Hunter glided into the pages of Black Panther stealthily, first trailing him under a cloak of invisibility in the closing panels of issue #3, before fully appearing in issue #4. Even then, his back story was slowly filled in, told principally through a 3-page sequence in Black Panther #10.
As an infant, Hunter was aboard an airplane which crashed in Wakanda; his family and the plane’s crew were killed, but Hunter miraculously survived. King T’Chaka and Queen N’Yami adopted Hunter as their son, but eventually N’Yami gave birth to her own son, T’Challa, dying in childbirth. Although T’Chaka continued to demonstrate approval of Hunter, eventually promoting the adult Hunter to serve as the White Wolf, chieftain of the Hatut Zeraze (Wakandan secret police), Hunter was never fully accepted as a member of Wakandan society, nor did he consider Prince T’Challa to be his brother. After T’Chaka was killed by Ulysses Klaw, 13-year old T’Challa became king and disbanded the Hatut Zeraze due to their brutal methods. Indignant, Hunter left Wakanda with his still-loyal policemen joining him in self-imposed exile. Hunter’s greatest desire is for the Hatut Zeraze to be reinstated as the secret police and his former authority to be affirmed by T’Challa. To this end, he causes or intensifies virtually every conflict T’Challa experiences in Priest’s Black Panther.
Through Hunter, we can see a different take on white privilege than that of Everett K. Ross. While Ross gradually developed into a character more sensitive to other cultures, Hunter refuses to change. He is a deeply proud man suffering from issues of entitlement. I believe the most compelling means of analyzing Hunter as a character is to draw comparisons with the ur-example of jungle heroes: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.
Burroughs debuted his most famous creation back in 1912, through the pages of the pulp magazine The All-Story, later collected in the 1914 novel Tarzan of the Apes. In the novel, Tarzan is John Clayton, born to the British nobles Lord and Lady Greystoke, who had been stranded in Africa on the coast of Angola, near the Belgian Congo. Raised by a family of apes who name the infant “Tarzan” from a word in their own ape vocabulary which means “White-Skin”, Tarzan is happy to live among the apes at first, but as he grows older he drifts away from the ape culture and eventually becomes fascinated by a group of British explorers whom he recognizes as his own kind. Eventually he learns how to communicate with humans and claims his noble birthright in England.
Tarzan was an immensely successful character in popular fiction during the first half of the 20th century; in addition to the 26 Tarzan books that Burroughs wrote and the numerous film, television, and comic book adaptations, Tarzan inspired a legion of imitators, most of whom are forgotten today. Among the imitators was Ka-Zar, a 1936 pulp magazine character written by Bob Byrd in a series published by Manvis Publishing. Marvis was one of the many publishing identities used by Martin Goodman, the publisher of Marvel Comics. This Ka-Zar, David Rand, was raised in the jungles of the Belgian Congo after a plane carrying his family crashed there. Eventually orphaned, Ka-Zar allied himself with the lion Zar and went on adventures in the jungles. When the first Marvel comic book, Marvel Comics #1, was published in 1939, Ka-Zar’s origin was adapted within its pages. Although the character eventually faded away, Marvel revived the alias for a new Ka-Zar in 1965; this latter hero would be based in the Antarctic Savage Land rather than Africa.
A year after the 2nd Ka-Zar’s debut, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created T’Challa, the Black Panther. By 1966, although Tarzan was still appearing in new books and films, the once-fabled franchise had diminished in might; the film series ended in 1968. Against the backdrop of a real-world Africa where white men were increasingly surrendering power to the black majority populations, Tarzan had become exposed as a historical relic. Jeff McLaughlin opined “In constructing the Black Panther, Kirby and Lee drew heavily from the heroic formula popularized by Burroughs, yet they altered it significantly, presenting their readers with a Black character that matches Tarzan in physical ability, and arguably surpasses him as an intellectual and as a leader of men.” In that sense, Lee and Kirby’s Black Panther was more in tune with 1960s culture than the Tarzan franchise.
Racism had been a problem in the Tarzan series from its outset, going back to Burroughs’ first story. After seeing black men for the first time, Tarzan despises them: “He saw that these people were more wicked than his own apes, and as savage and cruel as Sabor, herself.” It is only when Tarzan meets the white interlopers from England that he recognizes other humans as his peers. Notably, when Tarzan encounters white people for the first time (three chapters after his first encounter with black people) the chapter is titled “His Own Kind”. The Tarzan films reinforced the character’s preference for animals above that of black people. “Throughout his reign over the jungle and the studio franchise,” Thomas Doherty noted, “this Tarzan displays more kinship toward Cheetah and the other apes in his entourage than toward the black Africans whom he swings so regally above.” Alan Moore satirized the inherent racism of Tarzan with his comic book creation Zantar: “The superstitious tribesmen were no match for Zantar’s keen intelligence, bestowed on him by centuries of noble Anglo-Saxon breeding.”
“Tarzan blended savagery and civilization without ceding any agency or competency to black Africans,” David Peterson Del Mar recounted. “He combined the purported superiorities of the ‘white race’ (intelligence and morality) with primitive ferocity. Millions of white youth could now imagine themselves at home in Africa without ceasing to be white.” As Peterson observes, the Tarzan stories made no effort to challenge the lead character’s assertions about the “savagery” of black Africans. “Tarzan is superior to his black counterparts in every respect. He is stronger, smarter, and, thanks to his racial heritage, innately more civilized.”
Hunter’s origins recall those of Tarzan: a white boy, orphaned in Africa, adopted by a different culture he considers himself one with. The difference being that Tarzan considered himself one of the apes, while Hunter considers himself a Wakandan. Hunter introduced himself to the readers in Black Panther #4 by stating: “I am the White Wolf. I am of Wakanda and, like it or not, lord king — you need me.” He also refers to himself and the Hatut Zeraze as “loyalists to the throne.” Repeatedly throughout the series, Hunter would describe himself as a “loyalist”. But there was a barb hidden in this word.
Hunter finds ways to subtly insult T’Challa, such as this exchange in Black Panther #4: “After all, you are the king’s son.” T’Challa answers him, “I am the king.” Unfazed, Hunter continues, “Yes. That’s what I meant.” The implication is clear: in his heart, Hunter still thinks of the deceased T’Chaka as king of Wakanda. But his words are not idly chosen — it is a way of undermining T’Challa’s authority, a refusal to acknowledge that his “brother” is the true king of Wakanda. “The Hatut Zeraze are your loyal servants. And the White Wolf is their chieftain,” Hunter claims in Black Panther #11 when T’Challa seems to be on the verge of reinstating the Hatut Zeraze. “You are their chieftain — but I am their king,” T’Challa reminds him. “Yes. Of course. That’s what I meant,” Hunter insists. Even when addressing Ulysses Klaw, the man who killed T’Chaka, Hunter casts shade on T’Challa’s kingship: “I have only one motive, Ulysses,” Hunter tells Klaw, “to defend and serve the kingdom of Wakanda.” Curious, Klaw asks, “And its king?” To which Hunter adds an afterthought: “Yes. Him too.”
Even as he undermined T’Challa’s authority, Hunter’s various statements of loyalty to Wakanda must also be considered suspect. If he is, as he claims, “of Wakanda” and a “loyalist”, then why did he exile himself from Wakanda when the Hatut Zeraze were formally dissolved? “Leaving Wakanda after I disbanded the Zeraze was your choice,” T’Challa reminds him.
How did Hunter come to identify himself as “of Wakanda”? The Wakandan couple who found him in the wreckage of his parents’ plane were split on whether to spare him or kill him. Asking T’Chaka to decide (somewhat reminiscent of King Solomon), the king opted to adopt Hunter as his own son. Although Hunter is depicted as struggling through his teenage years, the lone white person in a very xenophobic culture, he bonded with T’Chaka’s second wife Ramonda. Ramonda attempted to befriend Hunter, emphasizing their mutual status as outsiders in Wakanda. In a flashback scene from Black Panther #10, we see Ramonda console a teenaged Hunter. Being a black South African woman who married into the royal family of Wakanda, Ramonda is shown as sympathetic to Hunter’s plight. Ramonda tries to compare their mutual struggle for acceptance, what she calls “Being the stranger in your own home — the outsider among people you think of as family.” For his part, Hunter seems to genuinely care for Ramonda. After Ramonda is seemingly killed by Achebe, Hunter growls at T’Challa, “Whatever bond we had left died with her.” Ramonda is the only living Wakandan to whom Hunter demonstrated unconditional love and devotion towards.
We readers are shown little of Hunter’s relationship with T’Chaka, but there seems to be no reason to doubt Hunter’s assertion that he loved his adopted parents. “King T’Chaka and queen N’Yami made me their son, and, for more than a decade, I was truly the king’s son. Until the king’s biological son arrived. In one moment, I lost both my father, the king, and my mother, N’Yami, who died at childbirth. I was relegated to the shadows as T’Challa basked in the light. Still, I loved my father and served him and his kingdom faithfully.” T’Chaka must have held some regard for Hunter to have granted him the post of chieftain of the Hatut Zeraze. Everett K. Ross summed up Hunter’s tenure with the Hatut Zeraze: “He was NOT a nice guy. His agents were EVERYWHERE, and the security of the king and the nation were the only things he thought about. Which is why he took the king’s DEATH so hard. A death he felt he COULD have or SHOULD have prevented.”
Indeed, there is a sense that Hunter’s moral code may not have been too different from that of T’Chaka. Christopher Priest characterized T’Chaka as ruling Wakanda with “an iron glove.” Although T’Challa did not approve of Hunter’s methods: “political prisoners, kidnapping or assassinations.” Hunter retorted: “I’ve got no apologies for you. Your father made sure things that needed doing got done.” Perhaps Hunter even believed his brutal methods were part of what made himself “of Wakanda”. When T’Challa called the Hatut Zeraze “an abomination to my father’s memory,” Hunter responded angrily, “OUR father!”
Despite living his formative years in Wakanda, it seems to have had little impact on Hunter’s chosen lifestyle. On one hand, in Black Panther #7, T’Challa confronts Hunter in his Manhattan apartment, which is decorated in a faux rustic African style with furniture, tapestries and statuettes combining to demonstrate Hunter’s adoption of African culture, even in self-imposed exile. On the other hand, Hunter’s clothing choices suggest he views himself as an outsider. Hunter was originally visualized by artist Mark Texeira and colorist Brian Haberlin as a white man with dark hair who dressed in a white suit and tie, to contrast against the black suit T’Challa wore while in civilian garb. Obviously, Hunter’s White Wolf costume was also coloured white as a replica of the Black Panther costume. Much later in the series, artist Dan Fraga and colorist Jennifer Schellinger depicted Hunter with greying, silvery hair in Black Panther #50. When Kevin “Kasper” Cole is trying to describe Hunter to his friend Sgt. Tork and calls him a “white dude”, Tork wonders, “How white?” Kevin answers, “All the way live.”
It is interesting to note that despite being a white man who identifies as an African, the adult Hunter’s civilian clothes are always Western garb (in flashbacks to his boyhood, he wears traditional African garb), unlike T’Challa’s mix of Western suits and African designs. Despite Hunter’s assertions that he is of Wakanda, it suggests that he has set himself apart from the Wakandan people. His choice to wear brilliant bleached-white colors cannot help but remind readers of another one of the Black Panther’s foes: the Ku Klux Klan.
It’s not only the Wakandans of Hunter’s boyhood who treated Hunter as an outsider; non-African characters are also bemused at Hunter’s assertion of being Wakandan. When Hunter introduces himself to T’Challa’s American lover Monica Lynne, he describes himself to her as “A loyal son of Wakanda.” Unimpressed, Monica retorts, “Just a tad pale for that, don’tcha think?” Ulysses Klaw is incredulous when he hears Hunter’s origin story in Black Panther #27. “A white man in Africa,” Klaw scoffs. Hunter answers, “You are a white man in Africa, Ulysses,” sidestepping the point that Klaw never claimed citizenship in any African nation; indeed, Klaw came to Africa in order to exploit its people and resources.
Hunter identifies as Wakandan to such an extent that he uses his loyalism as a rationale for instigating a coup. In Black Panther #19, after Erik Killmonger had created an economic catastrophe through manipulating the Wakandan stock market, Tony Stark bought up shares in the Wakanda Design Group, the American business controlled by Wakanda which had been responsible for building devices such as the Avengers’ Quinjet vehicles and the Falcon’s wings. Much later in Black Panther #44, we learned Stark’s possession of these stocks caused Hunter to target him and his business in an international conspiracy to seize control of the United States and Canada. “You… you pompous… arrogant Yankee imperialist warmonger… you… dare… to place your filthy hands on the jewel of Wakanda… Wakanda Design Group.” Hunter rants at Iron Man as though he were an official representative of Wakanda, rather than the mercenary he truly is: “We built your Quinjets. We improved your worthless, feeble security. We have befriended you… and all America has done is take — kill and exploit our brothers… spit on the throne of T’Chaka, the great king.” There is a good discussion to be had about how the United States has abused African nations for hundreds of years, but it rings hollow when being voiced by Hunter, a man willing to forge a bargain with his adopted father’s killer and to plunge Wakanda into war with its neighbours all to spite King T’Challa.
Note that in the above quoted tirade Hunter refers to the United States killing and exploiting “our brothers”. It’s a rare instance of Hunter claiming kinship to Wakandans. Aside from his connection to Ramonda (who is technically South African), Hunter is seen as either adversarial (to T’Challa) or superior (to the Hatut Zeraze) when interacting with Wakandans. In the course of the series there are exactly zero scenes where Hunter is depicted sharing a moment of friendship with a Wakandan peer or seeking advice from a Wakandan mentor. He demonstrates more camaraderie towards Wakanda’s greatest enemy – Ulysses Klaw – than any of his supposed “brothers”.
Hunter had been set apart from the people of Wakanda. Initially his alienation came about because of the Wakandans’ inherent xenophobia. And yet, Hunter maintained this alienation – choosing to live outside Wakanda, choosing to adopt Western culture, choosing to plot against King T’Challa. The Wakandans nearest to him – the Hatut Zeraze – are his subordinates, fit to receive his orders but not to serve as his peers. Indeed, the only time one of the Hatut Zeraze speaks in Priest’s stories, it is to address King T’Challa; the Hatut Zeraze remain silent in Hunter’s presence.
Just as Tarzan grew to consider himself above the apes who raised him (and innately believed himself above the black Africans he met), Hunter likewise seems to carry himself as one who is above the Wakandans – a loyalist to the nation of Wakanda, but not to the people of Wakanda. In “Tarzan Is an Expatriate”, Paul Theroux compared Tarzan to the experience of expatriates in Africa:
“The reasons Tarzan had [for being in Africa] could be the same as those of any white expatriate in Africa: an active curiosity in things strange; a vague premonition that Africa rewards her visitors; a disgust with the anonymity of the industrial setting; a wish to be special; and an unconscious desire to stop thinking and let the body take over. All these reasons are selfish to a degree. Mixed with them may be the desire to do a little good, to help in some way; but this is desire together with the knowledge that the good deeds will be performed in a pleasant climate. This, in the end, is not so much a reason for coming as it is an excuse. The wish to be special (and rewarded) is dominant; the need for assertion-the passive assertion, the assertion of color by a man’s mere physical presence eventually dominates the life of the expatriate. Tarzan must stand out; he is non-violent, but his muscles show.”
Hunter shares that “need to be special,” which Theroux describes. If T’Challa had not been born, one assumes Hunter’s life could have been in many ways akin to Burroughs’ Tarzan – a white man raised in Africa who assumes a noble lineage. In the birth of T’Challa, as Hunter asserted, “I lost both my father, the king, and my mother,” he also lost the sense of being special. Little wonder, then, that he would refuse to remain in Wakanda when the Hatut Zeraze were disbanded: he was their chieftain, the only subjects he could claim to stand above.
Hunter refused to serve under King T’Challa, as though he himself had been passed over for kingship. “You have no claim on the throne, Hunter,” T’Challa reminds him. Hunter protests, “I never made one!” But T’Challa accurately observes, “Yes, you did — every time you sneered at my leadership!” T’Challa and Hunter could have been brothers, but the lack of a brotherly relationship between them is a failure on Hunter’s part: “Jealousy and envy were all you shared with me,” T’Challa notes.
Even when Hunter seemingly has the Black Panther at his mercy, he still tries to regain his lost glory: “COMMAND ME. I DEMAND IT!” he yells, apparently unaware of the contradiction. “You stubborn fool — don’t make me kill you just to spite me! I am of Wakanda! Be MY KING!” But even as Hunter drives his dagger into the Black Panther’s body, T’Challa stoically refuses to grant him satisfaction: “I… shall never be king… of your Wakanda.”
Despite having admitted he had been behind at least some of the machinations surrounding the Tomorrow Fund scandal that brought T’Challa to New York City and set off Achebe’s attempted coup in Wakanda, Hunter continued to demand T’Challa officially restore his authority: “We both know — you need me,” Hunter insisted. Yet T’Challa adeptly sees through Hunter’s honeyed words. “Your loyalty always had a price,” T’Challa sagely notes. For all of Hunter’s assertions that he is a loyalist to Wakanda, his offers to aid King T’Challa are always made with conditions and insistence on rewards — the haggling of a mercenary, not the promises of a loyalist. “Your ‘aid’ in my time of need was insultingly, thinly veiled self-interest,” T’Challa concludes.
While Everett K. Ross started out as a character who was somewhat aloof about his white privilege, he grew in understanding of Wakanda and T’Challa, becoming a staunch ally, even growing in confidence and capability as his mind opened. If Hunter had truly been a brother to T’Challa, he could have been at his hand throughout his reign – perhaps serving as regent during T’Challa’s years at college; certainly, serving as regent during the Erik Killmonger crisis. Ross recognized himself as “the mope who almost missed the opportunity to know [T'Challa].” The tragedy of Hunter is that in attempting to reclaim what he has lost he cannot comprehend how much more he might have had.
McLaughlin, Jeff. Comics as Philosophy. University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Nama, Adilifu. Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes. University of Texas Press, 2011.