Black Panther Shows Us The Power Of A Good Villain

Black Panther Shows Us The Power Of A Good Villain

Straight out of Austin, we’re bringing you a bonus episode of Kotaku Splitscreen to talk Black Panther and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Former Kotaku and current io9 writer Evan Narcisse, who’s also writing a six-issue Marvel comic called Rise of the Black Panther, reunites with me and Kirk to talk about the adventures of T’Challa and crew.

We also talk about our favourite and least favourite Marvel movies, what we want to see in Infinity War, and where we see the MCU going next. Listen here:

You can get the MP3 here, or read a brief excerpt:

Jason: One of the things I think was done exceptionally well was the villain, Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. I don’t know the comic at all, but I think it would have been really easy to make the villain this white colonizer who wants to come in and take all the vibranium, and I think that would have made for a lesser movie, because it would have been a clear good vs. evil. Instead you have this nuanced guy — you understand his motivations. He grows up in the hood and he knows how horrible the black experience can be outside of Wakanda and is like “what the fuck? You guys are holding out on us.” And it creates a lot of interesting questions, and leads to a lot of interesting conversations. I think that was done really well, and that’s important with a comic book movie — the worse your villain is, the worse a movie you’re gonna have.

Evan: Very much so. One of the things that’s interesting, you mention a colonizer supervillain. Traditionally, Black Panther’s main supervillain, Klaue, has been that. In the comics, Klaue kills T’Chaka, T’Challa’s dad. In the series I’m writing, Rise of the Black Panther, he does it right outside the borders of Wakanda. He’s like, ‘I’m here to get some of that vibranium y’all got,’ and T’Chaka says no, and Klaue kills him. That’s been a part of the tension between those characters in the comics for years. I thought one of the smartest things in the movie was taking him off the board in the first act — he’s gone. So it doesn’t become black vs. white, it becomes about intra-diaspora tensions in black communities throughout the world, and I thought that was brilliant.

The thing about Killmonger that I loved is that he homes in on a longing, a pain that’s prevalent in black communities throughout the world. You can only trace your history so far back before you hit this really painful fracture. And that’s almost universal for black communities around the world — maybe not if you’re in Africa, but even then, your histories have been changed by virtue of colonialism and imperialism. Killmonger hones in on all of that, which I think is great. Whether he’s right or not, is a whole other thing.

Kirk: He’s a Marvel villain who kind of has a point, and that makes him so interesting. There are no good Marvel villains, almost none, and I thought that was an interesting — you come out thinking, he was wrong, he clearly just wanted to take over the world.

Jason: Yeah like when he burnt all the flowers, it became clear.

Kirk: But you still came out, being like, the guy had a few points. There’s an article I want to point readers to, by Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker, called Black Panther and the Invention of Africa, that I got so much out of. I’ve gotten so much out of, after this movie by reading black critics, listening to black critics talk about this movie.

Evan: Yeah. It’s been great. It’s been a little frustrating for me personally,as a guy —

Jason: Like, ‘Where have you been for the past ten years?’

Evan: Part of it is that, part of it is because I can’t write about it. I’m too close.

Jason: Are you contractually prevented, or you don’t want to because you don’t want to cross boundaries?

Evan: It’s a little bit of both. The most honest answer I can give is that writing the comics takes up all my free time. And also, conflict of interest, me writing about it for io9 would be weird. But yeah, there’s been so many great articles.

Kirk: I really liked how in this movie, I didn’t notice this until I heard on Still Processing, they pointed out that the two white characters in this movie are the token good guy and the secondary bad guy, which is literally an inversion of how it is in every other movie. I thought that was very funny, and I’m guessing very intentional on Ryan Coogler’s part.

Listen to the whole episode for much more. As always, you can find Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.


  • Did you even watch the movie? Good villian? Nope. Not a single redeeming factor about him. Not even his “my daddy dead 🙁 ” trope could make him likable.

    • I logged in just to uproot and agree with your comment.

      A villain can be a horrendous individual but still be a likeable character, but hypocrisy is unforgivable. It’s an immediate turn off.

      Killmonger: “Oh no my dad is dead. I know I’ll kill literally hundreds of people, many of them likely fathers, just to get in a position to be able to kill a guy that had nothing to do with it.”

      Utterly ridiculous, and as you say, his character had not a single redeeming quality.

    • Disagree entirely.

      The reason Kilmonger is one of the MCU’s best, is he’s a true reflection of everything T’Chala could have been. He’s not simply ‘a flipped version’, he’s a tragic reflection of what happens when one abandons their family, doesn’t trust them, leaves them to ‘the elements’ and refuses to take responsibility. Kilmonger in Black Panther, was an example of ‘the sins of the father’ coming back to haunt later generations, of arrogance over common sense.

      When the movie starts, both Kilmonger and T’Chala are both in the midst of their ‘heroes journey’, both side by side in the movie, reflected in each other. One accepted by society in Wakanda, the other shunned by the people who should have taken him in, one accepted by the world at large, the other rejected by the world as a ‘farmer’ and a ‘small tribesman’. Both find rejection and acceptance in different areas, however that rejection and acceptance leads them along very different paths.

      Kilmonger himself, adopts a vengeful life quest, wanting to take down the royal family of Wakanda at first, those he believes wronged him and his father, he wants to destroy them, then to bring Wakanda to the world. T’Challa, wants to rule, to keep Wakanda closed off at first, but then realises he must bring Wakanda to the world. One by violence, the other by peace, but either way, Wakanda is coming to the world. How will it come? Peace and harmony? Or by violence? In this aspect, Kilmonger is reflecting the Colonisers he despises, white society of the past who colonised countries, took hold of his ancestors, those he blames for the slavery that occurred. T’Challa wants to bring the country peacefully, by the end, to the world, in a way that moves on past the sins of his father, the sins of colonisers and in doing this, move into a new future where the world can heal and grow through Wakanda’s influence. This is where they reflect each other, yet diverge again in their intent.

      By the end, before his revelation, T’Challa sees too much of himself and too much of his peoples history against the world in Kilmonger, he’s not ready to take Wakanda back from him. He sees the pain and hurt, the wrongs committed by his father and the neglect Wakanda has committed against the Africans of the world. It’s said that not admitting the truth is simply a lie of omission, in this case, not acting to help, has placed Wakanda in a position of being complicit with history when they could have intervened. T’Chala knows this, wants to help Kilmonger but cannot as by now, Kilmonger has succumbed to power, wants to simply ‘take over’, and his original intent has been lost in a miasma of madness. It’s only when fatally wounded, through his extreme rage and unwillingness to compromise, that the real Kilmonger comes back, when he’s forced to stop and take hold of his situation. He realises he became his father and then something even worse. His father was willing to help through twisted logic, but with a noble end goal, but he murdered for his own selfish purpose.

      Importantly though, T’Challa gives Kilmonger the noble death he deserves, allowing him to die both a warrior, a man and, most important of all, finally a Wakandan by allowing him to see the sun set on the plains, bringing him to the land he loves, to see the land for the first time through the eyes he never could before. This gives T’Challa the shove he needs to get Wakanda out into the world, as he knows Kilmonger is right, Wakanda can no longer be complicit, it can no longer sit back and must involve itself in the worlds politics to help it be better. One can directly say, without Kilmongers influence, T’Challa never would have made this choice.

      The funniest part here, is to look back at the parental figures. T’Chaka gave T’Challa every advantage he could have, he grew up a privileged young man in a privileged life. He wanted for nothing, he had everything. Kilmonger grew up fatherless thanks to T’Chaka’s extreme actions, he was in the panther suit, he could have disabled his brother rather than kill him, but chose to do so. One can also argue that Kilmonger and T’Challa were destined to be best of friends, best allies and potentially Wakandas future side by side, until the intervention and stupidity of their fathers, because not every action taken by a parent is correct. On a thematic and character driven level, this is beyond *any* Marvel villain to date.

      Ryan Coogler recreated a fantastic character in the screen version of Kilmonger, a great character updated with modern sensibilities. Does he use tropes? Of course. No movie exists that doesn’t. Not one. Does he need to be likeable? Not particularly. But is he empathetic? Absolutely, and then some. Is he sympathetic, completely so when thought about. Can you, when considering his life, potentially feel he has ‘a point’ in his desires? 100% you can.

      So again, I absolutely disagree.

  • He was crap, and Jordan overacted the shit out of the role until it became a caricature of an angry black man.

  • I’m kind of really over the ‘shades-of-grey’ villainy. It’s not done well that often – certainly not here, although they gave it a good try – but I’m getting really tired of “My life sucked, bad things happened so it makes sense that I would start killing hundreds and thousands of people.

    If you want that kind of person, just give me a nice, simple, evil jerk. I’m kind of looking forward to Infinity War for the nice, simple motivation behind him.

  • Did anyone else think that the CIA agents motivations and actions made no sense?
    Like how he just tells them state secrets without even being asked and risks his life to stop something he was probably paid to do in the first place?

  • Wait good in what way? His plan was retarded and made 0 sense, his motivation was haphazard at best. He isnt even good by the standards of a marvel villian and they are always the worst part of their movies.

  • Didn’t like Killmonger as a villain.

    Worse was the fact that T’Challa was a complete dunbass.

    Guy in mask Steals Klaue from underneath him. Guy without a mask, wearing the exact same clothes rocks up in Wakanda claiming credit for killing Klaue. T’Challa lets himself get betrayed by his best mate, doesn’t stop to think maybe those two completely different guys maybe could have been the same guy……


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