Captain America: Civil War is finally here, and while most of the combatants in the highly anticipated showdown are well-established in the Marvel movies, there is one new addition clawing his way to the forefront.
Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, is one of the few major players in Civil War without his own standalone film yet (a Black Panther film won’t hit theaters until 2018). And while the superhero has been around for decades, his origin story and abilities remain largely unknown to casual fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
As Black Panther becomes a household name with his onscreen debut – and a new comic book series by Ta-Nahesi Coates on its way – here are five things to know about Marvel’s mysterious new addition:
1. He’s the first African-American superhero.
While Anthony Mackie’s Falcon was the first African-American superhero to appear in the MCU, the Black Panther was the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comics.
The character, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, debuted in a 1966 issue of the Fantastic Four. The character predates the militant political party of the same name by several months (the comic debuted in July and the party was created in October), but he was briefly renamed Black Leopard to avoid confusion.
Speaking about the importance of having the iconic and historically significant character portrayed correctly, director Joe Russo told PEOPLE, “We put so much pressure on ourselves. I think more pressure for that character alone than we did anything in the movie just because as a comic book fan I thought it was so important to get the interpretation of that character right.”
2. He’s a prince.
Black Panther isn’t just a cool alter-ego, it’s actually a royal title passed down through generations of kings from the fictional African nation of Wakanda.
The current Black Panther’s real name is T’Challa, the reigning prince of Wakanda. The mysterious African nation he rules over is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, thanks in part to its huge natural supply of vibranium – the same indestructible metal that makes up Captain America’s shield.
But unlike a certain Norse god, T’Challa isn’t letting his royal ancestry get to his head. “The spoiled brat thing is never an option,” Boseman told Entertainment Weekly. “He’s not in any way unaware of how important his role and his position is. I think he’s very much aware of the responsibility.”
In order to develop his African prince character, Boseman actually created his own accent for the part. “He developed a very interesting accent that was based upon influences around where the fictional country exists in Africa and he basically stayed in that accent throughout the entire shoot so that he wouldn’t lose it,” Russo explained. “Even when he was off camera he would speak in that accent.”
3. Kitty’s got claws.
Okay so he’s an African prince, but what are his powers?
In the comics, his speed, strength and agility are enhanced by a magical heart-shaped herb all Black Panthers eat before becoming King of Wakanda. While it’s unclear whether the herb will be a factor in the MCU, Black Panther has picked up some fighting techniques from his jungle training.
“There are some animal forms, but not just cat. He could be a snake, or various different styles. Obviously there’s an opportunity to do some capoeira,” the Brazilian martial art that combines fighting with dance, Boseman previously told EW.
“The key with T’Challa is to keep everybody on their toes. It’s to do the thing that is surprising, that you wouldn’t expect,” the actor added. “I wouldn’t say he’s a ninja, but he does employ some of those aspects as well.”
And Russo revealed that Boseman has some experience with combat. “He has a martial arts history that he himself was able to use and incorporate into how the character moved,” the director explained.
His best weapon, however, could be his retractable vibranium claws, which will undoubtedly get put to the test against Captain America’s vibranium shield.
4. He’s staying neutral.
As our heroes chose between Team Captain America and Team Iron Man, executive producer Nate Moore told EW T’Challa is “the undecided voter”:
“He’s someone who hasn’t necessarily made up his mind about either side and whose agenda isn’t exactly what Cap’s agenda or what Tony’s agenda is. And I think that brings him into conflict weirdly with both characters at different times in the film,” Moore said.
“He is the prince of an African nation that has so far stayed very much sort of in the shadows. And eventually the film will draw him and his father out of the shadows,” he added.
But Boseman told the magazine no one can stay neutral forever. “Ultimately some sides are taken, but I think the trick of the movie is for no one to be blindly following,” he explained. “Everybody is actually on their own side, in truth.”
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5. He’s got the best suit.
Besides Iron Man, Black Panther has the most technologically advanced super suit.
“Panther is a cool character and he has a toughness, and a sort of intimidation factor with his costume,” Civil War co-director Anthony Russo told EW. That’s because T’Challa’s costume is made from vibranium, the strongest metal in the MCU. “It’s like medieval chain mail, woven extremely thin,” Russo adds. “It’s not comparable to any other costumes in the universe.”
Boseman added that, “It’s not just about being durable, it has the ability to absorb energy. It’s not just like you hit it and it doesn’t take it. It has the ability to absorb the attack of another person and repel or respond to that attack. That’s part of the power.”
But for the actor, donning the suit in real-life was a little less than super. “As far as the actual suit is concerned, I would say there’s a lot of comfort in the shoes, or the boots,” Boseman joked. “That’s probably the only part I did enjoy! After you get them on you’re like, ‘Okay, that feels good.’ But other than that, I remember feeling extremely hot and claustrophobic, like, ‘How in the world am I gonna move and act and respond in this?’ But the shoes feel good. Everything else you get used to.”
Captain America: Civil War is in theaters now.
•Reporting by CHANCELLOR AGARD