Unless you temporarily left the planet, or have been vacationing in Wakanda, you know Marvel’s latest superhero offering, “Black Panther,” rolls into theaters this weekend. The movie is based on a comic book series about T’challa, aka Black Panther, who is the conflicted king of Wakanda, a fictional nation in Africa that is a mix of spirituality and hyper-advanced technology.
The Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, has already appeared in the Avengers movie franchise. His turn as the tough, agile hero in all-black has amped up expectations that Marvel is sitting on another hit.
Critics are already on board with the movie, which also stars Michael B. Jordan and Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o.
“Panther” has landed 134 positive reviews with just three negative reviews, earning it a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the highest rating of any Marvel film, a group that include the the Captain America and Spider-Man franchises. “Panther” also has pre-sold more tickets than any other Marvel movie.
“‘Black Panther’ is riding an incredible wave of momentum right now,” Erik Davis, of the movie ticket-seller Fandango, told Variety. “It’s one of the biggest and most anticipated movies to ever open in the month of February.”
Throw in a movie soundtrack curated by multiple-Grammy nominee and hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar, and it all makes for what may wind up being one of the biggest movies ever.
But if the whole idea of the Black Panther is new to you, here’s seven things you need to know.
Many African-Americans are excited. February is of course Black History Month, and it’s not lost on anyone — least of all the team at Marvel — that the Panther is one of the most high-profile African-American characters in comic book and movie history. The character is being embraced by African Americans in a way that women were drawn to last year’s “Wonder Woman,” the most successful movie in the D.C. comics lineup. Families, organizations and community groups are buying tickets in blocks. Some organizations are pooling funds to pay for children to attend the movie.
Two Marvel Comics legends created the character. Former Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee and celebrated artist Jack Kirby created Black Panther in 1966. He first appeared in “Fantastic Four” no. 52. He was the first major black character in a mainstream comic book.
The detailed world of Wakanda came later. The Black Panther of modern times draws much of its inspiration from writer Don McGregor’s reboot of the character in 1973, in which McGregor spent much energy creating the lush world of Africa’s Wakanda, so different from the urban landscapes of the other heroes. McGregor told the stories in a series of comics under the Jungle Action franchise. He created a continuous narrative that some say was a forerunner of the graphic novel, a long-form that is now a staple of comics.
There are other notable Black Panther references. The Black Panther Party, a revolutionary organization based in Oakland, was founded months after the comic book character in 1966. But it had already been using a panther logo when it was still the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Marvel briefly changed the name of its character to Black Leopard to try to distance itself from the controversial party, but the name change didn’t stick. Black Panthers is also the nickname for African-American soldiers in the 761st Tank Battalion, a segregated unit that operated in World War II. A movie about the unit, whose motto is, “Come out fighting,” is being co-produced by actor Morgan Freeman and former basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Jackie Robinson, the man who integrated Major League Baseball, served in the 761st. Incidentally, Boseman, who plays Black Panther, also played Robinson in the movie “42.”
Writer Coates’ version of Panther will be evident. The Black Panther revival got going in earnest in 2015 when Ta-Nehisi Coates, the award-winning essayist for The Atlantic and author of “Between the World and Me,” signed on to write a new series of the comic. He has now had a hand in three other Panther-related titles, in addition to the main series. Director Ryan Coogler said at a 2016 Comic-Con in San Diego that Coates was his favorite writer and his version of the Panther “absolutely” was influencing the big-screen version, according to the Vulture website.
It’s all about the vibranium. Wakanda sits on a reserve of vibranium, a super-strong, fictional metal used to create Captain America’s shield. The metal has been a two-edged sword for the country. It has fueled the country’s technology — Black Panther’s high-tech suit is interwoven with it. But vibranium also has attracted a series of bad actors and supervillains — and the movie will be no exception.
Women play a big role. In the movie, as in the comics, female characters are essential to the story. The king, T’Challa, is protected by female bodyguards, and Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) is one of the country’s greatest warriors. T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) figure into the movie’s events. In the comic franchise, T’Challa marries weather goddess Storm, of the X-Men. That storyline raises the intriguing possibility that Storm, currently played by Alexandra Shipp, and in the past by Halle Berry, will appear in a future Black Panther movie - but that would require a Marvel crossover with 20th Century Fox, which owns the X-Men rights.
Staff writer Myron B. Pitts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3559.