Characters from Black Panther with more meaning than you realized

With Black Panther, Marvel Studios has brought King T'Challa and his home country of Wakanda to vivid, thrilling life on the screen. Naturally, they've drawn their inspiration from the hundreds of Black Panther comics that have existed since the character first appeared in 1966, but the connection to the larger Marvel Universe goes well beyond just T'Challa and Erik Killmonger. 

Virtually every character in the film was inspired by a comic book counterpart, and while they might never achieve the same twists and turns in the movies that they did in the comics, there's a lot more to them than you might've thought. Here are the characters from Black Panther who might just have a little more meaning than you realized. 

Shuri

In the film, Letitia Wright plays T'Challa's sister Shuri, the young technologist responsible for the Black Panther's vibranium-powered tech and a member of the royal family who's constantly underwhelmed by Wakanda's traditions — until she has to take up that tech herself to help defend her homeland from Killmonger. In the comics, however, her role wasn't limited to fighting alongside Black Panther. Instead, in 2009, she actually replaced him.

While Shuri wasn't introduced by Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr. until 2005, almost 40 years after Black Panther first appeared in 1966, her rise to prominence came pretty quickly. After temporarily losing the Black Panther identity twice, to both Killmonger and American police detective Kasper Cole, T'Challa decided he'd probably be a lot better off choosing his own successor in the event that his actions as as superhero proved to be as dangerous as they looked. Since Shuri was his closest relative, and since she'd already proved her valor by killing the Radioactive Man when he invaded Wakanda alongside Klaw, T'Challa trained her.

Sure enough, her ascension as Black Panther later became necessary. After T'Challa was injured to the point of death by Dr. Doom, Shuri took the Heart Shaped Herb and became both the new Black Panther and the ruling Queen of Wakanda. While he would recover from his injuries and eventually retake control of Wakanda, T'Challa was initially supportive of her reign. Whether or not the movies will follow this storyline and emphasize Shuri's place in the line of succession remains to be seen, but as we've already seen her as a capable warrior in battle and as a sort of power behind the throne, we wouldn't rule it out.

Ulysses Klaue

If you've already seen Black Panther, then you know that despite being the character who links that movie to the earlier installments of the MCU, Ulysses Klaue, as played by Andy Serkis, isn't exactly the major villain of the movie. In fact — and here's your spoiler warning if you haven't seen it yet — he makes a shocking and unceremonious exit from the film about halfway through to make way for the Panther's real enemy, Erik Killmonger. There's a reason that red herring works so well, though: in the comics, Klaw, with his name spelled in a slightly more supervillainous way, is one of Black Panther's most enduring arch-enemies.

Like the version in the films, Klaw was an amoral arms dealer and assassin with a keen interest in vibranium, and he even sported that sonic "arm-cannon" in place of his left hand. The big difference, though, is that his powers didn't stop there. In a desperate effort to gain superpowers that would make him the equal of the Fantastic Four, Klaw leaped into a machine designed to refine vibranium and was transformed into a being made of living soundwaves. While that first appearance would end with Mr. Fantastic beating him up with vibranium knuckles (which is awesome), it launched Klaw on a supervillainous career that saw him battling against the FF, Daredevil, and Black Panther, an enmity that would see him forming an army of supervillains to invade Wakanda itself.

The question, then, is whether the movie Klaue's extensive exposure to vibranium, and the fact that we never actually see what happens to his body, indicate that he's going to make a return in a form that's a little closer to his comics counterpart. It's not a bad bet to make, either. As good as Serkis is in the role, and as nice as it is to see his actual face in a movie for once, we suspect that you don't hire the world's most famous motion-capture actor if you're not planning on turning him into a being made of pure sound.

M'Baku

One of the biggest surprises of Black Panther came in the form of M'Baku, T'Challa's first challenger to the throne of Wakanda. Played by Winston Duke, M'Baku is the leader of the Jabari Tribe, who have distanced themselves from the kingdom's sci-fi technology and withdrawn to the mountains, where they live without dependence on vibranium. His towering physical presence and the touch of humor to his character make him one of the movie's most memorable characters.

As for why that's surprising, well, given his comic book roots, it's kind of a shock to see M'Baku in a movie at all. Created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema in 1969, the character originally operated under the rather unfortunate name of "Man-Ape." The idea was to tie him to another jungle animal in the same way T'Challa drew his look from the panther and cast him as powerful predator, but the racial implications of having an African character called "Man-Ape" made him a pretty awkward supervillain to have around. The movie, of course, avoids a lot of that awkwardness by just not giving M'Baku a codename, and toning down his costume a little bit while still nodding to his comic book roots. The connection to the gorilla imagery is certainly still present, especially when we see the Jabari lands in the mountains, but the change in presentation makes a big difference.  

As for where he goes from here, the movie M'Baku does something he never did in the comics: form an alliance with T'Challa and help to save Wakanda despite his misgivings. Considering that Winston Duke is already listed in the cast for Avengers: Infnity War, it's safe to say this alliance will last…at least for a little while.

Everett K. Ross

Despite the fact that Everett K. Ross is completely out of place in the world of superheroics, Martin Freeman plays him as kind of a badass. He's a CIA agent, a former fighter pilot, and he even helps to save the day during the climactic battle. That's pretty far from his character in the comics.

While he was originally introduced by Christopher Priest and Kenny Martinez in 1998, in the pages of Ka-Zar — a comic about a barbarian in jorts who lived in the Savage Land with a bunch of dinosaurs and a pet tiger — Ross would find his greatest fame when Priest and artist Mark Texiera brought him back for Black Panther. Rather than being a CIA agent, he was on staff at the State Department's Office of the Chief of Protocol, serving as a diplomatic liaison for T'Challa's visit to America. In that role he served as a viewpoint character for readers as they were reacquainted with the Black Panther and Wakanda.

While he initially proclaimed himself to be the "King of the Useless White Boys," Ross stuck around as a supporting character in the Panther's book for years, becoming America's go-to expert on Wakanda, and even briefly ruling the country as T'Challa's chosen regent. Judging by what Wakanda's rulers had to go through in the movie, it's doubtful Freeman's version would do that — but a few years ago, it was doubtful we'd get an Avengers movie with a talking tree in it, too.  

Zuri

On the screen, Zuri is the spiritual leader of Wakanda, a priest and advisor to both T'Challa and his father T'Chaka, tasked with keeping the heart-shaped herb safe and presiding over the challenge ceremony for each new king. The one in the comics, though…well, they were both friends with T'Chaka, but that's about where the similarity ends.

Created by Christopher Priest and Mark Texiera, Zuri was one of the Black Panther's closest advisors, but his concerns were usually less metaphysical and a lot more physical. As a veteran who had served alongside T'Chaka, he was considered one of Wakanda's strongest warriors, and once even got into a fistfight with Thor. Of course, since it was a fistfight with Thor, it probably won't surprise you to learn that shortly after the fight, they became good friends.

Sadly, both versions of Zuri managed to meet their ultimate fate at the hands of a supervillain. In the comics, it was during an invasion of Wakanda by Morlun, a Spider-Man villain who was basically a vampire who ate animal-themed superheroes. That's a pretty unlikely fate for anyone, but the real tragedy for movie audiences is that we lost out on Forest Whitaker and Chris Hemsworth re-enacting Dutch and Dylan's epic handshake from the opening scene of Predator.

Ayo

Of all the comics-derived characters in Black Panther who have more meaning than you might realize, Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba, was the one who sparked a minor controversy. In the film, she's one of the Dora Milaje, the order of potential wives-in-training who also serve as Wakanda's security forces — and, honestly, not much more. In the comics, however, she became one of Marvel's most prominent lesbian characters shortly after being introduced.

As in the film, she serves T'Challa in the Dora Milaje, but her romantic interest is one of her compatriots: Aneka, who starts out as her trainer and then develops into something much more. Unfortunately, their fates as Dora Milaje were doomed. Aneka was sentenced to death, and while Ayo pleaded with the reigning queen to spare her life, it didn't work. Instead, Ayo broke her out and the two became vigilantes in Wakanda known as the Midnight Angels.

While that was only hinted at in scenes that never made it into the film, in which Ayo flirted with Okoye, Ayo's story did take center stage when Marvel launched Black Panther: World of Wakanda, from writer Roxanne Gay and artists Alitha Martinez, Afua Richardson, and Rachelle Rosenberg.

Okoye

In the film, the most prominent member of the Dora Milaje is unquestionably Okyote. Portrayed by Danai Gurira, she is the most loyal Wakanda's Warriors, willing to put the safety of her country above her own feelings, even to a fault.

It makes sense that she would be, too. Along with Nakia, Okoye was one of the two original Dora Milaje, introduced by Priest and Texiera in 1998. In that book, she was characterized by Everett Ross as T'Challa's "chauffeur," and while driving was certainly one of her duties, most of her time spent on panel was kicking ass as an unstoppable warrior.

One interesting thing to note: while Nakia's path would diverge quite a bit, Okoye remained loyal to T'Challa even after he'd given up the throne, and would even serve as a sort of living test of morality for T'Challa's would-be successor, an American police detective named Kasper Cole.

Nakia

In the film, Lupita Nyong'o plays Nakia as T'Challa's love interest, an ex-girlfriend who devoted her life to working in secret as a spy. In the end, though, she rises to the challenge and steps out of the shadows to defend Wakanda, and even steps back into her very close personal relationship with the Black Panther. In the comics…not so much.

While Nakia was introduced as one of the original Dora Milaje in 1998, she didn't stay in the order for long. While she worked alongside him as his "personal aide" (and brutally effective bodyguard), she harbored an infatuation with the superheroic king that grew to the point of obsession, causing her to attempt to murder the Black Panther's former lover, Monica Lynne. She was dismissed from his service, and after being killed and resurrected by two separate supervillains — the sort of thing that happens a lot in these comics — Nakia re-emerged as an enemy named Malice.

It seems pretty unlikely that the MCU's Nakia will follow that path, but it's a lot easier to believe that something might drive a wedge between Nakia and T'Challa to create drama in a future film. After all, it's happened to them before, so even if it doesn't end with a series of attempted murders by poison, there's definitely some tension there.

Bast

Bast gets a brief mention in the opening of Black Panther as the panther goddess who granted power to the first Black Panther, but there's more to the character than just mythology. This is, after all, a world where Thor, the actual Norse God of Thunder, occasionally just hangs out in Manhattan, a city that was almost wiped off the map by his brother Loki, also from mythology. That being the case, it won't surprise you that Bast has occasionally taken a much more active role in the comics.

The biggest thing she's done has been to completely change T'Challa's reason for being the Black Panther. After he abdicated the role of Wakanda's protector in order to make way for Shuri to rule, T'Challa was unsurprisingly unsatisfied with civilian life. In order to get his powers back, he journeyed to the necropolis beneath Wakanda's capital, the Golden City, and confessed his desire to return to his former role to Bast, while also telling her that he wished no harm to come to his sister.

Bast's solution was simple: rather than being the public-facing King of Wakanda, T'Challa would serve as the King of the Dead, defending her realm from those who would do it harm. In the absence of the heart-shaped herb that had given him his original powers, he was instead granted the strength, speed, and knowledge of all those who had been Black Panther before him — which turned out to come in pretty handy when he had to lead an army of zombies to attack Dr. Doom after Doom rebuilt the entire multiverse in his image. Probably won't be seeing that one onscreen anytime soon, but hey, it's nice to dream!