Pitchmas 2020, Part 7: Black Panthers

I think the story opens like this: we see Shuri in costume as a female Black Panther, giving a speech through a voice modulator disguising it’s her, at the UN, talking about the need for the world, in the wake of Thanos’ mass-murder of half the population, to join hands and protect and provide for those left behind. She refuses questions, goes right from there to her plane, where Okaye is waiting. She tears off her mask, to reveal she’s crying, for her brother, for her country- it’s too much to suddenly have thrust on her. Okaye gives her a tough love speech, tells her the Avengers have been calling- and she thinks Wakanda should answer the call. Shuri disagrees- saying they’re in this deep because the Avengers failed, but she won’t stop her from helping them if she’s asking for leave. But first, Okaye drops Shuri off; it’s a mission similar to T’Challa’s first in his movie, a quick espionagey thing, impressive and over quick. Afterward, they fly back to Wakanda in silence.

Shuri’s still deep in thought when she returns to the Temple of the Heart Shaped Herb; it’s been emptied out, and houses a table, with several seated figures we see mostly in shadow as she enters, though even in the low-light we might be able to make out that they’re all wearing similar Panther garb with slight hue variations (similar to Killmonger’s gold). Shuri, annoyed, drops into her seat, removes her mask, and says, it’s done, now it’s time for their next move. We pan around the table, and each Panther removes their mask in turn, revealing, in order: T’Chaka, M’Baku, Ramonda (her mother), Storm, Nakia and Killmonger.

We end on a music sting as we get back to Shuri, and drop in the logo from the Black Panther movie. A panther’s growl is heard, and two swipes tear a bloody “s” at the end, making the title plural. We fade to black, and flash some white text informing us it’s “Sometime earlier…”

We see Shuri on whatever a Wakandan version of a television would look like, and as we pull back, we see the chyron at the bottom of the ‘screen’ states that Shuri, presumed next in the Wakandan lineage, is missing, presumed lost in the Snap. We pan across the street, and see some of the damage done to the Golden City, some from Thanos’ troops, some from disasters as half the population vanished. Some of this damage includes a portion of one of its grander buildings being sheered off, collapsing into the street in a shower of glass (presumably they aren’t all made out of vibranium). Sifting through the rubble are trainees with the Dora Milaje- not yet wearing the ceremonial garb, though their training equipment is a lighter, less adorned variant. Specifically, we linger a moment on Ayo, who pauses to wipe sweat from her brow. It’s just at that moment that her trainer, Aneka, walks by, and chides her for lazing about while Wakanda herself bleeds.

We pan down, not too far beneath the rubble, until we find a small pocket of air, and a shredded pipe dribbling water. Beneath it, catching its water in her mouth, is Shuri, positioned like that because she no longer has the strength to move. She made an effort to bandage a wound in her side, but she’s clearly blead through that, and vainly tries to hold pressure to it. Suddenly, there’s more light as one of the larger pieces of debris shifts. Aneka helps Ayo move it, exposing Shuri to the sun. Ayo gasps, trying to cover her mouth.

Okaye is there when Shuri wakes in a hospital, and tells her she’s surprised she didn’t die. Ramonda is there, and asks for time alone with her daughter. She tells Shuri the other clans have agreed to back her claim to the throne for the time being- she’s cynical enough to think no one wants the job of cleaning up this mess. But she’s held off announcing a new Black Panther. Shuri suggests ‘she’ remain dead- that they play up the metaphysical of the Black Panther mantel, instead- that Wakanda is already wounded, and a flesh and blood ruler would make them more vulnerable still. Her mother agrees, and leaves her to convalesce… and she waits until Ramonda is gone to break out of her hospital room.

She finds her labs largely screwed up from the battle. But she finds the information she was looking for- readings from the Mind Stone embedded in vision, and other readings from Thanos using the stones nearby (along with some video from Infinity War). We have a montage of her testing things for days on end; I like the idea that there’s still a hole through her wall where we watch the sun setting/rising as she goes about this. All of her experiments fail, and she throws something past her mother as she enters in frustration. She’s there because Shuri has responsibilities she can no longer shirk; she could hold the wolves at bay while she healed, but now it’s time to put away childish things. An exhausted, emotionally and physically, Shuri collapses against her mother, and admits that she can’t bring him back. Whatever the Stones are- they are beyond even her. Ramonda spares a moment to grieve with her daughter, before telling her that their people need her more than T’Challa, now, and handing her a fitted version of his costume.

She dons it, and follows Ramonda away. We watch the day drag on through the hole in the wall, into night, before Shuri returns. She pulls off her mask, and yawns, stretching, catching her reflection off a piece of partially broken glass. That gives her an idea, and she pulls up the readings she got off of Thanos as he teleported away (using the Space Stone), immediately after the Snap. Her computers analyze the scene from multiple angles, eventually displaying the number, “68%.” She stares at the number steely-eyed.

We cut to later, as the sun rises. She’s redesigned her gauntlets from Black Panther, and uses it to project a different energy, one that opens a portal- for a second, before it explodes outward, throwing her against the wall; luckily, the kinetic energy is absorbed by her suit. She gets up, and checks her calculations, which are sitting at 74%. She pulls on her mask as her mother arrives, and they leave together. We cut to later, as she walks back in. This time she’s dragging more than before. She does another test, this time hiding behind one of the forcefield cloaks, which absorbs most of the dissipating energy. Her figures are at 82% now. And the portal remains for a moment, long enough for her to jab the tip of a Dora Milaje spear into it, before it disappears, sheering the end of the spear off. She sets the computer to start calculating again, and takes a nap. When she wakes the computer is still calculating, but is up to 90%. She’s about to go towards it when her mother walks in. She scolds Shuri, because she doesn’t like having to march her to work every morning. She glances forlornly back at her equipment as it ticks over into 91%.

She returns at night. Her figures are still stuck at 91%. She tries to adjust things, but the computer tells her it doesn’t have sufficient data to extrapolate further- 91% is as good as it gets. She starts up the gauntlet, and the portal seems stable. She puts the spear in, without incident. She starts put in her right arm, before realizing she’s right-handed and decided to test it with her left, and it comes back without incident. She sees the Black Panther mask laying where she put it, and it reminds her of her brother, and she picks it up, and talks to it like it’s him (Yes, we’re alas poor Yoricking this).

She tells him she’s lost without him, that she knows this is a risk- maybe a stupid risk, since she’s already the back-up ruler. But she doesn’t think she can do this without him- and she isn’t willing to try. “I’m not giving up on you, brother,” she says, putting the mask down. She adjusts the gauntlet, and the portal gets wider, wide enough for her to step into.

We play it like it’s a vision, at first, that she’s at that vision tree, speaking to the ghost of her father. She’s disappointed, because she wanted to travel between worlds, but it’s good to see him. He tells her it’s good to see her, before explaining that this is not a vision. He leads her to the hill that overlooks the Golden City, and there is nothing but flattened, burned earth; if you’ve ever seen the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, that’s the level of destruction we’re talking. T’Chaka reveals that the Avengers fought beside him to stop Thanos- that he personally stopped the Mad Titan- but that the cost was terrible- all of Wakanda reduced to ash, including his wife and his beautiful children. He tells her there’s nothing left for him there, and says it’s time to go. She doesn’t understand, and he says, “You’re here to rescue me, aren’t you?”

They return through her portal, and she collapses onto a couch. She’s relieved, to be unburdened of her mantle. He’s confused. He says he’s not going to take this from her- but he can help her carry the load. Just then, Ramonda comes in, and goes through a rainbow of emotions very rapidly. She’s of course thrilled to have her husband (or at least a version of him) back, and at the same time angry at her daughter for taking such a huge risk, and overwhelmed at her dedication to her brother… it’s just a lot, and thank God we’ve got Angela Bassett delivering it. The episode ends with Ramonda demanding this be the end of her interdimensional adventures, and she agrees, but as her mother leaves, her eyes drift back towards her equipment….

Because I have a life, and pets, and am not being remotely paid for this, I’ll broad-strokes it from here. We’ll probably include a version of the World of Wakanda comics, which is why I dragged in Aneka and Ayo. Each episode would likely be recruiting a new Black Panther, and their world, while Shuri gets pulled deeper into her own bureaucratic Hell.

As we build up this bench of Black Panthers, they would begin to clash in interesting ways since they’re all used to getting their way, eventually forming factions, one of which would likely vie for control of the country. I think the B plot masquerading as the A plot is that a version of Klaw, this time in a much sillier, more comics-appropriate costume, slips through in the wake of one of the stolen Black Panthers- still played by Andy Serkis because he was a rollicking good time. He forms a band of white guerrillas, himself adopting some of the costume accoutrements of Man-Ape, and mocking the White Gorilla clan quite a bit (to M’Baku’s deep irritation). He uses his knowledge of his Wakanda to start amassing a stockpile of vibranium, and using that to outfit and grow his army. 

To spice things up, I think most of this council would eventually be against Shuri, except Killmonger (and maybe M’Baku)- frequently making her question her stance because she’s making a deal with the devil (and a jerk). In the end, she holds fast, and is able to defeat the shadow council of Panthers, who, it turns out, weren’t power-mad; they hatched an idea that to be kind, they needed to be cruel- that none of them wanted her throne, so they needed to toughen her up enough to sit on it- or convince her to stand aside for someone else more suited to the role- before she gets herself or others killed.

In the end, the warring panther factions stop Klaw, finding out he’s a vibranium cyborg and very hard to kill (this is when he ends up looking the most like his comics counterpart). I think the subterfuge of the other panthers is too convincing, and Shuri fights her father to the death, with him finally explaining everything as he’s bleeding out, “I do not usually prefer a trial by fire; but the world is aflame. Wakanda needed you tempered, or it needed you to step aside.”

Aside from being a kind of crazy, but worthwhile story, it would also be a potential solution to the Chadwick Boseman-shaped hole in the franchise. Real talk, for a second: this wouldn’t be an issue if Shuri’s actress hadn’t shared some questionable content on social media; she would have been the presumptive inheritor of the mantle, otherwise (her character has taken over for T’Challa before in the books). This would give her a second at-bat- to give her a chance to prove that she can be a team player, and that she can handle the weight of that legacy… and if she can’t, it opens up a lot of other possibilities. My personal preference, if Shuri can’t be rehabilitated, would be Killmonger. You can lean into the righteous anger with him, but have it be a version of him that outgrew the desire for genocide, who had long talks with the spirit of his uncle and realized how hard it was for him to lose his brother like that- to have to choose fealty to his country over his family. He could even recognize that plenty of the white soldiers he served beside were caught in the same cycles of generational poverty and powerlessness he wanted to eliminate- recognizing that colonialism largely exploited the colonists, too- that it and its modern equivalent (capitalism) monetize the rest of us for the benefit of the monied and powerful- which should get him into the same rough ballpark as T’Challa.

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