black panther

Exclusive preview: Fabian Nicieza on Black Panther OGN, New Warriors and Deadpool 2

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Technology has long been an integral element of the Black Panther mythology. Wakanda’s science and tech appear to be a key factor in the upcoming Black Panther movie from Marvel Studios. That film doesn’t arrive in theaters until Feb. 16, but the hype train for King T’Challa is already chugging along.

The upcoming digital graphic novel Black Panther: Soul of a Machine will feature an original story spearheaded by head writer Fabian Nicieza and co-writers Geoffrey Thorne and Chuck Brown. The OGN, due out in December, is a partnership between Marvel Custom Solutions and Lexus. If you’ve seen the latest trailer for the movie — and nearly 9 million people have so far — then you’ve probably noticed that Lexus vehicles make an appearance. The company did more than just product-place some of its cars, though; Black Panther will feature Lexus' latest top-of-the-line rocket ship, the LC 500.

SYFY WIRE has an exclusive early look at the complete first chapter of the graphic novel below. In addition, we hopped on the phone with Nicieza to discuss the project, the first time the veteran comics writer has worked on the character of T’Challa.

"I haven't actually," Nicieza told us when we asked if had ever written the character before. "He wasn't part of The Avengers when I wrote that book, and I don't think I wrote him into any issue of Thunderbolts, Thor, or New Warriors, which were always my more mainstream-y Marvel Universe books. As opposed to the X-books, which were always forced to keep ourselves segregated (laughs)."

Considering Nicieza’s long career in comics, there was no way we weren’t going to bring up a few other topics, such as the Merc With a Mouth. The co-creator of Deadpool discussed what he hopes to see in the highly anticipated film sequel, as well as his expectations for Marvel's New Warriors television series. Read on and enjoy, and then check out the first chapter of Black Panther: Soul of a Machine, and let us know what you think!

Fabian, tell us what Black Panther: Soul of a Machine is about, and what is the meaning behind that title?

Fabian Nicieza: The title is twofold. The story is about seeking perfection through the attainment of technological advancements. It is just the difference in how the "good guys" and "bad guys" go about seeking that sense of perfection. Soul of a Machine, the title really speaks to the infusing of our humanity, ideals, our core beliefs toward improving our lives through technology in a positive way.

Since its first appearance, Wakanda has always been a land of dichotomy. It has this delicate balance of ancient traditions as well as futuristic technology. Is this story going to touch on that balancing act that has always been somewhat center to T'Challa and Wakanda?

Yes, and the idea is to use an outside force to agitate within Wakanda. We're using a longstanding Marvel villain, Machinesmith, who was human but is now an Artificial Intelligence [living within a robotic body]. He means to usurp Wakanda's technological core as a means of using Wakanda as a fulcrum to change civilization all over the planet. He's basically trying to trigger a technological, biological change in the human species. He can use Wakanda to do that through Vibranium and the conduits that Vibranium has manifested in the outside world.

What we do touch base on a lot, with my co-writers Geoffrey Thorne and Chuck Brown, is we try to also infuse aspects of Wakanda's culture and its ancient rhythms and beliefs into the story. The story is philosophical in nature, but it's a comic book. I always try to write a Marvel comic to include a certain amount of adventure, action, and ... headbanging wherever possible. But the crux of the story is very philosophical: What is that fine line between us improving ourselves as a species and losing what makes a unique species?

It's a tie-in, obviously, to the upcoming Black Panther movie, but is the story connected in any way to the story we'll see unfold in the movie? Does it have any links to the current Black Panther comics series by Ta-Nehisi Coates or the recent companion series, World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey?

We absolutely did tie it in to the World of Wakanda series and incorporate some of that storytelling into what we were trying to do. But my personal experience with Black Panther goes back all the way to 1968, when he started appearing in The Avengers (laughs). I read his first appearance (in Fantastic Four #52) in a great reprint comic Marvel used to put out, Marvel's Greatest Comics. I used to buy all the Marvel Jungle Action issues featuring the Panther by Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, and Billy Graham, so I'm very comfortable and well versed with the character. I needed to see what they've been doing recently and seeing what supporting characters have been developed and the visual approach being taken. All of which has been a really wonderful advancement of what came before it, without contradicting, but building on it. We tied all into that.

I imagine it would have been easier to just ignore all the current stuff and just do a one-off book here that didn't try to maintain any consistency with the current stories.

I'm an old man, so I'm a creature of habit of trying to find a way to merge as much as you can of the current content [with what I'm working on]. Whether that be movies, cartoons, print publishing, I always feel you should maintain as consistent a level of accuracy that shares traits with all of them. I think the audience appreciates that when you successfully do that.

Much like Iron Man becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown the casual fan what comic book readers have known for years: that the Black Panther is a fascinating character. What is it about T'Challa that makes him such a compelling hero?

I think more than anything, the fact that he's a king. That right there separates him. From his very first introduction, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were introducing the first mainstream African-American superhero into comic book, and they made him a king. That says a lot right off the bat, that you need to pay attention to this character.

As a reader, I've always felt that the Panther's status as a monarch has been sublimated to the appearances he makes in a team book, like when he's in The Avengers or something like that. He's at his best in many ways, when he has a chance to shine by himself in his own stories, such as Don McGregor's Jungle Action run, and Christopher Priest's fantastic run in the late '90s [Black Panther Vol. 3].

What Priest, Sal Valluto, and Mark Texiera did was really elevate the character's confident approach so that a combination of things happened. Readers began to get it in a better way, that holy crap, this guy's a freaking king! Also, characters in the Marvel Universe started to react to him that way, in a better way than in a "fourth Avenger to the right in the last panel" type of way. I think that Priest really did a lot to elevate the character in the Marvel U, which I think ultimately informed a lot of what Hollywood has been doing with him and his introduction in Captain America: Civil War, and now in his own movie. I honestly haven't seen any more of the Black Panther movie than you have, but from what I've seen, it looks like a really good mix of Stan and Jack and Don McGregor, Christopher Priest, Rich Buckler, Billy Graham, Mark Texeira, and so many others' material, as well. 

Working on a project like this must be a bit of a tightrope act. You have to toe the line between whatever corporate commitments have been made and simply delivering a good story in the end, right? 

I've been doing a lot of custom comic book work for Marvel and DC the last couple of years, partially because they turn to veterans who know how to straddle those fine lines to do the work. The other part is, in my advanced years, with the amount of work I've done in the industry, I prefer to look for challenges now, as opposed to trying to pitch something I've already done. When the Marvel Custom Solutions editor Darren Sanchez, who I've known for over 20 years, calls me and says, "I've got something I could use your help on," nine times out of ten it's because I know it's going to be a tough nut to crack (laughs). And I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean it in a hardworking, diligent way. Every one of these projects is different, and I'm not just saying this because I'm doing an interview, but this one with Lexus has been pretty smooth on my end. I'm telling a Black Panther story set in the Marvel universe. It's been real fun to work on.

Let's turn to a different Marvel project, the upcoming New Warriors television series that's debuting next year on Freeform. Since you know the New Warriors as well as anyone, having written their initial 75-issue run, what do they need to do to get it right?

Well, I'll start with the caveat that I wrote a version of New Warriors, the original. But there are several versions of the group. Many will say, although it would be crass of me to say so, that MY version was the best, but ... but I will say it was the most successful version of New Warriors, so we'll go with that!

I've actually had numerous conversations with the showrunners to discuss this very thing. The TV thing is not the original comics thing; it is its own entity, and my desire is for it to be as good as it can possibly be for what it is. And what it is is a half-hour dramedy, comedy docu-comedy show about a young group of 20-somethings living in a house, pretending to be superheroes. What I think is the core underlying ethos of New Warriors that made my run so successful and that others struggled with was the strident, passionate, and relatively immature perspective the young bring to seek change in the world. There has to be an element of anger and passion to that, which infused the original series. There also has to be an element of positive aspiration to it, too, because they're supposed to be good people who just don't know enough about the world yet. I hope they use those elements in the TV show, because then, to me, it's the brand of New Warriors. If they don't, it will be other iterations that Marvel published, and there's a reason those didn't succeed: because it lacked the core DNA.

I personally wish that Firestar would have made the cut for the show.

I don't think there's any legal Fox cartoon issue to explain that, I really don't. I think that frankly, the special effects budget has to be incredibly limited for a half-hour show on Freeform, so they're using a lot of characters who don't need to have a heavy VFX budget behind them. I think Firestar would be 90% special effects if she's using her powers.

Another mildly successful character you co-created with Rob Liefeld is getting ready to make his theatrical return. Deadpool 2 is in production now. The first film caught a lot of people by surprise, but after you earn nearly $800M worldwide, things change. There is pressure and expectation that come with that type of success. And he's a truly unique character; do you think there's ever a chance of going overboard with Deadpool?

You can, certainly. I won't know 'til I'm sitting in the theater watching the movie (laughs). You can always put too much into a story that prevents you from actually telling a story. I have such incredible faith and trust in Ryan Reynolds, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick (the screenwriters) because they pulled off the near-impossible along with Tim Miller, which is taking a character that's incredibly difficult to translate into live action. The benefit Deadpool has going into it is that it's not a big-budget, superstar blah-blah-blah; it's still a low-budget, scrappy underdog type of movie. My concern is that we live in a society that loves to tear down the underdog, and now that Deadpool has succeeded beyond all expectations, there are those who will be looking to tear it down just for the sake of saying, "See? I tore it down." I hope it doesn't happen. It's always a concern when you do a sequel.

On the other hand, everything I've seen looks phenomenal. I don't have any reason not to trust the people making the movie. I'm looking forward to it, not just because I co-created Deadpool, but I've written Cable more often than anyone else on the planet has, by a good chunk. I really want to see him done right and would love to see him spin off into an X-Force franchise, etc, etc. So fingers crossed. I'm not involved in it, I have zero control. I'm just an ass in a seat in a theater like everyone else. I just hope I enjoy it as much as I did the first.