Wakanda Forever! The Best of Black Panther in Animation
By Dave Newman on 5th September 2020
The great actor Chadwick Boseman died last week, and it’s going to be a tremendous struggle to find a man as good as him to play Black Panther, which really was one of the best Marvel movies ever produced. With the character in mind, I thought I’d have a look at some of the appearances of Black Panther in animation building up to his explosion on film.
Fantastic Four – Prey of the Black Panther
From the semi-rebooted second season of Fantastic Four, with an amended production staff and a shift to targeting an older audience with a more dramatic and mature ongoing storyline. A giant red ape haunts the jungle, prompting T’Challa to don the outfit of the Black Panther, drawing the FF to Wakanda by subterfuge and manipulation.
Animation is pretty crappy for the time, not a real improvement from the kiddyish first season, with the main effort being making the blue costumes black with a tint of blue. It’s not helped by the OTT music either. The actors are fine, although Chuck McCann’s performance is especially campy, which considering he was excellent as disgruntled marine Leatherneck in G.I. Joe is quite disappointing. The best voice actor in the show is Keith David, playing Black Panther, who was wowing as the voice of Goliath on Disney’s Gargoyles at the time.
Fucked up plot, which Susan Storm calls out – why not just ask for help, rather than tricking the Four into helping him when they would’ve readily? Whiffs of killing time. Speaking of killing, someone close to T’Challa bites the bullet to justify the aiming towards the older audience as well as Klaw taking a shot to the hand as part of his origin. Batman cape for Black Panther in this show, which pales in comparison to the more straightforward leather catsuit (no pun intended). Not a great episode, they tried too much for a bit of this, a bit of that, and a bit of the other, rather than focusing on one thing and seeing it through.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures – Panther’s Prey
They like these title variations on ‘prey’, don’t they? The conceit here is Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and Rhodey as teenagers. Iron Man meets Black Panther as they both pursue the same target, Moses Magnum. This is pretty much a forgotten show, but I do dig the theme tune, even if the animation on the CGI characters is a little unnatural at times. Adrian Petriw makes a great young Iron Man, not trying to be Robert Downey Jr. as the film was in production around the same time as this show. He has a role in Netflix’s The Dragon Prince show, which is from some of the guys that gave us Avatar: The Last Airbender, but sadly it’s not half as good.
AIM are in this episode as the baddies, and the Scientist Supreme gets a great bit in it by throwing a chair across a room and destroying furniture before calmly asking “Could you repeat that, please?” as his underlings shudder and try to avoid his attention. Iron Man’s reference to them as “the beekeepers” based on their costumes amused me. Black Panther has the more streamlined look with black bodysuit and gold adornments and an accent that veers closer to English than African at times, but does pull off the lines well about knowing now who Iron Man is and has a fraught relationship with him, more from his side than Tony’s.
I probably will have to revisit this show as this episode, while not amazing, was a lot better than I remembered the series being. Pepper is a bit annoying with her excitable nature, but Tony’s great, and as a show overall it veers closer to DC’s Beware the Batman than I’d recalled.
The Super Hero Squad Show – Tremble at the Might of… M.O.D.O.K.!
A very different show now, much more for kids, based on the small, super-deformed toys, so comedy is the order of the day. I did watch this show for a bit and always enjoyed the episode where Paste Pot Pete got the piss taken out of him for his lame name by MODOK and the Abomination. Again, really fun theme tune for the show (I’ll collect the openings at the bottom). MODOK has a plan to use an Infinity fractal to make himself more powerful, which happens through just getting lodged in his head by accident at the start of the episode. So, his boss Doctor Doom becomes his underling for a bit and Loki turns up to be his BFF (best fiend forever) and mess stuff up for shits and giggles.
You can see the end of the episode coming a mile off, with Doom regaining his position after having a nightmare about being put into a MODOK sandwich (not as kinky as it sounds). Black Panther shows up very late in the episode to help out, with Storm of the X-Men presented as his girlfriend. Not a lot said by him, because he’s played by Taye Diggs and I imagine they were having to pay him mega bucks by the minute for coming in. I know him first from the cult classic Go, and he also had a fantastic death scene in Equilibrium with Christian Bale. BP is there pretty much for his fighting skills. The episode overall is alright, with amusing bickering between the villains, but nothing incredibly noteworthy.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – The Man in the Ant Hill
Finishing off with possibly the best show that Marvel ever produced, never matched again by the subsequent Avengers Assemble or any of the shows Marvel produced after taking more in-house. Broken record time, even though the last two shows had great theme tunes, this has THE BEST theme tune! My recollection is that the show was previewed with some shorts before it launched properly, and this is a collection of some of them. The premise is that all of the supervillains have escaped prison and the Avengers have to recapture them. The show excelled on account of brilliannt characterisation, awesome ongoing plots and complexity in the writing.
First up, Dr. Henry Pym examines a sample of vibranium from Wakanda to create a link to Black Panther immediately. Mercenaries led by Klaw (played by Mark Hamill here) come to steal it but don’t realised they’re face with Ant-Man, who gets to dispatch them at micro-size. Amazing attention to detail as they hunt him but can’t see him. I also like little things like Klaw having a mole underneath his lip, which is the sort of thing lots of shows wouldn’t bother with. And it becomes a little macabre, with a shrunken hunter being seemingly eaten by an ant, with crunching noises implying what’s happening off-screen!
Then, Janet van Dyne, business manager and partner for Pym, has an adventure of her own, chasing down Whirlwind as the Wasp. Although a lot of characters their look updated and drastically changed, I like that he still has the green, horned helmet and buzzsaws on his arms. In the background, Janet and Hank get to discuss their concerns for one another in an amusing way as Whirlwind gets increasingly frustrated. A parked up cab driver also gives us some Easter eggs to observe as we see allusions to the Punisher and Man-Thing on the front of the newspaper he’s reading. Whirlwind is sent to the Big House, where Arnim Zola plays Pong and Grey Gargoyle drinks tea in his cell and the Mad Thinker plans their overall escape.
The episode ends back in Wakanda with T’Chaka challenged by Man-Ape to battle. Klaw returns and influences the result from the sideline, leading to T’Chaka’s fatal defeat. Incidental music is mostly omitted and certainly muted from the fight, allowing the sound of the rain to be heard. This sets up T’Challa’s character arc in the series. Man-Ape had a very different role in the Black Panther movie, but here he’s a brutal villain.
Conclusion: No real conclusion, I just thought it would be nice to look at Black Panther before Chadwick Boseman made the role his. He was an awesome superhero in a fantastic movie, and it’s very sad that he’s gone. Death is never pleasant, but it’s much worse when someone still young is taken away.
Here are the intros for the shows I’ve looked at today.