Everything You Should Know Before Seeing 'Black Panther'

A crash course for the person who knows almost nothing.

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Feb 8 2018, 7:00pm

Image via Marvel Studios

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

So you don’t really know jack shit about the Black Panther or Wakanda, and you think T’Challa is a Latin dance. No one’s judging you here—it’s likely why you’re reading this. It’s my sincere hope that you won’t have to fake another conversation surrounding this black-ass, bad-ass, record-breaking superhero film ever again. So to that end, I've placed an unhealthy amount of time studying the entire Black Panther world so that you don’t have to (though you probably should). Let the class begin.

Who deserves credit for creating 'Black Panther'?

From left to right, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Images via Wikipedia Commons

OK, so initial credits go out to a couple of white dudes named Stan Lee (writer-editor/publisher) and Jack Kirby (writer/artist) over at Marvel comics. In the late 60s, both Marvel personalities were sympathetic to the civil rights movement, so in turn, they took on an opportunity to create a comic-book character that embodied the kind of Afro heroism that no one had seen prior. The Black Panther’s first appearance was in Fantastic 4 #52, and he was smart, rich, a king, and African as hell. And, no, he wasn't named after the Black Panther Party. His first appearance was in July 1966, while the anti-fascist group wasn’t founded until October 1966.

From left to right. Christopher Priest and Ta-Nehisi Coates

Extra credits, of course, go out to comic-book writer and all around cool black dude Christopher Priest, and artist Mark Texeira for expanding the Black Panther mythology into a non-stereotypical, filmable source of world-building from his 62-issue run in 1998. Ta-Nehisi Coates later came around in 2016 to build on the concepts that Priest brought to the table by centering on the political fringes of a king’s rule.

OK, so who's this T'Challa guy?

T'Challa played by Chadwick Boseman. Images courtesy of Marvel

He’s the king. Our lead man. The first generation, private school going, with wealthy parents who just happen to be a king and queen type of dude. As the story goes, his blood mother died in childbirth, so father and king T’Chaka re-married and utilized his wealth to send our African prince abroad to study and acquire a PhD in physics at the University of Oxford in England. He’s also a trained gymnast and a master in several forms of martial arts, because why not. Often regarded as one of the more intellectual minds in the Marvel Comics universe, T’Challa exercises himself to not only fight traditional villainy but also lead a country. After his father was murdered in a calculated terrorist attack in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa took on the Black Panther mantle, effectively making him the leader of an entire nation.

And what is a Black Panther?

From left to right, sister to T'Challa, Queen Shuri, and King T'Challa

Firstly, the Black Panther can be anyone of royal blood. That’s a distinction that’s often overlooked in likening the title against every other basic-ass superhero pseudonym. T’Challa will always be T’Challa, and the Black Panther suit will always be a Black Panther... suit—a vibranium-lined (we’ll get into that) piece of spandex yes—but still a suit. Its wearer is what traditionally makes the difference here, turning an inanimate pimped-out object into the figurative crown that it is. To wear the black spandex molded after a mystical panther God is to be the king or queen of a centuries-old dynasty. Like any leadership, you get some perks: panther-eque abilities and bodyguards, along with a VIP level of access to future tech, a military, and an abundance of Wakanda’s wealth.

And what's the big deal about Wakanda?

Images courtesy of Marvel

Wakanda is a fictional South African nation that is both isolated and extremely wealthy thanks to a substance called vibranium. As a whole, it’s a nationalist utopia—beautiful in its Afro-future splendor, but very, “stay on your side of the yard, so you don’t muck up ours,” mentality wise. To really grasp why that is, is to see Wakanda for what it is. A big ol’ piece of land just sitting smack dab on a gigantic chunk of gold. Now replace that gold with a rare 10,000-year-old magical, and unbreakable, metal as mentioned above worth $10,000 per freakin' gram, and you come to understand what T’Challa’s been working with. With money comes advancement, so Wakanda has moved forward technologically far quicker compared their worldly counterparts. They have something to protect, and thus have never been conquered within its borders. It’s only recently that they made the decision to expose themselves to the world in the interest to aid.

What's this vibranium stuff again?

This stuff was deposited within the Earth by a meteorite 10,000 or so years ago. Once referred to as anti-metal, it has the fictional ability to dissolve other metals on some OP level shit. It was first discovered during an expedition in Antarctica in the 1940s (Captain America’s shield is made of this) and was also discovered in massive quantities in Wakanda by King T’Chaka. The type of vibranium discovered on the African grounds had the ability to absorb sound waves, and vibrations, including kinetic energy. Pretty much all of the city, along with the Black Panther suit, is almost entirely powered by the indestructible metal.

You mentioned personal bodyguards?

The Dora Milaje. Image courtesy of Marvel

They call them the Dora Milaje. Just imagine a collective of Grace Jones–level bad-ass black women with similar skills to the Black Panther, and you have the Dora Milaje. They’re said to be women recruited from every individual tribe in Wakanda and, traditionally, were used as sit-ins to be potential queens to an unmarried king. This married-in-training idea was scrapped away, however, from Christopher Priest’s original comic-book vision when the film came around, as explained by Black Panther film producer Nate Moore to Screen Rant. “We felt it wasn't necessary to tell the story of the Dora [Milaje] and in a way we all kind of rejected as being a little creepy. So we will not be exploring that.”

OK, does Wakanda have villains?

Killermonger played by Michael B. Jordan

Historically, yes. This is a kingdom after all, and a kingdom needs its opposers. Aside from the occasional rebellion, you can count the Dutch/South African Ulysses Klaue as one such dude. He has a long history of going after the rare vibranium of Wakanda for his mad-scientist-y schemes. Then there’s Killermonger (birth name, N’Jadaka), who nurses a hatred for the Wakanda’s throne after his father died by particular means (and he’s played by the incredible Michael B. Jordan in the upcoming movie). He’s the opposite of T’Challa; he was born in a poverty-stricken area of Harlem. His intellect and skills closely match T’Challa’s after having served in the military while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His aim as a villain isn’t as old school (rule/destroy the world) as you’d think.

Where does Black Panther fit into the Marvel-verse, and who is behind it?

As mentioned before, the Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman), like most Wakandians, is historically an isolationist unless a conflict affects his own. That father T'Chaka I once mentioned just so happened to die on American soil... so yeah. The Black Panther in response injected himself into an international conflict that involved budding heads with The AvengersCaptain America: Civil War—to find the killer and bring him to justice. The killer was, of course found, all was well, and T’Challa returned home to do King-like things. Two adversaries had to come and put a dent into all that easy going shit (mentioned above). Regardless, he’s become the guy that seeks to help out those that needed thanks to his wealth and resources; but don’t get it twisted. His primary concern is/will always be Wakanda.

So is the movie good?

Long answer: Think pieces a’coming. But short answer: FUCK YES.

How much money is it going to make?

All the money.

How are white supremacists handling this?

Poorly.

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