Black Panther is not a typical superhero. He didn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider or come from another planet — he is both a king ruling a country and a man of science who works with the Avengers.
“Black Panther has the physical attributes of someone like Captain America, the technology behind him of Iron Man and the mystical aspects of Thor. He’s a combination of all the heroes in one character,” says comic book fan Bill Gordon, 44, of Massapequa, who shops at Escape Pod Comics in Huntington. “Black Panther not only shatters the old mold, he creates a brand-new one.”
With the release of Marvel Studios’ new self-titled film this week, Black Panther is about to get his close-up. The character, played by Chadwick Boseman, is the first black superhero in comics, and the film has already made history by having the best first-day advance ticket sales for any Marvel movie.
“This is a vital film,” Gordon says. “It’s the first superhero movie that’s going to make people think and challenge them on stereotypes.”
The man behind the mask is T’Challa, king of Wakanda, a fictional country in East Africa. He assumed the throne following the death of his father, T’Chaka.
“Being a Black Panther is a rite of passage,” says comic collector Sebastien Bright, 37, of Ronkonkoma, a customer at 4th World Comics in Smithtown. “All Black Panthers ingest the Heart-Shaped Herb to give them super strength, agility and enhanced senses. Each generation in Wakanda has a Black Panther. When they get old and die, the role is passed on to the next heir.”
As his name suggests, Black Panther has a feline-like prowess because of his mystical connection with Wakanda’s Panther God.
“Black Panther has a fighting style that is very agile with lots of acrobatics and claw swiping,” says Evan Narcisse, chief writer of Marvel’s new Black Panther comic book line, “Rise of the Black Panther.” “He’s incredibly strong and faster than a normal person.”
His suit is made from vibranium, a super metal that comes from the technologically advanced society of Wakanda.
“It’s durable and can absorb kinetic energy and vibration, then redirects the energy out,” says Narcisse, 45, who grew up in Hempstead. “His claws extend from his gloves and have the ability to cut through most conventional materials.”
A special-forces team of black women, called the Dora Milaje, serves as his bodyguards.
This factor is significant to Christina Djossa, 25, of Greenlawn, who grew up in a Ghanaian-American household.
“It’s important to me to see people in the comics who look like me,” she says. “Representation matters. These stories are so inclusive and look at blackness in different ways.”
The Rev. Jude Geiger, who serves as the parish minister for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church in Huntington, sees value in Black Panther’s team concept.
“Although Black Panther is a superhero, he’s supported by a group of non-superheroes who work together,” says Geiger, 42. “It sends a message that there’s strong value in community and working together. The character is a hero, but the community is also a hero in this story.”
The film is not only significant in pop culture, but it is expected to have a strong social impact.
“This is a movie that is black from front to back, including the people making creative decisions to the cast, which is really inspirational. It’s a singular moment to celebrate, as these things don’t happen often,” Narcisse says. “The wait has been a long time. Black Panther brings a lot of hope. People want their communities to be recognized.”
Many are hoping this film encourages more diversity in the superhero genre.
“The ‘Black Panther’ film is going to open up a whole new world of ethnic characters,” says avid comic reader Alexander Drucker, 26, of Syosset. “There’s Native American heroes like Thunderbird, Muslim heroes like Ms. Marvel and Japanese heroes like Sunfire. This could be a big breakthrough.”