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The comic that paved the way for the MCU’s Black Panther

When it comes to Marvel movies, few heroes have had such a profound cultural impact as the introduction of the MCU character Black Panther. But T’Challa, and indeed Chadwick Boseman’s incredible portrayal of the Wakandan ruler, wouldn’t have been possible without the comics that paved the way.

Black Panther may have first appeared on the page in 1966, but it was the 2016 comic book arc “A Nation Under Our Feet,” written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, that really made a movie of character-based successful superhero. live and breathe in the modern era.

With Black Panther 2 now here and Coates’ seminal work reissued in a special edition format, there’s no better time to explore just how big this comic book story about the relationship between king and kingdom was. influential in the MCU film universe.

In the introduction to “A Nation Under Our Feet”, novelist Walter Mosley describes T’Challa’s 1966 debut in Fantastic Four issue #52 as a moment that gave “permission to imagine”. It was an almost prophetic birth of a hero for many black Americans, a hero who arrived when they needed him most – during the civil rights movement.

Mosley recounts how Black Panther wasn’t just “a creation for us, it was a manifestation of our underlying dreams. We wanted it, and so it appeared. Against the backdrop of social unrest, racial tension, and the birth of the true Black Panther Party in America at the time, seeing a superhero in your likeness on the pages of a comic book was truly “something different.” .

It was only the beginning, however. Although he now has a character to look up to, Black Panther was still initially written and drawn by white people. Over the years, Marvel Comics, and indeed the Black Panther stories it produced, have become “more sophisticated”, with an increased emphasis on the “concept of justice”. A flawless hero wouldn’t be enough, the comics we read should invoke a “moral dilemma for us in those we admire,” says Mosley.

And that’s where Ta-Nehisi Coates comes in. Its Black Panther story visits a Wakanda that has been humbled by floods, Marvel villain Doctor Doom has decimated the great nation, and the country is recovering from Thanos’ invasion. T’Challa, who left Wakanda while her sister, Shuri, sat on the throne, returns after being killed by Thanos’ Black Order. The rightful heir to the throne has returned, but his kingdom is in turmoil.

It’s a story that encapsulates what Coates has always wanted to see from his heroes. Growing up and dealing with the challenges of being a black American, he began to wonder how “in the modern world, an advanced civilization could be ruled by a monarchy.” Mosley points to Coates’ strong desire to “understand our love of tyranny in contrast to our desire for freedom; the betrayal of our hearts despite the love we feel for our blood.

For Mosley, what Coates brings together in this 12-part comic book arc is the “distillation of 55 years of progress made by dozens of artists” and is “the whole philosophy of superhero comics and its grip on the modern imagination”. It’s a notion that goes hand in hand with the creation of the behemoth that is the MCU and its dominance in popular culture.

Black Panther on the cover of Marvel Comics' A Nation Under Our Feet

Over the years, Kevin Feige and his army of creators have given us action movies, comedies, thrillers, and a whole host of heroes and villains that have jumped from page to page. Naturally, the source material offers so much to allow for this transition, but the very essence of what it means to be a black man in this world has changed dramatically over the years.

The beauty of Black Panther stories lies in their ability to imagine a better world, but Coates recognized that an idealistic world cannot exist, at least not without much pain, conflict, and tribulation. Likewise, an idealistic hero cannot exist without sacrifice and very difficult decisions.

As hatred spreads across the kingdom of Wakanda, many believe T’Challa has lost his soul and civil war is brewing. Zenzi, a mystical witch, sows division in the regions of Wakanda and fuels the rage of disillusioned citizens by manipulating their minds.

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa in Black Panther

The inner conflict within T’Challa, who must figure out what it means to be a hero and a king at the same time while mourning the loss of his sister, is very much like 2018’s first Black Panther movie. Chadwick Boseman brings gravity to a grieving T’Challa, who must put aside the pain of losing his father and unite the kingdom in the face of the threat of Killmonger.

The same can be said for the new Marvel Phase 4 movie, a sequel that must come to terms with the tragic and real passing of Boseman and provide us with a new hero in his place. There is a poignant writing in the third book of “A Nation Under Our Feet” where T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda, tells him, “You have done more than a king should – give you for the world”. It’s a haunting foreshadowing of what Boseman would ultimately bring to the role itself.

The mask of Black Panther in Black Panther 2

The idea of ​​what it means to rule a nation is an integral part of Black Panther lore, and it’s never been dissected as artfully as in Coates’ story. It’s a concept best embodied by T’Challa’s admission in book two: “Heavy is the head…the proverb does not do justice to the weight of the nation, its people, its history, its tradition.”

From the outside, many people would probably like to sit on a throne, wear a crown, and wield the power to rule a nation, but if we’ve learned anything from Game of Thrones, the pressure of such responsibility cannot. that lead to bad things. things. At the heart of the Coates story are two paths; Do you carry a nation on your shoulders or do you hold a nation under your feet?

When you think back to that first Black Panther movie and the contrasting motivations and methods of T’Challa and Killmonger, it makes perfect sense that the juxtaposition between the two stems from Coates’ notion of rulers and dictators. It’s something that the wise Changamire, an elderly philosopher in Coates’ story, effectively points out throughout.

Michael B Jordan as Killmonger in Black Panther

Changamire is a character who has seen the rise and fall of his nation time and time again. He saw great men and women rule Wakanda and terrible people bring about its destruction. In T’Challa, he initially sees neither. Instead, he sees a king in a broken system. In the fourth book, he asserts that “Wakanda has all the intelligence any advanced society would need, and none of the wisdom any free society needs.”

What is fascinating, however, is how Changamire’s words of wisdom are twisted and weaponized by those who seek to bring Wakanda to its knees. It becomes apparent that right and wrong don’t matter to some people as long as they get what they want, and it’s this way of thinking that is also found in Michael B’s Killmonger. Jordan.

There’s a pretty clear theme of anti-monarchy sentiment throughout the story, not just from T’Challa’s enemies and opponents, but also from the man himself. Ramonda recognizes this, and despite all he has given as ruler of Wakanda, she understands that his position and his people are a burden on her son.

The Dora Milaje in Black Panther

It’s a sentiment held most strongly by Ayo and Aneka, the former warriors of Dora Milaje who turn against T’Challa and seek to forge their own kingdom. “No man should have so much power,” Ayo tells her lover, a statement that becomes a mantra among women in Wakanda whom the couple urges to rise up and speak out against T’Challa’s rule.

While their allegiance to T’Challa might be a stark contrast to the powerful women we see in the Black Panther movies, these characters are just as formidable. Indeed, throughout Coates’ story, strong women such as Shuri, Ramonda, and the aforementioned rebels form the backbone of the narrative and were likely an inspiration for Ryan Coogler’s version of the Dora. Milaje in the cast of Black Panther.

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Perhaps most prevalent in both Coates’ story and Ryan Coogler’s work on the big screen are themes of corruption and deception among the higher powers of Wakanda. Both understand that every kingdom is born out of oppression and that those at the top decide what is best for the good of the people. As Ramonda says, “We never studied a single nation based on truth and openness.”

When Killmonger returns to Wakanda to reclaim what he believes to be his, he exposes how his father died at the hands of T’Chaka and the great cover-up that followed to allow T’Challa to take the throne. In the comic “A Nation Beneath Our Feet”, T’Challa’s reluctance to open up to his people and the secrecy of his operations only weakens his foundations as king.

At the end of the story, he is reminded, “either you are a nation or you are nothing,” a valuable lesson in the belief that the best leaders rule from within and not from above. A king is only as powerful as his people, and that’s something that Coates and Coogler weave so beautifully and so convincingly into their respective versions of Wakanda.

Special Edition of Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet from The Folio Society

In Black Panther 2, the question of who rules Wakanda after T’Challa’s death, paired with the emergence of Namor the Submarine, provides a deeper look into the very meaning of power. But, at the end of the day, it’s not about the kind of king you want to be, it’s about the kind of virtues you want the people of your kingdom to represent, and that’s why the representation of Wakanda by Coates is the perfect fable. for a modern world.

You can pick up your very own copy of The Folio Society’s new special-edition collection of Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet here. If you want to know more about Black Panther 2, check out our interview with Nate Moore, the film’s producer, or look forward to the Black Panther 3 release date.