Because the Black Panther has been kicking ass and taking names in Marvel’s comics for over 50 years, it was inevitable that more than a handful of iconic moments from the books would make it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Panther isn’t exactly an origin film, but the writing team and director Ryan Coogler made sure to include a number of key moments, ranging from T’Challa’s earliest storylines to more recent arcs, to convey just how rich and deep the character’s history is. Some of the nods to the comics are readily apparent and others are a bit more subtle, but they’re all fantastic.
If you’ve seen the trailers for the film, then you know that Erik Killmonger is Black Panther’s central villain. Though certain elements of his origin story and relationship to Wakanda are drastically different in the movie, Black Panther includes a number of beats that mirror the character’s drive and motivation from the comic books.
In Jungle Action #6, T’Challa returns to Wakanda to find that the throne is under threat from Killmonger, the son of a Wakandan man who aligned himself with Ulysses Klaw, whose family was ultimately exiled. Like in the film, the two do battle at Wakanda’s Warrior Falls, and while T’Challa puts up a valiant fight, Killmonger ultimately bests him and throws him over the falls. In the comics, T’Challa survives the fall and is found floating in a river by Monica Lynne, an American woman he’d met while living in America who he brought back to Wakanda. In the film, T’Challa’s unconscious body is discovered by the northern Jabari tribe.
Though Princess Shuri undoubtedly has most of Black Panther’s best put-downs, T’Challa’s no stranger to dropping a few epic burns himself mid-battle—and one of his very best lines from the books is carried over into the film.
In Jonathan Hickman, Kev Walker, and Frank Martin’s New Avengers #22 from 2013, T’Challa comes to blows with Namor, the Submariner after the Atlantean king defies the Illuminati, a group of Marvel’s other greatest minds, by deciding to destroy an alternate-reality Earth in order to save their own planet. T’Challa and the other other members of the Illuminati see Namor’s actions as a reckless and irresponsible waste of life, while Namor sees himself as doing what the others are too weak to do.
Namor’s yet to appear in the MCU, but T’Challa’s best dig at him—that Namor only lives because T’Challa lets him—is uttered during the king’s showdown with Ulysses Klaue.
Years after their first encounter, Killmonger returns to Wakanda to once again attempt to take the throne from T’Challa, but rather than simply fighting the king, Killmonger devises a clever plan to destabilize the country’s economy. In time, T’Challa and Killmonger do come to blows and once again, Killmonger is able to defeat T’Challa, but in this particular instance, the villain manages to nearly kill the king after spending hours locked in ritual combat.
Killmonger’s victory automatically entitles him to become the Black Panther and, for a time, he rules as an unstable leader—even going as far as attempting to replace T’Challa on the Avengers.
The movie’s penultimate battle between T’Challa, the Dora Milaje, the Jabari, and Killmonger’s followers isn’t quite as otherworldly as other fights in the MCU, but there’s a jaw-dropping moment when W’Kabi rides an armored rhino into battle that will make you gasp. As a steed, the rhino is the perfect example of how Wakanda’s real might is a blend of futuristic technology and the power bestowed upon the country by nature itself.
T’Challa first fought a rhino in Jungle Action #9 during Don McGregor’s “Panther’s Rage” arc, when he stops the animal from trampling a young child to death. In the film, T’Challa uses his vibranium-enhanced suit to take on the multi-ton animal and bring it to its knees, but in the comics, the king uses his knowledge of the jungle and Olympic-level athleticism to stop it.
Black Panther ends on a surprising, but inevitable note with T’Challa deciding that it’s time for Wakanda to reveal itself and begin building meaningful interactions with the world. In addition to holding a press conference, T’Challa brings Shuri to the neighborhood in Oakland where his father T’Chaka first orphaned young Killmonger and explains to her that she will be the head of a new educational outreach program meant to share Wakanda’s knowledge.
In a somewhat roundabout way, this echoes the time T’Challa spent in America in Marvel’s comics during the ‘70s where, in additional to joining the Avengers, he worked briefly as a schoolteacher under the alias Luke Charles. T’Challa impresses upon the other Avengers that before becoming a king, T’Challa was raised to be an academic and attended a number of prestigious institutions from across the globe, making him an ideal educator.
In the end, it’s Wakanda’s commitment to STEM and education that makes the country so formidable; it’s the perfect note to close out the movie that’s really just the beginning of the Black Panther’s presence within the MCU.