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The History Of Wakanda's Vibranium Explained

Vibranium is one of the toughest metals known to man. From Captain America's shield to Black Panther's suit, the magnificent material is used and sought by a wide variety of heroes and villains all across the MCU. Its extraordinary strength allows it to absorb bullets, explosives, and even stand up to assaults from the cosmically mighty likes of Thanos.

So where can an aspiring do-gooder or ne'er-do-well get their hands on vibranium? Although there are multiple places to get vibranium in the comics, in the MCU, it can only be mined in Wakanda. This rarity makes it more valuable than precious metals such as gold or platinum — unless you happen to live in Wakanda, of course, and have plenty to go around. With its adaptability, rarity, and durability, vibranium is Wakanda's most valuable resource and a defining part of the nation's culture. While the metal's history is shrouded in secrecy, given Wakanda's choice to remain hidden from the world, there are still plenty of struggles involving the nearly indestructible material that have taken place. This is the history of Wakanda's vibranium.

Adamantium vs. vibranium

Before we delve into the history of vibranium, it is important to distinguish it from another nigh-indestructible metal of the Marvel universe. Like vibranium, adamantium is a metal which is impervious to pretty much everything, except adamantium weapons. You probably know it as the stuff Wolverine has in his body in the various X-Men films. These two materials are different in that vibranium appears in the MCU, whereas adamantium appears in the X-Men franchise. However, due to Disney's recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, we might just get to see how vibranium and adamantium stack up against each other.

In the comics, the two metals share a close connection, due to the efforts of the scientist Myron MacLain. MacLain used vibranium to create Captain America's shield as part of an effort to develop better armor for the US military. Seeing how effective a vibranium-based shield was, MacLain labored for years on end in order to replicate the strength of the material in Captain America's shield. Eventually, this led to him creating adamantium. Although vibranium and adamantium are very similar, it's important to note that adamantium was ultimately created due to the extreme rarity of vibranium.

The metal from beyond the stars

Although it might seem as if vibranium is a naturally occurring resource, its origins actually lie in the stars. Thousands and thousands of years ago, a meteor containing the precious metal crashed into the planet, landing in what would eventually become the country of Wakanda. The vibranium enhanced the nearby soil, becoming an inextricable part of the land — and the people who inhabited it.

Eventually, the five tribes which would come to comprise Wakanda settled the area and rallied around a single leader known as the Black Panther. Through the material they mined, they were able to become more technologically advanced than any other nation in the world. Vibranium allowed Wakandans to develop better transportation, weaponry, and agriculture. However, because Wakanda feared the chaos of the rest of the world, they chose to hide themselves with an advanced cloaking field. The Wakandans' decision to seal themselves away meant that the only people on Earth who had access to any amount of vibranium were Wakandans. Though vibranium still seeped out in various ways, its reputation for being extraordinarily rare was secured.

Captain America's shield

The first instance of vibranium popping up outside of Wakanda in the MCU is in Captain America: The First Avenger. When Howard Stark offers to replace Cap's theatre prop with an actual weapon, he decides to go with a seemingly uninspiring silver disk over a couple of other choices. Stark goes on to explain that vibranium is the rarest metal on earth, and that the shield contains all of the material they have. After blocking a steamed Peggy Carter's gunfire and seeing no damage on the shield, Captain Rogers chooses to adopt it as his signature tool.

This is the first time viewers hear about vibranium. Although Howard Stark managed to acquire enough to forge Cap's shield, we have no idea how. One wonders how Wakanda handled news of Cap's shield at this time: Its effectiveness against modern weapons was likely proof enough to Wakandan leadership that shielding the existence of themselves and their mines remained the correct course of action. If a single defensive weapon made of vibranium could turn the tide of the war, then what would the world do if they found a country with plenty of vibranium to spare? While the introduction of Cap's shield is the first time a vibranium weapon is used outside of Wakanda, it perhaps more significantly offers a clue into why Wakanda chose to isolate themselves from the rest of the world during the 20th century.

A leak in Wakanda's defenses

The next time any amount of vibranium leaves Wakanda is in 1992. Prince N'Jobu, the younger brother of Wakandan king T'Chaka, seeks to start a worldwide revolution. N'Jobu aims to do this by arming the oppressed with vibranium weapons, allowing Wakanda to take power and, in N'Jobu's words, rule "in the right way." Since the only way to get vibranium is to mine it from Wakanda, N'Jobu hires Ulysses Klaue, a shady arms dealer, to steal a large cache of it. Although Klaue is successful in his robbery, King T'Chaka learns of N'Jobu's treachery before he can put his plan into action. T'Chaka is forced to kill N'Jobu, leaving behind the now orphaned N'Jadaka (AKA Killmonger) and a substantial amount of vibranium in the hands of Ulysses Klaue.

These actions allow an unprecedented amount of vibranium to leave Wakanda. Because Klaue ends up with virtually all of the stolen goods, he is able to monopolize it and make a large profit off selling it. Klaue's reputation for selling vibranium eventually attracts an interested buyer, whose actions have dramatic consequences for the MCU.

Rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. with a vibranium hard drive

Vibranium's story extends beyond the silver screen to Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in the form of a vibranium based hard drive. After HYDRA infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. and nearly brings the world to its knees, Nick Fury decides to task Agent Phil Coulson with rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. free from HYDRA's influence. To assist in this, Fury gives Coulson a vibranium hard drive which can only be opened via biometric scan. 

The "Toolbox," as it becomes known, goes on to help the reformed S.H.I.E.L.D. rebuild and continue their fight against HYDRA, but also proves to be a source of friction between agents. After some of the agents begin to doubt Coulson's leadership abilities due to a series of rough missions, a group of them, led by Alphonso Mackenzie, decide to steal the Toolbox from Coulson in order to replace him as director. Although the splinter group is successful, one of Coulson's allies manages to steal it back. Coulson eventually agrees to Mackenzie's demands in exchange for helping to launch an attack on a HYDRA base. While the vibranium hard drive holds secrets which almost cause a civil war, the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are able to put their differences aside and continue the fight against HYDRA.

Ultron's vibranium bodies

The vibranium stolen by Ulysses Klaue in 1992 eventually takes a dire toll on the MCU. Things get thorny when Ultron, an AI creation of Bruce Banner and Tony Stark, malfunctions, leading Ultron to try and wipe out humanity. Part of Ultron's plan is to create multiple bodies all hosting his consciousness, a construct known as a hive mind. In order to create bodies capable of fighting the Avengers, he seeks out the most durable material available: vibranium. After tracking down Klaue, Ultron strikes a deal in which he purchases all of Klaue's vibranium reserves in exchange for billions of dollars. Although the Avengers are able to foil Ultron's evil schemes, Ultron's army of vibranium bodies still does serious damage.

In the wake of Ultron's destruction, the world's nations seek to gain oversight over the world's superheroes. This is done through the creation of the Sokovia Accords, which directly lead to the Avengers' ruinous split in Captain America: Civil War, and, eventually, their failure to prevent Thanos from snapping half of all life out of existence. Ultron's actions — and to a certain extent, Klaue's and N'Jobu's — regarding vibranium not only cost Earth, but the universe, very dearly.

A new future for Wakanda and vibranium

The story of vibranium at last returns to where it begins: Wakanda. After T'Challa, the son of former Black Panther and king, T'Chaka, ascends to the Wakandan throne, he decides to track down Ulysses Klaue, the man responsible for stealing a quarter-ton of vibranium from Wakanda. Although T'Challa manages to capture Klaue, he is rescued by a business associate: Erik Killmonger, AKA N'Jadaka, the orphaned son of N'Jobu. Killmonger then betrays Klaue and kills him, using his corpse as a means to gain entry to Wakanda. 

Because Killmonger is related to T'Challa, he has the right to challenge him for the Wakandan throne. Killmonger defeats T'Challa, becomes king, and sets about finishing the work his father started: Arming the oppressed with vibranium weapons and starting a worldwide revolution. Although T'Challa comes back and kills Killmonger, knowing what he and his father went through causes him to soften his stance on an isolationist Wakanda. The events set in motion by N'Jobu in 1992 ultimately lead to Wakanda sharing its resources with the entire world. What the world will make of vibranium remains to be seen, but it will doubtlessly be impressive — though it would take centuries for the rest of the world to catch up to Wakanda.

The wide world of vibranium variations

While only one type of vibranium appears in the MCU, there are many different varieties of the metal in the comics. First and foremost, there is Wakandan vibranium, which is just like it is in the MCU. Next, there is Antarctic vibranium, which is exclusively found in Antarctica. It causes nearby metals to weaken and eventually turn to liquid, which means bullets fired at Antarctic vibranium are useless. Next up is the reverbium variant. While it is not as strong as the Wakandan variant, it repels energy instead of absorbing it. This variant is considered so powerful that the entire supply is destroyed. This has not stopped certain villains from attempting to recreate this dangerous material, with Ulysses Klaue attempting to use it to resuscitate his sister and enhance his own abilities. 

While there is an abundance of vibranium available to mine in the comics, great care must be taken whilst mining it. If not done properly, vibranium can seep into and poison water sources. If the contaminated water is consumed, it can cause a disease known as vibranium sickness. If it is not diagnosed in time, it is usually fatal.

While the MCU has so far explored just one type of vibranium, there is plenty of material to bring in from the comics if they want to expand vibranium's already illustrious history.