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Who is Black Panther? A guide to Marvels first black superhero
T'Challa/Black Panther is played by Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther," which opens in Utah theaters Friday. - photo by Jeff Peterson
Much like the fictional African nation of Wakanda in the comics an advanced country mostly unknown to outsiders that boasts a rich and complicated cultural history all its own the character of Black Panther might be unfamiliar to the majority of moviegoing audiences (beyond his all-too-brief cinematic debut in 2016s Captain America: Civil War). But with his own solo flick finally hitting theaters this weekend, thats about to change, and for anyone new to the character, theres a lot to discover.

Heres a quick guide to the characters, history and setting that audiences need to know so they can get the most out of Marvels latest and if the reviews are to be believed, perhaps greatest cinematic slugfest:

Black Panther

Played by: Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up)

First appearance: Fantastic Four No. 52 (July 1966)

Among his claims to fame, Black Panther is the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, predating other Marvel characters like Falcon and Luke Cage by several years they debuted, respectively, in 1969 and 1972 as well as DCs John Stewart (one of several characters to take on the role of Green Lantern).

Co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther, aka TChalla, was first introduced in 1966 in Fantastic Four No. 52, a memorable storyline that saw him single-handedly defeat Marvels first family in their own comic, no less as a way to test his strength.

At the same time, readers were also introduced to TChallas homeland of Wakanda, which, like Gotham City in the Batman comics, is practically a character unto itself (and so deserves its own heading).

TChalla isnt just your run-of-the-mill costumed crime fighter, though.

For one thing, hes a literal king. Likewise, TChallas Black Panther alter ego is a mantle passed down generation after generation through the Wakandan royal family, which they use, first and foremost, for their countrys protection.

Even the costume, referred to as the panther habit (as in, the garb a monk wears, not a pattern of behavior), serves a dual purpose as both a superhero outfit and the traditional ceremonial clothing of the Wakandan ruler/head of the Panther Cult.

Which means that TChalla isnt the first Black Panther. His stewardship begins only after his father, TChaka (played by John Kani in Captain America: Civil War), is murdered by the villain Ulysses Klaw.

(This is one detail where the onscreen Marvel universe differs from the comics: In the movies, Klaw first showed up played by Andy Serkis in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it was a different bad guy altogether, Helmut Zemo, who caused TChakas death.)

Although the Black Panther title is hereditary, each new Black Panther must also prove himself worthy through a series of trials that includes defeating champions from each of the Wakandan tribes.

TChalla began his run as a member of the Avengers 50 years ago, having first joined up with the team in 1968s The Avengers No. 52.

Through more than five decades of comics history, during which time Black Panther has become one of the most important characters in Marvel Comics, hes also developed relationships with other Marvel heroes. That includes, at one point, marrying Storm from the X-Men, aka Ororo Munroe.

(Director Ryan Coogler has already spoken about the possibility of having Storm appear in a Black Panther sequel something that could actually become a reality thanks to Disneys acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox.)

More recently still, TChalla briefly took over for Daredevil as guardian of Hells Kitchen, adopting the fake identity of Mr. Okonkwo, an immigrant from Congo who operated a cheap diner a far cry from TChallas regal upbringing.


Black Panther has the typical medley of enhanced physical abilities super strength, speed, endurance, etc. putting him on roughly equal footing with a character like Captain America. But at least in the comics, he also has a few extra abilities, such as ultraviolet vision and the ability to track people by scent.

Also, unlike so many of his Avengers teammates, Black Panthers powers arent derived from a serum or science experiment gone wrong. Instead, he and his predecessors gained them thanks to something called the Heart-Shaped Herb, a plant native to Wakanda that was traditionally thought to be a gift from the Panther God Bast and the link between Black Panther and the deity.

To anyone not of the royal bloodline, however, the Heart-Shaped Herb is poisonous.

Additionally, in the comics, TChalla is said to be one of the eight smartest people in the world and a genius scientist, having even invented, at one point, his own kind of magic-science hybrid called shadow physics. His smarts combined with Wakandas technological superiority have made for a bunch of nifty upgrades to his suit or suits, rather. (Like Iron Man, TChalla uses a variety of suits depending on the occasion, including for space travel.) That includes a built-in supercomputer called a Kimoyo Card, invisibility, energy daggers and anti-metal claws that are able to cut through any metal on a molecular level yep, even Captain Americas shield.


So whats so special about Black Panthers homeland, anyway? How did it become the most technologically advanced country in the world? And why does nobody seem to know about it?

Those questions can pretty much be answered in one (made-up) word: vibranium. In the Marvel universe, vibranium is a meteoric ore with special vibration-absorbing properties that has only ever been found in two places on Earth one of them being, obviously, Wakanda.

After the vibranium was discovered inside a sacred mountain, TChallas father decided to hide the country from the rest of the world, knowing it would attract outsiders who would try to conquer it and steal the precious ore. (It turns out he wasnt wrong: Klaw was doing just that when he murdered TChaka.)

Selling off small amounts of the vibranium at astronomical prices, the country was able to develop by leaps and bounds, transforming it into the sci-fi futuristic civilization that appears in the movie.

Other characters

Erik Killmonger

Played by: Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, Creed)

First appearance: Jungle Action #6 (Sep. 1973)

One might think that with a name like Killmonger, he didnt have much choice but to be a bad guy. Except Killmonger wasnt really his real name. Bummer, right?

Born NJadaka in the comics (Erik Stevens in the movie), his family was exiled after his father assisted (under duress) the expedition led by Klaw into Wakanda that resulted in the kings death.

Vowing revenge and having his name legally changed to a moniker that screams bad guy he sought to purge the country of what he viewed as white colonialist influence by displacing TChalla as Black Panther.


Played by: Letitia Wright (The Commuter)

First appearance: Black Panther Vol. 4 No. 2 (May 2005)

TChallas half-sister in the comics, Shuri is a powerful warrior in her own right. After an attack by a consortium of villains (or the Cabal, as they prefer to be called) leaves TChalla gravely injured, Shuri successfully passes the necessary trials and takes over as Black Panther.


Played by: Lupita Nyongo (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

First appearance: Black Panther Vol. 3 No. 1 (Nov. 1998)

In the movie, Nakia is a former lover of TChalla and a member of Black Panthers all-female bodyguard unit, the Dora Milaje (the adored ones). In the comics, the Dora Milaje also functions as a pool of potential candidates from which the Wakandan king can select a wife. In Nakias case, she becomes obsessed with TChalla and (possible spoilers) eventually transforms into the villain Malice.


Played by: Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead)

First appearance: Black Panther Vol. 3 No. 1 (Nov. 1998)

In the comics, she is one of the Dora Milaje alongside Nakia. For the movies, though, shes been promoted to general, taking on a much more important role as head of Wakandas armed forces.

Everett K. Ross

Played by: Martin Freeman (The Hobbit Trilogy, Sherlock)

First appearance: Ka-Zar No. 17 (Sep. 1998)

Allegedly based on Chandler Bing from Friends, Ross was initially created by Christopher Priest to be an audience surrogate, giving Caucasian readers an opening into the foreign world of Wakanda as an employee of the U.S. State Department assigned to work with the African king.

In the movies, Ross already made an appearance in Captain America: Civil War, working alongside Secretary of State Thaddeus Thunderbolt Ross to force the regulation of superheroes.


Played by: Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)

First appearance: Avengers No. 62 (March 1969)

TChallas fiercely loyal second-in-command.


Played by: Angela Bassett (How Stella Got Her Groove Back)

First appearance: Marvel Comics Presents No. 14 (March 1989)

In the comics, Ramonda is Shuris mother and TChallas stepmother. Shortly after TChakas death, she disappeared. It was only later discovered that she had been abducted by a white supremacist named Anton Pretorius.

In the movie, she is TChallas actual mother.


Played by: Forest Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

First appearance: Black Panther Vol. 3 No. 1 (Nov. 1998)

A powerful Wakandan warrior who had fought alongside TChallas father, Zuri is described by director Ryan Coogler as the films version of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Ulysses Klaw

Played by: Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings, Planet of the Apes)

First appearance: Fantastic Four No. 53 (Aug. 1966)

When it comes to Black Panther characters, Klaw has one of the more convoluted histories. After killing TChallas father but losing his hand in the battle, he becomes a recurring villain in the comics. Eventually, he returns with a sound-emitting gun attached to his arm and the ability to transform himself into a being of pure sound.

Other sources: Marvel Database, Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki
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