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Everything You Need to Know About the Black Panther, Marvel’s New Lead Superhero

Black Panther
Brains + Brawn + Heart-Shaped Herb = Black Panther.


Also in Slate, read about the Inhumans and Captain Marvel.

On Tuesday, Marvel announced that it was expanding its cinematic universe to include several new superheroes: Established, franchise-leading figures like Iron Man and Captain America will soon be joined by Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, the Inhumans, and, finally, the Black Panther—the first black superhero to get his own movie from Marvel Studios. (The Blade films, which starred Wesley Snipes, were produced by New Line Cinema.) Chadwick Boseman will play the movie’s eponymous monarch-superhero, and considering his impressive work in recent biopics Get on Up and 42, the movie is already starting out on the right foot.

But for those film fans who don’t know the Black Panther story, what can we look forward to? Here’s a brief primer.

The first thing to know about the Black Panther is that he’s an interesting combination of brains and brawn. His real name is T’Challa, and he was born an heir to the throne of Wakanda, a fictional, isolationist African kingdom that also has some of the world’s most advanced technology.

T’Challa’s path to inheriting the Wakandan throne and becoming the Black Panther was far from direct. T’Challa’s mother died in childbirth, and when T’Challa was a teenager, his father was murdered by a Dutchman bent on stealing Vibranium, a rare Wakandan metal. (Some might remember that Vibranium was also the metal used to forge Captain America’s shield.) After attending schools in America and Europe, T’Challa returned to Wakanda for a ritual tournament, wherein he defeated and replaced his uncle S’yan as the nation’s ruler, also called the Black Panther. The feat earned him the Heart-Shaped Herb that made him a superhero: The herb links its bearer’s spirit to Bast, the Panther God, and imbues the newly crowned Black Panther with superhuman senses and extraordinary strength and speed.

And that’s all in addition to the Black Panther’s awesome gear. His uniform is bulletproof, he has super-sharp claws, and he has a “Kimoyo Card” that’s basically a very advanced smartphone. (He once commandeered and remotely landed a jumbo jet with it.) For footwear, he has boots that let him climb up the sides of buildings and walk on water. To top it all off, the outfit has cloaking technology that lets him walk down the street looking like an average Joe.

Like the Avengers team itself, the Black Panther was a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He was one of the first mainstream black superheroes, and he was created a mere three months before the Black Panther Party formed. His first appearance was in a Fantastic Four comic in 1966, and after several supporting roles, he got his first starring appearance in 1973, with a new series launching in the following issue. The series, written by Don McGregor, ran for three years, and it wasn’t just the Black Panther’s race that made history: Critic Jason Sacks has credited the early “Panther’s Rage” comics as Marvel’s “first graphic novel,” since they followed one titled and self-contained story arc over 13 issues.

The Black Panther has also accrued lots of extras along the way. On top of his powers and gadgets, he has a doctorate in physics from Oxford University, is a member of the Illuminati (Marvel Illuminati, not the Illuminati), and is widely considered (including by his enemies) one of the eight smartest people in the Marvel Universe. He’s traveled to America to battle the Ku Klux Klan. He was married to Storm … But like most high-profile marriages, it didn’t last, and news of the split stirred up controversy among fans.

As for friends and enemies, the Black Panther is a frequent ally to both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. His arch nemesis is Ulysses Klaw, the same Dutch physicist who killed the Black Panther’s father in pursuit of Vibranium to complete his fearsome sound transducer. It was the first time the Black Panther ever saw gunfire as a child, and in response, he stole Klaw’s weapon and used it against him, shattering his hand and scaring him off—for the time being. They’ve obviously had lots of run-ins since.

When it comes to his personality, our Wakandan monarch-superhero is known for his calculating mind, and also for the endless balancing act he performs between his duties and desires. He might have as many resources as Iron Man, the strength of Captain America, and a Batman-like persona, but he has more responsibility than any of them: He runs an entire kingdom.

Marvel Studios’ movie won’t be the first Black Panther adaptation for the screen. A few years ago BET collaborated with Marvel Animation to produce a motion-comic-style primetime series with Djimon Hounsou voicing the superhero. The show premiered in Australia in January of 2010 and was released to DVD a year later. Wesley Snipes was also slated to play the Black Panther in a Columbia Pictures adaptation in the ’90s, but the movies never materialized. The BET-Marvel animated series might be the closest we get to a Black Panther adaptation before Marvel’s Black Panther movie in 2017, and you can watch a trailer for the series below.