The kingdom of Wakanda is about to grace the silver screen in all its glory in nearly a week’s time. Once again Marvel seems to have hit the ball out of the park, if the early reviews are any indication.
However, while we’ve had a brief glimpse of King T’Challa and the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda, in Captain America: Civil War; there’s a lot more than is shown to this fictional character and his hyper advanced kingdom. So, what’s the best way to catch up on the nearly 50 year old history Wakanda? Well, with the Film Companion Top 5 primer of course!
Black Panther Vol 1 (2006): Who is Black Panther
This is a comic book about kings, usurpers and war. Reginald Hublin and John Romita Jr. weave a tale that in many ways reintroduces the Black Panther and Wakandan mythology to a new audience. The first few pages deal with the historical myth of Wakanda and various attempts at invading it – both from the colonial white men and local African tribes. It establishes early on Wakanda’s ‘passive-aggressiveness’, as this small technologically advanced nation, mercilessly crushes invasions without exacting righteous vengeance.
The comic also reintroduces Ulysses Klaue, as a Belgian assassin, that assembles his elite hit European hit-squad comprising of the Rhino and Batroc amongst others to take down Wakanda – with a little help from rival nation Nigandi. The storytelling is tight and the art gripping. Who is Black Panther is your shortest and best way into Wakanda-verse. Interestingly, the comic does give out a very “The Ghost who Walks” vibe. The early Black Panther issues packed into the volume are of course an additional delight!
Black Panther Vol 4: Civil War
Let me be very clear – this comic may not be the best Black Panther out there, but as far as primers go, this gets the job done. T’Challa, his father and Wakanda are the catalysts for the chain of events that play out in the movie Captain America: Civil War. Similarly, the Black Panther was critical to the events of the comic book version of the ‘Civil War’ – with him and his wife Ororo (Storm from X-Men) remaining neutral – and then siding with Captain America in the comics.
While not a key player initially, you get to see why T’Challa can’t help but get mired in the controversy surrounding the Superhero Registration Act (named the Sokovia Accords in the movie) and you also get to see him take on Tony Stark and his hubris with style.
Read this to get context to the King and for some fancy battle sequences. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will deal with the fallout of ‘Civil War’ and the fact that Wakanda did eventually side with Cap and Bucky – this volume is your primer to the events that may (or may not) happen in the movie.
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet
When I was first told that Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing one of the best runs on Black Panther last year by my friends, I was a little confused. Confused because I didn’t think Ta-Nehisi Coates was the kind who would write comic books and let alone pull off a brilliant one – given his traditional, non-comic book background.
But he does and Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet is a modern classic – one every comic book reader must pick. The first volume of his run deals with T’Challa’s role as both king and man, a theme that has pervaded across many of the best titles in the Black Panther stable. While T’Challa is attempting to subdue a seemingly legitimate rebellion against the monarchy, his mind is distracted as he attempts to bring his sister Suri, who is a state of limbo, back to life.
The comic delves with both socio-political allegory and human nature deftly – and from what the early reviews suggest, the MCU movie may be hitting similar beats. Of course, the art by Brian Stelfreeze is gorgeous and captures Wakanda in all its glory.
Black Panther: Volume 1 by Christopher Priest
I had first come across this comic a long time ago – at a time when Gotham comics was still doing Marvel and DC reprints for fraction of the cost in India. Black Panther Vol. 1 by Christopher Priest is a weird creature by itself. Much like Who is Black Panther from 2005, Christopher Priest tasks himself with both setting up and expanding on the myth of Wakanda and the Black Panther.
Everett Ross, played by Martin Freeman in the movie, is the central narrator of the first few issues. Ross narrates the adventures of T’Challa as he investigates a murder of a child supported by his foundation in a nonlinear format – forgetting stuff, mixing up stories and such. It plays for great comedic relief, especially when contrasted against T’Challa and his entourage’s sombre demeanour. The scene where Ross realises that he may have sold his soul to the devil Memphisto for a pair of pants, is both hilarious and tragic.
What the volume also does deftly is set up the expanded world of T’Challa and the side characters – and some of the art on the initial issues by Mark Texeira is gorgeous!
Black Panther: Secret Invasion
Finally, Black Panther: Secret Invasion makes it on this primarily due to the upcoming MCU movie, Avengers: Infinity War. The trailers teased the invasion of Wakanda by an alien horde and looking at the size of the horde, it seems unlikely that Wakanda will be able to hold off an invasion of such scale.
But they can, and they do – in Black Panther: Secret Invasion. Secret Invasion was a tie-in to the Marvel comic book wide event of the same name, like Civil War, where a race of shape shifting aliens named the Skrulls secretly infiltrate Earth as part of a long-planned invasion. Wakanda was one of the key bastions that needed to fall, given their superior technology, for the invasion to succeed.
The comic itself is straight up action-packed ride – with one betrayal and plot twist after another. But why the comic remains essential for anyone wishing to know more about T’Challa is the fact that his strength lies not in his vibranium suit, but also in his genius, tact and occasion ruthlessness.
The comic also drives home the price of war – and how often both sides forget how similar they are to each other.
Of course, if you want to deep dive in-depth, the other titles you might want to look at are:
- Black Panther – Back to Africa
- Black Panther – World of Wakanda
- Black Panther by Christopher Priest – Volume 02
- Black Panther – The Bride
- Black Panther Collection: Panther’s Rage