, the story is simply less powerful.


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At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously you have no idea what you're talking about, N'Yami is dead, the pregnant woman you saw is Ramonda. The woman king T'Chaka married after T'Challa's mother died. She is Shuri's mother, she was pregnant with Shuri when T'Chaka was murdered. The family T'Challa now has is Raamonda his stepmother and his half sister Shuri. As for king T'Challa's younger brother that is Hudlin's take on it, deal with it ! Here you are spreading lies and false information, get your facts straight T'Challa is an orphan, both his biological parents are dead.


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