With a name like that, you know he’s evil.
Black Panther is finally starring in his own superhero movie. But for hardcore fans of the character, half the fun with this new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is seeing T’Challa’s nemesis, Erik Killmonger, finally brought to life (and played by Michael B. Jordan).
But don’t worry if you’ve never heard of this Marvel villain before. We’re here to break down everything you need to know about the man who would rule Wakanda.
Most superheroes worth their salt have at least one villain who serves as their dark, twisted mirror image, and Killmonger fills that role for Black Panther. This exiled Wakandan native is obsessed with overthrowing King T’Challa and ridding the country of all white imperialist influences. Basically, he’s loyal to Wakanda, but not its ruling family.
Killmonger is one of the few men who manages to rival T’Challa in both mental acuity and skill on the battlefield. That’s why Killmonger has remained a very dangerous thorn in T’Challa’s side over the years, cheating death on more than one occasion.
Killmonger is a brilliant strategist and scientist who received his PhD from MIT. He’s also a highly skilled martial artist, able to go toe-to-toe with Wakanda’s finest warriors, including Black Panther himself.
While Killmonger didn’t originally possess any superhuman powers, he eventually created a synthetic version of the “heart-shaped herb” that gives the Black Panthers their enhanced senses and reflexes. Much like Captain America’s Super-Soldier Serum, this herb also boosts Killmonger’s speed, strength and stamina to the absolute peak of human performance.
As if that weren’t enough, Killmonger often wears a specially designed, armored suit that can inject opponents with poison and even fire energy blasts. Plus, he has several trained leopards and a group of fanatical followers capable of using dark magic to resurrect their master.
Killmonger was created by writer Don McGregor and artist Rich Buckler and made his debut in 1973’s Jungle Action #6. Early stories established Killmonger as a Wakandan native (originally named N’Jadaka) whose father was forced to help Ulysses Klaw invade Wakanda and steal its valuable vibranium. After Klaw was defeated and N’Jadaka’s father was killed, he and his family were exiled to America.
Ever since moving to America and taking his new name, Killmonger has fostered a deep hatred of the Black Panther. And while T’Challa made overtures to Killmonger by repatriating him and giving him a new home in a Wakandan village, Killmonger has frequently attempted to overthrow his king and end the reign of the Black Panthers. He’s come closer than most, particularly during the course of Christopher Priest’s Black Panther series. One storyline saw the two foes resume their feud, only for Killmonger to defeat T’Challa in ritual combat and claim the Black Panther title for himself. Only the fact that Killmonger’s body couldn’t handle the effects of the heart-shaped herb spared Wakanda from its tyrannical new ruler.
Killmonger continues to be one of the greatest threats to Wakanda’s security. Most recently, he orchestrated a war between Wakanda and the neighboring nation of Niganda. Killmonger was killed during the climax of that conflict in 2008’s Black Panther Vol. 4 #38, but a man as smart as T’Challa must know it’s only a matter of time before his nemesis returns.
Killmonger hasn’t had a prolific career outside of the comics, but it’s safe to assume that will quickly change once he makes his live-action debut in 2018’s Black Panther (played by Michael B. Jordan).
For now, Killmonger’s only non-comics appearance came in the 2016 video game LEGO Marvel’s Avengers, where he’s a playable character for those who purchase the Black Panther DLC pack.
How the character will fit into the Black Panther’s world of the MCU remains to be seen, but so far it looks as though he’s following similar beats as his comics counterpart as a powerful figure who seeks usurp T’Challa and take the throne for himself.