Typically, when we talk about origin stories in comics, we focus on superheroes. Rarely do we focus on supporting or secondary characters. David Taft Terry writes about the introduction of Bill Foster and his role working with Hank Pym; however, that is the only real discussion, so far, I have seen on supporting characters. After reading Sam Wilson’s (Falcon) origin story, I decided to see where and when Marvel introduced Monica Lynne to T’Challa (Black Panther). Her initial appearance occurs in Roy Thomas’ Avengers #73 (1970), four years after T’Challa’s first appearance in Fantastic Four #52. Today, I want to briefly take a look at Monica Lynne’s first appearance and discuss it in relation to Don McGregor’s run on Jungle Action from 1973-1976.
Avengers #73 is an interesting title, especially in light of our own current social milieu. It involves a group known as the Sons of the Serpent who wish to sow racial discord and ultimately start a new civil war. The opening page shows the group gathered around its leader as he espouses nationalist rhetoric: “We who wear the serpent’s robes are the destined masters of America! As the first serpent drove Adam and Eve from Eden . . . so shall we drive from this land the unfit . . . the foreign-born . . . the inferior!” Appearing at the end of the 1960s, this rhetoric exists as a push back against the advances made by the Civil Rights Movement but also as a resistance to the emergence of the Black Power/Arts movement of the late 1960s.
After Montague Hale, a Black talk show host, denounces the Sons of the Serpent on television, they attack him and knock him unconscious. The next night, he appears on Dan Dunn’s show, a show positioned as the white counter to Hale’s. The two verbally go at it, and in the middle of the argument, Dunn cuts Hale off stating that he has a special guest on the show, singer Monica Lynne. Monica takes the stage and begins to sing.
When she concludes, Monica sits down with Hale and Dunn. She tells Dunn, “I’m a singer, not a politician! I don’t feel it’s my place to tell people what to believe!” Even though Monica has a platform to espouse and push for change in the social order, she maintains she is nothing more than an entertainer. This position appears to run counter to some well known celebrity activist of the period such as athletes Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar and artists such as Sidney Poitier, Nina Simone, and Harry Belafonte. Dunn applauds Monica’s take, but Hale has no comment.
Hale offers Monica a ride after the show and begins to speak with her about using her celebrity “for the right cause”; however, she tells him that the only cause she looks out for is that of “Monica Lynne.” Hale reminds her what the Sons of the Serpent did to him, but she just pushes it aside telling him, “None of what you’ve been talking about concerns me!” Rather than taking a stand against racism, Monica chooses to remain out of the fight, pushing towards her own stardom.
Monica’s decision, though, does not mean anything to the Sons of the Serpent because they target her and try to kidnap her, only T’Challa arrives to save her. The attempted kidnapping, T’Challa’s rescue, and the lack of police intervention all push Monica to change her stance, moving her towards an active role in the fight against oppression.
At the conclusion of the altercation, Monica runs out and sees a policeman who asks her why the men would even target her in the first place. She places a hand over her face and tells him, “my skin is reason enough . . . for vermin like that!” Then, she angrily asks the officer, “What I want to know is where were the police until the danger was over? Didn’t you want to dirty your hands . . . to rescue a black girl?” The officer tells her they do the best they can, but his answer doesn’t satisfy Monica. She walks away saying she has “to call a man .. . about a cause . . . !” Monica’s questions, and the officer’s response, are telling because rather than the police targeting Black bodies as they do in “The Panther vs. The Klan,” they fail to serve and protect Monica because she is Black.
The next night, Monica and Hale appear on Dunn’s show again where Monica tells the national audience about the attempted kidnapping. She tells Dunn, “. . . And that’s what happened to me last night . . . because my skin is Black in a country that wants to keep itself Lily-White!” Dunn questions whether the attack was, in fact racially motivated, and Hale responds by telling Dunn to open his eyes. This whole exchange sounds eerily similar to the discussion surrounding even recent cases of police brutality. In regard to the moment of its appearance in 1970, the scene recalls possibly the deaths of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in 1969.
After the show, Monica asks Hale to drive her home so they can talk. We do not see what they talk about on the drive to Monica’s house because the next panel shows Monica getting out of her car and feeling as if someone is watching her. It turns out that T’Challa awaits her. He asks her not to return to Dunn’s show the next night and ends with, “I’m asking you as a soul brother!” The use of “soul brother” catches Monica off guard and she realizes, at that moment, that T’Challa is Black. His African heritage gets subsumed into what becomes an diasporic view of Blackness, bringing him together with Monica.
Monica questions T’Challa asking him, “Why haven’t you let anyone know this before?” T’Challa looks at her and responds, “I thought it was enough to be just a man!” T’Challa’s pronouncement echoes Monica’s from earlier where she claims to just be a singer. However, her celebrity and accomplishments will not shield her from the racist attacks of the Sons of the Serpent and others. T’Challa believes the same thing, and their thoughts can be seen in the ways that athletes like Joe Louis and even Jackie Robinson, early in his career, performed the role of celebrity. We can even look at Bill Cosby as an example here. However, no amount of respectability shields Monica or T’Challa from racism. We need only look at what has happened to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Sumlin this year.
T’Challa realizes that respectability politics will not save him from racism, and he tells Monica, “But now, I know it’s time to stand up and be counted!” As he leaves, he proclaims, “And, that is just what the Black Panther intends to do!” What is interesting here is the fact that Monica pushes T’Challa to act. We need to remember that T’Challa’s first appearance in Fantastic Four shows him testing his skills against those of the Fantastic Four. He becomes part of the Avengers, but he still does not tackle racism and oppression. It is at this point that he turns towards fighting for social justice. Another interesting aspect is that Monica and Trublood cause Monica’s father to stand up and act in McGregor’s “The Panther vs. the Klan.”
I’m really interested in the storyline for other reasons as well because it occurs right around the same time that Captain America and Falcon team up in their own run. It’s also around the same period when the Green Lantern started to tackle issues of racism. (I still have not read those issues yet.) The story concludes in Avengers #74 where we find out that Hale and Dunn are both the leaders of the Sons of the Serpent. This, in and of itself, is worthy of further exploration; however, I do not have the time to do that now.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter: @silaslapham.