A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Friday, January 19, 2007

Klaw and Colonization

2005's Black Panther #1 featured two flashback sequences, the latter of which depicted an unidentified group of Europeans attempting to invade Wakanda in the 19th century.

The identity of these invaders was revealed two issues later, by the "classic" Black Panther villain Ulysses Klaw (more on those quote marks momentarily). He explains that he comes from a "military family. My great-great-great grandfather was one of the founders of South Africa. The Panther killed him in an unfair fight." He says that this event motivates his desire for revenge against T'Challa, and it led him to pursue a career as an assassin. A few pages later, he reflects further:

If you're familiar with the Black Panther, you probably understand the quote marks. Klaw is a classic BP villain, but this is not your daddy's Klaw. He resembles the traditional Klaw slightly less than the Post-Crisis billionaire Lex Luthor resembled his Pre-Crisis super-scientist counterpart. He's now a professional assassin rather than a scientist; he's motivated by a Hatfield-McCoy-esque attitude of revenge ('Your great-great-great grandfather killed my great-great-great grandfather!!') instead of lust for vibranium; and instead of being Dutch, he is now from Belgium.

And it's that last point that I'm writing to address, because it is ironically at odds with the new family history given to Klaw. It's hard to say that any European country "founded" South Africa, but even if one is given credit, it can't be Belgium. Belgium's only significant involvement in African colonization was in the Congo, starting in 1877. South Africa was dominated by the Boers, who were predominantly...Dutch. "Boer" is Dutch for "farmer." So while this family background could be a fairly good fit for the old Dutch Klaw, it's rather at odds with a Belgian Klaw.

Interestingly, Reginald Hudlin, the book's author, identifies said ancestor as a Boer in his afterward in the first Black Panther trade paperback. "The Boers have just finished conquering South Africa and are now moving on Wakanda. They've got rifles, they've got gatling guns." "Our villain is a South African who was named after his ancestor, who was one of the Boers who led the abortive attempt to invade Wakanda a centry ago."

It's curious to call Klaw "South African" since his family hasn't lived there for five generations, but this does confirm the late 19th century setting that's implied by the text. The colonization of the African interior, the presence of a Gatling gun in the story, and the degree of Klaw's ancestor all indicate that the "19th century" scene was set in the last quarter of that century.

To be fair, a few of the early Boers were from Belgium, but they started immigrating in the late 1600s, not the late 1800s. So no matter what country he was from, Klaw's great-great-great-granddaddy was a couple of centuries too late to "found" South Africa (though that could be chalked up to an exaggeration on Klaw's part). And they never had the kinds of ties with the Belgian government or military that the story suggests. Rather, the Boers were notoriously independent, and the late 19th century saw them fighting against an invading European army, not having one support their own expansionist agenda.

I don't really have any concluding thoughts, so I'll close by simply sharing my opinion that this:

is, in my opinion, one of the silliest designs for a major supervillain ever, and even if I'm not that fond of the new backstory, I don't miss that look one bit. I don't know how Marvel plans to straighten out Klaw in the future, but hopefully they'll retain the shapeshifting hand that Hudlin and JRJR gave him. And let him keep his nose.