Winston Duke's M'Baku was a force to be reckoned with in Marvel's Black Panther. Although the character is traditionally a villain in the comics, the movie reimagined him somewhat and, as a result, the Jabari chieftain became a key ally for T'Challa, playing a major role in the film's third act.
But what's next for M'Baku? He's confirmed to appear in Avengers: Infinity War, and beyond that the character seems certain to return in the inevitable sequel, given how much audiences love him. The first film is performing beyond any expectations in the box office, and Marvel's Kevin Feige is already hoping director Ryan Coogler will return. Whether Coogler does sign up for Black Panther 2 or not, the sequel is sure to return to the franchise's Wakandan roots. That means M'Baku, as leader of the Jabari tribe, is a safe bet to reappear.
While it's possible M'Baku could remain an uneasy ally of T'Challa, perhaps a more intriguing idea is the possibility of turning him into the film's principal antagonist.
M'Baku Is A Villain In The Comics
It's important to note that, in the comics, M'Baku is traditionally one of Black Panther's most prominent villains. The character was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema, and is known to comic book fans as Marvel's "Man-Ape." In the comics, M'Baku is the leader of the White Gorilla Cult; he gained his prodigious strength after feasting on the flesh of Wakanda's White Gorillas. The Man-Ape has traditionally attempted to overthrow T'Challa's rule of Wakanda, and on several occasions has almost succeeded.
As in the film, the M'Baku of the comics deplores Wakanda's technological focus. He stands for tradition, and desires to take Wakanda back to its more primitive roots. Essentially, the conflict between Black Panther and Man-Ape is a battle of ideologies; each has a different vision for Wakanda's future, each pursues it relentlessly.
Black Panther Has Perfectly Adapted M'Baku
The MCU version of M'Baku is a tribal leader, ruler of the Jabari, who has watched with distaste as he sees Wakanda abandon its isolationist heritage. Worse still, as M'Baku pointed out in the film, Wakanda's scientists are now led by a teenager who shows little respect for tradition. King T'Chaka caused a stir among Wakandans when he began working with the United Nations to pass the Sokovia Accords, and when the UN was attacked, T'Chaka son proved unable to protect him. Given the Black Panther is supposed to be the defender of Wakanda and its people, M'Baku argues that this failure proves T'Challa is too weak to be king.
It's important to understand M'Baku's cultural background. 10,000 years ago, when the first Black Panther unified the tribes of Wakanda, the Jabari were the only tribe who refused to follow the Panther God. Over the millennia, the Jabari have withdrawn to the mountains, establishing their own homeland and watching Wakanda with increasing disgust. M'Baku is shaped by that culture, and he embraces it. Worse still in M'Baku's view, Black Panther ends with T'Challa reaching out to the world for the first time in Wakandan history, and offering to share the nation's knowledge and resources. To the isolationist M'Baku, this would be a fundamental rejection of Wakanda's traditions.
A Time Of Change For Wakanda
Ironically, M'Baku himself has introduced another dramatic change to Wakandan society. Under his leadership, the Jabari have returned to Wakandan society; in a scene towards the end of the movie, we see that M'Baku has even taken his traditionally vacant seat on the Wakandan Council. It's a break with the Jabari's traditional role in Wakanda, and also perfectly positions M'Baku to cause problems for T'Challa.
On the one hand, T'Challa is pushing for Wakanda to involve itself in the world's affairs as never before. On the other, the King now has M'Baku as a member of the Council - an adviser who will oppose everything T'Challa wishes to stand for. Black Panther has set up a new status quo in Wakanda, one where two powerful forces are pulling the fictional African nation apart at the seams; one represents a globalized future, and the other a traditional past. There's no way to easily resolve this tension.
Meanwhile, the film introduced a complex honor-bond between T'Challa and M'Baku. M'Baku is honorable enough to believe that T'Challa is the rightful king, the one who triumphed at Warrior Falls. That said, he also knows the King owes him an honor debt. Without the Jabari's help, T'Challa's forces would have been defeated by W'Kabi's Border Tribe. They would then have intervened in the duel between Killmonger and T'Challa, ensuring Killmonger remained ruler of Wakanda. For probably the first time in Wakanda's history, the King owes his throne to the Jabari. No doubt M'Baku, who clearly believes in a transactional code of honor, will call in that debt at some point.
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