WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Marvel’s Black Panther, in theaters now.
Marvel’s Black Panther gains his enhanced physical abilities not from a scientific experiment gone wrong or from an accident of birth, but rather from a mystical Heart-Shaped Herb that grows only in Wakanda. Of course, your first question is likely to be, what makes this herb so special that it can grant its users special powers? The answer is provided in the opening sequence of director Ryan Coogler’s film, which recounts the history of Wakanda, and the Vibranium meteorite that crashed there. This indestructible rock bonds with the country’s landscape, and begins to transform the properties of the Heart-Shaped Herb to the point that consuming it grants a person augmented strength, speed, endurance and senses.
The lineage of the Black Panther consists of each king using the herb to protect Wakanda’s borders from any danger that might threaten his people. With the murder of T’Chaka in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the title of king and Black Panther now rests with his son T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. But before T’Challa can be named king, he must first battle any challengers to the throne in combat. The only person to step up is M’Baku (Winston Duke) of the mountain Ape Tribe, but T’Challa emerges victorious. He’s then given the Heart-Shaped Herb by his loyal aide Zuri (Forest Whitaker) during a ritual that takes place in the herb’s garden.
The world of Wakanda, however, was shaken to its core with the arrival of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). T’Chaka’s nephew and T’Challa’s first cousin, Killmonger stormed the nation’s borders with the corpse of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), enemy number one to Wakanda for stealing Vibranium decades ago. Being a blood relative, Killmonger demands to fight T’Challa for leadership. He ultimately wins, and cements his victory by tossing T’Challa off a cliff, where it appears he falls to his death.
Now in control of Wakanda, one of Killmonger’s first orders is to burn the garden of the Heart-Shaped Herb. The ramifications of this act are huge: It essentially means any future Black Panthers will be powerless, as there won’t be an herb to imbue them with special abilities. Luckily, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is able to steal one Heart-Shaped Herb, which is later used to heal T’Challa, left in a coma following his fight with Killmonger. But the garden is still destroyed, greatly impacting the legacy of the Black Panther.
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