Marvel’s Fresh Start relaunch has brought about a number of big changes for popular heroes, but perhaps no hero’s world has changed as radically as Black Panther’s. The recent Black Panther #1 introduced a drastically different status quo, one where T’Challa finds himself a prisoner who breaks out to join an interstellar resistance force. Rarely has a comic kept the same writer and yet changed so drastically from one issue to the next. But this new status quo also seems to be just the change of pace Black Panther needed, as well as giving Marvel the chance to draw in some characters and elements from the movie that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
The new series is obviously intended to be disorienting for readers, as no explanation is given for why T’Challa finds himself torn away from Earth, battling amnesia and imprisoned by a space empire modeled after the mighty nation of Wakanda. The first issue does make it clear that The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda was established 2,000 ago as a small space colony before growing into the mighty force it is today. The question is when this story is actually set. Did Wakanda actually establish a space colony in the days of the Roman Empire, or is this conflict actually set 2,000 years into the future of the Marvel Universe?
The latter theory seems possible, especially given how this empire seems to revere key figures from 21st Century Wakanda. The first issue reveals that the empire is ruled by Emperor N’Jadaka, which also happens to be the true name of T’Challa’s mortal enemy, Erik Killmonger. The Emperor’s troopers even wear armor modeled after Killmonger’s suit from the Black Panther movie. Our hero also encounters two allies calling themselves Nakia and M’Baku. These aren’t actually the same characters fans know from previous Black Panther comics, but characters who have taken the names of the honored dead as tribute. Ironically, the victorious T’Challa is named after himself, with neither he nor his new allies realizing his true identity.
The first issue also features a recurring motif where T’Challa’s dreams are haunted by a beautiful, white-haired woman urging him, “Come back to me.” This woman appears to be Storm (the one woman T’Challa loved enough to make her his queen), but her cat-like eyes suggest someone else. She may be the panther goddess Bast, urging her champion to return to his own planet and reclaim his throne.
All of this serves as a clever way of allowing the new series to draw inspiration from the MCU without the need to radically alter existing characters, like we saw with Nick Fury. In terms of look, background and his relationship to T’Challa, Killmonger is a very different character in the comics. The same is even more true for M’Baku and Nakia, neither of whom share much in common with their MCU counterparts.
Marvel is often wont to restructure its comics to better match the MCU, but it would have been difficult to manage in this case. The new series allows for a stronger MCU connection without eliminating or rewriting established Black Panther history. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates consulted on the movie. It’s clear he wants to take some of what worked on the big screen and apply it to the comics. And even as the series draws in new MCU elements, it introduces new wrinkles to the Black Panther mythology that set it apart from any story that’s come before.
For more from the world of comics, check out our video on how DC’s new Justice League comic scratches the same itch as Avengers: Infinity War.