The current Black Panther run by Ta-Nehsi Coates has been very interesting to watch thus far. It’s largely centered around the domestic upheaval Wakanda has faced in its failure to protect its people, and old wounds coming home to roost. It’s interesting to watch T’Challa defend his monarchy, while simultaneously questioning whether there even should be one, but some people might ask what it is the people are rising up about in the first place.
The uprising is largely rooted in previous storylines, a large chunk of them written by Jonathan Hickman during the Avengers/New Avengers run leading up to Secret Wars, and of course while it’s easy to explain these things in recap, it can still lead to a bit of lockout when understanding the context. We at Pop Culture Uncovered however, are more than happy to hang our hats on being comic book geeks, so let’s take a look at where Black Panthers past and present have been.
One of the biggest of the many long-running arcs in Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther was T’Challa suffering from brain damage after a severe beating from a possessed Iron Fist. While T’Challa was known for keeping his own counsel during the Priest run, this got taken to unhealthy heights when his propensity for keeping secrets led to mistrust within his own ranks. Adding to this burden: a future version of the Black Panther had shown up some time back and had regressed from the brain damage that was killing him. Unable to do more than make him comfortable, T’Challa was left with the uncomfortable notion of what would become of him. With the death of his future counterpart at the hands of the Man-Ape he was led to attacking his protege, Queen Divine Justice, in a fit of madness. All of this, along with the compounding loss and sorrow that’d built up over the course of the run, led to T’Challa choosing to abandon the role and duties of the Black Panther while his own fate remained unknown.
The legacy of the Black Panther didn’t end there though, Kevin “Kasper” Cole: a bi-racial cop from New York stole one of T’Challa’s old costumes from his superior, Sergeant Tork. Under the auspices of pretending to be T’Challa, Kasper attempted to use the identity of the Black Panther to set up criminals for arrest, and then nab them in his police identity to move up the ranks and move his family out of their bad neighborhood. However, his rash decision had consequences as he ended up getting pulled into a tug of war between T’Challa, his foster brother the White Wolf, and T’Challa’s enemy Killmonger for control of his future. A set of bizarre circumstances led to Kasper accepting Killmonger’s request for him to join up as his protege the White Tiger in exchange for an artificial version of T’Challa’s Black Panther abilities in order to save his boss’ child. In the end T’Challa helped him get what he needed, including the means to continue his career as a superhero, however Kasper could never be the Black Panther again, and continued on as a White Tiger.
One of the older star-crossed romances in Marvel comics has always been Storm and Black Panther. It was set up long ago by Chris Claremont with, of course, Storm rescuing T’Challa. However, while it had always been teased and played around with, Hudlin pulled the trigger on it bringing the two together: albeit suddenly and in a way that made T’Challa look cool (a recurring theme in the Hudlin run). The marriage went through its turmoils between Civil War, the Shadow King, but later events would finally begin to put a cap on it. That didn’t stop them from somehow finding time to temporarily joining the Fantastic Four which led to T’Challa putting Silver Surfer into a famous headlock.
One of the major introductions Hudlin made to the canon was T’Challa’s brash younger sister Shuri. Shuri didn’t add much, at first, that certain other characters didn’t fill but that changed quickly. During the opening months of Dark Reign, T’Challa was beaten and taken off the board by the Cabal for refusing to join their ranks. In order to protect Wakanda from the billionth outside attack, Shuri fulfilled her long-standing desire and replaced her brother as the Black Panther. However, while Shuri was trained by T’Challa, she didn’t have the years of experience that T’Challa did, or his patience which lead her to trouble on more than one occasion.
Following upon his previous assassination attempt on T’Challa, Doom made a coup attempt using a brainwashed faction of Wakanda in order to steal Wakanda’s vibranium for its mystical properties. However, he was opposed by both Shuri and T’Challa, as well as their allies. While they did win over Doom, it came at a great cost with T’Challa taking away Doom’s reason for being in Wakanda by rendering all Vibranium inert.
After the events of Shadowland, Matt Murdock asked T’Challa to take over guarding Hell’s Kitchen for him, and viewing it as an opportunity to challenge himself: T’Challa agreed. Setting himself up as a diner owner in Hell’s Kitchen in order to both create an information hub in the neighborhood and allow himself to make connections as a result. Challenging the new Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen: Vlad the Impaler, T’Challa got himself caught into a web of love and loss, eventually overthrowing him but in the process losing several friends. Being that this was a Daredevil-ish book, T’Challa also ended up taking on the Kingpin, Kraven the Hunter, and during the Spider-Island incident: Lady Bullseye. While T’Challa eventually ended up leaving Hell’s Kitchen to return to Wakanda, it did prove to be a very interesting period even among all the other times T’Challa has cut loose in Manhattan.
After his return to Wakanda, T’Challa resumed his duties in Wakanda while Shuri reigned as the queen and Black Panther. While Wakanda did suffer from the loss of vibranium, it didn’t collapse due to prior investments on T’Challa’s part. Inviting the Future Foundation to help him investigate a spate of supernatural attacks on Wakanda, T’Challa ended up having a vision of the future of destruction coming to Wakanda. In order to prepare him for this, the Goddess Bast gave him a new duty. While Shuri reigned as the Black Panther, T’Challa would reign as the Black Panther of the land of the dead and have access to his past ancestors in the process.
During Avengers Vs X-Men, a Phoenix-powered Namor was goaded into attacking Wakanda in order to locate the kidnapped mutant Transonic and in retaliation for their harboring the Avengers. However, being that this was Namor and his personality was amplified by the Phoenix, he ended up drowning Wakanda in the process and killed countless lives. This led to T’Challa divorcing his wife Storm for her siding with the X-Men, and to declare an ongoing state of war between Wakanda and Atlantis.
Having discovered the existence of the universe-ending Incursions, T’Challa reformed the secret brotherhood: the Illuminati. While he’d originally rejected membership and warned them against meeting in secret, T’Challa against his better nature called for them to meet to stop the Incursions after Wakanda’s brightest children were killed in front of his eyes. In attempting to stop the threat of Incursions from destroying the universe, T’Challa was forced to work with Namor, and given the greater threat of Incursions attempted to bring things to some sort of peace. However, with Shuri being goaded into retaliating against Namor despite T’Challa’s attempts to sue for peace, this wasn’t meant to be and Wakanda retaliated against Atlantis for Namor’s actions.
During Thanos’ invasion of Earth, Wakanda was one of the sites attacked in order to find the Time Gem that Thanos sought. Working together with Shuri: T’Challa managed to repel the Black Order from the Golden City, but in order to save his people after Wakanda razed Atlantis: Namor lied and pushed Thanos into leading his armies to blow up Wakanda. While T’Challa was busy attempting to find the son of Thanos on behalf of Black Bolt, Shuri was left to lead a defense against the full might of Thanos’ armies, and the Black Order managed to set up shop in the Illuminati’s headquarters in the City of the Dead and make use of their weapons to destroy the Earth. While Thanos was defeated, it came at a grave cost to T’Challa: his fraternization with Namor was discovered, his Dora Milaje rejected him, and he was banned from ever returning to the Golden City for his betrayal.
The Incursions continued, this time leading to a future confrontation with the superheroes of the Great Society. T’Challa was questioned by his father and ancestors as to why he hadn’t yet killed Namor for his attack, with his protestations that he still needed Namor alive growing weaker, they demanded that he perform his duty for Wakanda and the world by destroying whatever opponent came next: including heroes regardless of his personal wishes. When it came time to choose whether to destroy the Great Society’s world after bringing them to heel, T’Challa at the cost of his ancestors and father’s rejection made the choice to not destroy an entire planet. In his place though, and refusing to die: Namor decided to take the decision away from them and blew up the world instead. The long-building hatred between T’Challa and Namor boiled over into an open brawl with T’Challa swearing to kill Namor the next time they met.
12. Time Runs Out
Eight months after the Illuminati’s existence was exposed before the entire world, T’Challa’s country was turned into a hunting ground and headquarters for the Cabal in exchange for saving the world from Incursions. In an attempt to hold the world hostage using the Illuminati’s arsenal, T’Challa and Shuri attempted to infiltrate the Golden City which ended badly with Shuri deciding to stay and die instead of running away one more time. While the Illuminati and the Avengers agreed to work together once more to defeat the Cabal in exchange for the Illuminati surrendering for their crimes, T’Challa refused to. Instead, when given the chance, he and Black Bolt got their revenge on Namor: leaving him to die on an Earth as it exploded.
13. Secret Wars
Some things never end in comics, when Doctor Doom became God in Secret Wars, T’Challa was forced to work together with Namor in order to find a way to stop him. Managing to locate the Infinity Gems, T’Challa and Namor managed to stall him while Mister Fantastic found a way to neutralize the source of his power. But even in the immediate defeat T’Challa found victory. Using the Reality Gem, T’Challa managed to end up back at the initial tragedy that had changed his country’s future and prevent it.
While there is a lot to catch up on, you’re still in for a good time. More Black Panther is good Black Panther in our world. If you still need to fill in some of the holes on what T’Challa has been up to, click here for more info.