“The two made their way to the ledge of the prominent rock as thunderous waterfalls thundered and threw the air into a sweeping song. The Killmonger vibranium sword struck T’Challa’s thigh, but the attack left the Killmonger’s defenses open, and the Black Tiger hit his elbow with Killmonger’s rock-like jaw.”
Violent brawls, reckless fighting, death-defying acrobatics. Such physical action is bruised bread and butter and action films – visual media that wow fans with graphic drawings of colorfully dressed heroes and villains in stylized, dramatic encounters rendered in pen and ink or photography and effects rather than words.
Glowing instant translation of graphic storytelling in the form of literature – pages without pictures! One of the challenges faced by Memphis author Sherry Renee Thomas was in Black Panther: The Wrath of the Panther, a 325-page novel arriving October 11 from Titan Books and Penguin Random House.
Thomas and her publishers hope the timing is perfect. Described as “a novel from the Marvel universe,” “Panther’s Rage” hit bookstores exactly a month before the opening date of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” the highly anticipated sequel to 2018’s Black Panther, which grossed $1.3 billion in worldwide box office and is ranked sixth on the all-time money-making list of films in North American theaters.
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Thomas, 50, said: “There is a lot of action in the book, where the black panther fights for the survival of his kingdom and his people. But there is also an inner and psychological journey. He is still grieving the death of his father. There is a lot of death in it.”
But do not despair. “There’s a lot of humor in it, too,” Thomas said. “And a lot of world building, which I really like as a science fiction person.”
The ‘Panther’s Rage’ book tour starts on Tuesday at 6pm Signing meeting with the author at Novel at 387 Perkins Ext. For Thomas, the gathering will be another exclamation point in the year that began with the January issue of the New York Times bestseller “The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer,” a collection in which Thomas and other authors collaborated with singer and actress Janelle Monae on fiction Scientific inspired by Monáe’s 2018 album, “Dirty Computer”.
Thomas was also co-curator earlier this year for a festival dedicated to “Afrofuturism” – a movement in which black art and philosophy are expressed through science fiction or a fantasy aesthetic – at Carnegie Hall in New York.
If the composition of the team of Thomas and Monáe sounds natural to those familiar with the former Memphis author’s contributions to the sci-fi genre (she’s editor of the World Fantasy Award-winning “Dark Matter” anthology collecting “a century of speculative fiction from the African diaspora”), the Union of Thomas and Tcala are also suitable.
Introduced by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in the 1966 edition of “Fantastic Four,” Black Panther blazes the trails as the first black superhero to make an impression in a major comic strip. Thomas also achieved a significant milestone when in 2020 she became the first person of color to be appointed editor of the prestigious Fantasy & Science Fiction, a publication that has since 1949 published works 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.
Also, Wakanda and Memphis already have a literary history. Titan’s previous Black Panther novel, “Black Panther: Who is Black Panther?” From 2017, 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, an anthology of new short stories for 2020 that included the work of three other Memphis: Thomas, Danny, Daryl Geary, and Troy L. Wiggins.
The “Marvel Universe” of prose novels and short stories is related to the comic books, unlike the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which includes most Marvel films and TV shows. Specifically, Thomas’ novel is an adaptation of the 13-issue saga known as “Panther’s Rage” that originally ran from 1973-1975 in the pages of “Jungle Action,” a bimonthly comic book featuring the adventures of a black panther, at a time when T’ Challa – the ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, who fights criminals and defends his homeland in a panther costume – was second to Marvel’s seat.
Written by Don McGregor and illustrated by Rich Buckler and Billy Graham (Marvel’s first black artist), the comic book “Wrath of the Tiger” is known for the poetic prolongation of its commentary, the pioneering Afrocentric and African flair of its story, and the boldness and experimental freedom of its sprawling plots and cascading panels. Originally embraced only by a small group of fans (“Jungle Action” barely read “The Amazing Spider-Man”), it is now considered a landmark in the comics industry, and a pioneer of blockbuster articles such as Frank Miller’s stories “The Dark Knight Returns”. (1986), which cemented the idea of Batman as a grim and fearsome avenger.
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Thomas, a fan of the original comics, said she owns at least three different republished graphic novels of “Panther’s Rage” stories. So, when writing a novel based on that series, she said, “You want to be faithful to the work you fell in love with.” “It made it an easier process, as I already had a personal connection.” In fact, Thomas said that she was such a big fan of the comics that she dressed up as a “nationalist of Wakanda” to attend the premiere of “Black Panther” in Memphis in 2018.
Although Thomas is an experienced short story writer and anthologist, Panther’s Rage is her first novel. However, she said she jumped – like a tiger – at the chance to write the book after Titan and Marvel made her the show.
Working with London-based Titan editor George Sandison, Thomas has been given online access to the entire Marvel Comics library to explore the “huge body of literature on this remarkable character,” T’Challa (whose sporting prowess, royal heritage, and mystical connections are complemented by a degree PhD in Physics from Oxford University – best to help him develop uses for the world’s strongest metal, vibranium, found only in Wakanda).
While the need to adhere to the comic book canon limited its planning, Thomas – with Marvel’s permission – was able 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 Dora Milaje, a fierce army of female warriors introduced to Black Panther readers in 1998 and best known for the movie.
“You have to respect the legacy, and what it stands for,” Thomas said. But despite the canon, “Whatever I write, I will bring myself to it.”