Marvel Studios' Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con was another one for the books. From the moment Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige took the stage, there was one bombshell announcement after another. It was a tough act to follow, but Marvel may have topped itself with one of the best MCU trailers to date with the first teaser for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
While audiences knew Marvel had decided against recasting Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa and that Namor the Sub-Mariner would be involved, this MCU production was kept under wraps in ways that few films are these days. And so, when Black Panther 2's trailer finally appeared on the Hall H screen, it was truly the MCU faithful's first look at what this sequel had in store.
Right from the start, this first look acknowledges T'Challa's passing and that Wakanda is in conflict with Namor and his watery kingdom. But before the Wakanda Forever title card graces the screen, viewers are treated to a quick glimpse of someone in a Black Panther suit.
So, just who is in the suit? And who will assume the mantle of Black Panther moving forward? Candidates range from Shuri to Okoye and even Nakia. But there's also speculation that another member of the original cast may assume the title. Here's how that could happen.
Who is Erik Killmonger?
In 2018's Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger was T'Challa's cousin and briefly served as Wakanda's king.
Due to the death of his own father, Killmonger vowed revenge and to use the secret nation's Vibranium tech to arm all those of African descent who he believed Wakanda had also left abandoned.
After seemingly defeating T'Challa in ritual combat, he assumed the throne and received the powers of the Black Panther after drinking the heart-shaped herb. But when T'Challa returned, he defeated Killmonger and reclaimed the throne.
Despite Killmonger's brutality, his story influenced T'Challa and helped convince him to open Wakanda to the world. This fact, coupled with Michael B. Jordan's performance, is why many MCU fans consider Killmonger one of the best on-screen Marvel villains to date.
Where is Erik Killmonger?
While Killmonger died at the end of Black Panther, just where he is both physically and spiritually may be the key to how he's able to come back.
T'Challa first explained the Wakandan afterlife in Captain America: Civil War, describing death as a "jumping off point" and where "you reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into the green veldt, where you can run forever."
From what was shown in the first teaser for Wakanda Forever, audiences may get a glimpse of a Wakandan funeral and burial, as evidenced by the statues of Bast and Sekhmet. But whether the Green Veldt is the same as the Ancestral Plane or not remains to be seen and could be important.
According to Wakandan tradition, kings have the right to be the Black Panther; and after consuming the liquid of the heart-shaped herb, they are buried in sand before waking up in the Ancestral Plane amongst kings of the past.
While T'Challa experienced this and spoke with his father, Killmonger had a slightly different experience. After drinking the herb and being buried in the sand, Killmonger woke up in a representation of the Oakland apartment where his father was killed but with the purple-hued light of the Ancestral Plane or afterlife outside the window.
Killmonger's father, N'Jobu, tells him, "I should've taken you back long ago. Instead, we are both abandoned here."
Killmonger responds, saying, "Well, maybe your home is the one that's lost. That's why they can't find us."
This exchange suggests that the location where T'Challa converses with his father and sees the past Wakandan king isn't where Killmonger and his father are.
How Killmonger Can Come Back
If Killmonger's afterlife is a state of limbo, just like Marc Spector, there could be a way to bring him back, especially since he was in possession of the heart-shaped herb. After all, Marc Spector and Steven Grant came back to life with help from Khonshu. Since Killmonger died with the powers of the Black Panther which came from Bast, perhaps he can too.
Another possibility has to do with how Killmonger was laid to rest.
Not only is burial important in how Black Panthers reach the Ancestral Plane, but it appears to be important to all Wakandans as well.
When T'Challa tells Nakia about his father having killed his brother, he laments the fact that he wasn't given a proper burial. Shuri echoes this sentiment when she believes T'Challa died in ritual combat and can't bury him.
Despite T'Challa's efforts to do right by his cousin, like his father, Killmonger doesn't receive a proper burial either. Instead, he tells T'Challa "Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, 'cause they knew death was better than bondage."
The ocean looks to play a huge role in Black Panther 2 as Namor the Sub-Mariner is expected to serve as a threat to Wakanda. But instead of Namor ruling Atlantis, as he does in the comics, the Sub-Mariner will rule the underwater city of Talocan, the Aztec paradise for those who have died a water-related death.
Even though Killmonger didn't die by drowning, the fact that a Black Panther was buried in the ocean could tie into Namor's role in the sequel. Plus, the trailer did show ships seemingly looking for something (or maybe someone?) in the ocean.
Lastly, in the 2018 film, Killmonger sports a Black Panther suit with a jaguar-inspired design. Interestingly enough, Black Panther 2 crew gifts featured the symbol of the Jaguar god Tepeyollotli, the Aztec god of darkened caves, earthquakes, echoes, and jaguars. Coincidence?
There is one other way that Erik Killmonger could make a return without the pesky need for a resurrection though: the Ancestral Plane.
Perhaps Shuri, or whoever assumes the role of the next Black Panther, will travel to the realm of the unliving to seek guidance. As Killmonger is in the bloodlines of the royal family and glugged down a healthy serving of the Heart-Shaped Herb, there's a very good chance that he made it to the Plane to live out the rest of his days as a soul.
Killmonger may have had a change of heart since arriving in the afterlife, offering guidance to the next Black Panther on how they should take on the role. Alternatively, Michael B. Jordan's character could play a devil's advocate, countering points from other wiser beings in the Ancestral Plane, like T'Chaka.
Hints at a Killmonger Comeback
In that shot of a Black Panther at the end of Wakanda Forever's Comic-Con trailer, it's worth noting that the suit has similar gold detailing to Killmonger's from the 2018 film, complete with his gold panther claws.
But that's not the only hint. When the panther appears, Kendrick Lamar's "Everything Gonna Be Alright" cuts to the line "Uh, and when I wake up." Could this use of the song lyric possibly be hinting at a Killmonger resurrection?
How Killmonger's Return Services Wakanda Forever
Even though T'Challa wasn't a teenager in Black Panther, the film was still a coming-of-age story.
As both king and Black Panther, T'Challa had to come to terms with the fact that his own hero, his father, made mistakes; and in righting the wrongs of the past, he truly became a leader and his own man.
What better way to pay homage to what made T'Challa who he was in the MCU than having Killmonger - the catalyst for T'Challa's growth - come to the same understanding and continue his cousin's mission in righting the wrongs of the past?
Also, if Namor is set on attacking Wakanda because he and his people have been wronged, who better to face him and eventually broker peace than Killmonger?
There's also the reality that there are no more heart-shaped herbs. This suggests there can't be any more Black Panthers, even though a LEGO set suggests Shuri may take on the mantle regardless.
From a story perspective, it seems obvious that Shuri will assume a Black Panther persona; but given her talents - and the lack of the herb - it makes just as much sense for her Black Panther to be different than her brother's and possibly that of Killmonger's.
Due to her intelligence and role in the Wakandan Design Group, her Black Pather may be more reliant on her tech suit and gadgets than spirituality and tradition. But just because she's a Black Panther doesn't mean there isn't room for another, and it doesn't mean that this is necessarily the path Shuri will continue to pursue.
Even though the first trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is still relatively new, it is Marvel Studios' next big film. Therefore, additional news and even footage are expected at Marvel Studios' D23 panel on September 10.
It will be interesting to see if Marvel will continue to tease the new panther or if that's the only hint audiences get ahead of the sequel's November 11 release.