“Great T’Challa pursued them there — alone. That was… two days ago. Since that time we’ve had no word from him.”
Johnny and Ben are rough-housing when they are interrupted by Sue and Reed, who has received a call from Taku, one of T’Challa, the king of Wakanda’s advisors. The Black Panther is missing after going on a mission to recover a dangerous device from theives. The Wakandans want the Fantastic Four to help find him. Reed tells Ben and Johnny to go searching for him while he stays behind. The two board a plane which is nearly hijacked, but they are able to defeat the terrorist and land in the country of Rudyarda, where racism is very pronounced and endemic. Once there they manage to track down T’Challa and break him out of prison. They track down the thief and find that Klaw has been behind the whole subterfuge defeating him and recovering the device, Ben, Johnny, and T’Challa depart.
This is Roy Thomas’s first script — he was a very young writer at the time, and he is now only the third credited writer to work on the title. For all of that, it is an entertaining and rather thoughtful tale. Quite a lot has been packed into a fairly short space, but the story doesn’t seem cramped. The conventional, rather cliched by now, opening of Ben and Johnny bickering operates as a very nice counterpoint to the final scene of them working in complete harmony and walking off with T’Challa, all of them of one accord.
It’s a very deft move for an issue where so much of the plot is predicated on superficial differences. There is a good deal of politics in this issue, not just with the apartheid ‘Rudyardan’ nation, but also with an attempted Communist hijacking on the flight over there. The Black Panther has also renamed himself ‘Black Leopard’ in order to distance himself from an American group of that same name. He states that such a change is very minor, since a leopard is still a panther, but it is another instance of the political sensitivities that this story is trying to navigate.
The points it makes may seem rather facile by today’s standards, but they remain valid and well-executed. Although T’Challa needs Ben and Johnny’s help in breaking out of prison, he is very capable in wrapping up the problems of the rest of the issue. Ultimately, the message is not that everyone is equal, but that those who stand together are greater than all of those who wish to keep everyone separate. And this is not only played out by the finale, but also by Ben and Johnny working together to solve the first half of the issue’s obstacles with each other.