In the overdue sweepstakes, Wonder Woman still carries an edge over Black Panther. Created in 1941, the star-spangled Amazonian didn't get her own headlining big-budget film until 2017, a gap of 76 years, while the first African superhero waited from 1966 until this weekend.
Today's "Black Panther" movie opens to overpowering expectations, becoming the first superhero of color to star in his own movie. Fandango noted "Black Panther" became its fastest first-day-selling ticket of all times. Early reviews have almost been unanimously raves: "Black Panther" currently holds a 98 percent positive rating on aggregator RottenTomatoes.com.
"This has got the ability to be the next really great Marvel movie," said Andy Holmes, co-owner of Sho'Nuff Comics, which is holding a "Black Panther" movie-related event 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, with Alabama comic artists Geoffrey Gwin and Rick Johnson in-house, and specials throughout the store, at 618 15th St., in Parkview Plaza.
It's not just driving slam-bang previews that spark anticipation: The cultural weight can't be overlooked.
"I’ve heard interviewers put this up there with the election of Obama as a significant moment in black history. I’m excited for Black Panther," Holmes said. "I love the character, I’ve loved the character forever, but I just worry sometimes that there might be too much pressure being put on this movie."
"Black Panther had always been an important fixture in the Marvel Universe for the simple fact that he’s always had the moral high ground of the Marvel Universe," said the store's co-owner Jon Chandler. "Going forward, I can see where he could become as important as Captain America in the movies."
For those catching up on 52 years of Black Panther history, some background:
• Also like Princess Diana of Themyscira, T'Challa is born into a royal family on his also mostly hidden from the outside world home, Wakanda. After the death of his father, as shown in "Captain America: Civil War," T'Challa becomes king of the African nation, and as such its chosen protector.
• Black Panther debuted in Marvel comics in July of '66, months before the activist Black Panther Party was founded. For fear of confusing the two, the character was temporarily renamed Black Leopard. No one liked that, so the name swiftly switched back.
• T'Challa earns super speed, strength, agility and near invulnerability, when combined with his vibranium-weave suit, from ingesting a mystical herb found in Wakanda. Director Ryan Coogler confirmed that part of the film's origin story: "People who read the comics would be familiar with the Heart-Shaped Herb and the ceremonies that surround that," Coogler said in an Entertainment Weekly story last summer. "That’s partially spiritual. We certainly don’t call it magic, but there’s vibranium that has been interwoven within that soil and that land for thousands of years, so there are other things going on with it.”
• Black Panther is an earned title; a piece of the heart-shaped herb comes as part of the ritual of assuming power.
• Vibranium is another Marvel wonder-metal, somewhat like adamantium, the substance bonded to Logan's bones to make the Wolverine even more devastating. Vibranium was earlier known as the substance composing Captain America's bulletproof shield, though it was actually introduced in a Daredevil comic. Wakanda seems to have an excess of the rare mineral, deposited on Earth by a meteorite 10,000 years ago.
• Multi-faceted actor Chadwick Boseman reprises Black Panther from "Civil War." In recent years, he's played characters ranging from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to Jackie Robinson to James Brown to the Egyptian god Thoth. Also a playwright and director, he's from Anderson, South Carolina, but has studied at Oxford, England, and Howard University in Washington, D.C. Boseman first broke through as an actor on television, including soap opera, crime dramas and other series, working as a regular on "Lincoln Heights" and "Persons Unknown."
• Director and co-writer Coogler created 2013's highly-praised, multi-award-winning "Fruitvale Station," and the 2015 Rocky sequel that restored life to the franchise, "Creed." For the plot of "Black Panther," he's credited films as diverse as "Blade Runner," the "Godfather" series and the 007 series.
• Coogler cast his frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan, who played the title role in "Creed," as villain Erik Killmonger in "Black Panther." The all-star supporting cast also includes Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis and Angela Bassett. Serkis returns, from "Avengers: Age of Ultron," as Ulysses Klaue, a mercenary arms dealer. Though the plot's been kept under warps, it apparently involves Klaue and Killmonger teaming to rob Wakanda of vibranium stores.
• Filmmakers have credited Marvel's godfathers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for inspiration, but also more current writers such as Christopher Priest, the first African-American editor in mainstream comics; Avengers comic writer Jonathan Hickman; filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, who has written Black Panther comics from 2005 onward; and acclaimed journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who began writing for the character in 2016. “We had a bigger surge with sales, in regards to Black Panther, when Ta-Nehisi Coates was announced as the new writer because he’s such a popular figure in black culture and such a well-known writer," Holmes said. From what Chandler's seen, the more recent stories and writers drive the film. “Those more than anything shaped what Black Panther kinda is in the movies. Those shaped what Wakanda is in the movies and who Black Panther really was. He became a major player once those series came about," Chandler said.
• Boseman is also slated to appear as Black Panther again later this year, in summer's "Avengers: Infinity War." Though the group was shattered by the events of "Civil War" -- Black Panther fought on Captain America's side -- the Avengers are brought back together, and joined by other Marvel heroes including the Guardians of the Galaxy, to face a dire threat to the entire world. Part 1 of "Infinity War" comes out May 4, with Part 2 due out a year later.