BLACK PANTHER: THE MOST UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION TO BLACK THEOLOGY

God works through me, the same as you. There is no feat I achieve that you are not capable of.”

-Black Panther

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As fascinating and as unexpected as it may sound, the Black Panther is indeed a very important figure in comics. This exception of the Black Panther does not exclude other significant black superheroes of authority and influence such as the Blue Marvel. But, the Panther takes first place because he came before the rest. His impact on African American thought was revolutionary. At a time when the African American community battled with self identity, Marvel Comics showed that they could rise up to the occasion and create a character who would be the image of African Americans. The Black Panther, though unassociated to the group that went by the same name did something unimaginable. It not only changed how African Americans saw themselves, it also demonstrated that though they originally hailed from Africa [which had been christened the ‘Dark Continent’ in the sixties], that they and their homeland were not so ‘dark’ after all.

In a manner that must have stunned DC readers at the time, the Black Panther was a point in and of himself. Unlike DC’s Cyborg, the Panther was not a sidekick, he was his own authority. He has remained, since the time of his creation, a king, a genius of Marvel’s top cream, a superhero and a priceless contribution to the Avengers’ team on panel. Now, here’s where some of you may ask some questions like, “Wasn’t Marvel just trying to capitalize on a present issue to earn some extra income?”. The answer, a resounding “No”, here’s why; Stan Lee had pointed out that he did not like his character being ‘shadows’ of the so-called ‘main hero’ because he felt that they took something away from this main hero. He later on went to state that he would not do to any of his characters what DC had done to Batman’s Robin and subjugate them.

At a time when comic books themselves were seeking relevance, Stan Lee and Marvel Comics were on the right path. Seeking to create characters of substance, and relatability; meaning that the selling point of the characters would not be on their power or abilities but on their diverse personalities, weaknesses, challenges and ability to ‘rise up’ as it were after being knocked down several times over. This, if I must say, is a strength. And as recent comic news is showing us, Cap’s history has been re-written. He is now a triple agent and a HYDRA project?? Anyway, many fans are a bit confused about this reveal but this story is bound to be one that may lead fans to respect the Captain even more. Some of you might be skeptical but watch this space…

Now, to the issue at hand, Black Theology and Black Panther’s contribution to the same. Black theology has had a very powerful influence on American society as a whole. Be it loved or hated, it is a force to reckon with. Seeing the likes of Martin Luther King Junior, pardon me, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. springboard the revolution in the U.S. that shook the very core of the rest of America we got the best comparison to the Black Panther character. We got Barack Obama, an educated African man who made African American history through his dual heritage as a Hawaii-born black man. It’s this point that makes me respect Marvel; they looked into the future by being great analysts of the present. I speak and express myself in these posts as a young African man of black descent and I have grown up reading comics. Not only do I love them, I relish their perspectives on several events. As an African theologian, I am thrilled to see the parallels that can be made from the comic book/fictional realm and the realm of theology. If some of the greatest ministers advised other preachers/theologians to hold a paper in one hand and the Bible in another, then comic books qualify right there near the newspaper.

Kudos Marvel on bringing the character to the big screen in Captain America Civil War!

“The more different we are, the more we find that we are the same”

-Chinese Proverb

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ODD VISION: MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE THEOLOGY

WHY THE MCU IS ESSENCIALLY A THEOLOGICAL PLAY

“Finally, I’ll do it myself.”

-Thanos

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The MCU; this franchise has got to be one of the largest and greatest franchises seen on earth in history. Since its inception, it has given comic book lovers as well as newbies to the comic book lore plenty to think about regarding the comic book genre. Initially-and some of you might not know this-comic book companies such as Marvel and DC struggled for a long time to have their material taken seriously among the general populace. This was a phenomenon that could not be blamed on the wider youthful audience who devoured their content so much so as their parent/guardian influence who largely opposed the comic book industry as soon as it began to tackle real-life problems through metaphors and allusions in their highly illustrated pages. This was a great turn in history according to many comic historians as it saw the rise and prominence of the comic book genre as a serious category of literature.

Who knew that comic books once struggled with such things? It’s child’s play, isn’t it…or is it really? There is plenty of history concerning this matter and I wanted you to get acquainted with it before we moved on to my point today. [I sincerely hope that the great minds behind the MCU do not forget this]. If this history is not clear enough, another thing to be established right off the bat is the fact that the series, as well as the movies follow specific themes; a matter that Anthony and Joe Russo alluded to in their interviews about the films. If this is anything to come by, we can all agree to a great extent too that the MCU has been stupendously successful in executing this plan.

Whereas Marvel heroes and stories tend to be incredible as well as tragic, heart-wrenching, uplifting…basically human at its core, the emphases in the comics echo the same things. It is not the power-set/skills/abilities that make the hero but their character and person. Who over what is the main point preached in the pages of the comic books. If this point is in any causing doubt; Iron Man, his caption was ‘Heroes are Made..’, with Daredevil, his caption was ‘The Man without Fear’, and with Spider Man, his caption is ‘With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility’. Each of these captions summarize the characters as well as their stories.

Extending the heart of the comics into the MCU as Marvel has done so far is nothing short of incredible (no pun intended, sorry Hulk). Each of these characters have become more relatable as their worldviews, goals and aspirations, as well as their deepest desires and stances are communicated to fans and newcomers alike to the big and small screens. It is with this in mind that I want to make my point.

With all that’s been said about the comics, the characters, their development, as well as the MCU as a whole, it is clear that there’s something else intended to be communicated to the audience from the midst of all this knowledge. Think about it for a second; the success of a good story relies on the development of the characters, the story as well as their own as well as the greater external enemy. I know that right now some of you know who I am talking about. This is Thanos (I couldn’t use his quote and not discuss him now, could I?).

Thanos in the comics is supposed to be to the Avengers what Apocalypse is supposed to have been to the X Men in X Men: (Age of) Apocalypse the 2016 film. Although the movie was a let down, I have to point out that this was not due to the characters’ power set but because of lack of his development in the story and this robbed him of his menacing personality as we know him to be in the comic books. Thanos on the other hand is odd, he, like Apocalypse views himself as a god, but his aspiration is not mere power for the sake of it but for love.

Yes, essentially the MCU is about the extent of a being who fancies himself a god, demonstrating his love to mankind. Not in the Judeo-Christian manner of self sacrifice of the deity but of the sacrifice and manipulation of others to achieve a single goal; ultimate power. Some of you must be like, “Waaait a minute, are you saying that the MCU is actually something akin to a divine tale?” The answer, “Yes. Yes, it is”. The downside as well as the beauty of this lies in the fact that audiences get to see that the Infinity Stones do not reveal Thanos’ power in the end, but rather his greatest weakness. Kinda odd, right? But that’s the point. It’s kinda like a reverse biblical Tower of Babel scenario. The ‘god’ is brought down by ‘mankind’ (i.e. the superheroes who are ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’) when he seeks to disband them and ruin their already-strained interpersonal relationship. In the end, the ‘god’ is shown to be powerless as the highest tower of humanism and auto-soteriology is built. The message? Well, I’ll let Nick Fury say it from the first Avengers’ film;

“Yes, they [i.e. the Avengers] are dangerous. Our world knows that…every world knows that (now”