On History: 1966 Black Panther Letters

By | Tuesday, February 20, 2018 Leave a Comment
Judging by the boffo box office numbers, people today seem to like Black Panther. But what did they think of the character in 1966 when he first debuted? Let's take a look at the letters sent in to Marvel back in the day...
Dear Stan and Jack,

I am usually loaded with millions of words, but it is hard for me to sort out the ones needed to tell you how great F.F. #52 was! The Kirby-Sinnott art team seems to surpass itself with each issue, and Joe's inking becomes finer win detail and shading. But the main thing that made my heart sing is the latest in your concerted effort to bring comic literature to a more adult level by portraying members of races other than white. I have a feeling that the Black Panther will turn out to be the first great Negro hero-villain in comic book history! Not only that, but an African king at that! Most of all, I am gratified at the introduction of Wyatt Wingfoot to your pantheon of characters. Being partially of American Indian ancestry myself, I am alwayss happy to see a modern Indian shown as being something besides a poor relic of the past. Wingfoot's pride, his skill, and his dignity are in keeping with the real tradition of the past. Let me cast the earliest vote for keeping Wyatt Wingfoot as a running character in Marvel mags. You could possibly have a strange accident endow him with some super-power, or actually him his normal human self. But let's have more of W.W.! Having run off long enough, I close with a "well done", a "keep up the good work", and a "face you-know-where" to the bullpen gang.

Ken Green
Dear Stan and Jack,

How could I ever describe the feeling of pure ecstacy [sic] that gills every fiber of my being when I run breathlessly to the drug store where I buy my comic books and see the greatest of greats, namely F.F., SPIDER-MAN, and THOR! Actually, to get down to business, F.F. #52 was really fantastic. The Black Panther is one of your better characters, much superior to run-of-the-mill super-space-villains like Galactus. Having the strongest of your heroes get airsick is something only Marvel could do, and I personally loved it. Th thing that really crowned the story was having an ordinary man like Wyatt Wingfoot save everybody. In closing, I would like to sat, as many have said before me, make mine Marvel!

Darryl Miller
Those are the first two published letters than mention Black Panther's debut and, while they both liked him, apparently found Wyatt Wingfoot a more compelling character. The following is the very next letter...
Dear Stan and Jack,

Well, I've done it at last! I have finally written to you. One reason I did not write earlier was because there was nothing to gripe about in your issues. In your flood of letters praising F.F. #52, I though someone had better speak up for the minority of your readers. To make a ong letter shorter, I'll you the bare truth. The Black Panther stinks! A lot of your other villains do, but to add another to their ranks is unbearable. The cover of F.F. #52 was magnificent, as was the first half of the issue. Then what happens -- the Black Panther bats the F.F. around like dolls! (It was about time someone did, but that is not the point.) Wingfoot was beautiful, as was the entire mag's attitude and art. No one, but no one, had enough fight. The Black Panther is entirely too ridiculous. One more thing -- cut the comedy. Your jokes have polluted all your mags with corny nicknames and funnies. This tends to make your life-and-death struggles seem unreal. This goes double for your letters pages. This letter may not change your views any, but nevertheless, I will remain a loyal fan for many years. I have a small group of neighborhood friends who collect Marvel Comics and each shares my views in this letter.

Alan Finn
I'm not sure what he's talking about with the "flood of letters praising F.F. #52" -- there may well have been that, but Fantastic Four #55, where all these were printed, is the first letters page that mentions #52 at all. There's no way he could have seen how many letters were talking about the issue one way or another. And, if his statement about all his friends sharing his views is accurate, then how would he come to believe his opinion is in the minority?

Fantastic Four #56 had some more people sharing their thoughts about T'Challa...
Dear Stan and Jack,

I would like to congratulate you on your series of comic magazines -- also on your lively attack on Communism and your subtle use of real-life problems to bring out both the best and the worst in your fantastic, wacky, wonderful super-heroes. In particular, I mean F.F., Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Avengers. Their human problems make these heroes among your best. Believe it or not, Galactus had his so-called "elemental-converter", and the Black Panther his "jungle" of traps for the F.F. to surmount.The next thing you know, the F.F. will be fighting "The Creature from beneath the Garbage Can", with his uncanny "Onion Gun". Finally, the Earth is saved as the F.F. defeat him with Reed's "Fantasti-kitchen Rubbish Disposal Unit". Enough!! Enough new menaces for the F.F. to battle! Enough super-scientific hogwash! it's time the F.F. met (or should I say, re-met) some of their old foes. Perchance the Sub-Mariner. Why not take a poll?

Russell Bullock, Jr.
The original entitled fanboy who doesn't want things to change.

I've found one more letter discussing Black Panther's debut, this one from Fantastic Four #57...
Dear Stan and Jack,

I just had to give you my compliments on F.F. #53. Bravo to you! It's the best story and art of all the F.F. adventures. It even tops the Silver Surfer, whom I had rated as a very good and handsome, majestic character and story. The best panels I liked were the first page and page 11, panel 4, where they are going to attack that ugly crimson monster. In this panel, I think the thing that looked so good is the way that you are the first, the very first to create and introduce a Negro super-hero who is as brilliant as he is handsome to team up with your already fantastic heroes. This is truly wonderful. I must say that with the Black Panther added to the F.F., and Wyatt added as a guest, this made the story more interesting and suspenseful and gave you a first in comicdom. I wish to nominate the Black Panther for membership with the F.F.! Please? May all your future F.F. stories be as good as #53. It was so good that even my mother said, "It was the best I've ever read!" 'Nuff said!

Linda Lee Johnson
Now, obviously, they were never going to publish letter that were outright racist if they got any. And indeed, the two negative letters they did print are pretty easily dismissed as less than substantive. So are these really representative of all the external feedback they got? Were they deliberately skewed in order to show publisher Martin Goodman that his concerns about featuring a Black character (as I've detailed here) were overblown? Or were they deliberately skewed to make the stories look better to other readers? At this late date, those questions are impossible to answer with any degree of certainty, but that they were able to get enough glowingly positive letters to run for several issues suggests that there was a good chunk of positive feedback, even if it wasn't in the majority.
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