When it comes to the Marvel films, most people have a good idea of who the characters are. However, as the MCU begins its next big phase, we as an audience are going to be introduced to a lot of new characters who are not going to get their own films to flesh them out. For viewers who have not read the comics, it can be confusing (and down right irritating when you meet those fans who have and are condescending about it). At the end of the day, you don’t have to read the comics to enjoy the films, or the Cinematic Universe as a whole. However, it can be helpful to know the comic origins of the characters who won’t be getting their own stand alone films. Fortunately, I have read the comics and I have no qualms in helping my like-minded MCU fans fill in blanks and learn a little more about the characters they are seeing on the big screen.
This week is all about the ambassador, king, and millionaire from the most remote part of Africa (and also the most technologically advanced country). The Black Panther stalks the night!
While Marvel Studios is probably celebrating the addition of Spider-Man into the MCU, the rest of the world is gearing up for Captain Marvel and Black Panther. While, yes, both these characters will be getting their own solo films, Black Panther is being introduced in Captain America: Civil War. He will most likely get better character development later on, but for now it will probably be useful to know who he is prior to the film so you can sift through the relevant information when you get it.
The Black Panther made his first appearance in “The Fantastic Four” #52-53 in 1966. In this two-part adventure, the Black Panther invites the Fantastic Four to visit his Kingdom of Wakanda, saying that a great hunt was to be held in their honor. Thinking it was a good opportunity for a break from their usual superhero duties, the four accept. However, when they arrive in the remote African country, they discover that the jungle is actually made up of hundreds of pieces of advanced technology controlled by the chieftain, and that the hunt being held in their honor was actually a trap. Instead, the Black Panther will be hunting them!
The Black Panther manages to separate and defeat each member individually, however he overlooks Johnny’s friend Wyatt (who had tagged along). Wyatt manages to find the control room and free the Fantastic Four, who then collectively go on to defeat the Black Panther. Finally beaten, the Black Panther throws a victory feast in honor of his new friends. He reveals that he is T’Challa, chieftain/king of Wakanda and that he has been conducting hunts like this to prepare himself to defend his people from outside attackers. He then goes on to explain his tragic history.
T’Challa is the son of a long line of previous chieftains/kings who ruled the land, as well as controlled vast amounts of a metal called Vibranium that could only be found in the mountain near his village. Vibranium has the unique ability to completely absorb vibrational energy (either sound waves or kinetic energy), making it extremely useful as a defensive weapon (say, a shield) or an offensive weapon (given its ability to store vast amounts of kinetic energy). In some incarnations, the Vibranium is actually not native to Earth, and arrived in the form of a meteorite, which became lodged in the mountain.
A man named Ulysses Klaw invaded Wakanda and killed T’Challa’s father in an attempt to capture the Vibranium reserves. However, T’Challa stole one of Klaw’s sound canons and defended his people with it, firing on Klaw and his men. One of his shots took off Klaw’s hand. With his father dead, Klaw took up the mantle of Black Panther.
However, after explaining his back story to the Fantastic Four, T’Challa is attacked by a now one-handed Klaw, who had replaced his other hand with a sonic weapon. T’Challa manages to once again defeat his foe and decides to follow in the Fantastic Four’s footsteps and become a superhero crusading for justice.
Besides being the king of his own country and the richest man in the Marvel universe (he DOES own the entire supply of the rarest metal on earth), T’Challa is also an incredible athlete with cat-like reflexes. His black suit is often equipped with gadgets that he uses either to spy or physically subdue his foes. Additionally, as an international citizen, T’Challa is (usually) the Wakandan ambassador to the United States, as well as a member of the Avengers.
While the Black Panther’s origin story gave the world another Avenger, it also gave the Marvel universe a new country. Wakanda, by all accounts, is the most advanced civilization in the world, owing a great deal of their scientific breakthroughs and discoveries to their access to Vibranium. However, in most incarnations, the citizens are reluctant to share their discoveries and resources with the rest of the world (given how Klaw slaughtered so many of them, I don’t blame them). So in addition to being an Avenger, Black Panther is also a liaison for his people, trying to peacefully bridge the gap between their worlds.
T’Challa was married to Storm of the X-Men, and though their union was interesting and mostly happy, it did end in divorce (I think there’s some rule that comic book characters just can’t be happy or something…).
Please note that, as a comic book character, the Black Panther has multiple variations and re-tellings of his origin story as the mythology undergoes the passage of time. For example, in his own BET motion comic miniseries, T’Challa’s origin story is presented as completely separate from the Fantastic Four and his character relies more heavily on his experiences with Ulysses Klaw. I’d like to take this opportunity to promote this short-lived show and insist that anyone looking to learn more about T’Challa (or just looking for a new show to watch) should check this out, because it is one of the finest pieces of animated storytelling to come out of Marvel, both in plot and art. Also, T’Challa wins for best theme song. Ever.
In the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes TV show, the Fantastic Four’s role is replaced by the Avengers. However, the core details about the Panther remain the same. Additionally, there are some versions where the right to the Black Panther mantle is won through physical competition rather than heritage. Yes, being a comic book nerd can get confusing at times.
In terms of the Black Panther’s role in the MCU, Ulysses Klaw is already a character (that guy Ultron unceremoniously de-armed) and is already stealing Vibranium out of Wakanda.
Additionally, Wakanda in now canonically a physical place in the MCU, so while Age of Ultron did not feature the Black Panther himself, it did provide plenty of set up for him to enter stage left.
T’Challa will be a contributing character in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, but it is unknown how exactly he fits into the story. As he stands in the comics, the Black Panther is the richest man alive, in control of the most technologically advanced country and is the first ever (mainstream) black superhero. Though he may not be getting his own movie yet, when it’s his turn to take center stage, I’m certain it will be a sci-fi show stopper of a ride.