With good art, nothing is truly random. Everything in the panel, every line, every color, adds to the overall message received by the reader. You can even step back and find layers of commentary on the story as a whole in a single panel. In this weekly feature I’ll try to at least touch on some of the tricks and intricacies found in a single, well-drawn piece of art. Today, I’m looking at the Frank Cho-drawn front cover of Black Panther #18 Even though this cover is a wraparound, that’s not what stares at you from the rack. You only see the front half of the cover, and the front half of the cover effectively tells you everything you need to know about the story. It is a skillful, thematic depiction of the issue itself. Frank Cho is extremely talented at getting the story across in a single picture.
The most obvious metaphor in this cover is the opposing face trick with Captain America and Iron Man. This acknowledges the Civil War crossover in Marvel comics, and the wedding party in the center represents the neutrality of Wakanda in this conflict, and the event which is interrupting the conflict. That’s not the symbolism that struck me about the cover. It was the presentation of the wedding party.
The most prominent person is the title character himself. King T’Challa stands tall, masculine and strong. There is detail and emphasis on his musculature, his visible fist is clenched, and his feet are shoulder-width apart. T’Challa’s in a solid stance, prepared for anything. He’s in his Black Panther costume, so that his extraordinary power is evident to the world. He is the tallest character on the front cover, and the darkest figure on the cover. Even slightly off-center, he commands your attention immediately. He’s a King, a concept very clearly shown on this cover. It’s not a far leap to say that T’Challa represents the height of masculine power.
To T’Challa’s right, behind him, is his mother. She’s dressed in nuturing greens and positioned in a supportive position. She’s backing him up, and looking on her son with a slight smile. Her face is shaped to highlight her wisdom. There’s a solidness in the lining of her brow and eyes. The shading on her cheek shows a determined personality. Her shoulders are broad, and her stance is as solid as her son’s, only she is turned slightly to watch him. She’s his mother, representative of feminine wisdom. She backs T’Challa, showing that even at the height of masculine power, he still has an Athena (not only in his mother, but in his own mind) guiding his decisions.
To T’Challa’s right, in front of him is the bridesmaid, Kitty Pryde. You can tell its her for sure by the purple dragon in front of her dress. She’s carrying a bouquet of roses, wearing a rose garland on her head, wearing in a rose dress. Kitty’s an interesting choice, as she’s a particularly ingenuous character. She’s the sweet fantasy girlfriend of X-Men fans. She’s the girl next door. The spring maiden, the flower girl. Kitty is innocence and light wherever she appears, and here she holds romantic roses, the same type of flower as the petals flowing in the wind, framing the bridal couple in a sunset of timeless love. Unusually, Kitty, a friend of Storm’s as obviously there as the bridesmaid, is positioned on the Groom’s side of the tableau. Again, this is emphasizing T’Challa’s masculine power and Royal competence. As he has feminine wisdom behind him, backing his actions, he has a symbol of hope, peace and love in front of him. This is what he offers to the world.
And finally, the bride herself, Storm of the X-Men. Unlike T’Challa, who is wearing his costume, she’s not wearing an X-Men uniform. She’s in her wedding dress. Here she is not a superhero, she is a bride. Her musculature is smooth, showing traditionally feminine beauty over strength and power. She’s positioned interestingly. Her feet are hidden by her dress train. Her hips are close to T’Challa, her hand entwined with his, but her shoulders are slightly moved away from him. She’s gazing at him, adoration in her eyes, leaning back to get a full view of her manly husband to be. Her hair trials back in the wind, which seems to be billowing his cape in the opposite direction of her hair. Indeed, the wind itself seems to be coming from him — the force of his power, perhaps?
Storm’s positioning to T’Challa is metatextual. This is not a marriage of equals, that much is obvious. She’s turned to view him adoringly, while he stares straight ahead. This cover revolves around T’Challa. Storm is now a satellite of Black Panther. She has gone from an independent character to a supporting cast member. This wedding increases Black Panther. It adds a supportive wife to his cast. That supportive wife brings her own power and prestige and adds it to his. Her fans will pick up this book and become regular readers to see her. Through this wedding, T’Challa absorbs Storm and everything that is hers becomes his.
She becomes the third feminine aspect added to T’Challa’s regal presence. Most of you, as comic book readers, are familiar with the three faces of goddesses, as seen in Celtic, Greek, and Norse mythology? While I’d promised myself I wouldn’t bring them up in this column, it’s too clearly here not to mention. T’Challa’s Mother is the Crone, Kitty the Maiden, and Storm, while not literally a mother (yet), is the Mother (as she is of the right age, is marrying royalty, already expected to be the mother of future Kings of Wakanda, and given her powers she may as well be code-named Mother Nature). T’Challa, the height of masculine power, absorbs three different kinds of feminine power.
So what we end up with, staring at us from the rack at the comic book store, is King T’Challa of Wakanda, Black Panther, as the Ultimate Symbol of Male Virility.