With Black Panther currently the King of, not just Wakanda, but also the box office, there are plenty of people talking about Marvel’s latest on screen superhero T’Challa. T’Challa isn’t the only hero in Marvel Comics to don the Black Panther habit though.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe presented Black Panther as an inherited title, the Marvel comics do not. Instead, leaders and warriors in the 18 tribes in Wakanda can challenge the current Black Panther for the right to wear the habit and ingest the heart-shaped-herb. There is, of course, a catch.
In the normal Marvel continuity, noted as Earth-616, the heart-shaped-herb doesn’t agree with anyone not of royal blood and can make them ill.
That herb is necessary to achieve the enhanced senses and reflexes of the Black Panther. Also needed is the approval of the Panther god, Bast. Without it, a hero might not be granted access to the abilities of the Panther at all.
In other universes, though, the Black Panther, or variations of it, might have vastly different abilities that have nothing to do with the herb or the passed down title. That means there are quite a few characters who have been able to become the Black Panther over the years.
Other than the reigning King T’Challa, here are the 15 Characters You Didn’t Know Were Black Panther.
15 Erik Killmonger
Marvel Cinematic Universe fans who saw Black Panther in theaters know that Erik Killmonger wants the Wakandan throne. In the comics, he also challenged T’Challa for the mantle of Black Panther.
Erik’s family was exiled from Wakanda when he was a boy by King T’Chaka, and Erik nursed a grudge. As an adult, he set out to get T’Chaka’s son off the throne.
After several squabbles, he challenged the King to trial by combat and defeated him.
Once he became King, Erik attempted to also take the Black Panther’s place.
Wanting to be involved in the Avengers, he took the heart-shaped herb, though it made him sick, to enhance his abilities. Killmonger created a synthetic version of the herb to do the same job. He acted as the Black Panther for a time, but was unable to get people to trust him in the role.
14 Black Panther 1,000,000 BC
The earliest known version of the Black Panther might not be familiar to comic book readers if they didn’t pick up a few issues in late 2017. He made his debut in Marvel Legacy #1, out in November of that same year.
We don’t know his name, but we do know that over a million years ago, a man wearing panther skins worked with the Stone Age Avengers to save the world. The comic revealed that this group, on what would become the African continent, fought a Celestial that known as the Fallen.
The group was able to subdue the villain and seal it away underground in the area that became South Africa. Other than that, this Stone Age Avenger is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps another writer will create more of his adventures in the future.
As Shuri, Letitia Wright is one of the breakout stars of Black Panther. Her version of the character is much more light hearted than her comic book counterpart, who was always jealous of her big brother becoming Black Panther.
Shuri didn’t emerge on the comic book scene until decades after her brother. When she was introduced, it was to show her locked away, prevented from participating in the trials to find a new Black Panther. She wanted to challenge the current Panther for the right, but didn’t get the chance.
Shuri became Black Panther when T’Challa was gravely ill.
Initially, the Panther god Bast rejected her because of her selfish nature. Shuri took up the habit to protect her people anyway without the god’s protection. In the eyes of Bast, Shuri earned the title, and officially became the Black Panther and rightful Queen of Wakanda.
12 Ororo Munroe
No, the sometimes team leader of the X-Men didn’t suddenly become the Black Panther when you weren’t looking. At least, she didn’t in normal continuity.
In the normal comic book universe that readers are familiar with, Ororo Munroe did spend a lot of time in Wakanda since she was married to T’Challa at one point. She did not take on the Black Panther mantle, not even in his place when he was ill. Instead, she advocated for his sister to take it.
In a universe designated Earth-161 in the comics, Ororo Munroe did become a version of the Black Panther though. In this world, Ororo’s essence was separated into two entities. One was nearly pure energy and held together by a Black Panther suit. She took on the name Ghost Panther as a result.
When his brother died, S’Yan reluctantly took up the mantle of Black Panther as well as King of Wakanda. It wasn’t the job he wanted, and he didn’t, as far as readers know, use the Black Panther abilities for any heroics outside of Wakanda.
The Black Panther comics introduced S’Yan in the same issue that gave readers Shuri, and with good reason. He was the Black Panther that she wanted to challenge for the right to wear the habit.
S’Yan battled numerous Wakandans with ease until T’Challa challenged him (anonymously) and became the new Black Panther.
S’Yan was perfectly content to give up his title and step down as King. Instead of falling from grace, he remained in T’Challa’s inner circle as an advisor to help him lead the country. Tragically, he died in a battle against Doctor Doom, saving the Queen Mother Ramonda from being shot.
Azzuri was the Black Panther, and King of Wakanda, long before T'Challa -- during World War II.
Prior to T’Challa’s reign, Wakandans didn’t often go out into the world. The country protected its people and resources by being very isolationist. Comic book readers met Azzuri thanks to a visit to Wakanda from Captain America.
As is typical of new heroes meeting on the pages of a comic book, Black Panther and Captain America had a bit of a misunderstanding when they met, and they came to blows.
The two fought over several pages, but eventually realized neither was the enemy. They united with Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos to stop a Nazi invasion.
King Azzuri fought with a spear and shield similar to what movie audiences see T’Challa use during his trial by combat.
Though K’Shamba lives in a Wakanda far into the future, he is not a descendent of T’Challa or the rest of the royal family. Instead, he’s a council member who becomes a symbol for freedom.
In his time, Wakanda is ruled by a council instead of a king after the royal bloodline died out. There is no more Black Panther protecting the country from outside forces. Wakanda slowly fell into decay as council members became rich at the expense of the people, something K’Shamba hated and spoke out against.
When the newest version of Doctor Doom invaded Wakanda and took over, K’Shamba was the only council member to oppose him. He eventually joined a group of resistance fighters.
To inspire his people, K’Shamba wore the mask of a Black Panther.
There was a twist to this tale as K’Shamba was actually a follower of Doctor Doom, though his people never knew.
On an Earth where Ultron killed the majority of the Avengers, their children were raised by Tony Stark in a secret base in the middle of nowhere. One of those children was Azari, a Black Panther.
Azari is actually the son of T’Challa and X-Men member Storm. Versions of him have appeared in multiple universes, but not the usual comic book continuity. With Storm and T’Challa no longer married, it seems like we’re unlikely to see him there as well.
From a young age, Azari trained in combat and mastered many different styles, just like his father before him, and seemingly inherited the gifts bestowed on T’Challa by the heart-shaped-herb that makes Black Panthers so powerful.
He also inherited his mother’s gift for manipulating electricity (like lightning), though not the entirety of the weather.
In an odd turn of events, it’s not entirely clear whether T’Dogo is “real” or not within the pages of Marvel Comics. The character, who went by the moniker Panther Cub, was created in an artificial pocket universe.
Franklin Richards, the son of the Fantastic Four’s Reed and Sue, wanted so badly to save a group of heroes that he created his own universe.
The Avengers and Fantastic Four sacrificed themselves in order to stop the villain known as Onslaught. Just as they would all be killed, Franklin subconsciously reached out and created that pocket universe to preserve them.
Within the universe, the different heroes were “reborn,” but T’Dogo was an original creation, the Black Panther in a Wakanda that outlawed that particular name.
That’s why he went by Panther Cub instead.
6 Sky Panther
Sky Panther is a bit of a mystery. She only appeared in two comic books, but she certainly made an impression.
Sky Panther first appeared simply to illustrate someone else’s ability. Finesse was in training in Avengers Academy. For comic book readers unfamiliar with Finesse, she had the ability to figure out how to do something by seeing it done once.
Like the villain Taskmaster, she could mimic an enemy’s fighting style just by seeing them in action.
In Avengers Academy #12, thanks to help from her future self’s body, Finesse suddenly had the fighting styles of heroes that didn’t even exist yet. One of them was Sky Panther’s nerve strike.
The character was shown in action, and she appeared to be an homage to Storm, complete with white mohawk, but with her moniker, many quickly speculated she was the future child of Storm and Black Panther.
5 Kevin Cole
As a police officer who just wanted to make the world a better place, Kevin Cole commandeered a Black Panther suit while on the job, and it led to him eventually becoming a superhero.
One of T’Challa’s bulletproof Black Panther suits was held in a New York police precinct. Kevin took it out of his boss’ protection instead of wearing a vest, which ended up saving his life, though it got him into a bit of trouble.
After getting suspended from his job, Kevin decided to wear the suit and the mask, pretending to be Black Panther to get criminals off the street.
Eventually, Kevin made a deal with Erik Killmonger to get his hands on the synthetic version of the heart-shaped-herb to give himself heightened senses and abilities. Once he had that, he took on the name White Tiger and got his own suit.
There can’t be a list of Black Panthers without including T’Chaka. Though most movie audiences will recognize T’Chaka as the Black Panther right before T’Challa, that’s not how it happened in the comics.
Instead, T’Chaka took on the title of Black Panther following King Azzuri, but when his son was just a teenager, T’Chaka died.
Ulysses Klaue, a character MCU audiences will recognize thanks to appearances in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther, attacked Wakanda, killing the king in the process and leaving the country to S’Yan.
Readers haven’t had the chance to see much of T’Chaka in action since most of the comics center on T’Challa. According to T’Challa and the majority of his advisers in Wakanda, T’Challa was the favored king, though he did make political decisions that left T’Challa with many enemies, like Erik Killmonger.
3 Queen Veranke
In the second Marvel Comics Civil War, there was a surprising twist on the Black Panther story. The surprise was that, for a time, Black Panther wasn’t really Black Panther at all.
During the events of Civil War in an alternate reality, Black Panther was seemingly killed in action while activating a secret prison’s self destruct sequence. His son, the alternate universe’s version of Azari, took up his mantle after the fact.
In this particular reality, the Civil War didn’t end like it did in the Marvel-616 continuity. Part of the reason it kept going was because the person acting as Black Panther wanted it to.
The shape shifting Skrull Queen Veranke manipulated the events of the war to make sure it continued.
She really wanted to rule the world, but without the resources, she bided her time and tried to claw her way to power.
2 Captain America
In the Ultimate Universe, a man named T’Challa is still the Black Panther, but a few changes to his past made his story very different. One of those differences resulted in Captain America taking over the role for a bit.
This universe sees T’Challa as a subject of the Weapon X program -- yes, the same program that gave readers Wolverine in the main universe. T’Challa was actually placed in the program following a horrible injury, and years later, it’s Captain America who trains him to become a hero.
Captain America recommended T’Challa for membership with the Ultimates, and the recommendation was taken to heart. Of course, it was really just a way for Captain America to switch places with his protege, wearing the Black Panther mask and costume so that T’Challa could secretly return to Wakanda.
As a young woman from Nigeria in an alternate universe, Ngozi was a track star until she lost the use of her legs in a bus accident. Also an avid insect collector, she came across the Venom symbiote while out attempting to catch a grasshopper.
Because her country was in danger from the villain called the Rhino, Ngozi convinced the symbiote to bond with her to help her stop him. Bonding with the symbiote also allowed her the ability to use her legs again.
After defeating Rhino, she became a member of the Dora Milaje, who trained her in combat, and accepted her as T’Challa’s successor to the Black Panther title.
Ngozi returns to Marvel Comics very soon. Readers can catch a one shot featuring the character in Black Panther #6, out on February 28.
Were you familiar with all of these versions of Black Panther? Or did we surprise you with one? Let us know which character you think did T’Challa proud in the comments!