Superhero 101: Black Panther

Black Panther

Ahead of the Black Panther film arriving February 16, get to know the backstory, comic appearances and powers of one of the most revolutionary heroes ever to come from Marvel.

Black Panther may not have been a household name like Spider-Man, but this superhero has rocketed to worldwide attention thanks to his appearance in Captain America: Civil War and the recent trailers of his own film. You know you can look forward to brilliant performances by Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown and more. But who is Black Panther, and what do you need to know about his home country, Wakanda?

Black Panther, aka T’Challa (played by Boseman in the film), appeared first in Marvel Comics in Fantastic Four #52 in April 1966. The foursome visit T’Challa after the people of Wakanda give to them a technologically advanced aircraft, and T’Challa later battles the Fantastic Four to test their abilities.

So what is Wakanda all about? A fictional African nation, Wakanda is one of the most advanced countries in the world, thanks to its mines of vibranium, the near-indestructible metal that Captain America’s shield is made of. This metal also forms the core of Black Panther’s sleek black suit, and bullets bounce off the material, as we saw in Civil War.

It’s important to learn about T’Challa’s legacy. The Black Panther role is a hereditary title passed down through his family, and he’s also from the ruling Panther Tribe, who govern Wakanda. His father handed him the “crown,” but T’Challa also gained powers from eating a mysterious plant poisonous to nonroyal Wakandans.

Black Panther

Black Panther is royalty but also gained powers by eating a mysterious plant that could kill Wakandans without royal blood. Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Pictures

An interesting asterisk to the royalty lineage is that T’Challa gains all the knowledge and training from dead Black Panther heroes through some magical force.

Powers to the People

Black Panther is regarded as one of the toughest combatants in the Marvel universe. He’s agile, extremely strong and has extraordinary intelligence and strategic thinking. He singlehandedly defeated the monstrous Doctor Doom.

Due to Wakanda’s high-tech innovations, Black Panther is also outfitted with state-of-the-art weapons, which we get a glimpse of in the movie trailer. His head-to-toe suit not only shields him from weapons but also lets him fly. The cloak features retractable claws as strong as Wolverine’s adamantium claws.

In some comics, he also sports an energy-generated blade that can be fixed to stun or kill. The energy blades can be handled either as a physical knife or fired like darts.

Black Panther

Black Panther’s home country Wakanda is one of the most advanced nations in the Marvel world. Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Pictures

And like the animal he represents, Black Panther’s senses are so next level that he can pick up someone’s scent from hundreds of yards away and can memorize thousands of individual smells.

Black Panther’s royal status also has him protected by his own Secret Service: highly skilled and dangerous female Wakandan soldiers, sporting bald domes and badass attitudes. If a villain somehow gets through these guards, he won’t fare much better against Black Panther’s superhero powers.

Crossover Appeal

You might think the real-life Black activist group the Black Panthers were the inspiration for the comics star, but creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby say Black Panther was conceived before the American group formed to protest human rights abuses in the U.S. Boseman told c|net, “The idea came from Stan Lee, and it came at a time ironically that the totem of the panther was actually part of our revolutionary spirit. It was just something right about that time that these men were on that wavelength. What I think it speaks to is the fact that Stan Lee is just open enough to catching the revolutionary spirit, even as a white man.”

But in a nod to the Black Panthers, in one issue T’Challa kicks Nazi butt when he travels to Georgia with his girlfriend. He faces off against white-hooded racists who are dubbed only “The Clan,” but we all know there’s a “K” missing there, right?

In a more comics-related crossover, T’Challa ends up marrying Storm from the X-Men, but don’t expect to see her in the new film, due to both characters belonging to different studios.

Black Panther

In the comics, Black Panther is often teaming up with other superhero groups like the Avengers, even though he tested the All-American crew by fighting them. Marvel

You might think T’Challa is a team player if you know your comics: he teamed up with the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Defenders and Avengers, but he prefers to go solo when he takes on evil forces. He even fought, on his own, criminals in Hell’s Kitchen when Daredevil was out of action after the Shadowland comic arc.

From Panel Boxes to the Big Screen

The Black Panther film will undoubtedly enrich viewers’ understanding of Wakanda, its citizens and T’Challa’s determination to protect his people, but what else can we expect from the February film?

It leans heavily on the idea of Afrofuturism, an art form blending science fiction with Black culture to create a future informed by Blackness. Think of Sun Ra and George Clinton’s music, author Octavia Butler’s work, and Canadian Komi Olaf’s illustrations and paintings.

Black Panther leans heavily on these influences, and many more, in portraying an all-Black country more highly advanced than the U.S. and its counterparts. As Aaron Reese of Comics Alliance wrote: “Black Panther and his homeland of Wakanda may be Hollywood’s first blockbuster foray into Afrofuturism, challenging audiences to see a cast of all-African characters who aren’t defined by crime and subservience, but instead by pride and excellence.”

To give loads of screen time to Africa is a rare move for superhero movies, and the film’s executives are taking the decision seriously. Right down to the costumes. Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther’s costume designer, told Mic that the Maasai people influenced the clothing seen in the movie. “I needed to find a way that I could represent the African diaspora and have the technology infused in the clothes in a clever way, in a regal way,” Carter said.

Black Panther

The film’s wardrobe for its Wakandan citizens were inspired by the real African tribe the Massai. Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Pictures

Director Ryan Coogler is helming the first comic book movie to be fronted by a Black superhero, a project he finds incredibly personal. He previously directed Fruitvale Station and Creed but has said Black Panther represents a milestone for his career. In May of 2016 he told Fast Company: “I’m obsessed with this character and this story right now, and I think it’s going to be very unique and still fit into the overall narrative that they’re establishing.”

In the trailer, Everett K. Ross (portrayed by Martin Freeman) sums up how many of us feel about Black Panther as we eagerly anticipate a superhero film that will speak to the many Black fans of comics who finally see themselves represented in the Marvel universe:

“I have seen gods fly. I’ve seen men build weapons that I couldn’t even imagine. I’ve seen aliens drop from the sky. But I have never seen anything like this. How much more are you hiding?” end


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