It is one of the most fully realized realms in fiction and it's been hiding inside Marvel Comics for half a century. The "Black Panther" film pulls back the curtain to reveal the stunningly beautiful nation of Wakanda in the North East corner of Africa. Ruled by the enigmatic Black Panther, it is the most technologically advanced nation on the planet, and yet most people don't even know it exists. But that's totally by design.
While fans have been enamored with Chadwick Boseman's portrayal of T'Challa -- the new king of Wakanda and wearer of the Black Panther armor -- since his debut in 2016's "Captain America: Civil War," most know very little about who he is and where he comes from. That's about to change in a big way as the "Black Panther" film brings them along as T'Challa makes his way home after the tragic death of his father in "Civil War."
Unlike most of the solo films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Black Panther" comes with an entire entourage of principal characters surrounding T'Challa, as well as an entirely new nation with its own political structure. Black Panther is one of the more complicated superheroes in comics, and we want to make sure you know everything you need to about it before you step into that theater.
The information below comes from Black Panther's history in the Marvel comics universe, so there will be some variations in character origins and storylines in the film. Nevertheless, this primer should still serve as an effective introduction to a world we're all about to fall in love with. Mild, accidental spoilers are always possible.
Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby created Black Panther in 1966 in "Fantastic Four #52," just as they created much of the modern-day Marvel Universe. He is the first black superhero in mainstream comics.
Who Is T'Challa?
T'Challa (Boseman) is the son of King T'Chaka and Queen N'Yami. N'Yami died during childbirth, and T'Chaka was assassinated, leaving T'Challa to take up the mantle of the Black Panther. Until he was ready to face the trials, by beating the champions of each of the other Wakandan tribes, his Uncle S'yan proved himself worthy and took on the mantle of leadership, as well as the ceremonial title of the Black Panther.
Is There a Queen of Wakanda?
In the comics, T'Challa has enjoyed a long on-and-off relationship with Ororo Munroe (Storm), beginning when they were both young and before either took on their superhero titles or mantles. Later, the two would marry with her officially becoming the queen, but the marriage wouldn't last. Their feelings, however, remain.
Why the Name Black Panther?
Black Panther the superhero predates the Black Panther party, though Marvel considered changing his name to Black Leopard to minimize any confusion. Black Panther is a title bestowed upon the leader of the Panther Tribe. He is the ruler of all of the tribes of Wakanda. The costume is a symbol of the office and title. The title is hereditary, but one must complete trials to earn the right to claim the title and position.
The title of "Black Panther" affords the chieftain a connection to the Wakandan Panther God. He is also entitled to eat a Heart-Shaped Herb which gives him the standard enhanced abilities set including strength, speed, agility, stamina, reflexes, healing, etc. It is later learned that the herb is poisonous to anyone not of royal blood.
Why Is Wakanda Kept Secret?
A fictional nation in the heart of Africa, Wakanda has kept itself intentionally hidden from the rest of the world after a meteorite of vibranium crashed into the nation, for fear the nation would be exploited for it. King T'Chaka, T'Challa's father, made the decision to hide the nation and separate from the world economy, even as it began to surpass its global neighbors in technological advancements and wealth by strategically selling from its vibranium stores.
What Is Vibranium?
One of the rarest metals on Earth, vibranium came to this planet in a meteorite that crashed in Wakanda. After it was uncovered, the people discovered its unique properties. It has the ability to absorb any form of vibration or kinetic energy, making it extremely valuable. It is believed that the ore created mutations in Wakanda, including the unique properties of the heart-shaped herb, as well as the white gorilla meat the members of the White Gorilla Cult consume to gain powers. Both Black Panther's costume and Captain America's shield were made from this substance.
Who Are the "Dora Milaje"?
These "adored ones" are champions from rival tribes chosen to become the king's personal guard and ceremonial wives-in-training. Okoye (DanaiGurira) is the leader of the group. Nakia (Lupita Nyong'O) is a strong-willed member of the Dora Milaje who fell in love with T'Challa, despite being told the title is ceremonial only. Her jealousy at his other lovers turned her into the villainous Malice. The Dora Milaje are second only to Black Panther himself in fighting skill and prowess and often travel with him as his entourage.
Who Is Killmonger?
Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) was born N'Jadaka of Wakanda. After Ulysses Klaw's defeat, where his father died, the families of his supporters were exiled and N'Jadaka wound up in Harlem. He changed his name, attended MIT and was eventually allowed back into Wakanda. Seeking to restore Wakanda's traditional ways, he has several times tried to usurp control of the nation. He is a physical match for Black Panther.
Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) was originally the son of Nazi war criminal Baron Strucker, sent to Wakanda to learn its secrets. After moving to the U.S., he changed his surname to "Klaw," and became a physicist. His field of study had to do with manipulating sound into a physical mass, which he mastered through a device powered by vibranium. It was Klaw who killed T'Chaka, losing his right hand in the process. Eventually, he is transformed into a being composed of sound. In the films, Klaw has no discernible powers, was friends with Tony Stark, managed to steal a large store of vibranium and lost his left arm to Ultron prior to his appearance in "Black Panther."
Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) first appeared in "Captain America: Civil War," as well. A longtime ally of T'Challa in the comics, he works for the State Department and was assigned as escort for the foreign diplomats from Wakanda. He and T'Challa have saved one another's lives countless times.
M'Baku (Winston Duke) is the ruler of Wakanda's mountain tribe, also known as Man-Ape in the comics. The filmmakers found the name problematic, so they dropped it, but he still wears a costume that hints at that legacy. M'Baku has sought to usurp control of Wakanda from T'Challa so that he can return Wakanda to a primitive state. He has powers similar to Black Panther which he gets from consuming the meat from and bathing in the blood of Wakandans rare white gorillas.
W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) served as T'Challa's second-in-command, always cautioning his king not to trust outsiders. He has a bionic arm that can emit powerful blasts. For the film, W'Kabi has been upgraded to the role of T'Challa's best friend as well, serving as head of security for his Border Tribe, Wakanda's first line of defense.
Ramonda (Angela Bassett) was T'Chaka's second wife, and stepmother to T'Challa. She is Queen Mother of Wakanda and serves as an advisor to the king. A native of South Africa, she wed T'Chaka after T'Challa's mother died from complications in childbirth. While she is loyal to her king, she is also strong-willed and knows that sometimes he's not always going to be right, and that's when she needs to step up.
Shuri (Letitia Wright) is T'Challa's younger half-sister on his father's side, and daughter of Ramonda. T'Challa trained her himself so she'd be ready should she ever have to take on the mantle of Black Panther, which did happen temporarily in the comic books, though not without complications due to pride and arrogance. She often makes strategic and command decisions in his absence while he is off fighting with the Avengers.
Zuri (Forest Whitaker) is the keeper of the heart-shaped herb that empowers Wakanda's rulers. As such, he serves as a sort of religious advisor, though he also possesses enhanced strength and was a master in several fighting techniques in his younger years, when he enjoyed a deep bond with the late King T'Chaka.
Now, you should be ready to enter Wakanda when "Black Panther" hits theaters this Friday, Feb. 15.