This article contains Black Panther spoilers.
Black Panther is now in theaters and Ryan Coogler’s movie has surpassed box office expectations, and garnered almost universally positive reviews. Marvel’s first movie of 2018 brings a fresh new feel to the MCU, introducing audiences to King T’Challa’s world, Wakandan technology, culture, and beliefs. But it also recalls a key element of 2008’s Iron Man: the feeling that great change is coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Panther’s 1966 debut in Fantastic Four #52 made him the most high profile black hero in comic book history at the time (he followed lesser known characters like Lion Man from 1947’s All-Negro Comics and the African American cowboy Lobo’s brief stint for Dell in 1965). But the character is better known as the first black superhero, with abilities and technology that could contend with characters like the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and others. Black Panther was also the first black superhero purely of African descent, rather than African-American. Along with Namor the Sub-Mariner, King T’Challa is also the only other character in the Marvel Universe who is active-duty royalty, and Wakanda happens to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the Marvel Universe.
It’s no surprise that fans and people of both African and African-American descent were hyped to see a Black Panther solo movie, especially with its release right in the middle of Black History Month. The movie is a perfect landmark for black culture and its place in both domestic and global blockbuster entertainment, crushing box office expectations with a massive $200 million opening weekend, and accumulating over $700 million worldwide in its first 10 days.
By now, everyone is aware of T’Challa’s importance in the MCU. His country of Wakanda is well-known for its vibranium, the ore that makes up Captain America’s shield. He is now both king and diplomat. He has a genius level I.Q. (only briefly hinted at in the movie in a conversation with his equally brilliant sister, Shuri), nearly limitless wealth, and is one of the most accomplished fighters in the world, right alongside Captain America himself. With Infinity War looming, actors’ contracts ending, rumors of the possibility that some Avengers will be killed off, new characters are being introduced to usher in Marvel’s next phase. It’s clear that Black Panther will have an important role in the future of the MCU.
After Marvel releases the still untitled Avengers 4 in 2019, the scene will be set where Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Thor might no longer be the major staples of the franchise, leaving Black Panther, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, and the Wasp to lead Marvel’s new phase. Just as it is in the comics, as new characters and worlds are introduced, there will always be a need for a team which can deal with situations to big to take on alone, and the Avengers roster of the screen will also have to evolve. While this dynamic may play out a little differently in the movies, the end result will likely be the same. If Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark or Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers exit the MCU, who will be able to lead or provide funding for the Avengers? Well, maybe a man with a genius I.Q., unparallelled fighting skills, trillions of dollars in resources (including advanced technology made from the most sought after mineral ore on the planet) and a personal army of bodyguards and undercover Wakandan spies. Tony Stark has long been considered the centerpiece of the MCU, but it’s not clear, after 10 years in the role, if Robert Downey Jr. will be sticking around much longer. Considering the popularity (and proven financial success) of Black Panther, it would make sense for Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa to be the new face of the MCU.
Of course, T’Challa won’t be alone. We’re going to meet Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers soon, and Captain Marvel will prove to be one of the most powerful beings yet introduced in these films. Danvers’ military background will make her a qualified leader, while T’Challa can provide the Avengers with funding for housing, transportation, and other endeavors. Thanks to his diplomatic status, he’ll have more pull and access to government entities than Tony Stark or Steve Rogers ever could have, allowing the Avengers to move more easily through the bureaucratic red tape inside the Marvel Universe, a skill they can certainly use after the events of Civil War. Much like the co-captain team of Stark and Rogers for the first lineup of Avengers, Marvel may build a similar dynamic between Captain Marvel and Black Panther, with Carol Danvers taking the military hero role, and T’Challa filling in the role of billionaire/super genius/superhero. It’s possible that as early as Avengers 4 in 2019, we’ll see a female and an African share command of one of the biggest superhero ensembles to date on the big screen. That’s a big milestone for race and gender representation.
But out of everyone else on a potential new Avengers roster (Spider-Man is still a teenager, Doctor Strange is secluded and more concerned with mystical matters, Ant-Man is a known thief, and the Guardians are more concerned with off-world matters), only T’Challa will be the one that a government will take seriously. We see hints of this in two key scenes in Black Panther. When T’Challa addresses the United Nations and makes a declaration to share Wakanda’s technology and resources with the rest of the world, there’s an echo of the first Iron Man movie. Tony Stark had caused a stir first by announcing that his technology would no longer be used for weapons manufacturing, and then later by revealing that he is Iron Man. T’Challa’s speech is not only reminiscent of Stark’s revelations, it also captures the intensity of how that announcement will change the MCU for better or worse. The second is when T’Challa reveals that he has bought the group of condemned projects where Killmonger was raised to create a Wakandan International Outreach Program with a Science and Information Department, a move reflective of Stark’s purchase of facilities in upstate New York to house Captain America’s Avengers team after Age Of Ultron or Stark’s funding for all M.I.T. students’ projects through his September Foundation in Civil War.
These scenes also echo the source material. In the comics, it was during T’Challa’s actual induction into the Avengers that he decided to address the United Nations and become more involved with the issues of poverty and violence in the inner city by going undercover as a high school teacher named Luke Charles. It was during this same time that Hank Pym has his breakdown before resigning and leaving Black Panther to be appointed as leader of the Avengers. The last few years of Marvel Comics have seen Black Panther play an increasingly central role in the Marvel Universe. Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers comics focused heavily on Black Panther’s role on the team, and even led to T’Challa to founding a new ensemble of heroes (with Captain Marvel) called the Ultimates. He played a pivotal role both in the fight against Thanos in Infinity and the 2015 Secret Wars event. While it’s unlikely those specific stories will be adapted, when Marvel foregrounds a particular character or team on the page, it often means they’re setting the stage for their cinematic future, as well.
Of course, this is all just speculation but one thing is certain, we’re going to see a lot more of Black Panther and his world on screen in the next few years. We’ll next see him in Avengers: Infinity War, which opens on May 4.