This Magazine Kills Fascists: The Panther vs The Klan
In the wake of a shocking election, much of the world is stunned that a man as hateful as Donald Trump could be elected President of the United States. In This Magazine Kills Fascists, we’ll look at times comic books and superheroes have dealt with tyrannical, corrupt and outright fascist world leaders — not because we think we can find a solution, but because art can provide inspiration in the face of oppression.
This week we’re going back to 1976 to talk about The Panther vs The Klan from Don McGregor and Billy Graham’s Jungle Action. Over the course of a three issue storyline, Black Panther got a firsthand look at institutionalized racism in the American South. Too the eyes of the contemporary reader, it's clear that things haven’t changed as much as we might have hoped over the past forty years.
“The Panther vs The Klan” follows the classic “Panther’s Rage” storyline, which has been described by many as a turning point for serialized narratives in superhero stories. It’s said that McGregor was encouraged to include more white characters in his next story, and so he did exactly that --- by putting Black Panther up against the Klan.
The story sees T’Challa traveling to rural Georgia following the apparent suicide of Monica Lynne’s sister, Angela. However, Angela Lynne had been investigating the corruption in her hometown and its links to the Klan, and it seems very possible that she was murdered to keep her from uncovering the truth.
After a graveyard run-in with an unrelated group of extremists, T'Challa and Monica meet Kevin Trublood, a crusading reporter who re-found his passion for the truth after an encounter with Angela. His description of the then-contemporary Klan of the ‘70s still feels like an apt summation of how many right wing politicians and members of the white supremacist self-proclaimed “Alt-Right” stir up hatred and spread misinformation.
Later, in a supermarket, McGregor’s bombastic Kirby-esque captions reference “inflation in the midst of a recession,” and implores readers to “pay the rent, the electricity and hope there’s enough to pay the phone company!” Again, despite all the progress that has been made over the last forty years, we're reminded that the poorest citizens still suffer at the hands of corporate interests.
Another attempt is made on Monica Lynne’s life, which is stopped by Black Panther. However, an overzealous police response leads to an angry mob descending upon T’Challa; among them, an old white woman whom he had saved just pages earlier. The police officer who attacks T’Challa from behind is described as never having struck someone before, yet he still takes the opportunity to abuse his power and authority at the expense of a black man.
After learning of the location of a KKK meet-up, Black Panther engages them in a fight, but is overwhelmed and tied to a burning cross. The image is incredibly uncomfortable to witness, and even when the hero is able to break free and literally use the Klan's symbol as a weapon against them, it’s presented not as a triumphant victory, but an exhausting trial.
The story’s climax comes at a Klan rally held with the permission of the city, led by Imperial Wizard Harrison K. Stryker. While almost certainly coincidental, it’s interesting to note that the chief racist instigator in this story shares a surname with the chief racist instigator of Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson’s X-Men graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills.
Stryker brings a blue eyed, blond haired child on stage and rallies the crowd with invective about “the black man” stealing work and food from their table. It’s the same style of invective you hear from right wing politicians today, whether aimed at black people, immigrants, or Muslims. Stryker says that their ultimate aim is representation in government positionsm and spits out anti-Semitic and racist remarks about “anti-Christ Jews” and “the supposedly oppressed black man”
With Steve Bannon, the former chair of far-right media company Breitbart, appointed as the next president’s chief strategist, it’s hard to argue that this tactic hasn’t worked. In a recent interview Bannon lauded villains such as Darth Vader and their quest for power, so he’d probably love the Red Skull and his dual obsessions of Nazism and the Cosmic Cube.
Unfortunately, “The Panther vs The Klan” was never completed as intended by its creators. The storyline pauses after three issues for a flashback in which Monica Lynne imagines Black Panther present at the lynching of Civil War-era ancestor, and battling the demonic Soul Strangler. Jungle Action was then cancelled after one more unrelated issue, and although the story was resolved years later, it was without McGregor’s involvement.
However, those three issues of Jungle Action remain as relevant today as they were forty years ago. Racists, fascists ,and outright Nazis can be seen on television, in newspapers and on social media using the exact tactics described by Trublood. With white supremacist agitators benefiting from profile pieces highlighting their fashion choices, and the American National Socialist Movement abandoning the swastika in an attempt to go mainstream, it’s important to stay vigilant against these extremists' attempt to gain mainstream legitimacy.
There are a number of worthy causes already leading the charge in the fight back. If you can, please consider donating to any of the following institutions:
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Planned Parenthood
- The Trevor Project
- Trans Lifeline
- Standing Rock
- Council on American-Islamic Relations
- National Immigration Law Center
- Bend The Arc
- The American Association of People With Disabilities
For more post-election resources, Holy F— The Election is a great starting point. As you might guess, the website uses some strong language!