Black Panther will introduce viewers to the fictional African country of Wakanda. But while this may be a new experience on the big screen, Marvel has been hinting at the existence of Wakanda since 2010's Iron Man 2; that film featured a background Easter Egg revealing Wakanda's presence in the world - and, crucially, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s interest in the nation.
Since 2010, Marvel has quietly and carefully built up the presence of Wakanda in the MCU, with references to both the country and its precious metal, vibranium, both on the big and the small screen. Now, almost a decade's worth of hints are about to be finally paid off.
This Page: How Iron Man 2 Set Up Black Panther
The S.H.I.E.L.D. Activity Map
Near the end of Iron Man 2, Nick Fury meets with Tony Stark to reveal that Black Widow has been assessing him for participation in the Avengers Initiative. Unfortunately for Stark, right now Fury considers him to be a wash-out. For all Stark may be a genius, his personality is ill-suited to being a superhero.
During the scene, the camera pans around the two characters, showing a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. holoscreens. These display areas of interest for the organization: Tony Stark on the West Coast; the hammer fall from Thor in Nevada; the Hulk's battle with General Ross in Virginia; and the retrieval of Captain America's body in Greenland. Another screen actually shows footage from The Incredible Hulk's Culver University fight; it's important to remember that, although the films released in different years, so far as the Marvel timeline is concerned these all happened at the same time.
There are three other locations marked on the maps. One, which appears to be in Norway, is currently unexplained (most likely linked to the Tesseract's original Earth location from The First Avenger). Another is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge; it seems to be a nod to Atlantis, although it's unlikely to be developed until Marvel reacquires the rights to Namor. The third, however, is in East Africa. That is the secretive, isolationist African nation of Wakanda. It seems that seven or eight years before the events of Captain America: Civil War, S.H.I.E.L.D. was already monitoring this country.
Their attention may have been drawn by events in the Black Panther Prelude comic. Set around the time of Iron Man, this prelude comic showed T'Challa's first adventures as the Black Panther. He was involved in a skirmish on the Wakandan border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was seen by a single U.N. peacekeeper. Shortly after, T'Challa headed to Paraguay to rescue Wakandan citizens from a hostage situation, where he was again glimpsed by local police. It could have been enough to cause S.H.I.E.L.D. to begin monitoring Wakanda, perhaps even as part of Fury's "Avengers Initiative."
Marvel Planned Black Panther 8 Years Ahead
Of course, this is just another example of Marvel's ambiguous, forward-thinking attitude. They launched the MCU with the revelation that Iron Man was "part of a bigger universe," and as a result have been able to carefully thread in subtle Easter Eggs to develop that. The S.H.I.E.L.D. map is akin to another set of Easter Eggs in Thor: Ragnarok; there, the Grandmaster's tower showed the faces of previous champions, and established the MCU existence of a number of Marvel characters.
And the reality is that Marvel always knew they were setting up a Black Panther film. Back in 2005, when the newly-established Marvel Studios discussed its proposed first slate, Avi Arad named Black Panther as one of the possible movies. It wasn't until 2011 that Marvel hired Mark Bailey to begin work on a script, though, and they finally announced the movie as part of Phase 3 in 2014.
This is how Marvel loves to work. They carefully plant subtle Easter Eggs, gifts for the fans to get excited about. Then, years later, these Easter Eggs turn out to be deliberate foreshadowing. It's part of what makes the MCU such a delight for fans to rewatch, as the universe continues to grow with every film.
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