You’ve seen the trailer and heard the buzz. But who’s the man behind the catlike mask in Marvel’s newest superhero movie? The Black Panther made history as the first mainstream superhero of African descent, but those unfamiliar with the comics might not know much about him. Let’s look at the Black Panther family tree to better understand T’Challa, the king of Wakanda.
Who is the Black Panther?
The “Black Panther” film and comics center around T’Challa, the crowned prince of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. His late father, T’Chaka, ruled as the Black Panther, Wakanda’s warrior-king and the head of the nation’s religious faith. But when T’Chaka is murdered, T’Challa must take his father’s place as both king and Black Panther, defeating threats from both within and without. The Black Panther wears his trademark suit made of vibranium (a rare and impossibly durable medal) and possesses enhanced agility, durability and strength.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, a mysterious assassin kills T’Chaka (John Kani) as part of a scheme to split up the Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War.” T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) adopts the Black Panther mantle to avenge his father’s death and kill his assassin. He eventually captures T’Chaka’s killer and brings him to justice, then offers to shelter Captain America and the Winter Soldier. “Black Panther” picks up where “Civil War” leaves off, with T’Challa returning to Wakanda to fend off challenges from Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and Klaw (Andy Serkis).
Since the Black Panther title is (mostly) hereditary, these stories are notable for their family dynamics. In the comics, the late Black Panther T’Chaka has two children who preserve his legacy. His first wife, N’Yami, gave birth to his heir, T’Challa, before dying in childbirth. He then married Ramonda and had a daughter, Shuri, who occasionally fills in for her half-brother as the Black Panther. (The “Black Panther” film simplifies this genealogy by making T’Challa and Shuri full siblings, both children of T’Chaka and Ramonda.) Earlier comics also mentioned another of T’Chaka’s children: Jakarra, who attempted to overthrow T’Challa.
The comics further extend the Black Panther family tree. T’Chaka has a brother, S’Yan, who took over the Black Panther mantle upon T’Chaka’s death. In some versions of Black Panther’s story, T’Challa challenges S’Yan for the throne. T’Challa defeats his uncle, much to the chagrin of S’Yan’s son, T’Shan. Another arc of the Black Panther series follows the “Black Musketeers,” four of T’Challa’s other cousins (Joshua Itobo, Khanata, Ishanta and Zuni). The four team up to fight Jakarra, though the comic doesn’t specify how the four men are related to T’Challa.
T’Challa’s family tree intertwines with other famous Marvel characters as well. T’Challa’s grandfather, Azzuri, fought the Red Skull alongside Captain America during World War II. Like his grandfather, T’Challa has teamed up with Captain America and other famous heroes, including the Fantastic Four and Daredevil. T’Challa also had a romantic relationship with Ororo Munroe (better known as the X-Men’s Storm), marrying and later divorcing her.
The Panther’s legacy
The Black Panther became the first mainstream comic book character of African descent when he debuted in an issue of Fantastic Four in 1966. The revolutionary character made waves across the comic book industry, paving the way for more superheroes of color such as the Falcon, Luke Cage and John Stewart (the Green Lantern).
Though many associate “Black Panther” with the Black Panther Party, the comic predates the organization by a few months. In fact, Marvel briefly changed the character’s name to the Black Leopard in the early 1970s to avoid connection with the Black Panther Party. Creators didn’t necessarily shy away from the association with the civil rights movement, however. They reversed the “Black Leopard” decision after just a couple years, and one issue featured the Black Panther fighting members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Update: Marvel Entertainment uploaded a YouTube video describing the Black Panther family tree, including the members of T’Challa’s royal court as well as his guards.