Find out the origins of your new favorite characters.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not only a poignant dedication to the late Chadwick Boseman but a stunning celebration of African and Mesoamerican culture, and each new character reflects this. Like with any new MCU entry, characters are lifted from the extensive comic source material and are made to enrich the overall narrative.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is no different. This selection of new characters helps to develop fans’ understanding of Wakanda and its place in the world while championing the cultural diversity for which the MCU’s Phase 4 has come to be known. So, who are they, and what did they get up to before making their big screen debut?
In the film, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) is first referred to as “the scientist.” She is the one who invents the machine being used to detect vibranium, and it’s not just the Wakandans who are unhappy about it. In an attempt to save her from a murderous fish-man, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) retrieve Riri from her MIT dorm room, but it does not go as planned.
In the comics, Riri is none other than Ironheart. If the name sounds familiar to non-comic fans, it’s because the TV series Ironheartis set to debut on Disney+ in Fall 2023. Comic book Riri is a certified super genius who gets hold of an old model of Iron Man’s armor and reverse engineers the tech to create her own suit, which fans get to see in the film. Riri carries on Tony Stark’s legacy when he falls into a coma following a battle with Captain Marvel and eventually joins The Champions alongside Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel). At one point, Riri makes her way to Wakanda to help Shuri and her team develop their space program.
Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is the film’s big bad who is out for blood when his underwater kingdom of Talokan comes under threat. The aquatic king was born of a human mother, resulting in his olive skin being different from that of his blue-skinned brethren. Namor is considered a mutant because of his pointed ears and winged ankles. He is hell-bent on protecting Talokan from the surface world, whom he deems evil and greedy, including the Wakandans should they oppose him.
In the comics, Namor is known by the moniker Sub-Mariner, who is the king of Atlantis rather than Talokan. He is one of the oldest characters in Marvel comic history, often considered the first mutant. Namor teams up with Professor Charles Xavier to search for other mutants and even fights alongside Magneto at one point. He falls in love with the Invisible Woman, Sue Storm, and engages in a bitter rivalry with Hercules. Like in the film, Namor has a rocky relationship with the Wakandans, especially Queen Shuri, who mistrusts him.
Although Talokan is a place rather than a new character, it still plays a pivotal role in the film. Home to a sub-aquatic race of blue-skinned humanoids, it is the only other known place on the planet besides Wakanda that is rich in vibranium. Talokan is ruled by King Namor, who is committed to protecting the underwater paradise from the surface world.
Talokan takes the place of Atlantis in the comics and is based on ancient Aztec lore. Tlalocan is said to be an Aztec paradise ruled over by the Tlaloc, the god of rain and water. It is the uppermost layer of the nine Underworld layers. In Aztec mythology, how a person dies determines which layer they will spend their afterlife in. Those killed by manifestations of water–drowning, lightning, flooding, water-borne disease–will find themselves in Tlalocan.
In the film, Namora (Mabel Cadena) is one of Namor’s cronies from Talokan. While her appearances are brief, fans might see her again in future projects as she is based on a comic book character of the same name.
Comic book Namora, who also goes by the name Aquaria Neptunia, is Namor’s cousin. She was born of an Atlantean man and a human woman. Namor and Namora reluctantly play together as kids until she saves her cousin from a deadly torpedo tube. After that, she gains the respect of Namor, and the two become close, going on many an adventure together. Namora even has a fling with Hercules, much to Namor’s chagrin.
In the film, Attuma (Alex Livinalli) is Namor’s, right-hand man. He is a great warrior who has an epic showdown with General Okoye of the Dora Milaje. She calls him “warrior, " referring to his comic book origins.
In the comics, Attuma and Namor are sworn enemies. Attuma is part of the Skarka Tribe who were exiled from Atlantis before he was born. Attuma’s birth was prophesized by the tribe–a great warrior would be born to conquer Atlantis. Attuma stays true to the prophecy, dedicating his life to overthrowing Atlantis and King Namor, and even succeeds at one point, taking the throne for a short time. After Atlantis is weakened by their war with Wakanda, Attuma and Namor put aside their differences and join forces to restore Atlantis to its former glory.
In the film, Shuri is working on a prototype of a new suit for the Dora Milaje, designed to enhance their abilities and give them greater defense capabilities. Okoye is not a fan of said suit, deeming it ugly and non-traditional. She screws her nose up at Shuri’s working name for the project, the Midnight Angel. When Wakanda comes under attack, Okoye has no choice but to don the suit alongside Ayo (Florence Kasumba), Aneka (Michaela Coel), and Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), giving them the extra advantage over Namor’s forces.
In the comics, the Midnight Angels are an elite Wakandan strike force made up of the best Dora Milaje. Ayo and Aneka are the first Midnight Angels, becoming vigilantes who take out corrupt chieftains who enslave and defile women. They even team up with Deadpool at one point to assassinate Doctor Doom for stealing Wakanda’s vibranium.
While the Black Panther isn’t new to MCU fans by any means, it is the first time Princess Shuri takes hold of the helm. Shuri replicates the heart-shaped herb after Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) destroys it all and ingests it to become the Black Panther. At first, her vengeance and ego get the better of her, resulting in mass casualties during the final battle with Talokan. But her noble decision to spare Namor and form an alliance allows her to fully embody the spirit of the Black Panther.
In the comic books, Shuri gets her time as the Black Panther after T’Challa is almost killed by Doctor Doom and falls into a coma. She ingests the heart-shaped herb and meets with the panther god Bast, but it does not go well. Bast rejects Shuri because of her arrogance and ego, which encourages Shuri to prove herself by defending Wakanda against the vampiric supervillain Morlun. When T’Challa eventually wakes, he decides to leave the helm to his sister for a while, who proves herself as an exceptional Black Panther.
KEEP READING: 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever's Producer Explains Storm's Absence in Wakanda
Daniella Di Carlo is a TV & Movie List Writer for Collider. She is a compulsive reader, a mythology buff, and a self-proclaimed professional fangirl.