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Forget everything you thought you knew about Black Panther. Forget everything about his abilities, his allies, and even his nation. Ultimate Black Panther #1 (written by Bryan Edward Hill and penciled by Stefano Caselli) introduces readers to a new version of the classic hero and his homeland Wakanda. This isn’t the T’Challa you know from Marvel’s mainstream 616 universe, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. This version of Black Panther is married to a familiar supporting character, and his enemies have ties to another hero in the Marvel Universe.
So, what’s the deal with Ultimate Black Panther? Let’s dive in…
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Ultimate Black Panther #1!
What is the Ultimate Universe?
Let’s start by explaining what the Ultimate Universe is. If you’re familiar with the concept of the multiverse, this shouldn’t be confusing. The Ultimate Universe is another reality within Marvel’s vast multiverse. Essentially, the Black Panther in this series is not the same character from Marvel’s mainstream comics. This version of T’Challa won’t be referring to the events of Eve L. Ewing’s current Black Panther comic, because those stories are happening in another timeline.
If you’re a new reader, this is good news, because you have a perfect jumping on point. If you’re a longtime reader, this is still good news, because more Black Panther is always a good thing.
The Ultimate Comics imprint allows Marvel to take their classic characters in new directions without disrupting their mainstream continuity. It’s also a great way to bring in new readers, who might be turned off by decades of history.
Some of you might have heard about Marvel’s first Ultimate Universe. The original Ultimate imprint was a successful comic line that dominated sales charts in the 2000s. The characterizations and concepts from Marvel’s Ultimate line inspired many of the early Marvel Cinematic Universe films. What’s the connection between the original Ultimate line and the current one? Story wise, nothing, but the new Ultimate Comics imprint is modeling itself after the success of the original line. For more on the original Ultimate Universe, check out this guide.
The new Ultimate Universe has some key differences from mainstream Marvel continuity. For example, the world was once controlled by a supervillain. The Maker is an evil version of Reed Richards who came from the first Ultimate Universe. The Maker used time travel to create a new branch of reality that he could control, which is how the new Ultimate Universe came to be.
The Maker has been deposed, but the world is not the one we recognize. For example, the countries have different borders, and in some cases different names. OH, and Spider-Man is married with kids. However, Spidey isn’t the only hero to gain a wife in this continuity….
What's going on in Ultimate Wakanda?
As I mentioned before, this is not the T’Challa or Wakanda that you may be familiar with. Maybe it’s Hill’s script, or maybe it’s the way Caselli pencils his face, but this version of T’Challa seems to be more jaded. In some ways, he’s a man of few words, even to his closest friends. For example, during a throne room scene with his sister Shuri and wife Okoye, T’Challa is very guarded about his plan to ward off a group of invaders. His answers reveal little, even to the people he should be closest to.
OH – that’s right, Okoye is his wife.
The former Dora Milaje general is now Queen of Wakanda. However, this appears to be a political marriage. The characters sleep in separate beds within the same bedroom, and Okoye addresses her husband as “my king.” Once again, there seems to be distance between T’Challa and the people around him.
T'Challa's sister Shuri has a role like the one she has in the comics and movies, designing scientific marvels for Wakanda. In this case, she’s specifically building war machines for their army. The caption that introduces her gives her the title woman-at-arms.
The one person who T’Challa seems to open up for is his father T’Chaka. In fact, while T’Challa is resistant to everyone else’s counsel throughout the issue, he takes his father’s advice on dealing with the Vodu-Khan, a religious group that holds some influence in Wakanda.
This brings up one of the things I love about Bryan Edward Hill and Stefano Caselli’s work. The creative duo set up this new version of Wakanda without drowning us in exposition. They reveal just enough to get us curious about this new status quo, without leaving us confused, but leaving us hungry for more.
For example, how much influence does the Vodu-Khan have over Wakanda? What is the nature of T’Challa and Okoye’s marriage? What is really going on inside T’Challa’s head?
That last question is a big one, because the King of Wakanda spends a majority of the issue worrying about troubling dreams. However, we never see these dreams or learn what they are. This goes back to what I said about T’Challa keeping everyone at a distance. This includes the readers. Hill and Caselli are leaving us guessing, and I’m loving every minute of it.
Enemies of Wakanda
Interestingly, Wakanda’s biggest threat has ties to another Marvel superhero. Throughout the issue, we see two warlords named Ra and Khonshu violently attack cities in West Africa. The mercenaries are closing in on Wakanda’s borders, which alarms T’Challa’s advisors. Ra and Khonshu rule the Upper and Lower Kingdoms, a large region in Africa. The villains had been installed by the Maker during his reign of terror.
If you’re familiar with the Marvel superhero Moon Knight, then you might recognize these names. The two Egyptian gods have heavy ties to Moon Knight lore in Marvel’s mainstream continuity, but in the Ultimate Universe their powers are in the hands of two villains, who seek to increase their wave of destruction.
The first person we see push back against Ra and Khonshu’s forces isn’t Black Panther, but a new version of his enemy Killmonger. When Ra and Khonshu’s mercenaries attack a village, we see Killmonger strike back with force. When Killmonger becomes overwhelmed, a mysterious figure named Windrider provides reinforcements from the sky. We don’t get a good look at Windrider, but she appears to be a female who controls lightning.
(The easy guess here would be Storm, which would be an interesting take on the character, but Hill and Caselli might be trying to mislead us with misdirection. The fact that we haven’t seen her face feels significant)
We don’t see T’Challa suit up as the Black Panther until the last two pages, and it’s powerful. Ra and Khonshu bring the war to Wakanda, taking the life of someone close to T’Challa (we won’t spoil who, but it isn’t hard to guess). “Call the queen. And my sister. And the Vodu-Khan. Our enemy calls themselves Moon Knight. Wakanda is at war,” Black Panther says.
Throughout Ultimate Black Panther #1, we saw how T’Challa rules. Now we’re going to see how he fights. Are you ready?
An advanced review copy of Ultimate Black Panther #1 was provided ahead of release by Marvel.