Welcome to Wait, Who’s That? A new series I’m starting designed to answer any and all questions you may have about everything comics. I love comic books, and one of my favorite things to do is share this passion with the uninitiated. Just last week, I told a friend of mine the story of Johnathan Hickman’s epic Avengers run. The week before that, I read Tom King’s Vision #1 to another friend like a children’s picture book.
While I know drastically too much about comics, I realize that in this era of filmmaking, you could be incredibly confused and intimidated going to the theater to see the umpteenth superhero film this year. With Black Panther coming out soon, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share my love of comics, and help you feel more comfortable going to the movies. So buckle up as we journey to Wakanda and learn everything there is to learn about Black Panther.
Black Panther was first introduced by Marvel Comics in 1966 in Fantastic Four #52. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the two men behind almost every Marvel character currently on the big screen today, were feeling the pressure to include a more diverse roster of heroes. At that time, there were zero comic book titles headlined by black characters, and Black Panther was the very first black superhero in comic book history. While there were many to follow (Falcon, Luke Cage, John Stewart, etc.) Black Panther is the one who paved the way for more black characters in comics, and his success is often credited as “kicking the door open” for these types of characters.
So Who Is He?
When someone talks about Black Panther, they are likely referring to T’Challa, the first Black Panther introduced, and the most prominent. T’Challa is the oldest son of T’Chaka, king of the fictional African country, Wakanda, and N’Yami, his mother who died giving birth to him. He has a half sister, Shuri, and an adopted older brother, Hunter, the White Wolf. Upon his fathers death at the hands of Ulysses Klaw (well, hand, but more on that later..), he became the King of Wakanda, and assumed the mantle of Black Panther.
Black Panther is the title given to the ruler and protector of Wakanda. This means that the Black Panther isn’t a single person, but rather a long tradition of kings going back hundreds of years. Along with the title, the Black Panther is also given a suit made of pure vibranium, a fictional, super strong, metal. The suit is also filled with a ton of futurist Wanakdan technology; this, combined with T’Challa’s incredible intellect, have often given him the nickname “Marvel’s Batman.” While personally, I think that honor belongs to Daredevil, it doesn’t change the fact that Black Panther is a straight up badass.
Wakanda is a very private country, and while it appears to outsiders as an underdeveloped third-world nation, they are actually the most technologically advanced country on earth. They have incredibly developed space and science programs, and their technology is hyper-futuristic when compared to the rest of the world. One of the main duties of a Black Panther is protecting his nation’s resources and technology from those who would seek to exploit them. However, he’s not alone in this effort, as every Black Panther is surrounded by his own Dora Milaje, a group of badass all-female soldiers sworn to protect their king and country.
Vibranium is one of the reasons Wakanda is such an advanced, private nation. Hundreds of years ago, a massive meteorite made of pure vibranium crashed, and now Wakanda is the only place on earth you can find the alien metal. By studying this rare element, Wakandans were able to make massive scientific leaps well before the rest of the world. Due to it’s other-worldly nature, vibranium possesses some very unique qualities. Not only can it render all vibrational energy inert, it’s super-strong while being incredibly lightweight. It’s best known for being the material used in Captain America’s shield, but for being a super rare space metal, it shows up quite a bit throughout the Marvel Universe.
One other important note about the nation of Wakanda, is it’s connection to the after life. One of the powers of the Black Panther is his ability to commune with every Black Panther that has come before him. This means that in times of great hardship, the king can speak to every king in the nation’s history and seek council. There is an uninhabited city in Wakanda called Necropolis, where the every Black Panther is buried, and where people can go to pay their respects to long lost loved ones.
T’Challa is the current king and ruler of Wakanda, assuming the mantle after Ulysses Klaw killed his father. There was an interim Black Panther (his uncle) until he had completed the necessary trials and tests. Once king, His first official acts was to exile his brother White Wolf, the leader of the secret police. He then spent many years training to take revenge for his fathers murder, and bring Klaw to justice.
To see if he is finally ready, in his first ever appearance, he invites the Fantastic Four to Wakanda, and (in a total dick move) proceeds to attack and subdue each of them. Afterwards, he explains why he attacked them and they all join forces to attack an invading super villain.
Afterwards, he becomes an Avenger, the first black Avenger in history, and has a long running partnership with them that stretches to this day. He’s involved in almost every major event that happens to the Avengers, and begins a friendship with Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil). He even is asked by Daredevil to take on his moniker, and be the new protector of Hell’s Kitchen. T’Challa accepts, and takes the opportunity to discover himself. I guess being a superhero AND a king doesn’t leave much time for self-care.
Eventually, Black Panther and some others do hunt down Klaw and defeat him. But this is comics, so no one ever really dies. Klaw is his ultimate nemesis, like Joker is to Batman. Klaw only has one arm, and replaced his other with a sonic cannon. If there’s something going wrong with Wakanda, you can bet in one way or another Klaw is behind it. Some of his other important villains include his brother White Wolf; Eric Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan in the upcoming film; Man-Ape; and Achebe, a poor farmer who sold his soul to Mephisto.
T’Challa also has one of the more interesting romances in comics history, as he meets a street merchant in Cairo and falls in love with her. However, this is no ordinary street merchant, as she turns out to be Ororo Munroe, better known by her mutant name, Storm. T’Challa helps Storm connect with her African family, and the two get married shortly after. This makes them likely the most powerful superhero couple in Marvel history. The two break up a few years later, as they find themselves on the opposite sides of the X-Men vs. Avengers conflict, but still remain friends today.
Recently, Marvel blew up their continuity in an event comic called Secret Wars. The premise of the event is the death of the multiverse and earth’s from parallel universe’s smashing into each other. Black Panther, along with Iron Man and the rest of the Illuminati (a secret group of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe, who take less than justifiable means to protect the earth) tried to save their universe, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Theres a lot that happens during Secret Wars, and it’s fantastic, but that’s a way longer story for what I assume will be Avengers 4.
Currently, Black Panther has a fantastic solo series being written by award winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates, author of Between the World and Me, and We Were Eight Years in Power, is a prominent writer when it comes to the topics of race and social issues. This was a bold move on Marvels part, as many authors have danced around Black Panthers race and the importance he has in the Marvel legacy. Coates has done the opposite, and tacked that legacy head on.
In Pop Culture
Black Panther has appeared in several animated films, and even stared in his own animated series. He was a playable character in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, a bitchin’ early 2000’s video game that I played the hell out of when I was a kid, and has been a supporting role in just about every Avengers and Fantastic Four animated series since his introduction.
In 2016, Chadwick Boseman played T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, which offered a slightly different take on his classic comic book origin story. This week, Black Panther get’s his very own solo film, which will likely result in a franchise for the African Avenger. Many have said that this is the first black superhero to get his own film, some going as far as to say that this is the first big budget blockbuster to be headlined by a black actor. While the first isn’t true (*cough* the Blade trilogy *cough*), the second is simply outlandish, as apparently they forgot about Will Smiths entire career.
Regardless, we are in a new era of entertainment. While it may not be the first superhero film to feature a black lead, it is the first one to have a black director in Ryan Coogler, and a black lead character and a predominately black cast and have the full weight of the empire that is Disney behind it. This is a landmark achievement for film. Even though I’m a white guy from a white suburb in the whitest city in America, it’s impossible not to appreciate how meaningful this will be to so many people across the world. Plus, I hear it’s pretty damn good.
Thanks so much for reading my first entry in “Wait, Who’s That?” I plan on doing another before Avengers Infinity War, as that’s the next superhero blockbuster this year. If there’s a comic book character you want to know more about, feel free to drop a comment down below, and if you learned something, share this to your friends who need a comics education.