Rise of the Black Panther Redefines T'Challa's Powers & Tackles Toxic Masculinity

For the first of his many controversial moves as king, T'Challa elects to show some humility by announcing to the country via television about the kidnapped Wakandans, and says that he'll personally lead a search party for the citizens who wish to participate in bringing their people home, even if that means traveling outside their home. The search for the abductees leads the young king to his first confrontation with his future frenemy: Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

Namor and T'Challa have had a rocky relationship for years. Since joining the Marvel Universe's secretive Illuminati, there's been a tension between the two that eventually boiled over when Namor led the Atlanteans in a war against Wakanda. It's something that T'Challa never forgave him for, at one point leaving the undersea ruler to die while two universes were in the process of colliding. It's not at all surprising, then, that even in their first encounter, they get into a fistfight once they make eye contact, and of course Namor is the one who instigates it.

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True to the Sub-Mariner's arrogant nature, the animosity between them begins when he refuses T'Challa's aid after he and his squad of Atlanteans crash land on the surface world to save their own people, who have also been kidnapped. The Sub-Mariner represents the rage that comes with toxic masculinity; he openly admits to acting rashly and full of rage, but he clearly doesn't want to make any effort to change. Nowhere is this more perfectly shown than when he kicks in a door while loudly announcing: "IMPERIUS REX!!!" as T'Challa tries to go for a more subtle approach.

Together, T'Challa and Namor free their respective peoples from the Nigandans who kidnapped them. The day is won not just because of action, but by using T'Challa brains and compassion over brute strength. Rather than wanting to get the jump on Namor and eliminate a future threat, T'Challa uses his common sense to realize that he may have to fight the Atlanteans someday and keep data that holds secrets on Wakandans and Atlanteans. It's a tough choice for T'Challa, but one born of rationality instead of ego.

Earlier this week, Black Bolt writer Saladin Ahmed said that fiction was in need of "weak male protagonists." Though it was meant as a joke at the expense of the cliche phrase of "strong female characters," Ahmed's original words talked of men who learned how to give up their power and count on other people when needed. T'Challa is something of a "weak" male protagonist in this issue; constantly asking Shuri and others for assistance instead of trying to go solo in an act of bravado.

But there is a quiet strength in this perceived weakness, and what's made T'Challa a compelling character over the years--especially Coates' run, as the emergence of the Crew has shown us--is that he's not really afraid to ask for help. Had T'Challa kept the isolationist nature that S'yan insisted on, the nation would be forever changed, and not for the better. It's doubtful that Shuri would've come back from the dead if T'Challa didn't create a system of friends and allies that included outsiders.

Rise of the Black Panther realizes that it's this strength and humility that'll lead to a better future for the world of Wakanda, and their eventual journey to the stars to achieve the dream T'Chaka and N'Yami always wanted for their people.

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