To understand the Black Panther, you need to know about Wakanda, the fictional African nation that is among the most technologically-advanced countries in the world.
Wakanda reportedly repelled all attempts to invade or colonize it before the 21st Century. The reason that Wakanda technology is so advanced is that the country has a deep reserve of vibranium, the unique mineral that gives Captain America’s shield its amazing ability to absorb almost any impact.
The title of Black Panther is passed down from the King of Wakanda to his successors, if they can pass the trials and prove that they are worthy to hold the mantle. Before T'Challa was king, his father, T'Chaka was the Black Panther.
When T’Challa was a child, his father, T’Chaka was murdered by a man named Ulysses Klaw as part of a plot to seize Wakanda’s vibranium. In the chaos that followed, T’Challa used Klaw’s own sonic weapon against him and shattered his hand.
Years later, Klaw was transformed into living sound and he became a recurring adversary for Black Panther and several other heroes in the Marvel Universe.
You may have noticed Andy Serkis' small role as Klaw in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Don't be shocked if he shows up again in the Black Panther movie.
Black Panther made his debut in Fantastic Four #52, when he invited the FF to Wakanda and tested his abilities against them in a series of traps that he designed for them. Satisfied with the results, T’Challa explained his true purpose to the FF and convinced them to help him fend off an attack by Klaw.
Ever since his first appearance, Black Panther has been a loyal ally to the FF. And eventually, he was even the leader of their team for a short period of time.
The next superhero that Black Panther encountered was Captain America, in the pages of Tales of Suspense #97.
This led to a long-standing bond of trust between Captain America and Black Panther that has largely endured to the present.
Black Panther further solidified his place in the Marvel Universe by joining the Avengers in #52.
This is where Black Panther stayed for several years, as the Avengers comic book series began to flesh out his personality and it established one of his archrivals, Man-Ape, as a threat to T’Challa’s throne.
During Black Panther’s first Avengers stint, he met singer Monica Lynne and he also saved her from the deadly Sons of the Serpent. T’Challa and Lynne were even engaged to be married for several years.
In the late ‘90s Black Panther series, T’Challa called off his engagement with Lynne and he refused to explain why. Although the answers were eventually revealed, Lynne has been rarely seen in the Marvel Universe since Black Panther’s much-hyped wedding to another woman.
Another early milestone for the Black Panther came in Astonishing Tales #6 and #7, in which T’Challa fought Doctor Doom for the very first time.
Doctor Doom’s hatred is usually reserved for Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four, but his status as one of comics’ greatest supervillains has made Doom into the Marvel Universe’s go-to-bad guy.
Black Panther and Doom have had several confrontations over the years. And not all of them ended in T’Challa’s favor.
Although the Black Panther superhero predated the political party of the same name, Marvel eventually tried to distance T’Challa from the controversy and renamed his alter-ego The Black Leopard.
As T’Challa explained in Fantastic Four #119, "I contemplate a return to your country, Ben Grimm, where the latter term has—political connotations. I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name, but T'Challa is a law unto himself. Hence, the new name—a minor point, at best, since the panther is a leopard.”
Yeah... that didn’t last. And T’Challa was calling himself “Black Panther” again a short while later.
In 1973, writer Don McGregor gave Black Panther his first solo title within the pages of Jungle Action, alongside artists Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, and Billy Graham.
Although widely overlooked, McGregor’s Jungle Action featured one of the longest-running storylines in Marvel’s history to that point, as T’Challa faced a revolution against his reign and he attempted to maintain control of Wakanda.
The entire storyline, “Panther’s Rage," played out over 13 issues, and it helped pave the way for longer form storytelling in the superhero genre.
One of McGregor and Butler’s enduring creations from “Panther’s Rage” was Erik Killmonger, an adversary whom T’Challa has rarely defeated. Killmonger is the rare opponent who can match the Black Panther’s physical prowess and his intellect.
The backstory of Killmonger is that his father was forced to serve Klaw during his invasion of Wakanda and the family was exiled because of it. When he was repatriated to Wakanda, Killmonger led an uprising against T’Challa and he briefly seized control of the country.
He has returned several times (even after his death) as a constant threat to Black Panther and his country.
In 1977, Black Panther co-creator Jack Kirby returned to Marvel after a few years at DC Comics. Kirby was given the task of writing and drawing Black Panther’s first ongoing, self-titled comic book series.
Although it was a relatively short run by Kirby’s standards, his Black Panther storyline had pure Kirby craziness as T’Challa was drawn into the quest for King Solomon’s Frogs, a pair mystical artifacts with the ability to bend time and space.
Writer Peter B. Gillis and artist Denys Cowan chronicled Black Panther’s next solo adventure in a four-issue miniseries that was released in 1988.
In this storyline, Black Panther’s powers faded as he was seemingly rejected by the Panther God worshipped by his people and he nearly lost control of Wakanda itself.
After confronting White Supremacist superhumans and ending a nuclear threat against his country, T’Challa faced the Panther God in single combat to reclaim both his powers and his people.
Don McGregor returned to Black Panther alongside artist Gene Colan in “Panther’s Quest,” a 25-part serial in Marvel Comics Presents that found T’Challa sneaking into South Africa to rescue his step-mother, Ramonda.
This was back in 1989 when South Africa was still under Apartheid, which inevitably led T’Challa to speak out against it and fight back in his own way. Eventually, T’Challa locates his mother and brought her home to Wakanda.
McGregor’s final Black Panther story was the prestige format miniseries, Black Panther: Panther’s Prey with artist Dwayne Turner, which was released in 1991.
This time, T’Challa’s main enemy was Solomon Prey, a drug lord within Wakanda who had been given metahuman abilities that allowed him to grow wings and talons.
After a series of protracted confrontations, T’Challa emerged victorious. He also reconnected with Monica Lynne, and by the end of the miniseries, they were engaged to be married.
It took 28 years for Black Panther to make his animated debut in the Fantastic Four’s third cartoon series.
Keith David provided the voice of T’Challa, right around the same time he was starring in Disney’s Gargoyles as Goliath. David went on to voice Spawn in the HBO adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s signature creation.
Black Panther only had a speaking role in one episode of Fantastic Four, but he also had a cameo in a later episode.
In 1998, Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada were given nearly carte blanche to reinvent some of Marvel’s superheroes. They ended up hiring writer Christopher Priest and artist Mark Texeira for a new Black Panther ongoing series that updated T’Challa and essentially made him into Marvel’s Batman.
It was an amazingly well-written run of comics, with artist Sal Velluto later joining the series for the majority of its lifespan. Priest depicted T’Challa as a ruthless and brilliant hero who was several steps ahead of his allies and enemies.
One of the best revelations of the series was the way that Priest casually revealed that the only reason that Black Panther joined the Avengers was to spy on them!
T’Challa’s former fiancée, Monica Lynne, also resurfaced in this series. But her relationship with T’Challa was not rekindled as he refused to explain why he ended their engagement.
One of the most memorable additions to Black Panther’s supporting cast was Everett K. Ross, a Michael J. Fox-like character who was assigned to be T’Challa’s U.S. escort by the state department.
Instead, Ross found himself unwillingly drawn into the Black Panther’s superhero world and he was once even named the ruler of Wakanda in T’Challa’s name. That’s how much T’Challa came to trust Ross.
It’s widely rumored that Martin Freeman may be playing Ross in Captain America: Civil War.
If T’Challa was Marvel’s Batman, then Achebe was his Joker. Achebe was introduced early in Priest’s run as one of the leaders of a coup to push T’Challa from power. Backing Achebe up was the demon Mephisto (Marvel’s version of the devil) and his growing insanity which made Achebe’s actions impossible to predict.
Even without Mephisto’s backing, Achebe was able to prop up his reign by forcing T’Challa’s stepmother, Ramonda to “share” power with him.
Achebe was eventually driven from Wakanda and he sporadically reappeared during Priest’s time on the title.
Priest revisited the Jack Kirby era Black Panther by introducing a happy go-lucky version of T’Challa that was seemingly pulled straight out of the ‘70s!
Dubbed “Happy Pants Panther” by Ross, this Black Panther was later revealed to be T’Challa’s future self after he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurysm.
Knowing that this was his potential future, T'Challa ended his engagement with Lynn and became noticably colder than he was before.
In his arrogance, the present day Black Panther fought against a mystically-possessed Iron Fist and he was mercilessly pummelled. This led to the brain aneurysm that he was so desperately trying to avoid. Further sealing his fate, the future Black Panther was killed by White Ape.
T’Challa’s sanity snapped and he nearly killed his protégé, Queen Divine Justice, before renouncing his role as Black Panther and stepping down as his country’s leader.
To keep the Black Panther comic going in the face of low sales, Priest introduced Kasper Cole as the new Black Panther.
Cole was a biracial police officer who discovered one of Black Panther’s discarded costumes and he assumed the role while trying to bring down corrupt officers and the 66 Bridges gang.
T’Challa eventually discovered this and acted as an informal mentor for Cole. Later, T’Challa reclaimed the mantle of the Black Panther and offered Cole the chance to become the new White Tiger.
However, Cole disappeared from the Marvel Universe following the events of the short-lived series written by Priest that was called The Crew.
During Geoff Johns’ Avengers run, T’Challa rejoined the team and helped them establish themselves as an independent entity from any county ties.
Marvel also seemed to walk back Priest’s characterization of Black Panther by allowing him to reconcile with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
In 2005, Marvel handed the reigns of Black Panther’s fifth ongoing series to House Party director Reginald Hudlin and artist John Romita, Jr. in a big media push.
However, the series wasn’t well received by critics as it seemed to ignore almost everything from Priest’s run (including T’Challa’s inoperable brain aneurysm) while playing fast and loose with Black Panther’s characterization and history.
Case in point, Hudlin decided that T’Challa had a sister and suddenly Shuri was there as if she had always existed. That’s what we call a retcon, folks!
Ramonda was Shuri’s mother in Hudlin’s new backstory. And Shuri was shown to covet her brother’s role as leader and as Black Panther.
In 2006, Marvel and Lions Gate Entertainment began producing a series of direct-to-video animated films based on Marvel’s library of characters.
Black Panther had a major role in the second film, Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther. For this screen incarnation, Jeffrey D. Sams provided T’Challa’s voice.
Early in Hudlin’s run, a crossover story with the X-Men brought Storm into Black Panther as a supporting character and reignited an attraction between them.
This was quickly escalated into a full-blown romance, as Marvel retconned the histories of Storm and Black Panther to push them together as a couple.
In the middle of the Civil War crossover events, superheroes from both sides of the conflict gathered in Wakanda for the big wedding. Black Panther and Storm initially took no sides in the superhero Civil War.
But after the death of their friend, Black Goliath, they came out in favor of Captain America.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Reed and Susan Richards left the Fantastic Four to work on their marriage. To fill the void, they invited Black Panther and Storm to join the team. In the absence of the Richards, Black Panther and Storm were essentially the co-leaders of the Fantastic Four.
During their brief time on the team, they even encountered the Marvel Zombies that had previously menaced the Ultimate Fantastic Four from another universe.
Near the end of Hudlin’s time on Black Panther, T’Challa was seriously wounded in an attack by Doctor Doom. Seizing her chance, Shuri claimed her birthright and became the new Black Panther in renumbered ongoing series.
T’Challa eventually recovered from his wounds and began preparing for a final showdown with Doctor Doom.
Writer Jonathan Maberry chronicled the Black Panthers’ conflict with Doctor Doom in the six-issue Doomwar miniseries.
Even with many members of the X-Men and Fantastic Four on their side, the Black Panthers were unable to prevent Doom from stealing Wakanda’s most powerful vibranium.
T’Challa decided that the only way to stop Doom was to render all vibranium inert. This had the side effect of destroying Wakanda’s most valuable resource.
BET and Marvel teamed up for a Black Panther animated TV series in 2010. But it wasn’t really an animated show as much as it was a motion comic based on the Hudlin and Romita, Jr. Black Panther run.
Djimon Hounsou provided T’Challa’s voice, while future Scandal star Kerry Washington played Shuri.
Black Panther’s most prominent role outside of comics came in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series.
James C. Mathis III played T’Challa, who initially guest starred on the series before becoming a full member of the Avengers.
In 2010, Daredevil was written out of his own series after the events of Shadowland. Writer David Liss and artist Francesco Francavilla transformed the Daredevil ongoing series into Black Panther: The Man Without Fear.
Following the events of Doomwar, T’Challa was in a self-imposed exile in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood where he took on the new secret identity of Mr. Okonkwo, the owner of a local diner.
When not intermingling with the residents, T’Challa went up against a new crime lord named Vlad Dinu.
During the war between the Avengers and the X-Men, the Phoenix-possessed Namor ravaged Wakanda with a massive tidal wave.
This brought an unprecedented anger against mutants in Wakanda, which was part of the reason that T’Challa told Storm that their marriage was dissolved.
In the aftermath of the conflict, Namor and Black Panther were forced to work together with the new Illuminati to deal with the dangerous incursions that threatened the Earth’s very survival!
But the people of Wakanda weren’t about to forgive Atlantis for Namor’s actions against them. Despite Namor’s offer of peace, Shuri ordered a lethal attack on Atlantis itself.
Nor were Black Panther and Namor immune to the hostility. In fact, you might say they were positively murderous...
Recently, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso indicated that Black Panther will once again get his own series after the current Secret Wars event comes to an end.
However, the creative team has not currently been announced.
When Marvel announced Captain America: Civil War at a special event in 2014, one of the biggest moments was the introduction of Chadwick Boseman as the man chosen to portray Black Panther for the first time in live-action.
Spider-Man’s appearance in this movie is getting most of the press, but it’s likely that Black Panther has a large part to play in this movie as well. After all, he’s got his own Marvel Studios movie coming in just three years!
Way back in 1992, Wesley Snipes voiced his interest in playing Black Panther in a feature length film. Instead, Snipes ended up starring in the Blade trilogy, which helped pave the way for the overload of superhero films that we’re currently experiencing.
When Spider-Man was added to the MCU, Black Panther’s upcoming film was pushed back to July 6, 2018. At this point, all we know about the Black Panther movie is that Boseman will play the title character.
Selma director Ava DuVernay was approached by Marvel to helm this film, but she ultimately passed because she and Marvel didn’t quite share the same vision for the character.