The Marvel Cinematic Universe might be the best Ponzi scheme in history.
Marvel Studios has built a series of can't-miss, interconnected movies, ranging in quality from pretty good to totally awesome, that will reach a climax later this year in Avengers: Infinity War. But before that, Marvel reaches a more socially significant milestone: finally debuting a movie about the first black superhero from Marvel or DC, the big two comic companies. Black Panther hits theaters February 16.
The Black Panther's co-creators artist/plotter Jack Kirby and scripter Stan Lee launched the character during an unprecedented run of 1960s creativity. Between issues #44 (Nov. 1965) and #53 (Aug. 1966) of The Fantastic Four, Kirby and Lee introduced the Inhumans, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, as well as the main players that will feature in the Black Panther movie: T'Challa the Black Panther, his enemy Klaw, the technofuturistic country of Wakanda, and the substance vibranium, which can't be found on the periodic table of elements on our lame Earth.
Trivia alert: the Black Panther was created just a few months before the formation of the Black Panther Party. This sleek, dark cat had become a popular civil rights symbol, so it was a natural fit for a black superhero and a black political group. Still, the superhero version came first.
In honor of this new movie and great character, here are some terms relating to T'Challa, a superhero who's literally comic book royalty.
For a lengthier list, check out Black Panther Lingo.
A monarchy is a government ruled by a king or queen, who is the monarch. T'Challa is the monarch of fictional African nation Wakanda, and he came by his kingdom the same way nearly all monarchs do: through their family. The previous king was T'Challa's dad T'Chaka, who was killed in Captain America: Civil War. Other Marvel Comics monarchs aren't as heroic and noble as T'Challa, such as Dr. Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner, who rule Latveria and Atlantis, respectively. In the real world, jolly old England is a well-known monarchy, though the Queen is just a figurehead these days.
T'Challa isn't just a political leader: he's a religious leader too. As the Pope is to Catholics, the Black Panther is to Wakandans, though T'Challa is better in a fight. Wakandans worship a deity named Bast, also known as the Panther God. Deity is synonymous with god. In a monotheistic religion like Christianity, there is one deity, but polytheistic or pagan religions have many deities. The Marvel Universe has more deities than a religious studies course, what with Asgardian gods, Greek gods, the Celestials, the Phoenix Force, the Beyonder, Bast, and who knows what else might be out there in the cosmos.
Wakanda is known for being a futuristic wonderland and the only source of vibranium — a rare, powerful substance. A substance is some sort of distinctive material that's a solid: you can't call a liquid or gas a substance. Vibranium is the main ingredient in one of the most famous comic book weapons, Captain America's shield. That shield is strong and bouncy, allowing Cap to ping-pong it all over the place, bouncing off walls and bad guy's heads. As Spider-Man told Cap in Captain America: Civil War: "That thing does not obey the laws of physics at all." You can thank the substance vibranium for that. You can also use substance metaphorically to mean the meat or gist of a topic. If someone talks and talks but doesn't say much, you can say, "I need less style and more substance."
Some superheroes and villains have gained powers through crashed space rocks called meteorites, but not the Black Panther. Still, a meteorite — a small meteor — did help him out. A meteorite was the source of the vibranium that helped make Wakanda so wealthy and advanced. Before a meteorite lands, you might see it as a shooting star.
In Civil War, which introduced the Black Panther, Wakanda seems to be a known country. But in the comic, people didn't know about this fantastically advanced nation for a long time. That's because Wakanda was secluded: hidden from the world, allowing it to develop at its own pace, which was faster than everyone else. If you decided to go into hiding, you could say you went into seclusion.
The Black Panther isn't just a guy with a cool costume and some sweet martial arts moves: he has enhanced speed and strength, thanks to eating the Heart-Shaped Herb, which only grows in Wakanda and was mutated by all that vibranium. Anything that's enhanced has been increased: if you have enhanced agility, you're more agile than before. Think of athletes busted for taking performance-enhancing drugs which boost skills but break rules. Fortunately, superheroes don't have to abide by the laws of the NFL or NBA.
Partly because of vibranium, Wakanda is a place of amazing technology: far beyond the rest of Earth in the Marvel Universe — or this universe for that matter. That means their vehicles, energy sources, and gizmos are more advanced than anywhere else. Technology is the application of science to all sorts of stuff, resulting in everything from surgery-performing robots to fidget spinners.
Marvel's movies have been pretty awesome lately, so my hopes are up for Black Panther. If the movie is half strong as vibranium, it'll be pretty great.
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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