How Jack Kirby Almost (Kind Of) Made Black Panther a New God

Over at the Jack Kirby Shop, fans can buy a print based on the beloved comic book artist's design of Coal Tiger, the superhero who eventually evolved into Black Panther, and get a history lesson along with it.

Kirby originally developed Black Panther as Coal Tiger, a character with an exposed face and a more colorful costume (plus a tunic befitting his royal station). It is that design which can be purchased at the Jack Kirby Shop now.

Years later, the site explains, Kirby integrated elements of his Coal Tiger design into a concept for one of the New Gods characters he was developing after leaving Marvel for DC Comics. That character never saw print, but was apparently part of the original New Gods pitch documents. As the jack Kirby Shop is not selling prints of that version, it is possible that DC owns or makes a claim on that original art, whereas the post makes explicit that the Kirby Family still own the Coal Tiger art.

Coal Tiger has appeared a few times in Marvel Comics: in 1990, Bob Harras, Steve Epting, and Tom Palmer told a story in which The Coal Tiger, dressed in essentially the same clothes as in the Kirby design, was an alternate-universe version of Black Panther.

Later, as part of Marvel's M2 publishing line, Tom DeFalco and Brent Anderson introduced T'Chaka II, the Coal Tiger -- T'Challa's son who had the ability to shapeshift into a were-cat.

There are also references to Coal Tiger as alternately an opponent of the Zambian villainess Impala, and a rank in the Panther Cult.

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(Photo: Jack Kirby/DC)

Per Sean Howe's The Secret History of Marvel Comics, Coal Tiger was created for an anthology series and then shelved when Lee and Kirby were not fully satisfied they had the concept down. Later, he would reappear as Black Panther, but even then there was some confusion: initial covers mocked up before publication featured a version of the character with an exposed face, and ads that ran in Marvel Comics shortly before his first appearance seemed to suggest he was a villain.

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Stan Lee has said that he did not like the Coal Tiger design, and credits himself with creating Black Panther as he exists today. Others involved dispute exactly how it went down.