WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel's Black Panther, in theaters now.
Some Marvel heroes received their extraordinary abilities after being bitten by a radioactive spider, while others were injected with a Super-Soldier serum. Black Panther has a high-tech Vibranium-laced suit that can deflect bullets, but that's not the source of his enhanced strength and agility. He owes that to Wakanda's Heart-Shaped Herb.
Like his predecessors, King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) consumes the plant to gain his enhanced physical abilities, which, as we saw in Captain America: Civil War, allows him to go toe to toe with the likes of Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier. Generations of Wakandan kings, and Black Panthers, have used the Heart-Shaped Herb to help them keep up with the physical demands of being a ruler, and a superhero.
So, what is the Heart-Shaped Herb, and how does it work? Well, you should know by now that Wakanda is the home of Vibranium, a fictional metal that was used to create Captain America's shield, Black Panther's suit, The Vision's body, and so on. It's a rare commodity, and it has more uses than saving a superhero's skin. In both
In both the comics and movie, Vibranium arrived in Wakanda as an enormous meteorite. It mutated the nearby soil, in particular affecting the plant that's now known as the Heart-Shaped Herb, and the rest is history. Wakandans believe the plant is a gift from the Panther God, and in a sense it is: It imbues their rulers with the abilities they required to fulfill their duties. When a budding warrior is ready to become the Black Panther, a ceremony is held in which juices from the herb are ingested.
The Heart-Shaped Herb features prominently throughout Marvel's Black Panther. The death of T'Chaka, the previous king of Wakanda, means that his son T'Challa ascends the throne. However, he first must ceremonially fight his way past any rivals to the Wakandan crown. To make it a fair fight, he has to be stripped of the enhanced powers the herb has granted him, and whoever emerges victorious after combat may reap its benefits.
Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger decides to burn all of the Heart-Shaped Herb in Wakanda. That, of course, has potentially devastating implications for the future of the Black Panther. If -- and this is a big if -- there is no more Heart-Shaped Herb, then there's no way no one after T'Challa can assume the mantle of Black Panther and possess those enhanced abilities. On the flip side, it seemingly means T'Challa can never lose his enhanced skills, meaning he very well could be the last Black Panther.
In theaters now, director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue, Winston Duke as M’Baku and Forest Whitaker as Zuri.