In 1998 ‘Black Panther’ was relaunched under the Marvel Knight imprint. Written by Christopher Priest and art provided by Mark Texeira, Alitha Martinez, Brian Haberlin and Dave Kemp it redefined the character as a major figure within the Marvel universe.
Told in a disjointed fashion by Evertt K Ross, government agent, we are ushered into the chaotic world of the Black Panther. A world where gangsters, governmental conspiracies and the devil go hand in hand.
With the plot twisting every few pages Black Panther impresses because he is not only able to meet the challenges he faces but stay one step ahead. This characterisation has kept Black Panther in the limelight, particularly with his marriage to Storm, making him a prominent figure in both the Avengers and the X-men.
The writing is very funny, with Ross describing himself as Emperor of Useless White Boys, routinely facing death just by being in close proximity to the Black Panther. The heavy use of narration allows a large amount of information to be conveyed to the reader, helping to build up the world.
The art in the first 7 issues perfectly sets the tone for the series. The almost painted look gives everything a sense of realism, even when it depicts the devil. It is the combination of these different elements that makes this a good series to read, especially how an ordinary person in the Marvel universe might perceive it.
The series is good for games masters for numerous reasons. It is an example of how to make any character cool, how the government view the super community and how to introduce intrigue and humour into adventures.
For the purposes of this article I’ll be looking at the first 5 issues of Black Panther.
The core rulebook provides a datafile for Black Panther on page BR56 and for the most part they do a good job of representing the character portrayed in the first story line, ‘The Client’.
The series does its best to remind the reader that Black Panther is not a superhero, he is not in costume. He is a king, his clothes are ceremonial, marking him as the leader of the Panther clan.
His greatest flaw is his idealism. He had set up a refuge camp for those fleeing ethnic wars in the neighbouring countries, hoping that everyone would get along. They didn’t. While not naive Black Panther can be blind to realities of a situation.
People under-estimate the Black Panther, with Evertt Ross dismissing him as a guy without powers. Looking at Black Panther’s datafile we see that he has lots of powers, but it is how he uses them which is important.
T’Challa is a tactician. Even when it looks like he is falling into a trap we discover that he planned for everything. This is important when playing the character. He never panics, he always knows a way out.
It is revealed that the Black Panther can use his energy dagger to mark a subject with a distinct energy signature. This allows him to find that subject, their location displayed on a small metal card.
In game this could be achieved by creating an asset. This could be done by using an effect dice on a successful attack to create the asset or during a transition scene using the tech expert speciality.
This marking of subjects is to place them in Black Panther’s debt. He uses Menace to tell them that their lives are now his. We can assume that there are many indebted to Black Panther and could form the basis of an Asset gained through the menace expert speciality.
Issue 1 shows Black Panther use a taser against a group of gangster sitting in a car. This illustrates how specific conditions should allow SFX that a character doesn’t normally possess.
In this example it makes sense to allow Black Panther to use the SFX: Area Attack on his weapon power, since all of the gangsters will be effected as the electrical passes through the body of the car.
We learn that the Black Panther can change into his costume instantly. One minute he is dressed in a suit, he steps into shadows and a second later he emerges in the guise of the Black Panther.
This has no in-game effect but is useful to know. Unlike many characters, the Black Panther doesn’t have to find time to change into his heroic identity. He doesn’t have to carry his costume in a suitcase or wear it under his clothes.
When Ross calls him the devil Mephisto corrects him and says that he only looks like the devil. He describes himself as a collector of souls.
His realm is populated only by himself and the souls he has collected. Mephisto is willing to bargain for those souls, even giving his subjects power in our world. The purity of the soul is its most desirable trait. Collecting them is a hunger, an obsession that he can’t ignore.
Mephisto could never leave his realm because the two are linked. The longer they are separated the weaker Mephisto becomes. Even if a part of Mephisto remains in our world he would begin to weaken.
Here it is shown that Mephisto can create matter. Not only does he cause a throne and a collection of flaming skulls to appear in a housing project but he creates a pair of pant for Ross (his were stolen).
These pants even have magic powers, reappearing no matter how many times Ross takes them off, until he is standing in a pile of trousers.
Mephisto is able to induce a powerful hallucination or time shift. Subjects feel as if they are experiencing events in their past or are actually there.
This can lead the subject to carrying out actions they’ve performed in the past in the present day. Mephisto uses this to trick T’Challa into kissing Dora Milaje, his wives in training.
Mephisto is able to achieve this at range. Ross suggests that this was possible because T’Challa was feeling guilty. It is unknown if this is true or if Mephisto can exert this power on anyone at anytime.
Ross accuses Mephisto of reading his mind in order to produce these hallucinations, which the demon denies he has the ability to do. Black Panther later confirms this. Which means that in order for Mephisto to know information about a person’s past he has to have been present.
Given the range of memories he is able to make subjects experience it would appear that Mephisto is able to be in lot of places, watching unsuspecting people. Here he was watching Evertt Ross years before he came into contact with Black Panther.
Firstly this means that Mephisto would have to be incorporeal. Secondly he either watches just about everyone or he has an innate sense of who will be important in the future.
This certainly leads to some interest scenarios. Someone able to perceive Mephisto would see him a lot more than you would normally expect. Adventures could be built around why he is watching specific people. Are they going to make a bargain with him or will they be important later?
Mephisto is vulnerable in our world. By changing the physical laws around him Black Panther is able to make him vulnerable. During this period Black Panther is able to knock him out and remove his heart.
Since this doesn’t kill Mephisto it is safe to say his body doesn’t work like most living beings. Coupled with his different appearances this would suggest Mephisto is a shapeshifter and that it is quite likely he has no vital organs.
Ironically Mephisto is a sceptic. He didn’t believe that there was a Panther God, even though he was present during the ceremony that bonded T’Challa to its soul. The power of this soul overwhelms Mephisto, unable to contain so much.
This demonstrates a limit to his abilities and the capability to break contracts. This is important as PC heroes could need to find a way to release a soul that has been sold to Mephisto.
No one is quite sure who or where Achebe came from. It is said that he was once a simple farmer in Ghudaza. Guerillas from neighbouring Ujanka game to his farm he feed them, only to be stabbed 32 times and his farm to be set alight. To add insult to injury his wife left him for the rebel leader.
Making a deal with the devil, most likely Mephisto, Achebe survived. He began hunting down everyone his wife had ever known, from her family to the man who sold her shoes. He stabbed each of them 32 times.
While there is little evidence to support this what is known is that Achebe was officially known as Reverend Doctor Michael Ibn Al-Hajj Achebe, Ph.D. Graduating from Yale with multiple degrees including psychology, political science and divinity.
Here then, is a very intelligent, driven man. He came to be one of the Wakandan refugee camp and was well placed to take over the country when Black Panther was drawn away. His strength of personality allowed him to take control with relative ease.
Achebe has no powers but could pose a challenge for PC heroes. He is manipulative and intelligent, capable of corrupting the noblest of people. Later issues indicate that he is dangerously unstable, talking through a hand puppet and trying to kill his co-conspirators.
Yet this is a man who gained an impressive level of education. It must at least have been possible for him to pretend to be sane. He is also agile enough to impersonate Black Panther in costume, however briefly.
Achebe is still at large and might return to plague Black Panther. He might also try to gain power in other parts of the world, exploiting others to achieve his goals.
Working for the Office of the Chief of Protcol (OCP) it was his job to ensure that there wasn’t a diplomatic incident caused by the arrival of Black Panther. With more than a little resemblance to Michael J Fox, Ross was a wise cracker who soon found he was out of his league.
Ross is still working in the government in the modern Marvel universe. It likely that heroes with political power might have Evertt, or someone like him, assigned to them during their stay in the US.
If the X-Men’s Utopia is recognised as a political power then representatives could have a OCP officer follow them around, as would Namor or Dr Doom. This might also happen to Captain Britain if he came to the US on behalf of is country.
Hatut Zeraze (Dogs of War)
The Hatut Zeraze are Wakandan secret police, although they don’t officially exist. Even though King T’Challa would never allow such an organisation they continued to operate, as they had during the reign of T’Challa’s father.
Equipped with white versions of Black Panther’s costume they were capable of wall crawling and turning invisible using a combination of Eastern mysticism and Wakandan technology. While Black Panther restricted himself to his energy dagger the Hatut Zeraze used a variety of firearms, from assault rifles to bazookas.
They were led by Hunter, codenamed White Wolf, who was T’Challa’s adopted older brother. Surviving a plane crash as a child he was adopted by the King and raised in the palace.
When T’Challa was born he felt abandoned. He found solace in his adoptive mother, the Queen. Joining the secret police he did what was necessary to keep Wakandan safe. He believed that T’Challa lacked the ruthlessness that was need to rule the country.
Acting without consent from Black Panther the Hatut Zeraze could be interesting opponents for PC heroes. They are free to eliminate any threats to their country, which could take them all over the world.
PC heroes might team up with them as well to prevent a villain from striking against Black Panther or his country. Players should take care, they are not to be trusted and their only loyalty is to the Royal family.
The Tomorrow Fund
A children’s charity that was bankrolled by King T’Challa that was found to be corrupt. Operating from the Leslie N Hill Housing project it was used as money laundering operation for drug cartels.
The executive director was Marion Vicar, later arrested for fraud, embezzlement and money laundering. She was once a decent woman but was corrupted by Achebe. Worse than that she let one of the clients, Delroy Richmond, have access to the children to indulge his sick desires.
The sad story of the charity can influence a campaign. Before it is corrupted PC heroes may support it, perhaps at the request of Black Panther. This would be particularly appropriate for members of the Avengers, bringing some sunshine into the life of the children.
When the scandal is revealed this will have a huge impact on the heroes who supported it. They may also seek to gain justice for the children. There could be other clients like Richmond who need to be hunted down.
They could also work to establish a new charity to replace it. What steps would they take to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself?
The Leslie N Hill Housing Project
A rundown housing estate infested with rats. The south courtyard served as the front office of a dope dealing gang, lead by Manuel Ramos. No one sings there.
You may wish to use the housing estate as the base of operations for another group of criminals. PC heroes might also come to help those who live there, in an effort to improve their living conditions.
Chumikat Chinese & Cantonese Restaurant
Run by a bad tempered man this establishment does not take credit cards or food stamps. Payment is demanded in advance and no credit is offered. The staff speak English and Tagalong.
Dream Team So–
An impressively large drinking establishment. Two bouncers are on the door although the clientele include gang members so they have low standards. It gains its name from the mud wrestling team that provides the entertainment.
$1,000 is offered to anyone who can last 2 minutes in the ring.The bikini clad wrestlers play dirty, pulling hair, biting and stealing items of clothing.
This could be a place for characters (heroes or villains) to blow off steam. It could also be somewhere for a new hero to try and make some money quickly, emulating the start of Spider-man’s career.
PAGING MR TARANTINO
This is used primarily to foreshadow events that will happen later in the story but also to affect the flow of the adventure.
In both Issue 1 and Issue 6 the comic opens with an action scene with Black Panther before back tracking and explaining how we got there. This suggests a different way to organise an adventure.
Scenes are still divided between Action and Transition scenes but they don’t necessarily have to be in chronological order. You could start with a Action scene that takes place in the middle of the adventure, followed by a transition scene that explains what put events in motion. The next action scene then takes place before the first scene before a transition scene sets up the final action scene.
A more free form game could allow players to set up future scenes, maybe in return for a Plot point or XP. This could be a good way to end a session, with each player given the chance to suggest something that is going to happen to them, before saying ‘..but I’m getting ahead of myself.’