Whether you know Black Panther from the long-running comic books, the superhero crossover movie Captain America: Civil War or the ubiquitous marketing for the character's upcoming solo film, Marvel's most royal superhero is hard to miss these days.
Although Black Panther has been around for more than 50 years, his popularity has skyrocketed in the past couple of years, and Marvel is finally ready to release a feature-length film all about the King of Wakanda and his royal court and scheming foes. If you'd like to catch up on some Black Panther lore before the film debuts, you've come to the right place.
Who is Black Panther?
Black Panther is a Marvel comics superhero, created in 1966 by comic-book industry legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. First appearing in Fantastic Four #52, Black Panther started off as a cunning antagonist, then went on to become a reluctant ally for Marvel's first superhero family.
Without going into excruciating detail about the last half century of convoluted comic-book plots, here's the gist: Black Panther is T'Challa, the king of a fictional African nation called Wakanda. Along with kingship, he has received the mantle of "Black Panther," a supernatural protector of the reclusive kingdom. He has enhanced strength, speed and senses, along with a powerful suit of armor.
As the ruler of a sovereign nation — one that often does not play nicely with the rest of the world — Black Panther has fought alongside and against other Marvel heroes constantly. Sometimes, he's called upon to save the world; other times, he'll oppose anyone to maintain the integrity of his kingdom.
What's the movie all about?
While Marvel Studios has (understandably) been tight-lipped about specific story points, the premise for Black Panther seems straightforward enough. After attempting to avenge his father's death in Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa, aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his native Wakanda. The situation there is more volatile than he expected, though, and now he must team up with both domestic allies and interested foreign parties to fight against two deadly enemies.
The movie has also generated a lot of buzz for being the first major superhero movie (since the Blade series, anyway) with a predominantly black cast. Given the relative lack of diversity in most previous Marvel films, fans are excited to see a story focused on black heroes and villains — and African heroes and villains, at that, rather than another American-centric story.
What is Black Panther's release date?
The movie will come out on Feb. 16, 2018 — which means that if you absolutely, positively have to see it the second it comes out, you can probably find some late-night showings on Feb. 15.
Who else is in the cast?
Between Black Panther's allies and enemies, the movie has attracted some serious Hollywood talent.
Michael B. Jordan plays supervillain Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong'o plays dedicated bodyguard Nakia, Martin Freeman plays counterterrorist agent Everett Ross and Angela Bassett plays royal mother Ramonda.
Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis round out the cast, and that doesn't even include the Marvel actors who may show up for a cameo or two.
Where can I watch the Black Panther trailer?
Marvel's YouTube page is your best bet. We've also embedded it here for your convenience.
How can I get advance tickets?
The process varies depending on your favorite local theater, but Fandango will hook you up, if you can't find any other method.
Where can I stream the soundtrack?
The full Black Panther soundtrack isn't available to stream yet, but you can listen to a handful of tracks courtesy of Vevo's YouTube network.
Prominent rapper Kendrick Lamar collaborated on two hip-hop compositions especially for the film: "King's Dead" and "All the Stars." Follow the links to check them out, and stay tuned for the full album's release on Feb. 9.
Which Black Panther comics are worth reading?
While you could easily spin this out into a full article, if you want to learn the Black Panther basics and nothing but, you could probably knock out the most essential stories in a dedicated weekend of reading.
Fantastic Four #52 (1966) is an obvious first stop, if you want to see how the character debuted. The next few issues flesh out his relationship with the Fantastic Four.
The Black Panther's first foray as a solo superhero was in Jungle Action #5, and ran through Jungle Action #24 (1973 to 1976). Black Panther must deal with not only a rebellion in his native Wakanda, but with the hateful agenda of the Ku Klux Klan. (Really.)
Earlier Black Panther stories still hold up, but for the most part, the first "modern" iteration of the character was in Black Panther #1 (1998). This series ran for 60 issues and introduced a lot of characters who would become mainstays in T'Challa's ongoing story, like Everett Ross and White Tiger.
Reggie Hudlin's run on Black Panther, beginning in 2005, saw T'Challa married to Storm, the beloved weather witch from the X-Men comics. Interestingly, it was also the first run on Black Panther written primarily with a black readership in mind.
A Black Panther series that launched in 2016 features black cultural advocate Ta-Nehisi Coates as its lead writer. The book is still underway, and has been receiving rave reviews.
Which movies should I watch before Black Panther?
How much time do you have? All of the Marvel Studios movies form a cohesive meta-narrative known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), from Iron Man in 2008 all the way up to Black Panther and beyond into Avengers: Infinity War this spring. That's 17 films in total, to say nothing of the various TV series spinoffs that also tie into the story (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, Runaways and so forth).
It's probably not necessary to watch every single Marvel film if you haven't already done so, but if Black Panther will be your first foray into the MCU, you can catch up on most of the backstory with just a few entries.
First, watch Iron Man to see how everything kicked off. Follow it up with Captain America: The First Avenger, where you'll meet another important character. Check out The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron for important details on the advancing story. Then, you'll be all ready to watch Captain America: Civil War, where Black Panther makes his debut and gets his backstory sorted out. That's seven movies, so either watch them all in a marathon or start spacing them out now.
Are there any Black Panther video games?
Yes and no. There are no stand-alone Black Panther video games. (Konami's 1987 side-scroller Black Panther was about an actual jungle cat, cybernetically enhanced to fight evil — actually, how come that's not a major motion picture already?) However, T'Challa has shown up in a variety of Marvel titles over the years.
If you want to play as Black Panther, your first stop should be the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, which Activision recently remastered for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Both games offer T'Challa as an unlockable playable character. While you won't be able to use him from the very first mission, once you unlock him, you can have him lead a team of any four Marvel heroes you choose in this action/RPG.
Black Panther also appears as a playable character in the Lego Marvel games — namely, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Lego Marvel's Avengers and Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. As with other heroes, you can use him to fight off evil minifigs, as well as build Lego contraptions to solve puzzles.
Recently, Black Panther showed up as a downloadable character in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, teaming up with the likes of Captain America, Mega Man X and Chun-Li in order to stop an evil amalgamation of robotic supervillains Ultron and Sigma.
T'Challa has shown up in a handful of mobile games, as well. Basically, if there's a Marvel game on Android or iOS that offers unlockable characters, expect Black Panther to be in it.
What kind of Black Panther merchandise can I buy?
Marvel isn't expecting to reap all of its Black Panther profits from ticket sales alone; there's also a whole lotta kitsch that you can purchase if you want to adorn yourself, your room or your workspace with Wakandan merchandise.
Marvel's official store sells Black Panther hoodies, Black Panther action figures, Black Panther phone cases, Black Panther mugs, Black Panther costumes, Black Panther T-shirts — you get the idea. If you prefer to shop in real life, you can find gear at all the usual stores: Target, Hot Topic, shopDisney and so forth. If you've got a local comic-book shop, why not give it a little business, while you're at it?
Credit: Marvel Studios