“The duo made their way to the edge of the jutting rock where the thundering waterfalls rushed and filled the air with an all-encompassing song. Killmonger’s vibranium scimitar slashed the thigh of T’Challa, but the attack left Killmonger’s defenses open, and the Black Panther smashed his elbow against Killmonger’s rock-like jaw.”
Violent brawls, sword fights, death-defying acrobatics. Such physical action is the battered, clubbed bread and butter of comic books and action movies – visual media that delight fans with graphic depictions of colorfully costumed heroes and villains in stylized, dramatic confrontations that are rendered in pen and ink or photography and effects rather than words.
Translating the flamboyant immediacy of comic book storytelling into the format of literature – pages without pictures! — was one of the challenges Memphis author Sheree Renée Thomas faced on “Black Panther: Panther’s Rage,” a 325-page hardcover novel arriving Oct. 11 from Titan Books and Penguin Random House.
Thomas and his editors hope the timing is right. Billed by Titan as “A Novel in the Marvel Universe,” “Panther’s Rage” hits bookstores exactly one month before the opening date of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,“the highly anticipated and likely hit sequel to 2018’s ‘Black Panther,’ which grossed $1.3 billion at the global box office and ranked No. 6 on the all-time grossing list for movies in theaters in North America.
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“There’s a lot of action in the book, with Black Panther fighting for the survival of his kingdom and his people,” said Thomas, 50. “But there’s also an inner, psychological journey. He’s still mourning his father’s murder. There’s a lot of death in there.”
But, don’t despair. “There’s also a lot of humor in it,” Thomas said. “And a lot of world-building, which as a sci-fi person I really like.”
The ‘Panther’s Rage’ book tour begins Tuesday, with a 6 p.m. meeting the author at a Novel dedication event at 387 Perkins Ext. For Thomas, the gathering will be another exclamation point in a year that began with the January release of the New York Times bestseller “The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer,” a collection in which Thomas and other writers have collaborated with singer-actress Janelle Monáe on sci-fi tales inspired by Monáe’s 2018 album, “Dirty Computer”.
Thomas was also co-curator earlier this year of a festival devoted to “Afrofuturism” – a movement in which black art and philosophy is expressed through a sci-fi or fantasy aesthetic – at the Carnegie Hall in New York.
While Thomas’ association with the visionary Monáe seemed natural to those familiar with the Memphis author’s previous contributions to the science fiction genre (she is the editor of two World Fantasy Award-winning “Dark Matter” anthologies that bring together “a century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora”), the union of Thomas and T’Challa is also appropriate.
Introduced by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in a 1966 issue of “Fantastic Four,” the Black Panther paved the way as the first black superhero to make an impression in a major mainstream comic book. . Thomas also reached a milestone when in 2020 she became the first person of color to be hired as editor of the prestigious Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fictiona publication that since 1949 has published work by authors such as Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King, to name a few.
Moreover, Wakanda and Memphis already have a literary history. Titan’s previous Black Panther novel, “Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther?”, from 2017, was written by Jesse J. Holland, who grew up in Orange Mound but now lives in Washington. Holland also edited and contributed to “Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda”, a 2020 anthology of short stories this included the work of three other Memphians: Thomas, Danian Darrell Jerry, and Troy L. Wiggins.
The “Marvel Universe” of prose novels and short stories refers to the comic books, as opposed to the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which encompasses most Marvel films and television programs. Specifically, Thomas’ novel is an adaptation of a 13-issue epic known as “Panther’s Rage” which was originally set from 1973 to 1975 in the pages of “Jungle Action”, a strip bi-monthly comic that featured the adventures of Black Panther, during a time when T’Challa – the ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, who fights crime and defends his homeland in panther garb – was a second cordon on the Marvel bench .
Written by Don McGregor and drawn by Rich Buckler and Billy Graham (Marvel’s first black artist), the “Panther’s Rage” comic was noted for the poetic verbiage of its captions, the pioneering Afrocentrism and Afrofuturism of its storyline. , and the boldness and experimental freedom of its sprawling layouts and cascading panels. Originally embraced only by a small cult following (“Jungle Action” hardly had the readership of “The Amazing Spider-Man”), it is now considered a landmark of the tape industry. comic strip and a precursor to such famous sagas as “The Amazing Spider-Man” by Frank Miller. Dark Knight Returns” (1986), which cemented the idea of Batman as a sinister and frightening avenger.
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A fan of the original comics, Thomas said she’s owned at least three different graphic novel reissues of the “Panther’s Rage” stories. So, in writing a novel based on this series, “You want to be true to the work you fell in love with,” she said. “It made the process easier, because I already had a personal connection.” In fact, Thomas said she was such a fan of the comics that she dressed up as a “citizen of Wakanda” to attend screenings of the first “Black Panther” movie in Memphis in 2018.
Although Thomas is an experienced short-story writer and anthologist, “Panther’s Rage” is his first novel. Nonetheless, she says, she jumped — like a panther — at the chance to write the book after the offer was made to her by Titan and Marvel.
Working with a London-based Titan editor, George Sandison, Thomas gained online access to the entire Marvel Comics library to explore “the enormous body of literature surrounding this amazing character,” T’Challa (whose athletic prowess, royal heritage and mystical ties are complemented by his doctorate in physics from the University of Oxford – to better help him develop uses for the world’s most powerful metal, vibranium, which is only found in Wakanda).
While the need to adhere to comic book canon limited his plot, Thomas was able – with Marvel’s permission – to expand the original “Panther’s Rage” story by including aspects of Wakandan culture that didn’t appear in the comics until later. Notably, the novel includes the Dora Milaje, the fierce army of female warriors introduced to readers in 1998’s “Black Panther” and made famous by the film.
“You have to respect the legacy and what it stands for,” Thomas said. But notwithstanding the canon, “Whatever I write, I will resolve.”