For a long time now, the leadership of both the Wakandan nation and the Black Panther Clan have been seemingly in flux – or at least a state of confusion. The glory days of Christopher Priest's run on the character clearly established that one was not necessarily the other, and that really made neither of the title holders a superhero. The Reginald Hudlin era rearranged some history to introduce the heretofore unseen younger sister of T'Challa named Shuri (at least when Priest introduced his adopted older brother Hunter, there was a reason he'd never been seen before – he was the exiled shame of the Wakandan secret police known as the Hatut Zeraze) and thrust her into the role of both Princess Regent and chieftain of the Black Panther Clan when T'Challa was critically injured.
This hasn't stopped T'Challa from showing up as the Black Panther, though, even though by ceremonial right, he should no longer don the garb. Yet, when people think of Black Panther, they still think of him. David Liss' recent series had him divested of the nation in the wake of the Doomwar disaster, and yet still wearing the mask even while cracking skulls in Hell's Kitchen. That was ostensibly WHY he was replaced by Shuri in the first place – so we could have an American crimefighter Black Panther who was a more traditional superhero, more relatable and by extension, more movie-friendly. This, you might surmise from the words of Marvel Studios Co-President Louis D'Esposito, who apparently thinks a high-tech African nation is too otherworldly to translate into a film, and yet Asgard and whatever other planets the Guardians of the Galaxy are going to visit are a snap.
Anyway, in Fantastic Four #608, Jonathan Hickman turns his attention to detail and world-building on Wakanda, and finally gives us the ability to officially have two Black Panthers running around at the same time, albeit in a rather unsettling sort of way. In an effort to stave off the undead attacks coming from Anubis, Shuri, Sue Ruchards and Storm have set off to his realm to take the fight to the jackal-god, while T'Challa and Reed Richards have journeyed into Wakanda's secret necropolis, the realm of the dead chieftains past – something referred to in Priest's run as the Panther God Pavilion, before said Panther God was established to be the same as the Egyptian Cat Goddess Bast. While the women fight, T'Challa communes with Bast to win her favor in that battle, and she tells them that the catastrophic destruction of Wakanda we see in Avengers vs. X-Men #8 (which takes place after this issue) is but a prelude to something worse, and for the salvation of his nation, he must become "king of the dead." He gains the power and knowledge of all the Black Panthers past to become "a king of kings. My champion. My Black Panther."
What does that mean? We have no idea yet. Does he have the strength of all of his ancestors combined at once, and thus can outmuscle the Thing? Does he have new powers? Does he travel between the worlds of the living and the dead? We don't know yet. All we know is that his fate is now inextricably linked to Reed's, and we know that it's ominous as all hell.
Giuseppe Camuncoli's work with Karl Kesel on the artwork is top notch, fantastic at creating the eerie mood of the necropolis while illustrating the immense power of Anubis rather effectively. Hickman's storytelling is certainly intriguing, and he's more than earned enough trust that we can expect very cool things from the Black Panther under his watch – and considering that he's taking over the Avengers soon, we can hope that this story either unfolds there, or before that in the rest of his Fantastic Four run to come. It's already been one for the ages, and so, too, should the evolution of the Black Panther.