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Captain Marvel and Black Panther, Marvel's newest movie superheroes, explained

The Avengers
The Avengers
Marvel

In October, Marvel Studios unveiled its ambitious movie schedule for the next five years. If everything holds, we will see the company's first black superhero movie, its first female superhero movie, and, come 2018, perhaps the greatest superhero movie ever made.

Names like Black Panther and Captain Marvel mean a lot to comic book fans who have been waiting anxiously for their arrivals on the big screen. But to people whose only exposure to Marvel's characters are the movies, many of these projects can feel foreign or hard to grasp.

For newbies and fans alike, here's a brief breakdown of Tuesday's big announcements:

Captain America: Civil War

(Marvel)

Why you should care: This movie will set the tone for Marvel movies for the next few years and reveal fractures within the Avengers team. Going by the source material, the Civil War event in the comic books, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) will have an ideological rift as to whether or not superhumans should have to register with the government (a possible fallout from Tony Stark's creation of Ultron in the Avengers sequel landing next May). Alliances will shift, characters will grow, and even new characters may be introduced.

Release Date: May 6, 2016

Black Panther

(Marvel)

Who is Black Panther?

Black Panther is a hero named T'Challa, king of a fictional African country called Wakanda. At first glance, the name Black Panther seems to recall the Black Panther Party, but the character was created in 1966 and was created three months before the Party was founded. The character, however, doesn't predate the black panther logo of the Black Panther Party's previous incarnation, the Lowndes County Freedom organization or the WWII Black Panthers Tank Battalion.

T'Challa has become one of the most influential players in the Marvel Universe. He's part of the Avengers, was married to the X-Men's Storm in what was the biggest wedding in the Marvel Universe, is part of a secret cabal known as the Illuminati. He has also had stints in superhero teams like the Fantastic Four.

Black Panther is given his powers by an entity called the Panther God. Those powers include amping up his physical prowess and senses, making him a physical and acrobatic wonder not unlike Daredevil, Beast, or Spider-Man. Panther is also smart (he holds a Ph.D in physics from Oxford) and has access to Wakanda's most prominent resource, a special, powerful metal called vibranium (the metal found in Captain America's shield) that augments his weapons and uniform.

Why you should care: Black Panther is one of the oldest, most storied black superheroes in comic books, and his movie will be the first time Marvel is giving a non-white superhero a solo movie. To be clear, Panther isn't Marvel Studios' first black superhero — the company decided to go with the Ultimate version of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is black, and cast Heimdall, an Asgardian character who appears in Thor movies, as a black man. But Black Panther will be the first black superhero to have his own Marvel Studios movie (Marvel did not own the rights to Blade when the Blade movies were made).

Marvel will also have the potential to show us a very different view of an African country. Hollywood has had a history of dumbing down African countries and the people who live there as uncivilized, rural, "wild," and corrupt. And though there is corruption and wildlife in some African countries (as well as American states and European countries too), there are also modern cities like Nairobi, Cairo, and Lagos, which Hollywood often ignores.

Wakanda, in the comics, is a wealthy country that retains its tribal culture. Black Panther has been responsible in modernizing the country with factories and his knowledge of physics and tech. According to Marvel, it's become one of the most technologically sophisticated places on earth.

Who would be perfect: Black Panther has already been cast. Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 42, will be Marvel's Black Panther. Given his natural charisma, he should be a great fit for the part.

Release date: November 3, 2017

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

Who is Captain Marvel?

Captain Marvel is a name that many characters have taken up throughout Marvel's history. But in this case, Captain Marvel is referring to Carol Danvers, who took up the title in 2012 under writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. Danvers is a former Air Force officer who got her powers — super strength, photon energy blasts, flight, durability —through an explosion from a Kree device. If you're wondering what a Kree is, think back to Ronan the Accuser, the main villain of Guardians of the Galaxy. He was Kree.

Captain Marvel, under DeConnick's watch, has become as much a story about the character's development as it is about her adventures. Prior to DeConnick's arrival on the book, Danvers went by the name Ms. Marvel and had a skimpier superhero outfit — a high-cut leotard with a ribbon as a belt. DeConnick bucked that image, tapped into the hero's stint in the Air Force, and made her a space captain that fights for respect from The Avengers and leads them into battle. The comic isn't just an exploration about leadership. It also explores how Danvers wants to honor the previous Captain Marvel and what the title means to her.

Captain Marvel Marvel

Captain Marvel #1 (Marvel)

Why you should care:

(Marvel)

Captain Marvel will be the first film about one of Marvel's female superheroes since the aggressively dismal Elektra was released in 2005. (Elektra was produced by 20th Century Fox, not Marvel Studios.) Thus, this movie has the chance to change the system. Because of movies like Elektra and Catwoman, there has been a persistent myth that no one will go see a movie featuring a female superhero lead.

Never mind that those two are just bad films, and that no one says that men should be banned from making superhero movies because Ghost Rider was garbage. And never mind that movies with female leads in superhero-like roles, including The Hunger Games, Maleficent, Tomb Raider, and Kill Bill, make money.

Captain Marvel could change the game for female superheroes. If it does well, we could see Marvel and its rivals push out more movies that don't revolve around the typical straight white guys. The Captain Marvel comic has already changed the comic book world. A feminist movement called the Carol Corps for fans who love the character, grows each day. And at Marvel, it's helped give the company room to believe in stories like Ms. Marvel, a story about a shape-shifting Muslim, Pakistani-American girl and new solo books featuring female superheroes like Storm and Black Widow.

Captain Marvel could very well do the same for movies.

Who would be perfect: It depends on how old Marvel wants to make Danvers. If the film goes younger, the no-brainer would be Jennifer Lawrence who would have wrapped up her Hunger Games contract and finished X-Men: Apocalypse (the supposed end of the First Class trilogy) by the time Captain Marvel goes into production.

If Danvers is portrayed as a woman in her 30s or 40s, Marvel could do no wrong with Rosamund Pike, Jessica Chastain, or Emily Blunt. All three would add something different to the role. My editor, Todd Vanderwerff insists on Katee Sackoff.

What I hope Marvel does, and what I would give them all the props in the world for if they had the guts to do it, is cast a non-white woman in the role. Casting Lupita Nyong'o, Kerry Washington, or Paula Patton as Carol Danvers would absolutely change the game.

Release Date: July 6, 2018.

The Inhumans

INhumans2

(Marvel)

Who are the Inhumans?

The Inhumans are a race of superhumans that first appeared in 1965. They represent the kind of world-building that Marvel is currently doing with films like Guardians of the Galaxy. Before their creation, most comics had superheroes who fought supervillains on earth. The Inhumans represented beings from a different world, and the possibility of different characters inhabiting not just Earth, but every single pocket of the Marvel universe. They were also the last group of heroes that legendary artist Jack Kirby created before going to DC Comics in 1970. 

They're most like the X-Men in that they share a common origin story — Inhumans get their powers after being exposed to a substance called Terrigen Mist. The mist mutates them, giving them powers but sometimes also leaving them with deformities.

When people talk about the Inhumans, they are usually referring to the royal family. I wrote about the Inhuman royal family this past summer, and here's a rundown of that family:

  • Black Bolt is the king. He emits large amounts of energy and force through his voice. If he's not careful, he can level cities by speaking. In order to get around his power, he has developed a telepathic bond with his wife.
  • Medusa is queen of the Inhumans. Medusa's power is in her enhanced hair (unsurprisingly), which she can mentally command to do anything she wishes, like lift heavy objects, protect her from harm, whip her enemies, or subdue them.
  • Crystal is Medusa's younger sister. She has the power to manipulate the four elements — earth, air, fire, water — and mix them together if she wishes.
  • Gorgon is Black Bolt's cousin. He's the muscle of the Royal Family and has bull's legs, a mutation caused by the mists. He creates earthquakes by stomping.
  • Karnak is a freaky little dude with face tattoos who's also one of Black Bolt's cousins. He has the power to find a weak point in any object, plan, or person. Do not mess with Karnak.
  • Triton is still another of Black Bolt's cousins. He's green. He looks like a fish and can breathe underwater. He also has super-strength.
  • Maximus the Mad. Black Bolt's brother, he's basically the Loki of the Inhumans. You shouldn't trust him, as he's always looking out for his best interests. He has mind-control powers.
  • Lockjaw is a giant alien bulldog and royal pet of the Inhumans. He has the power of teleportation.
Why you should care: There is a giant alien bulldog who can teleport. This is not a drill. There is an alien bulldog who can teleport.

(Marvel)

If Lockjaw is not enough to convince you, there's also the possibility that the visuals of the movie will be spectacular. Marvel, over the last few years, has given us brawler hero movie after brawler hero movie. And the Inhumans could give the company an outlet to be more creative, and show us some awesome effects like Medusa whipping her superhuman hair and blocking bullets:
Medusa

(Marvel)

There's also the rivalry aspect. Because of licensing deals, it's unlikely that Marvel will ever reclaim the X-Men characters. And the Inhumans are the closest Marvel is going to get to X-Men-like characters. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them positioned as such — if you ask a certain sect of X-Men fans, it's already happening in the comics. And if you ever wanted to see what the X-Men would be like with the care, budget, and creative powers that Marvel can provide, the Inhumans would be worth checking out.

Who would be perfect: Tom Hardy would be a perfect Black Bolt, as would Jessica Chastain as Medusa, and Emilia Clarke as Crystal.

Release Date: November 2, 2018

The Avengers: Infinity War

(Marvel)

Who are the Avengers?

You probably know the core group. But this movie would have additions like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and Dr. Strange.

Why you should care:

Infinity #6 (Marvel)

This movie will be the culmination of what started in 2008 with Iron Man, the first film that Marvel studios ever made. When Part I of Infinity War comes out, it will mark 10 years of Marvel's money, blood, sweat, tears, planning, and over 15 films (each having small ties to one another) since Iron Man. Suffice to say, this will be huge.

It will also be huge in that the title is teasing Thanos, the Guardians of the Galaxy villain on the hunt for, or possibly in possession of the Infinity Gems. That also means that the Guardians will most likely be making an appearance and the possibility that the Inhumans might make one too, because, after all, you need a lot of heroes to take down the baddest villain in the universe.

In short: this (Part I or Part II or both) could be the greatest superhero movie ever made. And that's worth getting excited over.

Release date: Avengers: Infinity War Part I — May 2018. Part II— May 2019.

WATCH: 'The Avengers trailers explained'

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