The Black Panther: King of Wakanda

Spoilers for Avengers vs. X-Men and Secret Wars [2015]

“The thing people keep forgetting about my client is, well, he’s a KING. He’s not just another nutjob in tights. He’s a full-bird monarch from one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet. And, somehow, we keep forgetting that.” — Everett K. Ross

Black PantherA team of mercenaries moves through a jungle. They have heard about a type of vibration-absorbing metal called vibranium and been paid a lot of money to retrieve some samples from the secluded nation of Wakanda. They’ve also heard ghost stories of Wakanda’s protector, a human-panther, but have laughed it off as tribal nonsense. But engulfed in darkness by a canopy of trees, they start to worry it’s not just a story. The team’s leader looks around, turns to reassure them, only to see them unconscious. Wildly turning around, he finds himself face to face with the “tribal nonsense” he had mocked, and prays the Black Panther is merciful.

One of the earliest black superheroes, Black Panther has always been a popular character. But with the release of Captain America: Civil War, he has become an overnight hit rivaled only by Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. But while Civil War was a great introduction to Black Panther, many people don’t know much about his history. Let’s fix that, shall we?

From Wakanda To America: Origin of the Black Panther

Syan: T’challa, don’t get emotional.

T’challa: Emotional? I’m happy. All my enemies are in one place.:  Black Panther (2010)

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Black Panther in 1966 shortly before the Black Panther Party was founded. They changed the name to Black Leopard for a short time, but quickly restored it because they didn’t like the name and thought it didn’t fit the character and his back story.

Black Panther was introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four when he lured the team to Wakanda to test his skills. He easily defeated them and explained that he was attempting to figure out whether he was ready to face Klaw, his father’s murderer. He then journeyed to America and joined the Avengers. He soon revealed his origins to the Avengers  and his true identity as King T’challa to the public.

He revealed that in the distant past, a meteor made of a mineral called vibranium crashed in Wakanda. The Black Panther, guardian of the Wakandan tribes, feared that other countries would try to obtain the vibranium. Wakanda decided to conceal itself from the world, a practice that would continue until T’challa became king. His father, King T’chaka, (played by John Kani in Civil War) was the previous Black Panther and was killed trying to stop Klaw (Andy Serkis in Avengers: Age of Ultron) from stealing the meteor. While avenging his father, T’challa shattered Klaw’s hand.

King of the Dead: Black Panther in Recent Years

“But one last thing… you have the blood of my people on your hands. So when this is done– when my wants have replaced my needs… I’m going to kill you.” –Black Panther: New Avengers

Marvel decided in 2006 to create a prominent black couple. The result was T’challa marrying Storm of the X-Men (Halle Berry in the X-men movies). They were retconned as having met and fallen in love as children, breaking it off only because T’challa still wanted to avenge his father and become worthy of leading Wakanda. They kept in touch and finally married shortly before the Superhero Civil War.

Black Panther and Storm only fought in the war’s climactic battle. Then they briefly joined the Fantastic Four*. After dealing with the Skrull’s Secret Invasion, T’challa lost a fight to Doctor Doom and fell into a coma. His sister, Shuri, became Black Panther. When T’challa recovered, he rendered all vibranium inert so Wakanda could end its reliance on the mineral.

During the event series Avengers vs X-men, T’challa fought alongside the Avengers while Storm sided with the X-men. After a heated argument, T’challa had the high priest of Wakanda annul the marriage. Who is the high priest? T’challa is, which is undoubtedly useful for such situations. Shortly afterwards, a Phoenix-empowered Namor, the Sub-Mariner, destroyed Wakanda with a massive flood.

In 2015, Marvel was preparing for their “All New, All Different” relaunch. As a lead-in to “Secret Wars”, the event that caused the relaunch, several “Incursions” occurred. They were the result of a paradox caused by Molecule Man that caused the Earths of countless universes to collide with each other. T’challa reformed the Illuminati** to do what the other heroes wouldn’t and set about destroying the parallel worlds. T’challa left the Illuminati because he couldn’t stand the innumerable deaths he was causing each time they stopped an Incursion. In Namor formed a Cabal of supervillains in T’Challa’s absence to pick up the slack. Enraged by Namor’s slaughter of worlds and his destruction of Wakanda, T’challa left him stranded on one of the parallel planets with just enough time to realize what was about to happen.

Legacy of the Panther: Powers and Characterization

“Let the monument of the Panther stand tall! The Black Panther’s ready to stalk again!” 

The mantle of Black Panther is hereditary, but T’challa first had to prove himself worthy. Amongst other trials, T’challa was required to defeat the greatest warriors in the Wakandan tribes and find a rare heart-shaped herb. By becoming Black Panther, T’challa created a connection with Bast, a character loosely based on the Egyptian goddess. Bast gave him heightened animal senses and an increase in his physical abilities. He was also anointed “King of the Dead”, granting him the knowledge and power of the previous Black Panthers and the ability to control the undead. During Secret Wars, he was even able to use this last power to take control of the sadly-named but popular Marvel Zombies***.

Black Panther’s outfit is lined with vibranium, making it almost indestructible. He also has several throwing knives and melee weapons coated in or made of vibranium. There’s just one catch. Vibranium can absorb tons of energy, but can be destroyed if it absorbs too much energy. Luckily for Black Panther, this level of energy is only possessed by a powerful character like Thanos or a very ticked-off Hulk.

Black Panther is considered one of the eight smartest people in the Marvel Universe and is trained in several African martial arts. He is skilled enough to fight Captain America to a standstill, managed to outsmart and demolish a Super-Skrull designed specifically to kill him, and even used the Infinity Gauntlet **** to battle a god-like Doctor Doom.  In one story, T’challa returned home only to find Mephisto, Marvel’s equivalent to the Devil, waiting for him. One of his friends asked if he should call the Avengers, but T’challa asked “Why?” and K.O.’d Mephisto with one punch.

Black Panther has been written various ways over the years from a brilliant but grim superhero to royalty with less focus on heroics. Sometimes he is a perfect person in a world where everyone who isn’t Wakandan is a racist jerk, while sometimes he is an insufferable jerk whose people have been holding onto a cancer cure for centuries because the rest of the world “would turn it into a weapon”.

The Actors Who Portrayed Black Panther

While most people would think of Chadwick Boseman from Civil War, he isn’t the first actor to play Black Panther. He first was portrayed in the 1994 Fantastic Four cartoon, where he was voiced by Keith David. He was played in Iron Man: Armored Adventures by Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. In 2010, Black Panther got his own show, which aired during primetime in Australia and was online only in the U.S, with Dijmon Hounsou playing the lead role. In Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, he was a major character played by James C. Mathis III and finally, in the anime Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, he was played by Mahito Oba.

Didja Get All That

An African king who’s a superhero on the side.

* They took the place of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, who were taking a break to patch up their marriage after the Civil War.

**A group of heroes first assembled by Iron Man to direct superheroes from behind the scenes. T’challa had refused to join the first iteration, but formed this one out of desperation.

*** Picture a world full of intelligent zombie superheroes, with all of their superpowers. We’ll get to them around Halloween.

**** A gauntlet that, when combined with the Infinity Gems, makes the wielder all-powerful. It was seen in the post credits scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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