As both a celebration of life and a space through which to explore grief, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever tells a largely self-contained story. Though the film is the concluding chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4, its only nod to what else may be coming down the pipeline is the inclusion of Riri Williams, aka Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), a character confirmed to star in her own upcoming Disney+ series. This allows Coogler to patiently explore how Wakanda, and the world, have changed in the aftermath of King T’Challa’s death. Still, sharp-eyed viewers will find a handful of references to comic-book lore.
Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) new AI assistant is named Griot (and voiced by Trevor Noah). In West African culture, a griot is a traveling poet, musician, or storyteller who keeps oral tradition alive. During Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2016 run on Black PantherShuri dies and is reborn as a griot, blessed with the knowledge of the entire history of her country and the supernatural ability to revive the ancestors, effectively becoming a living manifestation of the griot’s role as historian and keeper of the dead.
Namora (Mabel Cadena) is Namor’s (Tenoch Huerta) second-in-command. She sports a feathered headdress, a reference to the simpler one she wore in her original comics appearances. On the page, she is Namor’s love interest and cousin (not through blood!) and, oddly, has the same mutant powers and winged ankles as Namor. There is the subtle suggestion of a romantic relationship between the two in Wakanda Forever but it is not explored in depth.
Attuma (Alex Livinalli) is Namor’s war chief, who gives Okoye (Danai Gurira) the fight of her life in a brutal spear battle. He’s one of Namor’s oldest enemies in the comics and often challenged the Sub-Mariner’s right to lead. But before they became enemies, they were friends. Wakanda Forever positions Attuma as one of Namor’s most trusted allies, but his bloodlust is clear. One might wonder how long the relationship between them will remain civil, especially if Attuma disapproves of Namor’s alliance with Wakanda.
The chyron on the first CNN newscast with Anderson Cooper references Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) memoir. Earlier this year, Ms.Marvel revealed that Lang hosted a podcast called Big Me, Little Me. While the reference may feel small (pun intended), Lang opening up about his experience with the Avengers explains how the public is aware of certain key details from the Avengers films, such as the power levels of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), referenced in Wanda Vision and Ms.Marvel.
Throughout the film, Shuri can be seen working on a prototype suit of armor for the Dora Milaje. Okoye disapproves of the design as it breaks the traditions of the Dora, but she and the new Dora addition Aneka (Michaela Coel) suit up in the prototypes anyway for the final battle against the Talokanil. The armor debuted in the first issue of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther run and was designed by artist Brian Stelfreeze. In the comics, Aneka murders a chieftain she found abusing the women of his tribe, is relieved of her duty to the Dora, and dons the Midnight Angels armor with Ayo. The pair splinter from the Dora and form their own group of female protectors of Wakanda.
While delivering his origin story to Shuri, Namor drops the M-word, confirming that he is in fact a mutant. He is the second character to be referred to as a mutant in the MCU, the previous one being Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) in Ms.Marvel. However, Namor’s mutation does not seem to be associated with the X-gene as it is in the comics. Rather, at least according to Namor, his pointed ears, winged feet, and speed are the result of his mother ingesting the Vibranium infused aquatic plant that transformed his people while she was pregnant.
During his final fight with Shuri, Namor utters his famous battle-cry, “Imperius Rex.” The phrase stems from a 1970 comics appearance, 31 years after Namor’s debut. In Latin, the term translates to “Empire King.” There’s never been a concrete explanation for the battle-cry, but Namor’s creator, Bill Everett, did come up with his character’s name by spelling “Roman” backwards, and Atlantis has historically been linked to Greco-Roman history. So maaaybe one could make the leap from there to “Imperius Rex” as a natural phrase for Namor? More realistically, it probably became Namor’s battle-cry because Stan Lee saw or heard it somewhere and thought it sounded cool, which was the basis for many of his naming and catchphrase practices.