The Black Panther from his first and only appearance.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Centaur Publications
First Appeared: 1941
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Comic book fans all know who The Black Panther is. He's that guy in Marvel Comics who wears black over every square inch of his body, and is even black underneath the costume — in fact, predating Black Lightning, Luke Cage and all the rest, he was the first black superhero ever done by a major publisher. But this isn't about him. It's about the first character to use "Black …

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… Panther" as a superhero name, who anticipated the Marvel guy by no less than a quarter of a century.

Not that there's much about him to write up. He was introduced in Stars & Stripes Comics #3 (July, 1941), which was put out by Centaur Publications, whose other characters include The Clock and The Fantom of the Fair. Amazing-Man was featured on that issue's cover — the series did sport a trio of characters called "Stars & Stripes", but like the title characters of Silver Streak Comics and Target Comics, they came along later.

The Panther's story in that issue didn't contain an origin, just a run-in with a spy, which managed to cram a secret cave, a creepy old castle, a slightly mad scientist, a not-so-bright but amazingly strong stooge, and quicksand into a mere seven pages. Thus, readers didn't learn why the character had chosen to battle evil in a silly costume, why he chose that particular theme for it, or why he included a long tail as part of it for the convenience of any villain who might want something to grab. Readers didn't even get to see the face under the mask or learn his non-superhero name.

What's more, they never did. That single story in Stars & Stripes Comics #3 contained The Black Panther's entire superhero career — he was never seen again. Even when, in the early 1990s, Malibu Comics, one of several related minor publishers, made a brief, unauthorized revival of Centaur characters such as The Masked Marvel and The Eye, The Black Panther was nowhere to be found.

That was probably because Marvel had since staked out the name for itself. And that coincidence of names is, ironically, the only thing that makes the original Black Panther stand out from the vast crowd of undistinguished 1940s superheroes.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Centaur Publications.