How Black Panther characters should really look

Filmmakers tasked with adapting comic book icons for the big screen are blessed with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put their own spin on our favorite heroes, bending pre-existing characters and storylines to their whims while adding exciting new elements into the mix. It's like the grown-up version of playing with your Avengers action figures when you were a kid—or, you know, writing creepy fan fiction once puberty sets in.

But redesigning a universe filled with flashy super suits and cosmic, planet-devouring beings can be a struggle when screwing up the balance of "faithful" and "creative" means inspiring the fiery wrath of comic book fanboys. Marvel's Black Panther will incur the same fanatical scrutiny as its predecessors, but one thing's for certain: the Afrofuturistic Wakanda and its denizens have been given one badass makeover for the big-screen. While we're super into the aesthetics that director Ryan Coogler's bringing to the table, let's take a look at what the cast of Black Panther should really look like.

T'Challa/Black Panther

At the heart of Marvel's Black Panther is, well, Black Panther. T'Challa, the man behind the Panther Habit, has been the Wakandan King since his father's death during the signing of the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War. Given that he originally rocked an entirely different suit than the one we'd see in the Black Panther trailers, we can assume that like Tony Stark with his diverse collection of Iron Man suits, T'Challa seems like the kind of guy that digs variety—and it appears as though his scientific genius sister Shuri is happy to lend a hand, possibly introducing her brother to his new souped-up vibranium suit.

While his new suit remains relatively faithful to recent Black Panther comic runs, T'Challa himself looks pretty close to his comic book counterpart too. Where Chadwick Boseman's interpretation of the character isn't afraid to rock the scruff, his comic book equivalent is all about keeping that chiseled jaw fur-free; still, Boseman's T'Challa is a near-perfect real-life interpretation.

Ulysses Klaue/Klaw

And now for something completely different. Where the MCU retained the basic look of the Wakandan warrior king, Black Panther's main antagonist, Ulysses Klaue, has undergone quite the overhaul. Portrayed by master of motion capture Andy Serkis, Klaue has swapped out his bulky sonic blaster for a souped-up, retractable prosthetic—but the biggest difference between the charismatic arms dealer and his sinister comic book counterpart is the fact that Serkis' Klaue is not a being made entirely of living sound.

Technically, Marvel Comics' Ulysses Klaw, whose name was legally changed by his white supremacist father, was also once a bearded human jerk tasked with taking out T'Chaka, former Black Panther and T'Challa's late father. But his eventual redesign as a red-n'-purple super villain and frequent nemesis of the Fantastic Four, which came as a result of the lunatic throwing himself into a sound transformation device, is the far more memorable incarnation of the one-armed heel.

Shuri

Sister of T'Challa and head of the Wakandan Design Group—where she crafts the vibranium-based technology powering Wakanda—Princess Shuri is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is she the greatest scientific genius this side of Stark Tower, she's taken up the mantle on a number of occasions in her brother's absence—in other words, like T'Challa, she's consumed the Heart-Shaped Herb and reaped the same superhuman powers as her brother.

Like the majority of the Wakandans, Shuri, portrayed by Letitia Wright in MCU's Black Panther, has undergone a dramatic redesign. Chief among the differences is her outfit, a sleeveless tunic and a full mantle with neck coverage along with what appears to be a chin guard. While comic book Shuri doesn't wear much makeup save for the occasional strip of paint over her chin, the MCU's Wakandan princess adorns herself with a series of white dots across her forehead, brow, cheeks, and chin. She also wears her hair in a braided updo—while her comic book counterpart typically wears her hair short under an ornate headdress or her Black Panther mask.

While the warrior princess very well might surprise us all by fulfilling her destiny and taking up vibranium claws alongside her brother, her film parallel seems like she's got things under control with her own weapons—a pair of panther-faced power gloves.

N'Jadaka/Erik Killmonger

One of the greatest challenges writers and filmmakers face has to do with shrinking down super-duper muscle-y villains whose dimensions are more akin to tanks than homo sapiens. One of these literally larger-than-life thugs happens to be Black Panther's mortal enemy, the subtly-named Erik Killmonger—real name N'Jadaka. 

In the comics, the exiled and shamed (and enormous) warrior, whose father was pressured into working with Klaw until the supervillain fled Wakanda, vowed vengeance upon the young T'Challa, blaming the young king's bloodline for his parents' deaths. Interestingly enough, Michael B. Jordan's interpretation of the character—a former American black ops soldier named Erik Stevens who earned his vicious nickname on the battlefield—seems keen on working with Klaue, with the former hellbent on capturing the throne and the latter… uhh, stealing all the vibranium? Honestly, Klaue's motivations are still vague, but Killmonger's seem rather straightforward. He seems pretty down to "burn it all."

Swapping out a skull-necklace'd, Herculean behemoth for a realistic-looking former soldier with a sense of style that looks like he could've come straight out of Harlem (as his comics canon suggests), the MCU's Killmonger may have lost his straight-up murder-y aura—but he more than makes up for it with a hip sense of style and, somehow, his very own Gold Jaguar suit.

Nakia

If Lupita Nyong'o has proven anything since her award-winning breakout role in 2013's 12 Years a Slave, it's that the Kenyan-Mexican actress can do no wrong—so casting her among Black Panther's pantheon of brilliant actors must've seemed like a no-brainer. Nyong'o is set to portray Nakia, a former member of the Dora Milaje—T'Challa's all-female bodyguard squad—who, in the Black Panther comics, adopts the villain persona Malice after her obsession with the titular Wakandan king lands her in hot water.

That said, inside info from the cast indicates that Nyong'o's character's namesake has little in common with her big-screen interpretation. Nyong'o claims that she's more "undercover spy for Wakanda" than Killmonger associate, a statement supported by her official action figure bio which suggests she's been away from her homeland for some time on a covert mission abroad. Sounds plain awesome—but we can't help but hope deep down in our darkest of hearts that the versatile thespian plays both sides in the potentially deeply political film.

Much like Klaue and Killmonger, Nakia is a troubled character who goes from bad to worse after a series of unfortunate experiences with the royal family of Wakanda. Nyong'o's take on the character wears her hair in tight curls and dons a variety of outfits—including full Dora Milaje armor—and while her comics counterpart sports a variety of red, blue, and purple outfits, her shoulder-length, bead-adorned hair and jewelry are her most consistent physical traits.

M'Baku

Some advice for filmmakers: Stick to the script—in this case, the comic book source material—and your creative decisions might not be derided by your entire fanbase. It's more or less the rule of thumb when it comes to bringing costumed heroes and baddies to the big screen. However, that doesn't mean writers don't face a very unique challenge every now and then—namely, modernizing characters with slightly "outdated" origins like the problematically-named Man-Ape. 

Luckily, M'Baku, Black Panther villain and rival to T'Challa, will be sticking with his birth name, as explained by film producer Nate Moore. As he told Entertainment Weekly, "Having a black character dress up as an ape, I think there's a lot of racial implications that don't sit well, if done wrong." Still, Moore admits that the gorilla gods are important to M'Baku's tribe, the Jabari—thus, while he's ditching the name, the Wakandan throne-seeker and potential unlikely ally to T'Challa will retain a touch of white fur along his arms and legs to hint at his original character design.

What was his original character design, you ask? Oh, just a skinned white gorilla hide that he donned after killing a mythical ape, devouring its flesh, and bathing in its blood. You know—typical light-hearted ritual stuff.

Ramonda

Queen Mother of Wakanda and wife of the late T'Chaka, Ramonda has suffered greatly at the hands of her husband's and son's political rivals. Yet despite years of family tragedy, debilitating injury, and sexual abuse at the hands of her kidnapper Anton Pretorius, she's proven herself to be a vital asset to the Wakandan high council. Working alongside Storm, she played a pivotal role in bringing T'Challa back from the brink of death with aid from the shaman Zawavari, and she was instrumental in helping rebuild Wakanda after the devastating events of the "Doomwar" storyline.

In the comics, Ramonda has been portrayed with both black and white hair, though the Black Panther film trailer sees her with ivory dreadlocks in a scene that seems to depict her, Shuri, Nakia, and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) in a cold, mountainous setting—possibly the region the Jabari tribe calls home. But the Queen Mother has also been shown wearing what appears to be a ceremonial hat, an accessory commonly worn by her comic book counterpart during diplomatic events.

Zuri

Described as a spiritual "Obi-Wan" figure, Zuri is a shaman and advisor to the Wakandan king. Personal attendant to T'Challa before the elder ruler's death, Zuri would go on to serve the same role for his son, the young King T'Challa, until the warrior's untimely demise at the hands of Morlun, an energy vampire, in a sequence of events that would be waaay too complicated to talk about here.

Suffice to say, Zuri will be playing a different role in the MCU. It appears as though he has a hand in T'Challa's coronation ceremony, and he may even be the individual responsible for administering the Heart-Shaped Herb to the young Black Panther.

Appearance-wise, these two look like entirely different characters. While the Marvel Comics iteration of Zuri is a hulking behemoth complete with bursting abs and a neck thicker than most men's waists, Forest Whitaker… isn't. That's not to say the acting veteran doesn't look badass in his own right: trading his black mane for a bald dome and adding a splash of color to his drab robes, Zuri's big-screen interpretation calls to mind a wise elder. It is worth noting, however, that, while vastly different, both renditions possess the Spear of Bashenga—a weapon used by the first Black Panther. In other words, we still might get a chance to see Whitaker take to the battlefield alongside his royal liege.

Everett Ross

The difference between MCU's Everett Ross and the Black Panther comics' Everett K. Ross is the perfect example of how a comic book character who wouldn't normally mesh with with the medium of film can be reworked to fit into a new universe. Ironically, Ross is the least complicated, least design-heavy, and least-super-powered guy in the mix. But personality-wise, the cold, no-nonsense CIA operative we meet in Captain America: Civil War is a total 180 from the Chandler Bing-inspired diplomat tasked with escorting T'Challa onto American soil. In the Black Panther film, Ross finds himself involved in a conflict between Ulysses Klaue and T'Challa, causing him to team up with the Wakandan King and becoming one of his most trusted allies.

While these two are polar opposites in terms of attitude, personality, behavior, and just about everything else, the suits at MCU did a bang-up job nailing Ross' clean-cut style—or, at least they did in Civil War. Sure, they may both be average-looking, middle-aged white dudes, but the perpetually-suited, too-sarcastic-for-his-own-good diplomat who once "sold [his] soul for a pair of pants" wouldn't be caught dead in a t-shirt and casual jacket. OK, that's a stretch, we know. But there's really not much to say about this guy. Could he be any more nondescript?

Ayo

Like Everett Ross, we briefly met Ayo (Florence Kasumba) in Civil War during a confrontation between T'Challa's feisty head of security and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a.k.a Black Widow, a.k.a. "that badass assassin Avenger who totally deserves her own movie." While we learned little to nothing about Ayo's character from her short scene, her single line of dialogue—"Move, or you will be moved"—not only shined a light on what we could come to expect from the Dora Milaje agent, but it painted a picture of Wakanda's protectiveness of their king. Keeping Black Panther safe is the top priority.

So far, Ayo's onscreen presence seems more or less in line with her comic book counterpart—they've both vowed to protect their king, and they both accompany him on many an excursion across the globe. That being said, comic book Ayo has a bit more pizazz than her film doppelgänger, who keeps things simple with a shaved head and traditional Dora Milaje armor. In the comics, Ayo rocks a sick sci-fi shaved head/ponytail combo and glyph-like tattoos down her forehead and across her cheeks.

On a side note: While we'd give a toe to see Ayo go rogue and step into the prototype Midnight Angel armor to save her lover like she does in the comics, chances are slim that her sexuality will even be mentioned in the upcoming film—something fans aren't exactly pleased with.

Okoye

Like Ayo and Nakia, Marvel Comics' Okoye (Danai Gurira) is—or, rather, was—a member of T'Challa's personal bodyguard unit, the Dora Milaje. Unlike Ayo and Nakia, however, Okoye didn't ditch her squad to rescue her imprisoned lover or turn to villainy after failing to win the heart of her king. While we're still uncertain whether any of these events will go down in the Black Panther film, the three ferocious female warriors appear keen on defending their king to the death. There seem to be much bigger fish to fry, after all, what with a freakin' dude named Killmonger—and an amoral psychopath with a sonic disruptor for an arm—messing about.

While a number of the fearsome Dora Milaje wear their ink proudly in the comics, it looks like the MCU have reserved the group's facial tattoos for Okoye—and for good reason, as the apparent pilot of T'Challa's airship also happens to be the leader of the Dora Milaje. With a shaved head, the MCU's take on Okoye is as close as you can get to the comics' portrayal of the royal band of butt-kickers—depending on the run, of course.

While Ta-Nehisi Coates' take on the troop sees them rocking their infamous facial tats and hip haircuts, Christopher Priest was the brains behind their initial introduction, and his interpretation of the bodyguards was more in line with your typical femme fatales than the Afropunk action heroes they'd come to be, impractical zip-up dresses and all.

W'Kabi

While his role in the MCU has yet to be fully revealed, early trailers suggest that Daniel Kaluuya's W'Kabi seems to share his comic book counterpart's primary responsibilities as chief of Wakandan security, escorting the exiled N'Jadaka—better known by his alias, Erik Killmonger—into Wakanda. In the Black Panther comics, W'Kabi would prove to be an invaluable ally to T'Challa, even becoming his second in command before dying at the hands of Morlun—again, that dude whose arc we're not even getting into—alongside Zuri, fellow warrior and trusted attendant to Black Panther.

Like Zuri, W'Kabi's MCU interpretation differs from his source material's incarnation so dramatically that the uninformed might mistake him for a brand new character. Kaluuya looks more like an angry puppy than the grizzled, bionic-armed warrior we've come to love (and mourn). While the Black Panther comics depict W'Kabi with a bundle of wild dreadlocks, little clothing—so as not to restrict him while he's bashing skulls—and a helmet/mask-type-thinger, Kaluuya's character of the same name sticks to a relatively reserved look.

To be fair, we've seen this character in motion for less than two seconds so far, so maybe we're jumping the gun. Here's hoping he surprises us all with some blade-swingin' skills on the Wakandan battlefield come 2018.