SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Black Panther #2 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Daniel Acuña and Joe Sabino, on sale now.
The current “Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” arc of Black Panther is a story that asks of its readers to trust it; Ta-Nehisi Coates built up a lot of goodwill with “A Nation Under Our Feet” and “Avengers of the New World,” and this current arc is bigger, braver and bolder.
Set in the middle of a deep space war, we can’t be sure that the T’Challa we’re following is “our” T’Challa, if it’s set in the future, or an alternate universe, or a simulation. But whatever the truth may be, Black Panther #2 may have unveiled the missing piece of the puzzle as the rebel army manages to steal a powerful artifact which may hold the answers they — and the readers — need. What's more, it's something that has its origins in some of the most classic X-Men stories.
The first issue of this new volume of Black Panther was disorientating, and intentionally so, but Black Panther #2 allows Coates, Acuña and Sabino to pull back a little bit to a more traditional storytelling structure which allows us to follow T’Challa, Nakia and M’Baku’s rebel assault on the Wakandan empire. It’s important to remember that while we use these names, they may not be the characters that we know; as former slaves of the Wakandan empire, they were all mindwiped and nameless, and in joining the rebellion against the empire, they were granted names of courageous Wakandans from the past.
Right now, the best bet is that the story we’re following in the pages of Wakanda is set roughly in 4018. It’s established that the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda has existed for two thousand years, but we know that Wakanda only began to broach the notion of deep space travel during Jonathan Hickman’s run on New Avengers. It requires a fair amount of speculation and filling in the gaps, but it seems that over the course of a number of centuries, the Wakandan name and culture was infiltrated and absorbed by less noble forces, becoming a tyrannical force within the Marvel Universe.
The backmatter for Black Panther #2 makes mention of a “Wakanda Prime” and that Nakia is part of a sect of Wakandans who claim to originate somewhere across the stars on a world by that name, which is most likely what the intergalactic Wakandans refer to Earth as. It’s also worth noting that not all of the intergalactic Wakandans are human; the chief of the rebel Maroons is an amphibious woman named after T’Challa’s birth mother N’Yami, and her chief intelligence officer Taku is a Rigellian named for T’Challa’s adviser, Taku.
While it seems that most of the Maroons are named after modern era Wakandans, there are signs that point to this T’Challa being our T’Challa, or at least being able to access his memories in some way. He’s shown having some vague recollection of his past before he was a slave and they involve a woman with white hair telling him to come back to her; with the obvious assumption being that this is Ororo Munroe aka Storm, T’Challa’s ex-wife with whom he’d recently rekindled his relationship. How our T’Challa wound up in this far flung space adventure is still a mystery, but one that might be solved with the help of the recently recovered M’Kraan Shard.