Black Panther’s name is all over the place these days. He’s set to debut in Captain America: Civil War next year and will be getting his own movie in 2018. But, outside of Marvel fandom, he’s not that well known. So, let’s get into who Black Panther is.
Who is Black Panther?
He’s T’Challa, ruler of the nation of Wakanda. Technically speaking, “Black Panther” is a title he holds, as ruler, kind of like how popes change their names (or how Wolf Blitzer earned his name in his youth fighting wolves in the Yukon). Wakanda is run by clans, and the top clan runs the country, so T’Challa is the chieftain of the Panther clan, as well. Why an enormously advanced society still uses a clan-based system of monarchy is a question that’s yet to be answered.
Isn’t Wakanda the nation that gave Andy Serkis that neck brand in Avengers: Age of Ultron?
The very same. Wakanda is a technologically advanced African nation that’s the only known source of vibranium, a metal that’s indestructible, malleable, and which absorbs energy. Wakanda is also not a fan of outsiders, so there’s not a lot of vibranium around, aside from Captain America’s shield.
Outside of being an Avenger, why’s he such a big deal in comics?
Black Panther was the first black superhero, introduced in 1966. (He slightly predates the Black Panther Party, that’s how ahead of the curve Marvel was in some respects.) He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and he was first introduced as a friendly rival of the Fantastic Four in a two-parter. That’s about as classic Marvel as you get, really.
Though he’s been in and out of the Avengers and always maintained a cult following, the character has struggled to sustain a solo book, although there’s been no lack of attempts. In Marvel’s just-launched The Ultimates, he’s currently trying to negotiate with Galactus, the world-eating giant, and possibly winning.
What’s his deal, powers-wise?
Basically, he’s as smart as Tony Stark and has all of Cap’s abilities. Plus he’s also a head of state and would be an Olympic-level athlete if he weren’t more interested in kicking ass. Marvel likes to gild the lily sometimes.
He also has other abilities, usually tied to some vague mystical abilities, but we suspect those won’t be coming up. There’s really no need to have Black Panther talk to ghosts or control zombies. (And yes, he has had those powers in the past.)
Where does he fit in the MCU?
That’s a good question. Entertainment Weekly has an in-depth look at that, with this being the most relevant passage:
Panther was added to the story ahead of his solo-movie debut because Civil War needed someone who had his own agenda, who was a third party separate from the factions that aligned themselves behind Captain America and Iron Man.
[Kevin Feige says] “We kept talking about ‘somebody like Black Panther …’ After the third or fourth time that came up in a development meeting, someone said, ‘Can’t we just do the Black Panther?’…He has his own conflict and his own people that he’s looking out for.”
Similarly, he’s not exactly the Sidney Poitier of the Marvel Universe, according to executive producer Nate Moore:
I think this is Black Panther in his younger years, where he maybe is a little bit more fiery than I think how they write him in the comics because he’s very much in the nascent stages of being a hero. So that means he is probably more fallible than the Black Panther that you read in comics, but for reasons that are completely logical.
In other words, he’s not a total hothead, but he’s willing to jump into a fight. We’ll see just how he handles himself May 6.