When Chadwick Boseman, the 43-year-old actor, born and raised in tiny Anderson, South Carolina, who graduated from Howard University before eventually becoming a box office megastar, died on August 28 of colon cancer, he left millions in mourning of his talent, resolve, and what he will always represent.
In the wake of Boseman's death, his most popular role — that of Black Panther in the Marvel movies — is now left empty, save for a towering legacy. The franchise will undoubtedly continue with Black Panther 2, which was scheduled to go into production in March 2021. His death reportedly left Disney executives shocked and scrambling to fill the role, as Boseman was "convinced until about a week before his death that he was going to beat cancer," reported The Hollywood Reporter, citing a source close to Boseman.
Fans of the canonical Black Panther story will have a suggestion for movie studio executives. What about Shuri, played by Letitia Wright? After all, the idea has roots in the original Black Panther comics.
But how exactly does Shuri become Black Panther? Here's how an African princess became a Marvel superhero in the pages of the comics, and how it just might play out on the big screen with Black Panther 2.
How Shuri became Black Panther
Princess Shuri, the sister of Boseman's T'Challa, was introduced in the early pages of writer Reginald Hudlin's Black Panther. Following a prolific run by Christopher Priest, film and TV producer and BET President Reginald Hudlin took over in 2005, penning Black Panther through crossover comics like Civil War and Secret Invasion. It was in Hudlin's Black Panther that T'Challa married Storm of the X-Men, making Storm the Queen of Wakanda.
Shuri was introduced in Black Panther #2, the only daughter and youngest child of King T'Chaka. Shuri desperately dreamed of inheriting the Black Panther mantle but was beaten to it by her brother, T'Challa.
Later, when Klaw invaded Wakanda with a group of mercs, Shuri uses the Black Knight's Ebony Blade to kill the villain, Radioactive Man. Shuri is traumatized by her first murder, so T'Challa promises to train her in case there's ever a time she needs to lead Wakanda.
That day came soon enough. In 2009's final stretch of Hudlin's run on Black Panther, Prince Namor, a recurring antagonist of T'Challa, attempts to recruit Black Panther into the Cabal, a group of supervillains led by Doctor Doom. When T'Challa refuses, Doctor Doom comes knocking, engaging in a fight that leaves T'Challa in a comatose state.
Storm assumes leadership of Wakanda, but refuses to become the Black Panther. She urges Shuri, "someone who's been training her whole life for this moment," to meet with Zuri and go through the Black Panther ritual. But the Panther God refuses to grant Shuri the Black Panther powers, on the basis of her jealousy of her brother's role as the Black Panther.
"The mantle of the Panther is not about entitlement," the Panther God tells a crestfallen Shuri. "It is about sacrifice, about putting the greater good ahead of the pursuit of glory. But you see it as a trophy to be won or lost."
Meanwhile, the villain Morlun comes to Wakanda to destroy the country. Shuri steals the Black Panther costume and uses it to selflessly defend Wakanda. Upon her victory, T'Challa emerges from his coma, and the Panther God formally grants Shuri the powers of Black Panther. For a time, Shuri becomes the ruler of Wakanda while T'Challa travels abroad. (During this working holiday, he becomes a Defender of Hell's Kitchen in New York as a favor to Daredevil.)
Shuri later dies during the events of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers story "Time Runs Out," staying behind to fight Proxima Midnight so T'Challa can escape. T'Challa re-assumes his mantle and title of Black Panther, and from the start of Ta-Nehisi Coates' run on Black Panther, works to revive his sister just as his sister revived him years earlier.
How Shuri's comics story could influence the movies
There are two differences to Reginald Hudlin's story and what's possible in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Hudlin's vision of Shuri is that of an ambitious princess hungry for strength and power. The MCU's Shuri is a technological genius who was essentially the Q to T'Challa's James Bond. While they share the same name and similar backgrounds, they have fundamentally different motivations.
- Several characters in Hudlin's tale haven't yet appeared in the MCU, due to previously existing ownership agreements across film studios. Characters like Storm, Doctor Doom, Namor, and Morlun haven't appeared yet in the MCU. And while they may debut in Black Panther 2, it doesn't seem likely that a new, rewritten Black Panther 2 with Shuri as the protagonist will involve Storm (a major X-Men hero), Doctor Doom (a Fantastic Four villain) or Morlun (a Spider-Man villain) in any prominent way.
With respect to those two differences, the MCU has never adapted a Marvel Comics story panel-for-panel. The 2016 Captain America: Civil War resembled little of the 2006 comics story Civil War. Nor did 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron take anything from the 2013 Age of Ultron comic — aside from the title. There is plenty of precedent for a Black Panther movie sequel to take influence from Hudlin's story while still reworking the elements to accommodate what is in place in the MCU.
There can be a Black Panther 2 in which an out-of-commission T'Challa allows his tech-genius sister Shuri to take up his Black Panther mantle. Because Killmonger burned all the herbs, Shuri could use her intellect to come up with an artificial substitute for the Black Panther powers. Don't forget how the MCU was born because Tony Stark had a box of scraps.
It's quite possible Shuri, in a Wakandan laboratory surrounded by vibranium, can concoct her own formula to become the new Black Panther.
Where can I read Shuri's Black Panther comics?
Shuri's journey to become Black Panther took place throughout Reginald Hudlin's run on Black Panther from 2005 to roughly 2009. While Shuri was introduced in Black Panther #2 by Hudlin, she doesn't actually take up the mantle until dozens of issues later and in a separate volume that served as Hudlin's exit on the series.
Luckily, Marvel has made it really easy to collect Shuri's whole journey:
- Black Panther by Reginald Hudlin Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3. Shuri's story begins in Reginald Hudlin's Black Panther. While Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 star T'Challa as Black Panther (and primarily explore his marriage to Storm), it's in Vol. 3 which collects the story arc "The Deadliest of the Species" that sees Shuri inherit the mantle.
- Black Panther: Power. Picking up where Reginald Hudlin left off, Jonathan Mayberry continues Shuri's newfound reign as Black Panther.
- Shuri: The Search for Black Panther. Inspired by Letita Wright's popular portrayal in the movie, Marvel published a new Shuri series in 2019 by Afrofuturist writer Nnedi Okorafor. Shuri, now with the characteristics of a technological genius, faces yet another instance of possibly leading Wakanda as her big brother is somewhere lost in space.