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The Untold Truth Of Black Panther's Shuri

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In 2018's Black Panther, the titular Marvel superhero and king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda has a secret weapon in his younger sister, Princess Shuri. A technical genius, Shuri is Wakanda's chief science officer, a title she prizes — but in the comics, she's taken on the mantle of the Black Panther as well. As ambitious as she is intelligent, Shuri has never been the kind of princess to watch the action from a safe distance, whether she's blasting enemies with her sonic vibranium gauntlets, crafting armor for her brother and his allies, or treating the wounded with advanced medical technology. 

"Just because something works doesn't mean that it cannot be improved," Shuri notes to her brother. That's a philosophy that also applies to this feisty character. While Letitia Wright's effervescent performance won Shuri many fans, the writers and artists of Marvel Comics have portrayed Shuri in a variety of ways over the years that future filmmakers would do well to consider. Shuri is a genius, a princess, and a young woman who's grown from cocky adolescence to competent leadership — in addition to having literally been to the afterlife and back. This is her story.

A future Black Panther debuts

Shuri was created by writer Reginald Hudlin and artist John Romita Jr., and first appeared on the page in 2005's Black Panther #2. This issue finds her determined to earn the title of her nation's leader and protector. She doesn't get the chance, though, after a challenger tossed from the fighting ring lands on top of her, and her half-brother, T'Challa, vaults over both of them. 

In the film, while Shuri supports T'Challa in his coronation by combat at Warrior Falls, she can't resist teasing him about how she too has her eyes on the prize. She raises her hand when Zuri asks, "Is there any member of royal blood who wishes to challenge for the throne?" The gesture draws gasps until Shuri speaks, her tone cheeky: "This corset is really uncomfortable. So can we all wrap this up and go home?" Her mother Ramonda and M'Baku, who is there to challenge T'Challa, aren't amused ... but T'Challa hides a smile.

Protective and headstrong

The Russo brothers, directors of Avengers: Infinity War, describe Shuri as "the smartest person in the Marvel universe." Being brighter than other Marvel geniuses like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner goes to Shuri's head at times, but time and time again, her prodigious intelligence comes through.

In the comics, Shuri detects something unusual in Wakanda's Great Mound of vibranium, and offers to check it out with a group of experts. T'Challa rebuffs her, but Shuri and her team go anyway. They discover the fiendish Radioactive Man there, working to help longtime Wakandan nemesis Ulysses Klaue cause trouble.  Based on his name alone, having Radioactive Man anywhere near vibranium seems like a very bad idea.

Radioactive Man taunts Shuri, calling her "little girl," but she slices him in half with the Ebony Blade, an enchanted sword that can cut through anything. Upset about taking someone's life, Shuri turns to T'Challa, who offers to train her, should Wakanda need her to rise to its defense again some day.

Don't underestimate this princess

As a young Black woman, Shuri is often underestimated, including by Black Panther's sworn enemy, Erik Killmonger. In the comics, while T'Challa assists the Fantastic Four, Shuri discovers that Killmonger has been working with the United States to secretly overthrow T'Challa. Killmonger imprisons her and sends fighters to test her, but she finishes them off before Wakanda's warriors have a chance to rescue her. 

In the film Black Panther, Shuri is a mere 16 years old. But to director and co-writer Ryan Coogler, her youth and age aren't disadvantages. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole thought "[i]t'd be really interesting seeing a young African teenager who's manipulated [vibranium] in ways that nobody else could and who's confident and able to have her own space ... In our minds, Wakanda's a place that looks at age differently than other places. It's not a place where, because you're young, you don't get a chance to lead, and because you're old, we don't cast you aside."

For love of country

Shuri might aspire to become the Black Panther, but her love of her brother and her country can't be denied. In the comics, she helps T'Challa and his wife, Storm of the X-Men, fend off a Skrull invasion of Wakanda. Soon afterward, Doctor Doom tries to kill T'Challa, leaving the king in a coma. While respecting the country's tradition of consulting with the Panther God about its new leader, Storm suggests that Shuri take over, as "she's been training her whole life for this moment."

To prove herself, Shuri scales a mountain and attains the heart-shaped herb, enabling her to face the Panther God on the spiritual plane. But the Panther God criticizes her for feeling jealous and entitled. "You are not worthy to be the Black Panther," the deity intones. "It is not your burden. It is not your destiny ... You will never follow in your brother's footsteps."

Nevertheless, Shuri steps up as Black Panther anyway when the vampiric being Morlun attacks. "My pride was my defeat," she says before facing him. "I trusted too much in the scientific training I'd been given ... in my right to become Wakanda's weapon in her hour of need." Recognizing Shuri's selflessness and humility, the Panther God has a change of heart and gives her its blessing to officially become the Black Panther. 

In good claws

In the comics, after T'Challa recovers from his coma, he and Shuri team up to stop Doctor Doom from stealing Wakanda's vibranium. After Doom's defeat, T'Challa decides to focus solely on ruling the nation for a while. He entrusts Shuri with handling Black Panther duties, which is covered in the four-issue limited series Klaws of the Panther. This story sends Shuri around the world to team up with Wolverine, Black Widow, Ka-Zar of the Savage Land, and Spider-Man. Their enemy? Ulysses Klaue once again, this time composed of living sound.

The series has an interesting dynamic, with Klaue sparking Shuri's rage and recklessness by taunting her about her late father. Wolverine (of all people) counsels her on the dangers of "crossing the line," while Spidey and Black Widow also offer sympathetic advice. There are some particularly choice quotes in this run. Some of the best include Shuri noting that the Black Panther is "a mantle, not a catsuit, thank you very much," and Spidey telling her that T'Challa is an impossible act to follow. "There are some role models that always seem to be out of reach," he says. "Best the rest of us can do is keep trying."

Complex variations

Like other Marvel characters, Shuri doesn't exist in just one universe. There are several alternate-reality versions of the Wakandan princess prowling around, including one who is an outright criminal. 2018's Exiles series, which explores a vast variety of alternate universes, examines one in which Shuri becomes the villain known as Killmonger, part of a group called the evil Exiles. Her teammates include twists on other well-known heroes: Iron Prince, X 2/3rd, and Skele-Thor number among her criminal colleagues.

Arguably, another evil version of Shuri debuted in 2002's Marvel Mangaverse #3Called T'Channa, she's T'Challa's sister, who left the country for Latveria after her brother beat her in a contest for the throne. This storyline sees T'Channa become an apprentice of Victor Von Doom, eventually killing him and assuming his throne. Like the heroic Shuri, she advances her civilization through technology, but she proves aggressive, attacking the United Nations, defeating the Avengers (and killing this world's president, Steve Rogers), and battling her brother, who transforms into both Black Panther and Falcon.

A princess transformed

In recent comics, Shuri has changed significantly in terms of both her appearance and her powers. This ties in with a complicated, reality-warping storyline involving a villainous supergroup called the Cabal, including Namor, Thanos, Corvus Glaive, and Proxima MidnightShuri battles Proxima Midnight so that her brother and our reality can survive, but sacrifices herself in the process. Her soul drifts into a realm called the Djalia, or the Plane of Wakandan Memory, where she finds a mentor in an ancient Wakandan spirit that takes the form of her mother. 

T'Challa doesn't give up on his younger sister, and is eventually able to bring her back to the world of the living. Upon her resurrection, however, it is discovered that she has gained mystical powers. As the Black Panther, she had formidable endurance, speed, agility, and strength. Reborn as someone the ancestors call "Ancient Future," she can adopt a stone-like form that briefly makes her invulnerable, as well as transform into a giant singular bird, or a flock of smaller birds. 

An onscreen breakthrough

Audiences loved Chadwick Boseman's portrayal of the regal Wakandan king in 2018's Black Panther, but they also couldn't stop talking about Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. A native of Guyana who grew up in London, Wright won an NAACP Image Award for her "breakthrough performance." Critics loved her "cheeky-as-hell" attitude, and the way her genius thrives on helping people. Whether she's developing Wakandan transportation, freeing Bucky Barnes from brainwashing, or extracting the Mind Stone without killing Vision, she's capable, compassionate, and courageous. Shuri isn't just remarkable for being brilliant — she's brilliant while also being a rascally little sister, a genuine humanitarian, a capable warrior, and a meme-spouting teenager. She is among the most multifaceted characters in the MCU, unable to be shoved into any one box. That's what makes audiences love her — and it's what makes her future in the MCU so exciting to contemplate.

Affectionate siblings

Shuri no doubt made a huge impression in Black Panther because of Wright's vivacious performance and her chemistry with Boseman. Said Ryan Coogler, "There are no superheroes that I can think of that have a little sister who they love dearly and who can bring out the best in them but also keep them down to Earth, you know what I mean? Their relationship is built on love, and out of that, so many other things grew."

Shuri does indeed bust her brother's chops — even in the midst of helping him out. When she brings him to her lab to debut some new tech, she is horrified by the fact that he wears an old pair of sandals, and that he's satisfied by his old tech, which can't protect him as well as her newest inventions can. "How many times do I have to teach you?" she says. T'Challa wryly retorts, "You are teaching me? What do you know?" Shuri, naturally, is unphased: "More than you," she replies coolly, as she leads him to the new Black Panther suit she's designed.

This onscreen bond was very real, as Wright revealed after Boseman's death at the age of 43. She composed a video and spoken-word tribute to him on Instagram in which she calls him "my brother, an angel on earth."

A multimedia princess

Shuri is one of the many heroes dissolved into dust at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, then brought back to life in Avengers: Endgame. In between these films, she starred in her own comic series. Written by award-winning Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, the series is a thrilling adventure that sees Shuri build a craft for the Wakandan Space Program. Once T'Challa is lost in the cosmos, however, Shuri is forced to mull over her own identity. Without her brother, she confronts questions about what sort of leader she wants to be, how she should reconcile her duties to her country with her duties to science, and what kind of future she wants to put her enormous skills into building.

Younger fans have also enjoyed Shuri across a variety of media over the last few years. Shuri appears in animated form on Marvel Risingand as an animated Lego minifigure wearing her Black Panther outfit in the video game Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. 

A teenage Shuri hit bookshelves in 2020, in a middle-grade novel that sends her off to investigate what's killing the heart-shaped herb essential to the Black Panther's powers. She's also a headlining part of Marvel's new slate of graphic novels for young readers, alongside other heroes like Miles Morales and Ms. Marvel. Looks like this unstoppably brilliant and endearing character won't be slowing down anytime soon.