Who Is The Black Panther? Get To Know Marvel's First Black Superhero Movie

Marvel announced last week that not only was a Black Panther movie finally coming, they'd already hired Chadwick Boseman to play him. Which is great news for comic book fans, who'd been begging the studio to make a Black Panther film for years. For those less familiar with the comic book universe, though, that just makes things more confusing. Who is the Black Panther? Why are people so excited about him? And what's he doing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Good thing those non-comic-geeks have us to explain. Learn all about the Black Panther after the jump.

Who is the Black Panther?

Like so many other iconic comic book characters, the Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s. He made his first appearance in an issue of Fantastic Four before headlining his own series, Jungle Action, starting in the 1970s. The Black Panther is considered the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, and he'll be the first black superhero lead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. (No, the Blade trilogy starring Wesley Snipes doesn't count — those movies were released by New Line and are not part of the MCU.)

Black PantherAnd who is the Black Panther within the Marvel universe?

He is T'Challa, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. If you want to get real technical about it, Black Panther is a title, not a name — whoever is the ruling leader of the Wakandan Panther Clan is the Black Panther. But for all intents and purposes, it's his superhero identity just like Captain America is Steve Rogers' or Iron Man is Tony Stark's.

As with so many other Marvel heroes, T'Challa's backstory is full of tragedy. His mother died giving birth to him and he was raised by his father, the king T'Chaka. When T'Challa was a teenager, a Dutch physicist called Klaw came to Wakanda in search of the rare element Vibranium. When T'Chaka refused to hand it over, Klaw had him gunned down right in front of his young son. T'Challa was able to fight back using Klaw's own weapon against him, shattering Klaw's hand and earning an enemy for life.

T'Challa went on to study in Europe and America, while his uncle S'yan took over as ruler of Wakanda. Eventually T'Challa returned to undergo the tribal rituals necessary to become the next Black Panther, defeating S'yan to take his rightful place at the throne. As Chieftain, T'Challa was allowed to eat the Heart-Shaped Herb (real creative name there, Marvel), which linked him to the Panther god and granted him superhuman strength, speed, stamina, and senses.

Since then, he's teamed up with the Fantastic Four, infiltrated the Avengers, joined the Avengers for real, battled the Ku Klux Klan, lost and regained his powers, taken on and then ditched the name Black Leopard, adopted the identities Luke Charles and Mr. Okwondo, fallen in love with singer Monica Lynne, and married and split from the X-Man Storm. Not necessarily in that order. Oh, and he did it all while ruling his kingdom. Well, until his sister Shuri took over in the 2000s.

On the next page, get to know more about the Black Panther and his homeland.

Black PantherBlack Panther and StormCool story, but what is Black Panther like?

The Black Panther is frequently likened to DC's Batman. Even Marvel Executive Editor and senior VP Tom Brevoort has described the Black Panther as what Batman might be if he were king of a country. The comparison is simplistic, but not necessarily inaccurate. Both characters are dark, mysterious, somewhat arrogant types who rely on strategy, intellect, and cool gadgets over plain brute force. They even have similar costumes. They also have dead parents and an animal-themed identity things in common, but then again so do dozens of other superheroes.

T'Challa's calculating mind is one of his sharpest weapons against his enemies. He isn't just smart, he's considered one of the smartest people on the entire planet — and he has the physics Ph.D. from Oxford University to back him up. On top of that, he's also an adept politician. But of course he's good at plain old fighting, too, with extensive training in gymnastics, acrobatics, and martial arts.

Black PantherWhat does he have to do with the Black Panther Party?

Nothing, actually! Or, okay, next to nothing — in the alternate reality Earth-9591, he is a member of the Black Panther Party. But no, despite what the name and timing may suggest, they're not really connected. Marvel's Black Panther debuted a few months before the formation of the Black Panther Party and it's really just a coincidence that they share a name.

Black PantherTell me more about Wakanda.

Wakanda is an isolationist nation with a tribal culture. T'Chaka actually tried his best to conceal his country from the outside world, before Klaw found his way there all the same.

Klaw, you'll recall, was in search of vibranium, an element almost exclusively found in Wakanda. (You may remember vibranium as the stuff Captain America's shield is made of.) It was put there many many years ago when a massive meteorite made of the material crashed into the country. Vibranium has made Wakanda very rich, since it's so highly valued and so hard to come by.

Wakanda is also notable for its incredible technology. During his time as ruler, T'Chaka sent Wakanda's best and brightest to study abroad and bring back what they'd learned to improve Wakandan society. That, combined with the country's isolationism, wealth, and supply of vibranium, has led Wakanda to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.

Black Panther cover

On the next page, let's talk about what's happening with the Black Panther movie.

Black Panther HeaderWho's playing Black Panther in the movie?

At their event last week, Marvel announced Chadwick Boseman had been cast as the hero. Boseman is a 37-year-old South Carolina native who appeared in shows like Lincoln Heights and Persons Unknown before breaking through in big way last year as Jackie Robinson in 42. You may have also seen him this year in Draft Day and Get On Up. We first got wind of Marvel's interest in Boseman last year.

Before Marvel confirmed Boseman for Black Panther, a whole bunch of other actors were gunning for, rumored for, or fantasy-cast in the part. Michael K. Williams, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Michael Jai White each voiced his interest in the role at various points. John Boyega dropped hints about wanting in. Morris Chestnut sparked and then stamped out casting rumors. And Wesley Snipes was angling for the role way before any of them — he tried to get a Black Panther movie made in the 1990s to no avail.

Funnily enough, the Black Panther has actually been portrayed by a different MCU actor before. Djimon Hounsou voiced him in a 2010 animated miniseries that aired on BET.

Black Panther Civil WarHow will Black Panther fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Well, Marvel has already confirmed he'll drop by Captain America: Civil War in 2016 before headlining his own movie in 2017. What we don't know is what he'll be doing there. The Civil War storyline centers on the Superhuman Registration Act, which requires superpowered beings to register with the government as a "a human weapon of mass destruction." The bill splits the Marvel universe into those who support it (including Iron Man) and those who oppose it (including Captain America).

In the comics, the ensuing conflict involves or has repercussions for nearly every character in the Marvel universe, so it's not crazy to think its effects could stretch to Wakanda. The Black Panther sided with Captain America against the Superhuman Registration Act, for the record, but who knows how this thing will play out in the movies. He could figure into the political aspects of the storyline, since he's the head of a foreign state. Or maybe vibranium will be the thing to bring the characters together, since Cap's shield is made of the stuff and the Black Panther's country is one of the only places to get it.

As for what the Black Panther's standalone movie will be about, an origin story seems like the obvious way to go but we've heard Marvel isn't interested in doing those anymore. His team-up with the Fantastic Four is also out, since those characters belong to Fox right now. There are various plotlines that bring T'Challa to America (sometimes under the names Luke Charles or Mr. Okwondo), so if Marvel wants to keep Cinematic Universe mostly within U.S. borders, they could possibly adapt one of those.

Additionally, there have also been rumors the Black Panther could appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since the actor is already in place, it seems like a real possibility. (That's more than we can say for Captain Marvel, who has also been rumored to appear in the next Avengers movie.) Moreover, the Black Panther is part of the Avengers in the comics so he could join with them in upcoming movies as well.

Black Panther wedding