Written by: Kai Charles
The following is a 2-part series featuring the foes of the Marvel Comics superhero Black Panther. This editorial will focus on MCU villains Ulysses Klaw and Erik Killmonger.
Villains are often reflections of the Heroes they come into conflict with. For T’Challa his foes come from beyond the borders of Wakanda and within.
In Avengers: Age Of Ultron we learn that Klaue is an ammunitions dealer who also is in possession of a large amount of Vibranium.
Ultron purchases the Vibranium and then in a fit of anger, he rips off part of Klaue’s arm.
In the opening of the recent Black Panther trailer, we see Klaue discussing the treasures of Wakanda with Everett K. Ross, while T’Challa and Nakia observe the discussion. Later in the trailer we also see a group, led by the masked Killmonger, blowing up Klaue’s holding place.
It is not fully clear at this point if this is a rescue operation or an attack.
Comic Book History
Comic Debut: Fantastic Four #53, August 1966
The comic book version of Klaw debuted in the original run of the Fantastic Four #53. In this issue, the Fantastic Four are enjoying a brief rest in Wakanda, while T’Challa explains his rise to the title of Black Panther. It all began with a trespass on Wakandian soil by Klaw.
Klaw was an Ivory Hunter who was obsessed with Vibranium. Klaw wasn’t a typical hunter, he actually wanted Vibranium for his experiments, especially for his sound transformer design.
Klaw invades Wakanda with a small but vicious crew and confronts T’Challa’s father T’Chaka and demands he surrender the sacred mound of Vibranium. When T’Chaka refuses Klaw and his men kill T’Chaka and many other Wakandans. As Klaw continues his attack on the Wakandan villages T’Challa finds Klaw’s sound blaster and detonates it near the invaders. The device hits Klaw and shatters his right hand. Fearing that T’Chaka’s aim will improve Klaw and his men run off vowing revenge.
In this version of Black Panther’s origin, it’s hinted that the sound transformer became the foundation of Wakandan technology, as T’Challa knew his people must prepare themselves for Klaw’s eventual return.
Black Panther’s story is interrupted by the man of the story himself: Klaw.
As the soldiers attack Klaw with a force bolt he draws the energy into himself and throws it back at the FF and Black Panther.
When T’Challa corners Klaw alone he finds that Klaw has replaced his shattered hand with a Force Glove. As the two battle Klaw deploys a larger version of his sound transformer that creates solid sound constructs that attack the FF and T’Challa.
Panther overcomes the creatures and causes the machine to overload. A desperate Klaw throws himself into the machine to escape, vowing revenge as his cells are transformed into sound.
Klaw next appears in Fantastic Four #56. Though the Black Panther isn’t at the FF headquarters Klaw still attacks them since they are allies with T’Challa. In this issue, Klaw reveals that he is no longer human but a form of “sonic life”, that gives him a variety of powers. Klaw’s powers seem equal to the entire FF until Reed uses a piece of Vibranium to deflect his powers and knock him out.
In Fantastic Four # 119 The FF are contacted by T’Challa’s chief advisor Taku who is worried about Black Panther’s absence. T’Challa had traced two thieves of Wakandian technology to the country Rudyarda, which is run by white supremacists.
As Ben and Johnny look for T’Challa they are confronted with the countries segregation from the airport, to separate restrooms and entrances to businesses. After Johnny and Ben track down the thieves and free Panther, they discover that all of these events have been put into play by Klaw. With the combined might of Ben and Johnny, T’Challa who is calling himself Black Leopard, so the white supremacists don’t realize he is the Black Panther, stops Klaw and destroys his arm.
FF #119 is very interesting in the fact that it makes some effort to comment on racism. Despite his skills, T’Challa out of costume is pretty quickly profiled and thrown in jail. Two members of the Fantastic Four going to his rescue is less about the “white savior” trope but more about the trust Black Panther has in the FF, a bond his countrymen also respect as they reach out to the group for help.
Klaw has a variety of adventures after this encounter. His first return to Wakanda is to steal Vibranium after he discovers that the element is leaving his system. The Vibranium Klaw steals is part of a tainted strain that has put the economy of Wakanda into dire straits. When Klaw tries to take control of the sacred mound he engages in a battle with Captain America and his form is shattered.
Death doesn’t come easy to Klaw as he becomes restored and then teams up with White Wolf, a disgruntled adopted son of T’Chaka, who is relegated to the role of the second son when T’Challa is born. Klaw sinks a U.S. Navy vessel and frames BlackPanther for an attack on Lemuria that has long repercussions between Namor, T’Challa and Shuri during her reign as the Black Panther.
In the 2010 Klaws of The Panther Klaw has an intricate plan to wage war on Wakanda and the world. In this series, Klaw tangles with Shuri, Black Widow, and even Spider-Man. Klaw has a terrible weapon and the support of A.I.M., but he ultimately fails and Shuri shows mercy on him in the end.
Klaw’s actions in Wakanda also have far-reaching effects on the life of one other son of Wakanda: Killmonger.
N’Jadaka/ Erik Killmonger
Michael B. Jordan
Michael B. Jordan is playing the role of Erik Killmonger. From the few glimpses we have seen in the trailer; we see him under restraint and being lead into a room, possibly for trial.
We also see a character that could be Killmonger, placing the iconic mask over his face before blasting his way into the room Ulysses is being held.
If it is Killmonger entering the room there is a possibility that he is not there for a rescue, but for revenge.
Comic Book History
First Appearance: Jungle Action #6
Killmonger is a complex character that doesn’t just fall into the stereotypical “villain” role. Erik was raised in a village in Wakanda. He is an expert fighter. Yet Erik was then known as N’Jadaka, and his village was powerless against Ulysses Klaw’s weapons when he invaded their village.
Klaw forced Erik’s Father to guide his mercenaries in an attack on the city. In the aftermath of the battle, Erik’s father was dead and his family was exiled. Erik ended up in New York where he officially changed his name and began studying at MIT.
While earning his degree Erik continued to dream of his revenge. The first stages of his plans actually succeeded due to the Panther’s influence. Erik contacted Panther through the Wakanda embassy in New York and was allowed to return home. Once he was home Erik began a campaign to discredit T’Challa in the eyes of his village and other Wakandans. He claimed that Panther’s frequent absences left Wakanda vulnerable and that his association with the Avengers would lead to Panther being influenced by white culture. Erik teams up with Baron Macabre a Wakandan chieftain who is in possession of the Resurrection Alter. The coup fails and Erik is killed. But death has a very fragile claim on Erik. The Mandarin takes Erik’s body and uses his rings to amplify the Resurrection Altar and brings him back to life. Killmonger then makes a second attempt at a coup with his lover Madame Slay.
Killmonger appears to succeed in killing Panther only to discover that T’Challa used a Life Model Decoy as a distraction and once again Killmonger is defeated.
This time followers of Killmonger take his body away to the renamed named village of N’Jadaka. Erik has created a fierce fanaticism amongst his followers. They agree that Panther’s constant absences leave Wakanda open to increasing threats. After being brought back to life once again, Killmonger continues his quest to take over the nation. When T’Challa leaves Everett Ross as regent, Erik puts his intellect to use by trying to take over the country by economic means. This forces T’Challa to nationalize all foreign companies in Wakanda causing a run on the stock market.
When T’Challa returns to Wakanda the two finally engage in a ritual combat for leadership.
Killmonger wins and takes the mantle of Black Panther. However, during the ritual of Ascension the heart shape herb Killmonger is required to consume is poisonous to him and he nearly dies. T’Challa takes the mantle by default and chooses to let Killmonger live. Erik remains barely alive in a coma.
T’Challa has several encounters with Killmonger and fails to defeat him every time in single combat. Panther’s life would have been lost in these battles without assistance from his friends. When Killmonger inevitably awakes from his coma he is tangentially involved in the creation of the White Tiger when he gives police officer Kasper Cole a reduced version of the Panther’s heart-shaped herb, hoping to make Karl an ally.
Kurt used the powers to find a missing boy but didn’t join Killmonger.
Later Killmonger recovers from another defeat by taking control of the country Niganda, neighbor to Wakanda. Here Killmonger continues to plan his revenge and gear the nation up for war. Monica Rambeau visits the nation to try to stop Erik.
Monica’s opportunity arrives when Killmonger and Panther are engaged in a duel. Once again Erik has the advantage of T’Challa until Monica stops him by flying her energy form through Erik’s body, killing him once again.
It is fascinating that in combat Erik is consistently the strongest against T’Challa. Killmonger’s quest for vengeance, however, leads him to devalue the lives of his followers. He exposes his people to radiation in the hopes of making them stronger and he sees them as little more than cannon fodder in his war against Wakanda
It will be interesting to see what aspects of his character make it to the big screen.