Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is taking the box office by storm and receiving praise from critics and fans alike, but surprisingly – especially for a Marvel Studios movie – the villain is getting even more attention than the hero. Michael B. Jordan (who also starred in Coogler’s two previous movies: Fruitvale Station and Creed) plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, a soldier-turned-mercenary with a grudge against Wakanda’s royal family, and a plan to use Wakanda’s Vibranium resources to conquer the world. While that might sound like a typical bad guy set-up, the movie reveals that Killmonger has some pretty sound motivations for the terrible things that he does.
Killmonger was first introduced in the pages of Marvel Comics – specifically, in Don McGregor and Rich Buckler’s Jungle Action #6 – back in 1973, and since then he has repeatedly popped up in Black Panther’s adventures over the years. He’s died a few times, but usually manages to bounce back and, along with Ulysses Klaw (played by Andy Serkis in the movie), is one of Black Panther’s greatest and longest-running nemeses.
Here’s a rundown of Erik Killmonger’s origins in Marvel Comics, and how they compare to the version we see in Black Panther.
Killmonger’s Early Life
In Black Panther: Erik Stevens is born in Oakland, California to an American mother. His father, N’Jobu, raises him with stories about Wakanda and gives him a War Dog tattoo on the inside of his bottom lip, to mark him as a Wakandan. N’Jobu himself is a War Dog – a Wakandan spy – who was sent out into the world to gather information and carry out missions. However, after seeing the hardship and oppression of the black community in Oakland, he eventually allied himself with Ulysses Klaue and gave Klaue the information he needed to steal a quarter-ton of Vibranium right from the heart of Wakanda. N’Jobu intended to use some of the Vibranium to build weapons and lead an African-American revolution, but this plan is foiled by his friend James – actually another War Dog, called Zuri – who reports back to King T’Chaka.
T’Chaka wants to bring N’Jobu back to Wakanda to stand trial, but N’Jobu is so enraged that he pulls his gun on Zuri, and T’Chaka reacts by killing him with his Black Panther claws. T’Chaka and N’Jobu leave the now-orphaned Erik (it’s never explained what happened to his mother, but she doesn’t seem to be in the picture) behind and cover up the truth of N’Jobu’s betrayal. Young Erik finds his father’s body, and the anger and sorrow start him down a path to becoming a ruthless killer.
In the comics: N’Jadaka is born in Wakanda, and is not related to T’Challa at all. Nor does his father voluntarily choose to help Klaw; instead, he is forced to work for Klaw after the Vibranium-hungry arms dealer attacks Wakanda with his mercenaries. Klaw takes young N’Jadaka as a slave and forces him to mine Vibranium, and when T’Challa finally manages to force Klaw out of Wakanda, Klaw takes N’Jadaka with him. The boy who would eventually become Killmonger escaped Klaw’s clutches once he reached American soil, but was orphaned and had no way to get home. Because of this, he became “embittered and displaced.”
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