Warning: spoilers for Black Panther #23 are ahead!
Fan favorite Black Panther villain Erik Killmonger has just returned to Marvel Comics. In Black Panther #23 (by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Daniel Acuna, and Ryan Bodenheim, with colors by Daniel Acuna and Chris O’Halloran, and letters by VC’s Joe Sabino), Killmonger makes his return to King T’Challa’s story in the backdrop of his conflict with the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda. This time, he possesses even more power than he had before.
Killmonger’s return occurs amidst the conflict between the Wakandan nation on Earth and the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda. This cosmic offshoot was created by T’Challa when he sent a party of Wakandans “through a time-distorting wormhole” in space. It was there that another Wakanda was founded, one with values drastically different from the non-intervention and diplomacy of Wakanda Prime. Led by N’Jadaka, the emperor who styled his name after Erik Killmonger’s original Wakandan name, the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda has severely tested T’Challa’s strength of both mind and body as the rightful king of Wakanda.
Emperor N’Jadaka has just resurrected Killmonger, who T’Challa had battled and overcame years before, and bonded with him with the help of his symbiote suit. At his and N’Jadaka’s command is the full might of the Intergalactic Wakandan Empire’s fleet, and even a few gods, as the issue reveals. Together, N’Jadaka and Killmonger pose an enormous threat to the future of Wakanda as they prepare to invade the country.
In the fashion of symbiotes and their hosts in the Marvel Universe, the relationship between Killmonger and N’Jadaka is one of constant negotiation, as it is N’Jadaka’s body that Killmonger shares with him. Killmonger appears to him in symbiote form, and the two have conversation when they are alone. Because N’Jadaka is sharing his body with him, Killmonger’s presence comes with some level of physical cost to N’Jadaka, making him fear that he comes across as weak.
While on the surface, this characterization for Killmonger might be a shock to fans of his depiction by Michael B. Jordan in Ryan Coogler’s 2018 film, Black Panther, it still retains some familiar elements. Because of his bond with N’Jadaka, Killmonger effectively functions as a shadow self, another persona lurking beneath the surface that is hiding in plain sight. This picks up from Killmonger’s role in the Black Panther film, where he was, in many ways, T’Challa’s double whose true Wakandan heritage was also lying unseen for much of the movie.
Killmonger’s return is just the latest major reveal in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s iconic Black Panther run, and fans will no doubt be eager to see how N’Jadaka manages his two dueling personas. The image of Killmonger with control over a symbiote suit and a massive fleet is undeniably exciting to see. One can only imagine how the conflict between the Intergalactic Empire and Wakanda Prime will play out, considering T’Challa’s ingenious use of Wakanda’s defenses in King in Black: Black Panther #1. If T’Challa can handle a terrifying conquest from one of the universe’s oldest beings, then the resurrection of an old enemy like Killmonger should be well within his wheelhouse.