The Black Panther has been an important figure at Marvel Comics ever since his introduction in the pages of Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. That means there is more than 50 years of history between his first appearance and his current series. It’s enough to overwhelm even the wonkiest of comics fans. That’s why we’re here to help though. If you’re looking to refresh your memory or check out Black Panther for the very first time, we’ve assembled an essential history of Black Panther’s story in comics.
In order to make the experience a bit more enjoyable than scanning bullet points or reviewing Wikipedia, we’ve also added a twist. This beginner’s history is presented in the form of a memo from King T’Challa’s American friend and liaison Everett K. Ross.
I know you only have a few hours before your flight to Wakanda lands, so I will do my best to keep this brief. You’ll notice I’ve added some subheadings below in order to break out the life and times of King T’Challa chronologically. There’s really too much to cover everything, so I’m sticking to what’s absolutely necessary to understand the man you’re meeting and country you’re visiting.
Life Before T’Challa
Wakanda is a nation founded around “The Mound”, an ancient meteorite that remains the only known source of vibranium on Earth. Using this incredible material, the founders of Wakanda helped to shape an isolationist nation that fiercely guarded their natural resources. They mined vibranium and used it to craft inventions unlike anything the outside world had seen until World War II. Wakanda has an entirely unique culture with their own architecture, art, fashion, and much more, in addition to vibranium-based technology.
King T’Chaka is T’Challa’s father. He was also the previous Black Panther. It is a ceremonial title that is worn by the ruler of Wakanda, and it is typically passed from father to son, with some notable exceptions. The uniform of the Panther reflects a person’s status as king, the leader of the Panther tribe, and a connection to the panther god Bast. T’Chaka married N’Yami, the daughter of a rural Wakandan tribe, who passed away in childbirth. This is where the story of King T’Challa, the Black Panther, begins.
Origin of the Black Panther
T’Challa was raised by his stepmother Ramonda, an outsider from South Africa who was kidnapped when T’Challa was still a child. Ramonda left behind a child Shuri, T’Challa’s half-sister. Their father was killed by the invader Ulysses "Klaw" Klaue, who attempted to conquer Wakanda and seize The Mound. T’Challa took Klaw’s own sound-based weapon and used it against him, destroying his right hand and ostensibly driving him mad. T’Challa was only a child, so his uncle S’yan acted as steward. When T’Challa was old enough, he endured trials, including combat with champions from each tribe and the eating of a sacred heart-shaped root, to become Black Panther and rule as King of Wakanda.
King T’Challa began to sell small portions of vibranium to the outside world and amassed a fortune. He also used his skills as a scientist to further Wakanda’s technological superiority. When Klaw returned to Wakanda with even greater weaponry and manpower, Black Panther sought help from the outside for the first time. He invited the Fantastic Four, and, after defeating each of them, asked for their help. Together they defeated Klaw, who subsequently transformed himself into a being of pure sound, and introduced Wakanda to the outside world, ending millennia of isolation.
New Allies and Antagonists
Black Panther traveled outside of Wakanda, becoming allies with Captain America and joining The Avengers. While based in New York City, he first encountered M’Baku, better known as Man-Ape, who wanted to usurp the throne. With The Avengers, T’Challa defeated M’Baku and a wide variety of other threats. He returned to Wakanda after several years as the country descended into a civil war led by Erik Killmonger. Killmonger was enslaved by Klaw’s forces in their first invasion, and has remained a threat to T’Challa, who he blames for this, ever since. T’Challa managed to stop Killmonger and restore peace. He continued to travel abroad, joining in other adventures and eventually rescuing his stepmother Ramonda from South Africa, restoring her as Queen Mother of Wakanda.
This is the point where I join the story -- when I was assigned as an envoy to Black Panther when visiting the United States. We met the devil, and I lost my pants in our very first adventure, but that’s not particularly pertinent. I did witness Black Panther repel multiple invasions and insurrections though. It was during our time together that he rose to international prominence and became a reliable world leader.
Leading the World
Black Panther soon married Ororo Munroe, better known as Storm of the X-Men. Their union was a brief moment of happiness preceding many dark moments ahead for Wakanda. After involvement with the American superhero civil war left the Wakandan embassy destroyed, the country was invaded first by Skrulls and then the combined forces of Namor and Doctor Doom. Neither invasion succeeded, but they did result in battering T’Challa into a coma, leaving his sister Shuri with the mantle of Black Panther. T’Challa served as Shuri’s second-in-command, but could not stop a second invasion by Namor who decimated Wakanda with a tidal wave.
We know now that even when he was no longer King of Wakanda, Black Panther remained a member of the secret group known as the Illuminati. It was here that he worked to guide the world and combat global threats. He attempted to stop a series of universe-destroying “incursions” from other realities. Ultimately he was unable to stop the final incursion, and our Earth was temporarily destroyed after Wakanda was successfully invaded, for the very first time, by the forces of Thanos.
The Panther in the Present
Black Panther survived the final incursion and fought alongside others to defeat Doctor Doom, restoring Earth to its natural state. He also used the Time Gem to travel back to before the incursion began and lead his people toward a new state of leadership and prosperity. Black Panther has maintained an international presence, acting as a member of the Ultimates and serving on the Board of Governors for Alpha Flight.
Not everything has been smooth sailing though. Wakanda recently experienced a new insurrection by separate forces in the north, led by the Midnight Angels, and the south, led by Tetu. Both groups wanted a more democratic form of government, and a final agreement between Black Panther and the Midnight Angels resulted in the defeat of Tetu and the creation of a constitutional monarchy. Black Panther remains a symbolic and political leader, but Wakanda is now led by a council of elected officials from their many tribes. There have been rumblings of a return by Klaw and new outsiders interested in invasion, but the future of Wakanda appears very bright at this moment.
My final advice to you is this: Ask lots of questions and keep reading on the history of the Black Panther and Wakanda. You’ll be amazed at how much more there is to discover and enjoy.
Everett K. Ross, Department of State