How Do The Black Panther Characters Compare To Their Comic Book Counterparts?
What do you know about Wakanda? If you’ve seen Captain America: Civil War, then you probably know that the fictional African nation of Wakanda is home to both the Black Panther, the superhero alter ego of King T’Challa, and a whole lot of Vibranium, a.k.a the strongest and most powerful metal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America’s shield? Vibranium. Black Panther’s energy-absorbing suit? Vibranium. The supervillain humanoid Ultron’s world-ending drill? That’s Vibranium, too. So you know what the Wakandan people are hiding, and why they’re hiding it—but who are they?
In Black Panther, out today, director Ryan Coogler revitalized Marvel’s first black superhero for a new generation, taking the most problematic aspects of its legacy—as an infallible character created during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—and making them something new altogether. From the multifaceted women of Wakanda to the glorious rebirth of M’Baku (otherwise known as Man-Ape in the comics), here’s how the characters in Coogler’s revolutionary Black Panther stack up against their ink-and-paper counterparts.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)
First appearance: Fantastic Four #52 (1966)
The first black superhero in mainstream comics, the Black Panther was created by prolific comics duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966. T’Challa made his first appearance in the pages of Fantastic Four—one of Marvel’s most successful monthly titles at the time—when he invited the superhero team to the reclusive African country, the most technologically advanced land in the world, only to defeat them one-by-one. T’Challa had the unique responsibility of being both a king and a superhero, but his duty to his people always came first. As such, he was a bit of a loner, but he did spend some time with those Avengers.
The biggest difference between the T’Challa we meet in the MCU and his comics counterpart is the time at which he ascended the throne. In the comics, T’Challa lost his father T’Chaka at a young age, so he had already spent years on the throne by the time he met Reed Richards and company. But in the MCU, T’Chaka was killed in the bombing of the Vienna International Centre in Captain America: Civil War, which resulted in an adult T’Challa taking up the mantle. In Black Panther, he’s still acclimating to the role of king, but his duty to Wakanda is still paramount.
Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan)
First appearance: Jungle Action #6 (1973)
A Wakandan exile, Killmonger’s motivation has always been revenge. In the comics, Erik Killmonger, born N’Jadaka, and his family were exiled from Wakanda following his father’s betrayal. So he grew up in Harlem, New York, plotting his revenge against T’Challa and the man responsible for his father’s death: Ulysses Klaw. Brilliant and cunning, Killmonger eventually returned to the outskirts Wakanda (after graduating from MIT), where he regularly clashed with T’Challa on a physical and ideological level.
Their ideological differences become the crux of Coogler’s film. “The best way to describe him and T’Challa’s relationship is Magneto and Professor X,” Jordan told MTV News last year. “He’s not afraid to take a life.” In the film, Killmonger is incredibly smart, extremely patient, and he has, as Jordan described, a “by-any-means-necessary” attitude. Not to mention, he’s effortlessly cool.
Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o)
First appearance: Black Panther Vol 3 #1 (1998)
At a young age Nakia was recruited for the Dora Milaje, an elite group of warrior women who serve as the personal bodyguards of the Black Panther. Chosen from rival tribes, the Dora Milaje were originally envisioned as a pool of wives-in-training for the king, but under T’Challa’s rule that was disbanded. (He had a thing for following in love with outsiders—like X-Men member Storm—anyway.) However, Nakia became enamored with T’Challa and the Black Panther. Her infatuation later turned malicious, resulting in her exile from Wakanda and eventual villainous turn as Malice.
But the Nakia we meet in the MCU is a far cry from the jealous young woman in the comics. As T’Challa’s primary love interest, she’s anything but sidelined. She’s a strong-willed superspy who also happens to be an advocate for using Wakandan technology to help underprivileged communities around the world—something T’Challa is vehemently against. (Exposing Wakanda to the rest of the world could spell danger for the African nation.)
Okoye (Danai Gurira)
First appearance:Black Panther Vol 3 #1 (1998)
Created by dynamic duo Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira in 1998, Okoye and Nakia were chosen by T’Challa to serve in the Dora Milaje when he revived the order. Since then, the fierce fighting squad has gone through a complete makeover—from long hair and curves to shaved heads and traditional Wakandan armor. In the film, Okoye takes on the role of leader of the Dora Milaje, and as such, she’s one of T’Challa’s most trusted advisors and strategists. (In the comics, there’s a queer female character, named Aneka, who has this role.) Her loyalty to T’Challa and to the throne is central to the film’s plot, but it’s her romance with W’Kabi that’s one of the biggest deviations from the source material.
Shuri (Letitia Wright)
First appearance:Black Panther Vol 4 #2 (2005)
One of Reginald Hudlin’s many contributions to the Panther legacy, Shuri was originally introduced as T’Challa’s younger half-sister (the biological daughter of T’Chaka and Ramonda). In the comics, Shuri had aspirations of becoming Wakanda’s first female Black Panther—until her brother beat her to it—but she ultimately took up the mantle when he was badly injured during Hudlin’s run. The film, however, changes up this narrative with a charismatic Shuri who has no desire whatsoever to adhere to royal tradition. Instead, the feisty princess would rather make fun of her brother and design cool tech. As the head of Wakanda’s technological and scientific innovation, Shuri could easily hold her own alongside the MCU’s resident Science Bros. In fact, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner might want to make some room in the lab in Avengers HQ because Black Panther hints at a key role for Shuri in the forthcoming Infinity War.
W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya)
First appearance: Avengers #62 (1969)
Chief of Wakandan security, W’Kabi served as T’Challa’s loyal second-in-command until his death in Hudlin’s Black Panther Vol 5 #5 in 2009. A man of few words, W’Kabi never cared for his king’s Western superhero acquaintances. The film taps into W’Kabi’s warrior roots. As the head of security for the Border Tribe of Wakanda, W’Kabi and his men are the first line of defence in Wakanda. Not to mention, he and his crew get to train the Wakandan army’s horde of war rhinos! If only his loyalty to his friend T’Challa wasn’t so easily compromised.
Zuri (Forest Whitaker)
First appearance:Black Panther Vol 3 #1 (1998)
A close friend of the late King T’Chaka, Zuri later became a special attendant to T’Challa. A warrior until the very end, he died alongside W’Kabi protecting a wounded T’Challa. In the film, Zuri is less of a fighter and more of a shaman and adviser to the king. His relationship with T’Chaka is especially important, as it leads to the film’s most devastating reveal and presents a major conflict for T’Challa. Still, Zuri is ride or die for the royal family until the very end.
Ramonda (Angela Bassett)
First appearance:: Marvel Comics Presents #14 (1989)
In the comics, Ramonda, known as the Queen Mother, was T’Chaka’s third wife and a surrogate mother to T’Challa. Originally from South Africa, she was always looked at as an outsider in Wakanda. Since her introduction in 1989, the former queen of Wakanda has endured a lot of trauma, from being abducted and sexually abused by Anton Pretorius to nearly dying in a terrorist attack. While she endures some emotional trauma in the film, Ramonda is mostly seen as T’Challa’s biological mother and one of his most trusted and strongest advisors.
M’Baku (Winston Duke)
First appearance:Avengers #62 (1969)
Originally known by his racially insensitive moniker Man-Ape, M’Baku was the fearless leader of the Jabari people, who reside in the snowy mountains of Wakanda, isolated from the rest of the city. In the comics, as well as the film, M’Baku challenges T’Challa’s right to rule because he believes Wakanda has become too dependent on technology. Although he doesn’t go by Man-Ape in Coogler’s film (thank the Panther God), M’Baku does wear a white gorilla mask while in battle—symbolic of his tribe’s deity, the Gorilla God. As one of T’Challa’s most formidable foes, the warrior M’Baku puts up quite a fight.
Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis)
First appearance:Fantastic Four #53 (1966)
In the comics, Klaw was a Dutch physicist who attacked Wakanda for its Vibranium resources. The violent assault on Wakanda resulted in T’Chaka’s untimely death, but a young T’Challa didn’t let the supervillain escape completely unscathed; Klaw lost his hand in the fight, which led to the creation of his prosthetic hand device: a sonic-force blaster. The MCU, however, present a much different version of Klaw. The smarmy South African smuggler and black-market arms dealer was first introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and in Black Panther, he’s working with Erik Killmonger to get his hands on even more Vibranium.
Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman)
First appearance: Ka-Zar Vol 3 #17 (1998)
After introducing Ross in Ka-Zar, Priest used character as an audience surrogate in his Black Panther run. Inspired by Chandler Bing from Friends and Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties, Ross gave a voice to the (white, male) comic book audience’s real misgivings about Black Panther and black superheroes in general. The character’s job was to escort T’Challa during his diplomatic visit in New York City. In the MCU, Ross is a supporting character who originally popped up in Civil War. In Black Panther, he’s less corny and more serious—and, most importantly (minor spoiler), he’s yet “another broken white boy” for Shuri to fix.