Up to release, the bulk of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s press cycle was rightly focused on what the film would do to serve as a memorial for Chadwick Boseman, in addition to gradually making clear that the next Black Panther would be taking their place. While the film itself can maybe bite off more than it can chew, Wakanda Forever handles the passing of Boseman and his character T’Challa with an equal amount of appropriate somberness and genuine love through its 161-minute runtime. Whatever faults the film has, the fact that it was made with honouring its late lead in mind isn’t one of them.
And then, the post-credits scene happened, throwing a curveball into both this specific sub-franchise and potentially the MCU overall.
Having successfully brokered a peaceful (to a point) stalemate with Namor and the Talokan, Shuri travels to Haiti to meet with Nakia. After she burns funeral clothing as a way to begin the process of mourning her fallen brother and mother, Nakia arrives with a visitor: Toussaint (Divine Love Konadu-Sun), her and T’Challa’s six-year-old son, named after Toussaint Louverture, the most prominent leader of the Haitian Revolution. Before Toussaint was born, his parents agreed to raise him outside of the pressures of the Wakandan throne, with only the two of them and Queen Ramonda aware of the boy’s existence. And just as Shuri’s reeling from that bombshell, she’s hit with another when Toussaint reveals that his Wakandan name is T’Challa II.
Having lost so much of her family in the span of a few years, and having spent nearly all of the film in a state of depression, Shuri learning that she has family out there is the kind of uplifting end she deserves. Moreover, it’s the right (if overly saccharine) kind of tribute to give T’Challa in the context of both the MCU and the real world. And what hits harder is that Toussaint is a character created by director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole, meaning his impact isn’t lessened by the character being a deep comics pull for longtime fans to lose their minds over. Instead, the film gets to make people lose their minds and be emotionally devastated on its own merits.
Marvel Comics has had no trouble introducing children of big-name heroes that either take their parent’s mantle or inhabit one of their own: Spider-Girl, the Unstoppable Wasp, X-23/Wolverine, you get the picture. That’s not really been the case with Black Panther; despite a frequent on/off romance with Storm and his status as a king, he’s never actually fathered a child in the main Marvel universe. A child between T’Challa and Storm was something writer Jonathan Hickman wanted to explore during his recent tenure with the X-Men, but Marvel nixed the idea, as T’Challa was handling the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda during writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run on the character’s solo book and it would’ve been weird for him to have a son in one book but not the other.
Which isn’t to say that T’Challa hasn’t had a child in the past. That would be Azari, the son he has with Storm in an alternate reality. Azari possesses his father’s heart-shaped herb abilities and his mother’s electricity powers, and first appeared in the 2008 animated film Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow. Following that film, he’s very briefly shown up in the comics: early on in Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.’s 2010 Avengers run (where he’s from an alternate reality, natch), and again for a few issues of Nick Spencer, Raffaele Ienco, and Marco Checchetto’s Avengers World. So there’s precedence for T’Challa to have a kid, but that was before T’Challa became a pop culture icon and Boseman’s death sucker-punched the entire world.
Before Wakanda Forever released, the topic of whether Marvel should’ve chosen to recast T’Challa rather than let him die with his actor was a heavy topic for debate. It can be a divisive, if incredibly tiresome issue whenever it’s brought up, one that only grew as the cast and crew spent much of the film’s press circuit publicly airing their feelings on the matter (again, and again). With Coogler openly saying that recasting T’Challa was never on the table for the film, that seemed to be end of it, give or take a new actor stepping in from another universe.
The existence of Toussaint/T’Challa II tries to deliver the best of both worlds. Boseman’s T’Challa obviously won’t be recast, but there’ll eventually come a day where we see a fully grown T’Challa II. Maybe he’ll end up inheriting the throne of his father once he’s old enough, or maybe he’ll just serve as Wakanda’s protector. But his appearance here is keeping with the theme of the MCU’s Phase Four. Marvel has actively spent much of this phase introducing the children (biological or otherwise) of older heroes, and you can imagine that trend won’t be ending anytime soon. And given what may be on the horizon with films such as Avengers: Secret Wars, it’s likely we’ll be seeing a fully grown T’Challa II in some capacity.
Whether the appearance of T’Challa II works for you or not, his story is very much not over. The Marvel machinery may have gone quiet for Boseman with Wakanda Forever, but it very much intends to bring back a version of T’Challa as loudly and triumphantly as possible… once he’s old enough to don the suit.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theatres now.
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