Partly due to her popularity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Princess Shuri of Wakanda now has her own solo comic, which debuted this Wednesday. Shuri #1 (written by Nnedi Okorafor; art by Leonardo Romero) showcases not only the whip-smart princess, but the matriarchal society of Wakanda, taking what drew viewers to Shuri in the film and reconciling those characteristics with the elements of the current arc of Black Panther, while giving Shuri the depth needed to carry her own arc.
Shuri #1 starts off with a space mission, fulfilling Wakanda’s destiny to reach the stars. T’Challa and Manifold, the teleporting mutant, set off on Wakanda’s first ever human space mission, traversing to a wormhole with the intent to return in just a couple of days. Their ship, of course, has been engineered by Shuri and her team. The whole nation is excited.
Cut to two weeks later: T’Challa still isn’t back.
Shuri tries to distract herself with new gadgets, but the absence of her brother weighs down on her. The voices of her ancestors have manifested into spectral figures around her after her brief journey to the plane of Wakandan memory. Despite her efforts to stay distracted, they constantly remind her that T’Challa’s gone. But Shuri just wants to test out her new wings.
There’s a playfulness to this version of Shuri in line with her MCU counterpart, but in this version, it seems to mask deeper issues of feeling insignificant. While Ryan Coogler and Letitia Wright’s Shuri enjoys a healthy, equal relationship with her brother, the comic Shuri reveals that, while she loves T’Challa dearly, there’s a feeling of unequal footing when it comes to how they’re perceived. Everything she does is in relation to T’Challa.
She confides to an online friend (a mysterious figure known only as Muti, who made contact with Shuri after hacking into her systems) that she’s exhausted by the constant attention on her brother. Even when she saved his life for the first time at age seven, the focus was on how she saved him. Every time someone reminds her of the failed space mission, she thinks about how its her fault and about how she should be doing more to find him.
The gadgets and experiments are all a distraction for the ever-constant reminder that she should be doing more for her brother. It’s a weighty burden on Shuri that adds more to her character than the teenage genius we saw in Coogler’s Black Panther.
When her mother Queen Ramonda summons her for an urgent meeting, Shuri is sure its going to be more of the same spiel about finding T’Challa. (Poor Manifold seems to be forgotten in the mix).
But the meeting is on the outskirts of town, and instead of a traditional political meeting, Queen Ramonda reveals that in times of trouble the women of Wakanda come together to seek a solution. The traditional meeting is known as “the Elephant’s Trunk.” Joining Queen Ramonda and Okoye are Zuwena, director of the extraction academy; Mansa, a recent high school graduate; Tiwa, mother and professor of physics; and Bube, mother of two and dressmaker of many. Now that T’Challa is missing, Wakanda needs a leader. They discuss for a bit, before Queen Ramonda says, “So we’re all in agreement.”
The women turn to a confused Shuri and ask her to take up the mantle of the Black Panther.
While the MCU Shuri was beloved and quickly became a favorite, she was still a side character in T’Challa’s story, one of the many pieces in the grand scheme of Thanos’s plan, and not the protagonist of her own story.
But in Shuri #1, with T’Challa out of the picture comes Shuri’s chance to be her own hero. We can’t help but wonder if the movies could go the same direction.