Only a few weeks back at San Diego Comic-Con 2017, fans were given an exclusive glimpse of Ryan Coogler's Black Panther. Although the footage hasn't appeared online yet, we heard mysterious reports of Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger suiting up in a Black Panther outfit of his own, a nanobot weave with shimmering gold.
These days though, superhero blockbusters are mass-market affairs promoted through extensive merchandising — And sometimes that merchandise contains a spoiler or two. Check out this Killmonger action figure...
What Does This Mean For Killmonger's Arc?
In the comics, Erik Killmonger was a Wakandan native who held a serious grudge against the Royal House. When T'Challa brought the isolatedt African nation into contact with the outside world, Killmonger dedicated himself to unseating the King and restoring Wakanda's past glory. However, it seems as though he covets more than just T'Challa's throne, believing that he should be the honorary defender of Wakanda too in the guise of The Black Panther.
The plot of the Black Panther movie increasingly seems to dovetail with the arc that we've seen in the comics. Captain America: Civil War saw the Wakandan Government support the UN's implementation of the Sokovia Accords, a decision that tragically led to the death of King T'Chaka. Rather than return to claim his throne, T'Challa stayed out in the wider world, pursuing vengeance for his father's death. That course of action ultimately led to the world learning he was actually the Black Panther. Even worse, when T'Challa returned to Wakanda, it was with allies who included international fugitives such as Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier. Under T'Chaka and T'Challa, Wakanda is clearly abandoning its isolationist ways.
We can assume there's still a personal grudge between Killmonger and the Royal House of Wakanda. After all, he has allies in Wakanda precisely because the King seems to have abandoned his people's ancient ways.
Killmonger Will Become A Black Panther
In the #MCU, we've learned that the Black Panther gains his powers from ingesting a Heart-Shaped Herb. We can assume that this herb has been mutated by the presence of vibranium, but there's also likely a spiritual and ritualistic side to this; the comics have always stressed Wakanda's mysticism as much as its science.
If that's the case, then this costume strongly implies that Killmonger will assume the mantle of the Black Panther — and most likely ingest the Herb, becoming a physical match for T'Challa. That idea's actually deeply disconcerting as such an act lies in direct breach of Wakandan tradition. There should only ever be one Black Panther at a time, with a successor chosen after they beat the current Black Panther in combat. Only after completing the challenge should the candidate ingest the Herb, and even then, they risk being rejected by the Panther God during the mystical part of the ceremony. I can't help wondering if the experience, the breach of tradition and the potential spiritual rejection will drive Killmonger insane in the movie.
While this is an exciting development, it's also a little frustrating. The MCU has a habit of using villains who are twisted 'mirror images' of the heroes. Captain America fought the Red Skull, Ant-Man took on Yellowjacket, and even Whiplash wore armor to battle Iron Man. It's a smart move in narrative terms as this allows #Marvel to explore the hero's character by highlighting this inversion. Unfortunately, it's also become something of a pattern, and one Marvel would do well to break. Some of the most exciting battles in the MCU to date have been those featuring mismatched opponents; who can forget the tussle between Scott Lang and the Falcon in Ant-Man? Similar power mismatches made the airport scene in Captain America: Civil War tremendously effective.
This Killmonger action figure will leave fans equal parts excited and frustrated. On the one hand, it suggests we're in for an intriguing arc, one that closes when two Black Panthers collide in pitched battle. On the other, though, it does sadly suggest that Marvel has returned to one of their most popular tropes. The House of Ideas would be wise to move on from that particular approach.
Which of Marvel's next movies are you most excited about?