Younger sisters will always be little in their eyes of the older brothers, especially when your big brother is the Black Panther.
Now, one of the Marvel universe’s most accomplished female characters is about to be celebrated as a heroine in her own right. Shuri is about to make her debut in a standalone comic book, introducing her to a new audience who was are still basking in the success of the film earlier this year.
Eager to take advantage of the cultural phenomenon the film quickly became, Marvel announced the series in July. Penned by award-winning Nigerian-American science fiction author Nnedi Okarafor, the first book in the series will be available on October 17.
To audiences who discovered Wakanda through the cinema screen, Shuri is a genius 17-year-old, creating highly advanced vibranium-based technology, including her brother’s superhero suit, all while blasting bass-heavy gqom beats in her lab. In the Marvel film, which is where most audiences met Shuri, she is a formidable fighter in her own right and her inventions and her willingness to negotiate with an adversarial tribe save Wakanda. It’s also partly why Letitia Wright’s character is written into the next Avengers film franchises.
In the comic book world, Shuri really only appears in 2005, decades after the Black Panther’s first appearance in the Marvel universe in 1966. Shuri was written into the Black Panther story when Reginald Hudlin was hired to breathe new life into the character and prepare him to move from the comic book frame to the big screen. When approaching T’Challa’s family, Hudlin figured “when you’re royalty, you’re not just gonna have one kid. You gotta have an heir and a spare, right? ”
“I wanted girls who read the book to feel as empowered as boys,” the producer and former BET executive told Vulture. “So, I wanted her to be smart and tough and brave and everything you think of as a Black Panther, so that eventually she would be a Black Panther as well.”
In the comic book, Shuri is ambitious and complex, and resents being a spare. She rebelled against her family’s wishes and tried to enter the hand-to-hand combat ritual used to choose the Wakandan ruler and the next Black Panther, but is outsmarted by her older brother.
Still, T’Challa prepares her to lead in his absence, and she does when her brother falls into a coma after an attempted assassination by Doctor Doom. In the comic book she faces the physical and mental challenges of leadership, battles evil, teams up with Spider-Man and Black Widow, and saves Wakanda, all in her own Black Panther suit.
In the films, however, Shuri’s role is secondary. Granted, these are technically the early stages of T’Challa’s career (when comparing to the comic book’s timeline), but it also places women in a support role, using her own wits to prop up her brother. The same goes for the other women in T’Challa’s life, who all have to rescue him.
Okorafor seems as though she plans to restore Shuri’s edge. The Afrofuturist novelist has created nuanced female characters like Onyesonwu in Who Fears Death, which is being turned into an HBO series by Game of Thronescreator George R. R. Martin. She also created a limited comic book series focused on the Dora Milaje,Wakanda’s elite all-women fighting force. Okorafor says she was attracted to Shuri’s “genius level intelligence,” her spirituality, and that she’s “super ambitious.”
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech and innovation in your inbox