With the upcoming release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on Friday, November 11, amid fan passion and grief at the tragic loss of lead actor Chadwick Boseman, there is much speculation as to what will surely come in the latest Marvel Studios will happen -be blockbusters.
How will the film deal with the death of the Wakandan king T’Challa (aka The Black Panther)? Who will be the new Black Panther? How will the film advance the ball for this franchise and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe?
With Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige and Black Panther writer/Oakland director Ryan Coogler playing typically coy about what lies behind Wakanda Forever, it’s worth citing earlier precedents from Marvel Comics’ long history to see if there are any clues as to where things might be headed in the Black Panther sequel and the future of the MCU.
Neither villain nor hero, Namor (played by Tenoch Huerta in Wakanda Forever) represents a new opposition force introduced to the MCU, but in the comics his story stretches back a little further — back to the beginning, in fact.
Namor (aka Sub-Mariner) holds the unique distinction of being the very first Marvel Comics character ever published. Before Captain America, before the Human Torch, there was the half-human underwater king with wings on his ankles and a fickle disposition who gave humanity a hard time while occasionally battling Nazi villains.
First appearing in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939, Namor was created by writer-artist Bill Everett as an anti-hero who had little time for anyone who violated the security of his underwater empire (Atlantis in the comics, Talokan in the movie – likely) . avoid direct comparisons to competitor DC’s Aquaman franchise).
Dubbed “Marvel’s First Mutant” by the publisher, Namor (who got the name from Everett after liking how “Roman” looked backwards) has been both enemy and ally of Marvel’s greatest heroes over the decades, vying for the love of the The invisible woman of the Fantastic Four who fought with and eventually joined the Avengers and even became the CEO of a multinational company in the ’90s.
Namor’s entry into the cinematic universe is a belated introduction for a character who carries the comic company’s long history on his back. While it’s unfortunate that we won’t see him face off against T’Challa (as has happened quite a bit in the comics), he still represents an important part of Marvel’s heritage, and there’s no underestimating just how significant it is that the company cast a Mexican actor as its first-ever Marvel character and gave him a reimagined backstory that reflects those roots.
heart of steel
A relatively recent addition to the comic book series – in Invincible Iron Man No. 7 of 2016 – Ironheart is Riri Williams, a teenage genius who manages to unravel the mysteries of Tony Stark’s armor and crafts a snazzy new suit for herself.
Developed by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato, Riri was introduced at a time when the publisher was actively working to both expand its hero roster and reflect the diversity of its readership. Like Miles Morales (Spider-Man) and Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Riri is a superhero fan who feels thrown into life and has to come to terms with the fact that it’s not all about wish-granting.
Also of note is that Riri’s in-armor computer is an AI programmed to look and sound like Tony Stark. While there’s no word on if that’s (or will be) the case in the cinematic universe, it’s certainly a way of keeping Robert Downey Jr. in the mix as Stark while capturing the pathos and finality of his Avengers: Endgame. to be kept. Exit.
While Riri’s role specifically in “Wakanda Forever” (played by Dominique Thorne) is yet to be determined, we know the character will be leading her own Disney+ series, which will premiere in 2023, and will no doubt benefit from the added “spin” of be presented to the widest possible audience in the sequel to Black Panther.
T’Challa’s technical wizard sister, played by Letitia Wright, was introduced to film audiences in the first Black Panther feature film and quickly became an MCU favorite in the 1960s. However, Shuri only joined the comics universe in 2005, a creation of writer Reginald Hudlin and artist John Romita Jr. during their influential tenure on the title.
During this run, Shuri briefly rose to the title and position of Black Panther after T’Challa was wounded. As is often the case in comics, such replacements are often temporary, allowing for a brief series of stories before the status quo is eventually restored (at various points almost every major Marvel character has stepped aside for brief periods as a substitute hero assumed their identity) .
Eventually, T’Challa came back to reclaim the title and Shuri did her own comics to headline, but unfortunately, real-world considerations forced the need for a more permanent solution in the MCU. While it’s still not certain who will actually slip into T’Challa’s vibranium mesh suit, the conversation has understandably focused on Shuri taking the mantle, as she did briefly in the comics.
Whether that will actually happen and how the final resolution of this question will impact the future of the franchise is yet to be seen, but it’s something fans will no doubt be feverishly discussing in the weeks and months to come once Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ‘ is in the world.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (PG-13) opens in theaters on Friday, November 11th.