One of the most highly anticipated films for 2018 is Marvel's first stand alone Black Panther film. Slated to arrive in February, the trailers so far have been greeted with rapturous reactions, and new photo that arrived New Year's Day sent fans into a tizzy. But who is Black Panther, aka T'Challa of Wakanda? For those who haven't deeply immersed themselves in the comics, there's now a new behind the scenes video where Black Panther's history is revealed.
If the name seems reminiscent of the Black Power movement that came out of the Civil Rights era that's because it is. The character "Black Panther" actually predated the Black Panther Party, but not by much. He first appeared in the pages of Marvel comics in 1966, in a Fantastic Four storyline. The masterminds behind the character were writer-editor Stan Lee (of course) and writer-artist Jack Kirby, one of the most widely prolific and innovative comic artists of the last century.
But Black Panther didn't just usher in the beginning of an era of African American superheroes. Before his creation there were virtually no African American superheores in mainstream comics. (The character's introduction preceded The Falcon and Luke Cage by a few years.) His first major 13 issue story was considered to be Marvel's first graphic novel. And his love affair with Storm (from the X-Men) is one of the highest profile crossover comic relationships ever.
For some history on the character, and his development, Marvel has put together a behind the scenes video, starring director Ryan Coogler, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige and, of course, Stan Lee. Sadly Jack Kirby passed back in 1994, so we'll have to take Lee's word on his version of events.
One thing that Feige does not mention when he talks about the excitement Black Panther generated in Captain America: Civil War is that the portion of the movie that introduces the character, as well as several of the stars of the upcoming movie, both good and bad, basically served as the character's origin story. Unlike Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, all who had "origin story" films in Marvel's Phase I, these later characters who are being introduced are skipping some of those formalities. (See also: Spider-Man: Homecoming.)
This means the film will assume you have everything you need to know about T'Challa walking into the film. He was the son of T'Chaka, King of Wakanda, who was the Black Panther before him. When his father was killed, T'Challa inherited everything, including the crown and the costume. As Chadwick Boseman notes in the video:
He has to look out for an entire nation. That's a responsibility that most other superheores don't commonly have.
Black Panther is also important the same way Wonder Woman was last year. After decades of superhero films starting straight white guys, the comic book movie world is starting to finally diversify, first on the small screen on Netflix, and now on the larger ones in movie houses. And where Wonder Woman was important to women and girls to see themselves represented on screen, Black Panther is carrying the expectations of African American nerds eager to finally have one of their own up on screen.
To that end, Boseman says this is not just your usual straight "blow 'em up first and sort 'em out later" joints.
You want the wow factor, but it’s not just stuff blowing up. It’s definitely a character piece.
Black Panther lands in theaters everywhere this coming Feb. 16, 2018. It will be followed by a return to Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, 2018.