Movies

There’s an air of mystery to the Black Panther character. Here’s a superpowered primer

Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther
Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther TNS

We are living in the Golden Age of superhero movies.

While some cinephiles decry the ubiquitous nature of the films, and many critics speak of superhero burnout, the subgenre shows few signs of slowing down. Exhibit A is the heavy hype and excitement surrounding “Black Panther,” opening this weekend.

Before you go see the film, which has received largely glowing reviews, there are a few things it would helpful to know, Unlike the ubiquitous Spider-Man and Superman, Black Panther may be a bit of a mystery to those who aren't big comic book fans.

Without further ado, here are 20 Black Panther tidbits that will get you up to speed on the daring do-gooder.

1. Like the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and many other Marvel Comics characters, the Black Panther, aka T'Challa, was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. As the chieftain of the Wakandan Panther Clan, he’s the king and protector of Wakanda, a fictional East African nation.

2. The Black Panther’s first appearance was in “Fantastic Four” #52, where he attacks the super group. The issue is cover-dated July 1966 (a decade into the Silver Age of Comics) and will set a collector back about $500 to $600 if it's in nice condition.

3. The Black Panther took over the starring role in “Jungle Action” in 1973 with issue #5, where he and his fellow Avengers return to Wakanda and are captured by M'Baku, who challenges the Black Panther’s authority and plans to kill him. In “Jungle Action” #19-22, the Black Panther battles the Ku Klux Klan.

4. The Black Panther got his own self-titled comic book series in 1977, but “The Black Panther” only ran for 15 issues. Several more series followed over the years, including the current “Rise of the Black Panther.”

5. The Black Panther wasn’t the first African-American superhero — that honor belongs to Lion Man, who debuted in 1947 in “All-Negro Comics” #1 — but he was the first to appear in mainstream comic books.

6. A few months after the Black Panther made his 1966 debut, the radical nationalist political Black Panther Party was formed. The sharing of the names was purely coincidental, but in 1972, as the Panthers reached the peak of their popularity, editorial dictate had T’Challa call himself the Black Leopard (in “Fantastic Four” #119) to disassociate himself from the group. Needless to say, the name didn’t stick.

T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

7. A trailblazer, the Black Panther set the stage for numerous black superheroes to follow, including such favorites as the Falcon (1969), Luke Cage (1972), the John Stewart version of Green Lantern (1971), Storm (1975), and Black Lightning (1977), the title character on a current CW TV show.

8. A former member of the Avengers, the Black Panther is a formidable force for good. He’s a master tactician and strategist, a skilled hunter, an expert inventor and a super-genius scientist. In addition, he’s a fearsome fighter, versed in numerous forms of hand-to-hand and weapons-based combat. His connection to the Wakandan Panther God gives him superpowers, including enhanced agility, durability, healing, strength, senses, stamina and speed. Like Batman, he’s super rich and good with technology.

9. Played by Chadwick Boseman (“42,” “Get on Up”), the cinematic Black Panther appears to have roughly the same powers as his comic book counterpart, but his costume has been given a technological upgrade. Boseman also played the character in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), the Black Panther’s movie debut.

10. While the Black Panther’s first film appearance was in “Captain America: Civil War,” it wasn’t the character’s first screen adaptation. He was featured on television in an animated series on BET in 2011. Only six episodes of the self-titled cartoon were produced.

11. Set after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” the “Black Panther” movie finds our hero returning home to Wakanda in order to assume the throne and become king in the wake of his father’s death. To prevent a world war, he teams up with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all-female special-forces team.

12. Lupita Nyong'o, who plays Nakia, T'Challa's former lover and an operative of the Dora Milaje, called working on the film an inspirational experience. “Every single aspect of it was rich and beautiful and just arresting,” she told “Allure” magazine. “To see this aspirational African world that actually becomes an example for the whole wide world was spellbinding."

13. “Black Panther” was directed by Ryan Coogler, the first African-American to direct a Marvel movie. He’s best-known for co-writing and directing 2015’s “Creed,” the seventh film in the “Rocky” franchise. To prepare for the film, Coogler, who grew up reading the “Black Panther” comics, traveled to Africa. “I have to go if I’m making this movie,” he told “Variety.” “I’m not qualified just because I look like this.”

14. Black Panther’s arch nemesis in the movie is Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, a comic book villain who dates way back to 1973’s “Jungle Action” #6. Killmonger is played by “Friday Night Lights” veteran and Coogler cohort Michael B. Jordan, who fought in the ring as Adonis Creed in “Creed.”

15. Preceded by such films as “The Meteor Man” (1993), “Blankman” (1994), “Catwoman” (2004) and the “Blade” trilogy (1998–2004), “Black Panther” isn’t the first superhero movie with an African-American starring in the title role, but it has by far the largest number of black cast and crew members.

16. Curated by rapper Kendrick Lamar, the “Black Panther” soundtrack features such African-American acts as The Weeknd, Anderson .Paak, Future, Travis Scott, Jorja Smith, Vince Staples, Khalid and SZA, along with Lamar himself.

17. Advance screenings of “Black Panther” have been almost universally positive. “Rolling Stone” magazine’s Pat Travers calls it “an exhilarating triumph on every level from writing, directing, acting, production design, costumes, music, special effects to you name it. For children (and adults) of color who have longed forever to see a superhero who looks like them, Marvel's first black-superhero film is an answered prayer, a landmark adventure and a new film classic.”

18. One of the few negative reviews, written by Ed Power for www.independent.ie, complains of the film’s relative lack of fisticuffs: “Black Panther spirals into a stodgy tale of internecine feuding, in which T’Challa is required to come to terms with the sins of past generations,” Powers writes. “What he doesn't get to do much of is jump around beating up bad guys. That’s a shame. Marvel has finally given us an African superhero. The hope surely was that he would be allowed do superheroic things.”

19. “Black Panther” is already breaking sales records, so check online to see if tickets are available before driving to your local theater.

20. You’ll be seeing plenty more of Black Panther. Boseman, who will reprise the role in the highly anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War” (opening May 4), has signed a five-picture contract with Marvel Studios.

Brett Weiss is the author of nine books, including “Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films” and the new short story collection, “The Arcade and Other Strange Tales.”

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