For the past couple of posts, I have written about “The Panther vs. The Klan” story arc from Marvel’s Jungle Action series in the 1970s. Today, I want to finish up this discussion by looking at issue 22 where Jessica Lynne tells the story of Cousin Caleb’s encounters with the Klan and White Supremacy after the Civil War in 1867. Along with Jessica’s recollections of the story her mother told her, Monica Lynne creates her own version of the events that happened to Caleb in 1867. In this way, “Death Riders on the Horizon” serves as a palimpsest where Monica’s version of the events gets laid on top of the original story. This narrative move serves to comment on the past while at the same time looking to the future and referring to the present. It creates a multilayered text that pulls from the previous issues of the story arc as well.
From the opening page, the events of the past few issues come into focus in two bubbles. If you recall the fight T’Challa has with the Klan members in the grocery store in issue 20, you will undoubtedly remember that during the brawl Rebecca Winthrop hits T’Challa on the head with a can of cat food, leaving a scar on his face that “he will carry. . . for the rest of his life.” As T’Challa leaps onto the Lynne’s porch in issue 22, we see a continuation of the lingering physical scar that T’Challa receives in #20. Here, the narrator comments on the “hidden” death riders on the horizon. Even though we may not see them, “that does not mean that they never existed! Or that they never affected your life!” No matter how much we choose to ignore it, the past affects our present and our future. Assume we may not understand, the narration makes the point even clearer in the next panel as it addresses us as readers: “Examine yourself, Horatio, and you may begin to perceive their ancient tracks. They leave a trail of distorted history that has left subtle scars of guilt and anger–” The history of this nation, and the South in the issue, directly influences the present, as we have seen with recent history from the election to the removal of monuments celebrating the South and white supremacy in New Orleans over the past couple of months.
However, issue 22 also highlights how the present can affect how we view the past and move forward. When Jessica begins to tell Caleb’s story, we see a dilapidated shack with a broken fence and a horse feeding on grass in the foreground. The corresponding images show Caleb as an older, weaker man surrounded by his family as the Klan arrives to threaten them. On the next page, we get Monica’s images of Caleb. Here, the first image is of a well-kept two-story house, and T’Challa watches as the Klan approaches. Monica has a hand to her chin and slightly smiles as she ponders these images. As for Caleb, we see him still as an older man, but rather than appearing feeble and submissive, we see him and his family as strong enduring individuals who will stand up to injustice.
When the riders arrive, they threaten Caleb and tell him that if they see him at the Freedom’s Bureau, there will be hell to pay. In Jessica’s version, we see a quivering Caleb in the foreground as a white finger points in his face telling him, “Beware, nigra . . . for we are watching you even when you cannot see us!” In the background, Caleb’s wife Elle cowers with their two children. In Monica’s version. T’Challa looks on from a tree as the rider approaches Caleb. Caleb stands defianetly as the Klan member repeats the same words, but rather than remaining silent, Caleb replies after the man says they will return if he visits the Freedman’s Bureau, “If you do—-might be . . . You’ll regret it!” At that, T’Challa leaps from the branch and attacks the riders.
Immediately following this scene, we return to the present and see Monica and T’Challa holding hands as Jessica asks if Monica is feeling well. Monica simply says she’s “faraway.” This panel is interesting because all we see of Monica and T’Challa are their intertwined hands. We see Jessica’s concerned face and Lloyd playing solitaire. Monica finds strength in T’Challa and places her image of him onto Caleb in the past, thus layering the present onto past events. We must also recall that Monica, from what we can tell, did not have male, or female, figures in her life who fought back against oppression. Remember, Lloyd does not act until he hears Trublood speaking. Since T’Challa fights back, she now has an image of resistance that she can use to understand the past and to move forward in the future.
After visiting the Freedman’s Bureau ( a scene I do not have time to discuss), the riders return and enact their violence on Caleb for disobeying their commands. In Jessica’s version, we see the men hang Caleb as Ellie and her children watch. In the four panels in the middle of the page, we see Ellie’s face and Caleb’s dangling legs. The panel that just shows Ellie’s face brings the past, present, and future together in that moment: “Ellie gazes upward and sees the future and the past in one glaring melange of images that blinds her to the present.” She sees the past where Caleb is with her and the future where here children will not have a father. This convergence also corresponds to the present with Monica and Jessica. Jessica sees the past, as in Caleb’s death, but Monica sees the future, represented in the past. Rather than the men lynching Caleb in Monica’s version, they attempt to hang T’Challa, and fail.
The issue concludes with Jessica again asking Monica if she is OK and still with them. The panel where she asks this shows a silhouette of Caleb hanging from the tree as Ellie mourns in the background, signifying Jessica’s vision of the past and the weight it carries. In the next panel, T’Challa and Monica walk back into the house, and he asks her the same question. Monica responds, “I was conjuring my own mythology.” T’Challa creates within Monica a view of resistance and strength that opposes racial oppression, a vision that she can use to construct and formulate her own mythologies that will allow her to fight back in the present and future. We must also think about what this “myth” means in relation to the “myth” of America that Trublood discusses in issue 20.
There is so much more that could be said, but I do not have the space. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter: @silaslapham.