Black Panther Shows Us The Power Of A Good Villain

Illustration for article titled iBlack Panther/i Shows Us The Power Of A Good Villainem/em
Photo: Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is a highlight of the film. (Marvel)

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 favorite and least favorite 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’ve 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’ve made for a lesser movie, because it would’ve 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 Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.

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I’ve talked to a few people who complained that Killmonger (dat name, tho) was just a “you killed my dad so I want revenge” villain. When I talk about the issues being a flawed hero who wants to use what Wakanda has to help his people around the world, they get it.
But why does this elude people? I didn’t think it was that subtle. Are people trained to not dig very deep in super hero movies?