For the most part, Marvel’s Black Panther not only exhibits proper African representation but is also comic accurate, with one notable exception – T’Challa’s age. In the film, T’Challa is much older than his comic book counterpart. While that may seem like an extraneous detail, it actually matters in the grand scheme of things, especially within the continuously expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Moreover, T’Challa’s age makes sense considering the age of his future Avengers teammates, particularly Iron Man and Captain America. But the question is, how much older is T’Challa in the films and what impact will that have on his MCU story arc?
Movie T’Challa Is Much Older Than Comic T’Challa
Certain things about the live-action version of T’Challa differ from the source material. While most of those changes work well within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the most notable differences is T’Challa’s age and where he is in life at this point in time. T’Challa’s age varies depending on which comic book run people are reading, but he’s always been depicted as being younger, in his 20s, at the outset of his career as Black Panther, and depicted as being in his early 30s when shown as an experienced fighter and king.
Just like in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa assumes his rightful place as the King of Wakanda after his father, T’Chaka, dies – but the process is sped up in the film. Whereas Helmut Zemo is responsible for T’Chaka’s death at the United Nations in the MCU, Klaw is actually the person who kills the Wakandan king during the Bilderberg Conference in the comics, after T’Chaka rejects a proposal from Western governments to use Wakanda’s goods and materials (e.g. Vibranium).
Once Klaw killed T’Chaka, T’Challa sprung into action and shot the supervillain with the hitman’s own gun, forcing him to retreat. But that’s not when T’Challa became the King of Wakanda. T’Challa was only a young boy when his father died. It wasn’t until after he grew up, received a college education, and completed all the tasks required, including defeating the current Panther (his uncle, S’Yan), that T’Challa became the Black Panther and King of Wakanda. He was in his mid-20s at the time, at least according to the most recent origin from the Reginald Hudlin run. (Comic book characters’ origin stories can differ greatly depending on who’s writing them at the time.)
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, T’Challa is much older when his father dies, and he assumes the mantle of Black Panther right away (in Civil War). It isn’t until later (in Black Panther) that he’s challenged by his fellow clansmen. Of course, he retains his title as Panther and king by winning the duel, but what’s important is that his life was already established in Wakanda long before he became the Panther. He accompanied his father to the United Nations in Civil War but returned to the United Nations as king in Black Panther, expressing willingness to open his nation’s borders and share their knowledge and technological advancements with the world. That’s important because it shows him as a capable leader… already.
What An Older Black Panther Means For The MCU
An older T’Challa/Black Panther may not be entirely comic accurate, but it can mean a great deal for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward, especially as the shared universe’s first saga draws to a close with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. Now that the MCU’s first 10 years are up, a number of core superheroes will either retire (or be killed off) following the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ ultimate showdown with the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin).
With Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America potentially retiring from the shared universe in the near future, Boseman’s T’Challa can step up to the plate. T’Challa would be the perfect replacement for Iron Man, whereas Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel would be an ideal replacement for Captain America. Aside from each character’s natural similarities to their proposed predecessors, T’Challa is a natural born leader (he is the King of Wakanda, after all). What’s more, he’s actually led a team of Avengers in the comics.
But even more interesting than that is, he also captained the All New, All Different Avengers in the recent Avengers Assemble animated series – and it gets even better when looking at who’s on the team. The recent Avengers team consisted of him, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, Wasp, Vision, and Ms. Marvel – five of which already exist in the MCU and are on their way to becoming full-fledged Avengers down the line. That team (with some extra additions, of course) can easily succeed the current team’s lineup following Avengers 4 and leading into MCU’s Phase 4 and beyond. It would be a natural transition, and T’Challa’s experience as a ruler and trained warrior makes him the perfect candidate to lead the new initiative. After all, audiences can already see T’Challa command his nation’s army as well as the respect of Captain America in the first trailer for Avengers 3.
Aside from leading the new Avengers team, though, T’Challa being older allows for more intriguing stories down the line, especially now that his rule may be challenged from outsiders after exposing Wakanda’s true history and existence to the world. Also, since T’Challa presumably spent many years as a prince, he most likely won’t lash out irrationally and will, instead, maintain a level head. He’s already proven to be wise in Black Panther, and considering his decision to oppose his father’s wishes and open Wakanda’s borders to the world further affirms that notion.
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