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That time Shuri became the Black Panther

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2018

Let's face it, Shuri is pretty much the greatest. Introduced in 2005's Black Panther comic series as T’Challa’s younger sister, she became an immediate favorite for fans and served the further purpose of fleshing out the Wakandan royal family after years of focusing on Black Panther as a mostly solitary entity. She’s an inventor whose knowledge of vibranium makes her a specialist and a genius even amidst Marvel’s biggest brains. As portrayed by Letitia Wright, she stole every scene she was in during 2018's Black Panther and again in Avengers: Infinity War that same year.

Oh, and there’s the little fact that she not only became the one true Black Panther for a while, she also ever so slightly returned from death as a griot with the ability to transmorphize into birds and say awesome things constantly. Those stories might take a little bit of explanation, but in the words of Shuri herself by way of Ta-Nehisi Coates, “In the end, it is only the story that matters.” We could not agree more, and Shuri's story is one of the best.

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Shuri’s First Appearances

Shuri showed up in comics nearly 40 years after her brother had made his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966, but it was clear from the beginning that she was going to be a major fixture going forward. We discover that she had gone searching for her Uncle S’yan to challenge him for the mantle of Black Panther only to find T’Challa had already become the Black Panther. This caused a lot of turmoil within the family over time, with Shuri believing that her mother favored T’Challa. As time went on, and as Shuri proved herself, her feelings of confidence grew to outshine her initial insecurity about her place in Wakanda.

The team that brought Shuri to the comics is an interesting one, starting with John Romita Jr., the artist who conceptualized her look. Well-known for helping to define the general vibe of a significant portion of the Uncanny X-Men during the mid-‘80s and going on to enjoy iconic stints on classic Marvel books like Spider-Man and Daredevil, Romita Jr. has long been an industry favorite. Meanwhile, the writer that brought the idea of Shuri to the world was Reginald Hudlin. Hudlin has a resume that will blow your mind, consisting of everything from acting in small roles to writing scripts for many films including Bebe’s Kids and directing a variety of movies from House Party to Boomerang. Besides all that, he enjoyed a lengthy stint as the writer of Black Panther for what might be at present its most underrated run. He also just so happens to be one of the two people that first brought us the character of Shuri in 2005, and for that alone, the world owes him a debt of gratitude.

Apart from having a really interesting and excellent career in film that is well worth the time it takes to dive into, Hudlin brought a lot to comics with his work on Black Panther. Christopher Priest’s excellent run had restored the character to the forefront of Marvel after a period of relative inaction. The downside of a career-defining run, though, is that it doesn’t always give the follow-up creative teams a fair shake and they can end up living in its shadow for months or even years. No such thing happened here. When Hudlin took over the reins not long after the Priest era had drawn to a close, he immediately introduced new characters and took the Black Panther mythos in interesting new directions. Much of the family-based emotional pull of the Black Panther film was taken from Hudlin’s time on the series. For fans of the movie, the volumes that Hudlin wrote are must-reads.

Hudlin's era occurred during T’Challa’s marriage to Ororo Munroe, otherwise known as the X-Man Storm. Although the arc was dubious in origin, it was in Hudlin’s Black Panther that T’Challa and Ororo’s marriage received the most characterization. The epic doomed love between them was never more moving than it was here. Many long-term Storm fans had been disappointed in her departure from the X-Men to become a supporting character in Black Panther’s story. While those complaints are valid, Storm ultimately travels into Hell for T’Challa and attempts to trade her own soul for his to save him and return him to his people. In the end, their love could not survive the difference in their life paths, but it wasn’t because they didn’t give it their full effort, and never is that more apparent than in Hudlin's run.

It was Storm who granted Shuri her chance to become Black Panther. As the advisors urged Ororo to take up the mantle of Black Panther, she insisted that her place was with T’Challa and insisted Shuri go in her stead. Recognizing Shuri’s dedication and her desire to be the Black Panther, Ororo showed the diplomacy that had made her an excellent leader in the X-Men. Shuri thanked her, elated to finally get her chance while devastated by her brother’s fading health.

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Shuri snagged the heart-shaped herb from the place where it grew among dozens of sleeping panthers with minimal difficulty, then came face-to-face with the Panther God. Shuri nervously asserted herself and her claim to the role which caused the Panther God to dismiss her out of hand. Shuri left, completely dejected, but she wasn’t given much time to feel sorry for herself. At the time, T'Challa was in a coma struggling to return to life, and while Storm was making dubious deals to save him, Wakanda was under attack.

Not only was Doctor Doom trying to take leadership of Wakanda through long-game manipulation at the time, but the villain Morlun posed a much more immediate threat by outright tearing through Wakanda, killing many. Without powers and without options, Shuri donned the uniform of the Black Panther regardless and went into battle with Morlun. Even without the powers of the Panther God, she defeated him, showing a great deal more fortitude and strength than she believed she had. Afterward, when she bemoaned that she would never be the Black Panther, it was pointed out to her that she had already become what she had desired to be. By acting selflessly and against all odds for her people, she had earned her place in Wakandan legend.

Believing it was Namor who attacked her brother and led to his many injuries, Shuri went straight after him and confronted him on his own turf. Namor was annoyed and indignant about the accusation, and they sparred in a fight that might have gone to the death if not for the interruption of the Fantastic Four’s arrival. Though the confusion was cleared up and Shuri would come to understand that it was truly Doctor Doom who had hurt her brother, the fight between Shuri and Namor was pretty epic, and she remains one of the few characters that could last longer than a single round in the ring against the king of Atlantis. The Shuri / Namor feud would continue, as Shuri would later attack Atlantis against T’Challa’s wishes, and even officially banished T’Challa when she discovered he had remained an ally to Namor during the time of the conflict.

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Eventually, Shuri was killed in battle against the villainous group known as the Cabal, and she spent time in Djalia, a sort of memory palace for Wakanda. She studied with a griot spirit that took the form of her mother, and when T’Challa finally managed to summon her soul back to the earthly plane, she had gained the power to transform herself physically into a flock of birds at will.

What’s Next

In the current Shuri solo series by Nnedi Okorafor, Leonardo Romero, Jordie Bellaire, and Joe Sabino, Shuri is once again faced with the decision of whether or not to become Black Panther when her brother leaves seemingly on a short trip but fails to return. While Shuri has busied herself with her inventions, including a new set of cybernetic wings she built for her own amusement, her mother had been meeting with other women of Wakanda to figure out what to do in T’Challa’s absence. The obvious answer was to ask Shuri to don the cowl once more.

Shuri’s first appearances in the comics might have been a little more rough around the edges than in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but even in those early days, she was a fan favorite and she helped establish a greater context to the importance of family in T'Challa's life as well as in Wakandan society overall. As her personality has developed and taken on new facets, she’s just gotten better and better. When people put forward the idea that Shuri might someday take on the title of Black Panther in the MCU, there's plenty of evidence available to support a move that is far from unprecedented.

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