Writer and BET TV President Reggie Hudlin was just supposed to pen a six-issue miniseries returning the Black Panther to the forefront of the Marvel Comics Universe, but the response to the first few issues was so overwhelming that the House of Ideas asked Hudlin to stay. Now, a few years later, he's married the Black Panther to the X-Men's Storm and has the duo about to join the Fantastic Four ....
MANIA: For those who have never heard of the character and only think of a Black Panther as a jungle animal, just who is the costumed hero?
REGGIE HUDLIN: The Black Panther is the king of a fictional African country, Wakanda. Isolated from the rest of the world, their scientific achievements have far surpassed the outside world. The Panther himself is the ruler of the nation, a head of a religious cult, and a mighty warrior. So it's like being the President, Pope, and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all at once.
As for his hand to hand fighting abilities, he is comparable to Batman or Captain America - no special powers, but can whip ass mightily. And has amazing gadgets.
MANIA: In your opinion, what is it about the Black Panther that sets him apart from other "royal" super heroes or other heroes in general?
HUDLIN: The Black Panther is more engaged in the rest of the world than Black Bolt or Namor, who are more stand-offish. He joined the Avengers to make sure they were on the up and up...basically, to spy on them. He's not some guy fighting crime, he's a major player in global politics. But he's not scared to get his hands dirty.
MANIA: When you first were thinking about working on the Black Panther, why did you - at this point in your career when you had so much going on in other mediums outside of comic books - want to take on an endeavor like this?
HUDLIN: I grew up loving comics and this is the comic book I always wanted to write. So when I was given the opportunity, I couldn't pass on it.
MANIA: How has the reality of scripting a monthly comic book series been compared to what you thought a task like that would entail when you were just in the planning stages of Black Panther?
HUDLIN: It was originally supposed to be six issues. But it was so successful they asked me to turn it into a monthly series. The time demands are brutal. But at the same time, I'm living the dream!
MANIA: Speaking of the beginning, what were your initial goals for T'Challa?
HUDLIN: I thought that he was an underrated character, and I wanted to drive up his visibility and his respect level. And there were stories, there were character interactions I always wanted to see.
MANIA: Now, having a few years under your belt, how do you feel you've met those goals?
HUDLIN: Between having Panther, Luke Cage and Blade team up in post-Katrina New Orleans, the marriage of the Black Panther and Storm of the X Men, Panther and Storm in the forefront of the Civil War, and now them leading the Fantastic Four - not a bad start.
MANIA: When you were just starting your journey with the Black Panther, what were some of the long term goals you had for the series and character? Where did you want the character to be in a year? In a few years?
HUDLIN: How can you be a King and not have a Queen? Isn't a big part of that job to produce heirs? So I knew I wanted him to get married, and Storm was the perfect choice. They have shared history, and many points of commonality. I also knew having two powerful leaders in a marriage would lead to many interesting stories.
MANIA: If one of our readers hasn't read any of this new series yet, what does he or she have to know to pick up the most recent issue and understand what's going on?
HUDLIN: The first trade paperback (but also available in hardcover!), called WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER?, was designed to do just that. A book that would bring new readers up to speed on the character. The second tpb, WILD KINGDOM, introduces his relationship with Storm, but the next one BAD MUTHA, is the "Katrina" arc...I think the book really hits its stride then. Next is THE WEDDING, which obviously is a must. Which leads us up to now ...
MANIA: Speaking of ... there seemed to be a lot of people who were shocked to see the Black Panther's relationship with the X-Men's Storm take the twists and turns that it took, especially since it was announced as early as it was that the two would wed. Did you want to keep the wedding secret? If so, what happened that kind of forced the hand? If this was all calculated, why did you think it was necessary to promote the nuptials so early?
HUDLIN: Marvel is in charge of marketing the book and given our success I have no problem with them doing what they do. Even with us saying it up front, I think a lot of people didn't think the wedding would happen. I got emails from people threatening me bodily harm if the wedding didn't actually go through. This was a moment a lot people dreamed of, and they couldn't believe there wasn't going to be some last minute twist. So the fact that things went relatively smoothly was the twist.
MANIA: What has surprised you the most about the reaction to T'Challa and Ororo's relationship from fans in and out of comics?
HUDLIN: Most people loved it. Even people who were initially skeptical saw what a good pair they made once they saw them together. Of course, there are people who think nothing in comics should change from whenever they started reading them, but that's not the Marvel way.
MANIA: When you first began working on the Black Panther/Storm wedding, did you already know about the Civil War? If so, how did that change/slightly alter your plans for the series? If not, when did you find out and how were you able to work it in?
HUDLIN: When I starting planning the wedding, the Civil War was still pretty far away. There were whispers about it. It actually enhanced my plans for the couple so it worked into my storylines pretty smoothly.
MANIA: People seem to either love or hate the armor Black Panther is sporting. Why did you want to add that element to his costume? How long is the armor going to be a part of his attire?
HUDLIN: The armor is just the beginning of the cool stuff I want to add to the Panther's repertoire. He's so much wealthier than Batman, not to mention he's got better technology...I think he should tricked out with a lot of cool toys.
MANIA: What have been some of the things you've enjoyed the most about getting to work on a character like Black Panther?
HUDLIN: The quiet moments. Like when he spoke to the young man who idolizes him in the first arc, or Luke and T'Challa talking about women in BAD MUTHA, or Ororo and T'Challa on their honeymoon. Those can be as impactful as any fight scene.
MANIA: I know you've done a lot of book signing events for the series that have been packed with fans. How does it feel to have so many different types of people supporting this series and excited about what's happening in the pages?
HUDLIN: When I did the signing at Golden Apple the line filled every aisle at the store down to the far end of the block. I stayed at least an extra hour. There were first time readers...not just of the BLACK PANTHER, but comics period. There were girls, women. There were long time fans lured back by the promise of their favorite character finally getting the shine he deserved.
I have fans who could care less about the rest of my career. Movies, programming a network..whatever! But BLACK PANTHER....that's hot! A lot of fans who are actors, directors, etc.
MANIA: With all that good, has there been any bad? Have you had any kind of negative experiences in person with a fan about your work here?
HUDLIN: I've never really had a negative experience in person...at least nothing worth noting. There's a lot of negativity on line, some of it very racist, but that seems to be inversely proportional to the success of the book.
HUDLIN: Once they become members of the Fantastic Four, they have real FF-style cosmic adventures. I can't reveal the twist at the end of the second story in the arc, but I promise no one, and I mean no one, will see it coming.
MANIA: Why did you want to have the Black Panther and Storm become a part of the Fantastic Four? What does this add to the mystique of the series?
HUDLIN: First of all, the Black Panther debuted in the Fantastic Four, so it's a return to his roots. And even though they are perfect to run the FF while Reed and Sue are gone, it's not obvious...which makes it a story worth telling.
MANIA: I think some would be curious why the two of them would want to join Marvel's First Family ....
HUDLIN: Besides the political reasons that will make sense in the post-Civil War world, they are friends. Friends who want to help them, and friends who need some help. And Panther and Storm are always there for their friends.
MANIA: How closely are you coordinating things with the writer of the Fantastic Four? How will this affect your continuity for the series?
HUDLIN: Dwayne McDuffie is a friend who has taught me most of what I know about the comics business. It's a joy to work with him. Our first conversation about this took about an hour and a half and so many great ideas just flowed out. The two books with dance together perfectly.
MANIA: When you're working on this series, as someone who comes to comics from a television and film background where you've worked as a writer, director, producer, actor and so much more, do you find yourself being influenced by things outside the usual comic book box when creating each new step in this hero's journey?
HUDLIN: African cinema and music, COWBOY BEBOP for their willingness to abruptly change tone from episode to episode, my marriage and relationships of other people I know, and of course what's going on in the newspapers every day.
MANIA: How do you find time as President of BET TV and with everything else you're involved in to write comics, when so many from outside the comics industry who have taken a job working on a series, haven't been able to handle the grind of comics and "day job"?
HUDLIN: It's just insane. I talked to Joss Whedon about it and he just looked at me like I was crazy. I literally don't know how I do it other than it's just so much fun that I make time.
MANIA: What are some of the other projects - both in and out of comic books - that you're working on in the upcoming months?
HUDLIN: As President of Entertainment of BET, the world's largest black media company, I create programming for BET and BET J, which means news, sports, primetime, music specials, everything. The BET Awards is the biggest special on all of cable. I created an animation division for the network. I created a home entertainment division so we can put out DVDs of our shows, and I am starting a feature film division through Paramount Pictures. Soon our programming will be seen in the UK, Japan and South Africa. It's a big job.
For more information about that, or my film and television career before that, go to my website: www.hudlinentertainment.com
JENNIFER M. CONTINO is a lifelong comic book fan. She writes about the industry every weekday at http://www.comicon.com/pulse