Years ago, the late/great writer Dwayne McDuffie recounted how despite being an incredible ratings success, the Static Shock cartoon was unable to attract toy companies or other licensors. I’m guessing there were certain higher-ups who couldn’t fathom an African-American teen superhero having mass appeal regardless of race (probably someone with a similar mindset who more than likely blocked the Black Widow toys back in 2015).
Cut to today when not only is Marvel Studios releasing a Black Panther film this February but also conducting a major marketing and merchandise push on par with its previous traditional mainstream heroes like Iron Man or Captain America. Courtesy of Yahoo, some of the upcoming Black Panther toys hitting shelves have been unveiled and they are truly something to behold. Though I’m sure this is only a small sample of what’s to come (it’s not an official superhero movie until we see the Funko figures), the presence of Black Panther merch represents significant progress regarding diversity in media and marketing.
Until I saw these toys, it didn’t fully dawn on me just how important the Black Panther film is, especially, not to get too political, in this current tense time in the country.
Those who complained that the Black Panther trailer was “too black” (the same people who can’t fathom a black actor like Idris Elba portraying the fictional Norse deity Heimdall or tried and failed to boycott the last Star Wars movie for being “anti-white”) will be up in arms once again when they see not a single white character in sight from this preview. What’s more, Letitia Wright’s character Shuri, the sister of Black Panther/T’Challa, will also be receiving her own action figure. With any luck, the other black female characters featured prominently in the film such as the Dora Milaje will be getting their own figures as well.
One notable observation, it appears that the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan will be donning his own vibranium suit resembling the Panther. Obviously Killmonger’s original look as conceived by writer Don McGregor and artist Rich Buckler isn’t completely suitable for the film medium, but equipping the villain with the hero’s own powers and abilities seems like a tired trope that’s been done before particularly in the MCU (Iron Monger in Iron Man or Yellowjacket in Ant-Man anyone?). With the exception of Loki, Marvel Studios doesn’t have the best track record with memorable or exceptional villains, but I have high hopes that director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan will make Killmonger just as compelling as the Black Panther.
Speaking of villains, I am curious if we can expect a figure for Ulysses Klaue. As unlikely as it is, a part of me is hoping to see the character turn into the classic Kirby appearance, but as long as he wields some sort of sonic device on his hand, I’ll be a happy camper. I’m sure the inimitable Andy Serkis will be glad that audiences will actually get to appreciate his real face onscreen.
I remember back in the 2016, when the Captain America: Civil War merchandise arrived at my local comic store, all the Black Panther masks and Funko Pops sold out in less than a week. Assuming Black Panther doesn’t end up disappointing and alienating viewers (unlike say the disaster that is Inhumans), I’m confident Marvel Studios will have yet another critical and commercial hit under its belt.