In the first novel commissioned by Marvel about the Wakandan superhero, award-winning journalist and author Jesse Holland takes a deep dive into the mythology of the Black Panther and the lives of the characters depicted in the groundbreaking feature film.
Marvel’s Black Panther has earned $922 million worldwide and $512.6 million domestically. The film is on its way to becoming, “the second-biggest comic book superhero flick in North America behind The Avengers ($623m in 2012),” according to Forbes.com.
Before Black Panther smashed box office records, Holland had written a nonfiction book titled The Invisibles: The Untold Story about Slaves in the White House.
A description of The Invisibles on www. Amazon.com says, that the book chronicles “the African American presence inside the White House from its beginnings in 1782 until 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that granted slaves their freedom.”
An editor from Lucas Films read The Invisibles and loved it, Holland said, and reached out to him to write a history for Finn, the African American character in Stars Wars: The Force Awakens. Those conversations led to Holland’s novel Star Wars: The Force Awakens-Finn’s Story.
Holland said that Finn’s Story landed him on Marvel’s radar.
“[Marvel Studios] was making a movie about the Black Panther and wanted to know if I would be interested in writing the first novel about the iconic Marvel character,” said Holland.
The author said, ‘Yes,’ immediately. Holland said that there was just one catch: The entire novel had to be written in six months.
Luckily, Holland had been a Black Panther fan since he was a child. When Marvel offered to send him some Black Panther comic books for background material, he told them, “You don’t have to, because I already own them.”
Holland went back and read Black Panther comic books written by Reginald Hudlin and Christopher Priest. He even went back to the very beginning with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Marvel’s Black Panther character has existed since the 1960s and preceded the launch of the Black Panther political party, by just a few months.
According to History.com, in a 1990 interview with ‘The Comics Journal,’ co-creator Jack Kirby said that he came up with the Black Panther when he realized that he didn’t have any Black characters in his growing Marvel Universe.
“I had a lot of Black readers. My first friend was Black,” Kirby said in the interview. “And here I was ignoring them, because I was associating with everybody else.”
Holland said that Marvel asked him to develop a mythology around the character that would be relatable to modern audiences. Holland started with the classic Black Panther origin story written by Reginald Hudlin and fleshed it out.
“I had to go from a six-issue comic book to 90,000 words,” said Holland. “So, I had to flesh out the story a little bit and add a few more themes to it.”
Still, Holland said that a lot of the themes that are weaved into Ryan Coogler’s film adaptation are the same themes that he used in his novel, Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?
“Themes of family, the connection between the T’Challa and his mother and his sister, the themes of honor and duty, you can see those themes with T’Challa trying to figure out how he is going to fit in as the new monarch of Wakanda,” said Holland. “You can see the same themes in his relationships with his bodyguards, the Dora Milaje, and how they fit into this new society.
“So, if you really want to know who W’Kabi is (the Black Panther’s adviser) he has a major story line in the novel. If you want to know more about Shuri, the Panther’s sister—she has a whole story line in my book, too. If you want to know about the history of the Panther and his mother, Ramonda, or if you want to know the motivations behind what the screenwriters wrote in the movie, my novel goes through all of that.”
Holland said that in addition to the record-breaking movie, his novel is the very first time a major piece of literature was written about the Black Panther.
The fact that Marvel not only created a comic book for the Black Panther character, but also a movie and a major novel shows how important and groundbreaking this character is, Holland said.
“The success of the Black Panther and the cultural phenomenon that the film has become shows Hollywood that if you can tell a good story, the Black community will support these ventures and everyone else will, too,” Holland said.
Holland said that his Black Panther novel is the perfect stepping-stone for people who want to know more about the Wakandan superhero and his family depicted on screen.
“The novel tells the story that people can relate to: about fathers and sons, about mothers and daughters, about honor, duty and sacrifice,” said Holland. “It tells the story that helps reflect not only who the Black Panther is, but who we are, as the African American community.”