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Comic Legends Addendum: Before He Was Black Panther…

This week’s Comic Book Legends Revealed is about how Jack Kirby originally had Black Panther’s face visible in his costume, but in post-production, the mask covered up his entire face (the way it remains to this day).

Well, some folks were interested in learning about Jack Kirby’s original plans for the Black Panther, so here ya go, Black Panther’s original drawing for the Black Panther when he was going to be called…the Coal Tiger!

I originally was going to use a pin-up of the costume from an old issue of Jungle Action, but then Jeremy Kirby was kind enough to send me a picture of the ORIGINAL drawing, and that’s always going to be cooler than a reprint! So that’s what I went with above.

In addition, during the early 1990s, Bob Harras was doing a storyline during his run on the Avengers (along with art team Steve Epting and Tom Palmer) where he would feature alternate reality versions of different Marvel heroes.

Here is the Black Panther alternate – note the name…

Pretty cool, huh?

Thanks so much to Jeremy for the drawing!!

59 Comments

Michael Mayket

April 16, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Everything that just happened in this post was awesome!

O. My. God. That might just be the worst costume design that Kirby ever concocted. Seeing it, I tend to believe that Stan Lee’s choice of the full face mask version was largely a matter of aesthetics, not racial politics.

O. My. God. That might just be the worst costume design that Kirby ever concocted. Seeing it, I tend to believe that Stan Lee’s choice of the full face mask version was largely a matter of aesthetics, not racial politics.

Kirby had gone to the now-traditional Panther garb by the time the issue was drawn, just with a half-mask not a full-one.

Sorry, Brian, poor phrasing on my part. What I should have said is that the Black Panther costume design changes reflect, to my eye, a progressive growth in aesthetic merit. The Coal Tiger design is hideous, a ludicrous hodgepodge of disparate elements. The half-mask replacement design was, of course, a tremendous improvement (Did the redesign and name change occur at the same time?), but the full-face mask version is clearly superior to the half-mask design. Hence, I tend to think that Stan Lee was chiefly interested in selecting the best costume for the character and not in racial politics.

One of the highlights of my Fridays is to check out the latest update to Comic Book Legends Revealed. This is the coolest website, and the info in it comes up my conversations on a weekly basis. Keep up the great work.

Sorry, Brian, poor phrasing on my part. What I should have said is that the Black Panther costume design changes reflect, to my eye, a progressive growth in aesthetic merit. The Coal Tiger design is hideous, a ludicrous hodgepodge of disparate elements. The half-mask replacement design was, of course, a tremendous improvement (Did the redesign and name change occur at the same time?), but the full-face mask version is clearly superior to the half-mask design. Hence, I tend to think that Stan Lee was chiefly interested in selecting the best costume for the character and not in racial politics.

Gotcha.

Yeah, I could certainly see that as a possibility.

One of the highlights of my Fridays is to check out the latest update to Comic Book Legends Revealed. This is the coolest website, and the info in it comes up my conversations on a weekly basis. Keep up the great work.

Thanks, Allen!

It’s interesting how much of that Coal Tiger costume made it into the design you see on the FF #52 cover.

They just colored the entire costume blue/black and gave him a mask. Otherwise, it’s basically the same costume.

The name Coal Tiger sounds a bit weak, though. I think Black Panther is a better choice. (Obviously it was cool enough to be adopted by political movements at least twice.) That’s how collaborations work best– when each partner takes the other’s ideas and suggests improvements, but doesn’t try to change everything solely for the sake of employing his own ideas.

The Panther did use the “half mask” in his first few issues as a member of the Avengers before going back to the full mask forevermore.

Didn’t the Black Panther change his name for a brief period?

But for a while in the late ’60s, he was just called The Panther (half-mask in ’68), and in a ’72 ish of Fantastic Four (119) he calls himself the Black Leopard and explains to The Thing that he didn’t want to be mistaken for or be seen to endorse groups with their own political agenda, meaning of course the actual Black Panther Party. A minor point, he says, since a panther is a leopard, but it looks like Marvel was trying to distance themselves from real-world politics.

And I think this is probably the SECOND worst Kirby costume design I’ve seen (I’m not counting the awful 90′s Topps KirbyChrome characters — Brand Ecch indeed). The single worst Kirby hero costume was the New Gods’ original Black Racer costume (red blue and yellow), who’s also a black man (and on.. skis?) but for no apparent reason. No, wait, I just remembered the Infinity Man from Forever People, that may be a toss-up… Is there any evidence that Kirby was actually colorblind? Some of his mythological color paintings from the 80s are filled with similar clashing colors and it just makes me wonder.. Make no mistake, I’m a big Kirby fan, but sometimes costume colors were worked out by the colorists, right?

You know, I always wondered why Black Panther had stripes on his gloves and boots. I always thought it looked like he was wearing corduroy. But seeing this early drawing helps shed some light on it. It looks as though they were orginally tiger strips, and the boots and gloves were simply colored over when the costume was changed.

Tigers don’t even live in Africa.

The original yellow Daredevil costume was pretty harsh on the eyes too.

Is it just me, or does Coal Tiger’s face look a bit like President Obama?

Black Panther’s original drawing for the Black Panther when he was going to be called…the Coal Tiger!

Wow. BP drew his own costume and called himself CT!

@ Jake: Well, it’s probably escaped from the zoo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLdk2C25Z14

Reginald Hudlin

April 17, 2010 at 8:14 am

The Black Panther and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense debuted the same year.

There was, however, an all black tank battalion called the Black Panthers during World War 2. This could be a possible inspiration for both.

Or simply a case of great minds (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in New York and Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in Oakland) thinking alike.

You have it wrong, Dean.

President Obama’s face looks a bit like Coal Tiger. hehe

Tigers live in Detroit.

He looks like Barack Obama!

I’m dead serious, Kirby was a fucking prophet.

I rather like the design myself, although the name is a bit puzzling.

Then again, Kirby visual designs failed as often as they did not. His Fourth World conceptions are particularly puzzling (original Orion is just weird).

DetectiveDupin

April 17, 2010 at 9:24 am

Hey he does look like Obama,,,, Still a horrible costume though.

LOL, it’s like the Zur En Arrh version of Black Panther’s outfit.

It’s interesting to see how many elements of this costume -including the Captain Marvel cape- made it into Black Panther’s design. It’s also interesting to see how much more successful the pieces are in BP’s outfit because, man oh man, those little yellow booties are ugly.

but the full-face mask version is clearly superior to the half-mask design

I don’t know, I think we’re just used to the full-face version so it SEEMS clearly superior to the half-mask version. If we grew up with the half-mask version and suddenly saw the full-mask version we might say the opposite. Look at Batman for example. If he ever switched to full-face mask I’m sure people would hate it and say the half-mask was clearly superior.

Thanks for this! It’s always nice to come across something crazy like this; being a fan for so long I sometimes think I’ve seen it all. Good to know that’s hardly the case!

The costume isn’t as bad as some people have made it out to be…lots of potential there. Whoever colored the newer version made it worse by adding more red, which contrasts horribly.

T: “I think that we’re just used to the full-face version, so it seems clearly superior to the half-mask version. If we grew up with the half-mask version and suddenly saw the full-masked version we might say the opposite.”

The familiarity/first exposure argument is a strong one, T. A lot of people are irrationally devoted to their first exposure to a given character. However, my first exposure to the Black Panther came from seeing the character’s initial appearances in the AVENGERS (said exposure coming from access to my uncle’s comic book collection), where he was depicted with the half-mask. I clearly recall thinking that the later, full-face mask was a tremendous improvement when I first saw it. Sometimes aesthetics will trump initial exposure.

Am I the only one who thinks that Kirby’s original Coal Tiger had hooves instead of feet? As I look at the picture, I can’t see anything that defines his feet as normal feet. Either the Tiger was standing en pointe like a ballerina or had hooves (either way, one can almost imagine how a young Rob Liefeld came across this particular picture and decided, “if Kirby doesn’t have to draw feet, neither do I”).

When I first saw the design in the back of Jungle Action years ago, I was puzzled…
Don’t a tiger’s stripes run horizontally across it’s body, not vertically? ;-)
And “Coal Tiger” was a pretty bad name, even though Marvel ended up giving it to a character in A-Next…

Has that Coal Tiger Drawing ever been published before? This is the first time I’ve seen it. Pretty amazing. Thanks, Jeremy.

“Am I the only one who thinks that Kirby’s original Coal Tiger had hooves instead of feet? As I look at the picture, I can’t see anything that defines his feet as normal feet. Either the Tiger was standing en pointe like a ballerina or had hooves”

Or perhaps the yellow booties have high heels? :p

"O" the Humanatee!

April 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I remember seeing that costume and the name in Jungle Action and thinking, “No way!” I could swear that I read somewhere that some aspect of that Kirby drawing was a hoax. Not that the entire thing is a hoax – and the drawing is certainly Kirby’s – but either that the drawing is not the original design of “Coal Tiger” or that Coal Tiger was not the name given to the character.

However, I haven’t found anything on-line to confirm my recollection, so it may be wrong.

Funny to see Dwayne McDuffie use the same basic trick, having the Black Bomber (the concept Tony Isabella talked DC out of using which resulted in his creation of the Black Lightning) appear in Justice League of America a year or so ago.

Has that Coal Tiger Drawing ever been published before?

Yep, in a pin-up in Jungle Action #10.

Oh… wow. I love Jack Kirby… but that’s awful. Yeah, as was pointed in Reginald Hudlin’s new mini of Captain America & Black Panther, tigers don’t even live in Africa.

I’ll also say it’s funny that the old sketch does kinda look like Obama, maybe a bit beefed up version. And just like Coal Tiger, Obama was born in Africa! Kirby knew the birthers were right!! ZOMG! (-nudge nudge- -wink wink- I kid! I kid!)

interesting how Jack original look for the black panther showed him more like a regal though some what does not really stand out . plus unmasked and called coal tiger. which has got to be one of the lamest names Stan lee came up with for a character. glad the look changed to what black panther is today. including the mask

Reginald Hudlin

April 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm

When I first read the comment about him looking like Obama, I rolled my eyes. I”d seen that Coal Tiger sketch many times before, and….Oh my….looking at it now, he does kinda looked like an Obama on the ‘roids!

This is just awesome. Barack Obama in a corduroy Black Panther costume.

Seriously, it’s the civil rights movement in a nutshell.

I vote for this to be Luke Cage’s costume.

…This fits in quite well with how Kirby designed characters: he loved to use a lot of primary colors that would produce a lot of flash-n-dash if they were actually seen in motion, and draw attention to the character. That being said, considering the style(s) that the name “Black Panther” invokes even 45 years after the character was created, going with an all-black “stealth” motif worked out a hell of a lot better than the “Tribal” one, even with a Kirby Krackle to it.

And on a side note, it’s always good to see Jack’s work using other media than the standard Bristol-n-pencil. His watercolors were always magnificent!

“This is just awesome. Barack Obama in a corduroy Black Panther costume. “

…Considering what that treasonous bastard did to NASA, painting a target on his back over his yellow streak would be more apropos.

[/venting]

My mind is blown. I honestly thought this was a late April Fool.

Of course the costume and the name are terrible. I’m disappointed that the Black Panther name had no direct connection to the Black Panther movement. I always thought it was a comment on the era but putting it in a more positive spin.The entire history of Wakanda is in many ways a fantasy fulfillment of the Panther movements stated goals.That is of course before they degenerated into a drug running mob and halfassed crime syndicate.Ganky’s explanation quoting the exchange between the Black Leopard and the Thing I find very sad.The fact that Marvel may have been trying to distance themselves from real world politics brings the whole Marvel team at that time down several notches in my estimation.The whole point to pulp fiction is to be sensational and outrageous.They should have been exploiting the possible connections not denying them.Instead of being an important breakthrough this reduces T’challa to Uncle Tom status.

Wow – that’s an awesome bit of forgotten comic history. Thanks for sharing!

I love kirby’s work, but I’m happy with how Black Panther’s costume turned out.

Alton: I wouldn’t be too hard on Marvel about trying to distance themselves from real-world politics a bit in the 60′s, as calling things out too clearly risks alienating a lot of readers. they had to walk a rather fine line with Captain America too. It’s hard to represent a whole country when a lot of people thought the country was ripping itself apart and some people were saying “right on, man”. I don’t read Cap monthly anymore, but think of the potential sales loss if editors today declared whether Cap, Superman or Batman was a Democrat or Republican. It was a lot easier in the 40′s when we could all be against the Axis no matter what our differences were. The Black Panther Party is well-remembered by history today, but at the time there was more public threat attached to them, and other groups like the Weather Underground “Weathermen” and the SLA from the Patty Hearst thing. Cap and the Panther are both idealistic symbols of the best in all of us, linking them to a narrow party or cause (even if well-regarded today) can cause division among the audience and lost sales opportunities.

Many people have brought up the absence of tigers in Africa. I was going to mention that there are no black panthers either, only spotted leopards. But then I thought I better look it up to be certain. According to Wikipedia, black leopards have appeared, very rarely, in Ethiopia, and there are unconfirmed reports from Cameroon, as well. So I guess the books I read when I was young were incorrect. Maybe their extreme rarity in Africa is the reason for their sacred status in Wakanda. (I still haven’t figured out for certain where Wakanda is. Different stories seem to point to West, East, or Southern Africa.)

Now, as for Man-Ape’s Sacred White Gorilla pelt– as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the only all-white gorilla on record was found in Rio Muni (modern Equatorial Guinea), and then placed in a zoo in Barcelona. As Equatorial Guinea borders Cameroon, I suppose Wakanda is probably in that area, which means they probably have some significant oil reserves. They should begin exploratory drilling.

Posted a variation of this in the other thread, but figure it bears recapping here since I see some people wondering what’s up with the Coal Tiger name:

“Coal tiger” was a term used in newspapers of the 1960s to refer to up-and-coming African nations rich in natural resources such as coal; it was not meant as a derogatory or pejorative term, but rather in the way that the tiger has been used for a long time to describe an agile, vital, powerful entity that has to be reckoned with (ie; “ride the tiger”), much as we today that we view China as an economic force to be reckoned with.

At the time, when many African nations had relatively recently emerged from colonial rule, the West viewed them with a mixture of nervousness (“They have all these vast resources– will they side with us, or the Soviets?”) and envy (“I hope they’re willing to do business with us!”). For example, a 1968 Business Week headline read “Putting a coal tiger in your tank”, a pun on Exxon’s long-standing slogan, as well as a reference to oil being one of the desirable natural resources those emerging African nations possessed.

This is where Kirby came up with the original name for the character who would become the Black Panther. It’s also likely why Wakanda is portrayed as an emerging power on the world stage, with a highly desirable natural resource (Vibranium).” It was definitely believed back then to be a possibility that with their vast resources, African nations would soon come to rival the West in development and technology (and they may well have, if not for the vagaries of Cold War politics). Hence, the Fantastic Four discovering to their surprise that Wakanda was replete with super-technology and far more advanced than they could have imagined. This is another example of the Lee/Kirby team being very topical and on-target with political commentary compared to other comics of their time.

Someone should show this to President Obama. I know he was a fan of comic books, particularly Conan.

"O" the Humanatee!

April 18, 2010 at 8:55 pm

@Matt Adler:

That’s really fascinating, and would make sense of the connection between T’Challa, Wakanda, and vibranium. But I note that your quote from Business Week is from 1968, whereas the Panther debuted in the July 1966 issue of Fantastic Four, and would have to have been in the works several months before that at least. I’ve done an admittedly cursory search on-line for other citations of the phrase “coal tiger” and haven’t found any. Do you have any from before the Panther’s debut?

I’d have to do a Lexis-Nexis search, which I don’t have access to at the moment. I believe it was either Kurt Busiek or Tom Brevoort who I first heard the origins of the name Coal Tiger from, so they might know of older articles.

"O" the Humanatee!

April 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm

@Matt Adler:

I tried a search on LexisNexis Academic for “coal tiger” and found nothing – not even for Businessweek (or Business Week). Searching Google for the phrase “coal tiger in your tank” turns up your two CSBG entries and a single Business Week citation in a publication of the Illinois State Geological Survey (http://library.isgs.uiuc.edu/Pubs/pdfs/egs/eg064.pdf). Googling for ‘ “coal tiger” -”black panther” -avengers -”marvel comics” ‘ turns up a blog with a confusingly written (or translated) piece that appears to be about recent issues relating to power generation in China (http://aziroet.com/debiao770/2010/04/06/aion-power-leveling/).

Now I’m getting curiouser and curiouser! But I don’t think I’ve used LexisNexis before, and I may have done something wrong. I sure tried a lot of variations, though.

I wonder if the term Coal Tiger (probably invented by newspaper publishers) might be related to “Paper Tiger”, meaning a country or person that likes to seem threatening but doesn’t have any real power. If Paper Tiger was already a well-known phrase, Coal Tiger might have been a variation on that though the meaning is quite different. Like how newspapers always put “-Gate” at the end of something politically scandalous to harken back to the associations of the Watergate scandal.

[...] Before he was the Black Panther, T’Challa was originally going to be called the Coal Tiger, complete with different costume. This is a picture of the original drawing. (Click on it to magnify the image.) Ultimately they chose to cover his face and, well, the rest is known history. A Coal Tiger did show up again as an alternate version of the Black Panther in Avengers vol 1 #355 as a member of the Gatherers, a group of former Avengers from different universes. You can find out more here. [...]

Late to the party, but this link to Exxon Mobil’s “Our History” puts the “Tiger in your Tank” advertising campaign at 1959.

http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/history/about_who_history_alt.aspx

And there’s also a connection to Muddy Waters who performed his song Tiger in your Tank at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960.

I can’t believe that Stan and Jack were actually thinking of naming a black hero “The Black Panther” at the same time there was a militant black movement of the same name. Just as surprising, that they might consider “The coal Tiger without doing some market research, or at least ASKING someone who was black what they thought about it. (Maybe they did?!)

Kirk: The Black Panther Party was founded a few months after Black Panther debuted in the comics, so Stan and Jack couldn’t have known about that.

[...] Black Panther is a fictional character in the Marvel Comics universe. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966). He is the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, and his debut was soon followed by other Black mainstream superheroes including Marvel’s Falcon (1969) and Luke Cage (1972) and DC Comics‘ Tyroc (1976), Black Lightning (1977) and John Stewart (1971). First appearing in July 1966, the character just barely predates The Black Panther party, which was founded in October 1996. Original designs, however, had the character named “Coal Tiger” and donning a very different costume. [...]

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