Monday, September 12, 2011

Panther, Panther, Burning Bright... Jungle Action #21

Jungle Action #21 (May 1976)
"A Cross Burning Darkly, Blackening the Night!"
Don McGregor-Billy Graham/Bob McLeod

Doug: What about the cover of this comic? Attributed to Jazzy Johnny Romita, it's quite powerful. Billy Graham's splash page echoes the scene, which seems to take place mere seconds after the conclusion of our last issue. So what say we dive headlong into part three of our look at T'Challa versus the Klan!

Doug: Scribe Don McGregor makes no bones about the flames licking at the Panther as being very real and very painful. No, his suit won't save him, no mystical herbs from his homeland will save him -- this is the Panther bound, and ablaze! McGregor and Graham again juxtapose a conversation between Kevin Trublood and Monica Lynne with T'Challa's struggles against his white-hooded adversaries. This time Trublood and Monica worry about the Panther, as they know that he'd gone to engage the Klan. Monica also wonders aloud about the continuing role of the seemingly-splinter group, the purple-robed Dragon Circle Soldiers. Finally they decide it might be prudent to journey out to the Devouring Swamp, where the alleged Klan meeting was to have taken place.

Karen: This opening sequence is nicely done. I like the way Graham has drawn a huge pale moon behind the Panther as he burns on the cross -it's very dramatic. One thing I have noticed after reading some of these stories is how McGregor connects T'Challa to the night, just as a cat is often thought of as a creature of the night. He talks here of the cat's instinctive fear of fire and it comes across right. The back and forth between T'Challa and his friends is handled well.

Doug: At the swamp, T'Challa struggles against the ropes that bind him. The fire has grown so hot and has been burning so long, that he is able to rip his legs free. He swings them up, gathering enough momentum that he is able to break the top of the cross on which he hangs. Swinging back down and forward hard, the Panther snaps the cross right below his waist! Now I don't know about you, but while the visuals are striking, I don't know about all of this in light of the injuries T'Challa has surely suffered! McGregor tells of of the burns, and as I said -- we're led to believe that there's been very little to no insulation from boots, gloves, or the costume in general. So I'm puzzled here...

Karen: I know, burns are pretty seriously debilitating and it's hard to imagine that anyone in such pain could do anything other than scream. But the Panther is our hero, right? Overcoming adversity is what heroes do. I guess we just have to accept that. Although later on we do get the explanation that his recovery is sped up due to his panther rituals.

Doug: T'Challa spooks the Klan members, who now fear him as supernatural. After they scatter, the Panther is able to stagger, albeit quickly, into the swamp, where he slumps and extinguishes the flames. We are told that his injuries are numerous and serious. Trublood and Monica have embarked on the search mission, but are unable to locate T'Challa.
Rather, long before the era of cell phones, Monica pulls over to use a pay phone to call her mother for an update. She's informed that T'Challa has been found, and is in the hospital. Heading there, the entire cast of this adventure meets up. As the days go by, and T'Challa is up for a large crowd of visitors, Mr. Lynne admonishes him for making life dangerous for Monica. He remarks that as it's not clear yet whether his other daughter was murdered or committed suicide, he'd like to keep Monica around. T'Challa assures him that while he sympathizes with the loss, he will not run from the trouble.

Karen: T'Challa gets a little wordy here and like Mr. Lynne, I felt it was a bit much. And what about Mrs. Lynne? She's pretty much a non-factor in the story.

Doug: Trublood and T'Challa plan to show up at a Klan rally -- one that is being held by the books, permit and all. Sheriff Tate cautions them against causing trouble, as that would force his hand to actually protect the Klan. Tate then reveals information from the investigation into the death of Angela Lynne. In a nicely-rendered two-page spread, we see the details of the last several minutes of Angela's life. A suitor is involved, although never placed at her death scene.
A single gunshot wound to the head, in her office at 2:06 am. According to the sheriff, his office was alerted by a "mysterious call" at 3:15 am. But that's where the story ends.

Karen: I'm really curious now what the heck this land scheme is -it sure must be some valuable land!

Doug: Our next scene is at the KKK rally, and Trublood and T'Challa hold to their word to break it up. As one of the Klan leaders rails on with his white supremacist megalomania, our heroes approach and attempt to drown him out. Trublood rebukes the Klan's comments, and tells them to let people make up their own minds. He asks the Klan if the assembled crowd might like to see T'Challa's burned flesh, as a testimonial to what the KKK is all about. When a gun is pulled, the Panther swings into action. After a brief brouhaha, which is surprisingly broken up by Mr. Lynne shooting his playing cards at an assailant who had the drop on T'Challa, the Klan members are arrested. The story ends with Mr. Lynne -- who to this point has been reluctant to get too involved -- patting himself on the back and stating that he's been inspired by the actions of Terublood and the Black Panther.

Karen: Were they arrested? It seemed like they were just standing around in the last panel.

Doug: Hmmm... Well, I guess my interpretation was that they were arrested. The one guy displayed a gun and was shooting it. I suppose even if it was argued that Trublood and T'Challa "started it", there was still the gunplay. But I guess I don't know for certain. Having already read the next issue, I can report that it's not dealt with further.

Doug: This installment seemed to have a bit more meat to it.
Whereas I thought there was a little meandering in the first two chapter, this issue seemed to move forward all the time. It was good to finally get something concrete on the death of Angela Lynne, but I'm still uncertain of where this is going. Not seeing the Dragon Circle Soldiers was confusing as well -- it makes me wonder if they've been dropped as a plot vehicle (although as we said above, they were mentioned). So, knowing there is only one more issue in this series, I'll be very interested to see how McGregor ties this up.

Karen: There feels like there's a lot of promise to the story, but at this stage I'm uncertain if it will be fulfilled. Again, I can't help but think that maybe McGregor had too many elements to balance, and that the Dragon Circle is going to fall through the cracks. But I will say that I'm impressed by how openly the creators approached the whole subject of the Klan and their vicious racism. There aren't any punches pulled here.


david_b said...

Thanks for the column this morning, exploring the rest of McGregor's tale of racial violence. I first contemplated this story playing off the success of ABC's Roots, but Roots wasn't televised until January of '77, so the timing here was more interesting.

The art and layouts once again powerfully served the storyline, and I liked the wordy style. I compare this to Friedrich's stories during Starlin's Mar-Vell tenure, and actually a few different books during this time, like Avengers issues 151-160 and so on..

Fred W. Hill said...

Gerber mocked McGregor's writing style in Howard the Duck #2, but despite their different styles, they were the two most socially conscious Marvel scribes during the '70s. I was more into Gerber, but despite his legendary wordiness McGregor came up with some fascinating stories too, and it certainly helped having great artists onboard, such as Graham, Russell and even Buckler producing some of his best work in his own style rather than too obviously aping Adams or Kirby.

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