Erik Killmonger was probably the most talked-about Marvel villain after the release of the Black Panther movie earlier this year, after Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
After a series of unmemorable villains, with the exception of Loki, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third phase has been steadily producing villains whose motivations are well-grounded.
Killmonger however, stands out in this category of MCU antagonists. In this article, I’ll mention about his origin, abilities and motives from both the Marvel comics and the movie.
His motives however will be largely based on the movie, which really fleshed out his character as a sympathetic and complex one.
Erik Killmonger is a native of Wakanda, the fictional nation in Africa, born under the name N’Jadaka. He made his first debut in comics in Jungle Action #6, Panther’s Rage in September 1973.
This was created by writer Don McGregor and artist Rich Buckler.
As a side note, Jungle Action was the American comic book series published by Marvel Comics, that later introduced Black Panther as the first black superhero.
In the story line of his origin, Ulysses Klaue and his mercenaries attacked Wakanda with the intention of getting the valuable mineral, Vibranium and press-ganged N’Jadaka’s father, N’Jobu into helping Klaue.
When young T’Challa defeats Klaue, N’Jadaka’s father dies and his family exiled. N’Jadaka ended up in Harlem, New York, nursing his hatred against T’Challa, for the death of his father.
He changed his name to Erik Killmonger and studied at MIT gaining a PhD in Engineering and an MBA.
Killmonger is an expert martial artist; an extraordinary hand-to-hand combatant.
His uniform has evolved across the comics from lethal elements like studded spikes that inject poisons to wristbands with blades and energy blasters.
He is a brilliant tactician and a resourceful warrior willing to do what it takes to defeat the Black Panther, even if it meant launching revolution to destroy Wakanda’s economy with the intention of destroying T’Challa’s reputation in a global scale.
In this section, I’ll dwell more on Killmonger’s motives from the Black Panther movie and a little on the comics.
In the comics, his motivation for being T’Challa’s antagonist is pretty straight-forward, seeking revenge after the death of his father, as explained in his origin. Subsequent versions of his origins suggest that N’Jadaka was a child at the time of Klaue’s attack and that it was N’Jobu who had participated in the attack, dying in the process. This resulted to Killmonger instilling a need for revenge in his father’s name.
But Michael B. Jordan’s grandeur portrayal of Killmonger shows a more complex character whose motives are not that obvious or cliché.
Despite the fact that he is seeking revenge after his father’s death caused by T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father, which is a similar motive to what’s in the comics, his motives go further than that.
In the beginning of the movie where there’s the beautiful visual explaining the origin of Wakanda, we hear N’Jobu narrating about the origin of Wakanda to young N’Jadaka, talking about Wakanda’s thrive in next-level technology resulting from the Vibranium meteorite and that the world then was in chaos.
During this scene, we get to see slaves chained and shipped. During these events of injustice, Wakanda hid in plain sight and didn’t do anything with its advanced technology. Killmonger wants to use Wakanda’s resources to colonize the oppressors, by starting a revolution against them.
As a result Killmonger seeks to repay them tit-for-tat by arming oppressed black communities all over the world, with Wakanda’s advanced weapons, inciting a revolution.
Being raised in a society where he had a brutal childhood, after his father’s death and being abandoned, this shaped his view of society.
He can actually be compared to Magneto who is also known as Erik. Magneto as a child lived in the concentration camps where he suffered under the hands of humans, this created an innate hatred against humans.
For a character that’s driven by rage, this motive has catastrophic results, in that, there’s no thought of governing after destroying the Western society.
And here’s his second motive…..
The people of Wakanda are staunch to their traditions such as the battle for the throne, ingesting of the heart-shaped herb among others. They are nationalists and they have this view:
They don’t see themselves as part of the world, being a secretive nation and don’t see themselves as part of the black community. Killmonger opposes this completely.
He doesn’t give a shit about these rituals that the Wakandans follow and he believes that for this nation to progress, the traditions have to be removed.
This can be seen when:
· he commands the garden of the Heart-Shaped Herb to be burnt
· he refuses to complete the ceremonial combat
· when he walks to the throne and the camera is upside-down and slowly rotates 180 degrees, to symbolically show that Wakanda’s changing and Africa is about to be on top
This can also be seen in the track, “King’s Dead” from Black Panther: The Album where Kendrick Lamar simultaneously takes on the persona of Killmonger. He has a different opinion on how Wakanda should be ruled and is willing to overthrow T’Challa, without giving a damn about the traditions of Wakanda.
His motives can be closely compared to that of Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi:
He wants Wakanda to get rid of the tradition of living in isolation and make them realize that they are part of a larger ecosystem, the world. This can be seen through the symbolism of T’Challa’s and Killmonger’s Black Panther necklaces.
T’Challa wears the silver one because he doesn’t want to be noticed while Killmonger wears the golden necklace because he wants to reveal Wakanda to the world.
Both Killmonger and T’Challa want to achieve the same goals (except that Killmonger’s more brutal) and both are from contrasting backgrounds.
As seen in their spirit realms after they ingest the heart-shaped herbs in different scenes, T’Challa’s a lush beautiful world, the ancestral plain, where he meets his father to seek encouragement.
This is a place of empathy and peace.
As for Killmonger, he meets his father in his childhood apartment in Oakland, where we see him as a scared angry kid, which makes us sympathize with him.
This is a place of pain. He didn’t even hug his father.
Another reason to sympathize with Killmonger is that T’Chaka killed his father to save Zuri, his uncle, and turned a blind eye on him. This is symbolic in the same way Wakanda turned a blind eye by hiding in plain site, from helping the rest of the world. Unfortunately, he was far gone to the bad side of life, when he kills people, even his girlfriend, without any remorse. T’Challa and his estranged cousin could have been on the same page of the family.
There’s an element of tragedy to this, and this is in the Wakandan sunset scene where his bleeding out, arm and arm with T’Challa, refusing the medical help.
We can’t get to wonder how differently Killmonger would have been, if things worked out for the better for him.
Killmonger changes T’Challa’s view of the world, and as a character-arc for T’Challa, he refuses Wakanda’s nationalism and Killmonger’s brutal solution, by stating that:
With that, we realize Killmonger wasn’t just out to take over Wakanda as king with superficial evil plans out of mere vengeance, but we see that his disposition was one that had to be adopted.
And that’s all about Erik Killmonger.