Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is finally here, and fans are already speculating about what the film portends for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At San Diego Comic-Con in July, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that the highly anticipated Black Panther sequel would be the final film of Phase 4 of the MCU. It marks the first time a phase has ended without reaching a climax in an Avengers film (technically Ant-Man ended Phase 2 and Spider-Man: Far From Home concluded Phase 3, but narratively they were more akin to epilogues).
Wakanda Forever introduced several ideas that are sure to have massive implications for the future of the MCU, particularly the path to Avengers: Secret Wars in 2026. We learned that world powers are conspiring to steal Wakanda’s vibranium, that vibranium exists deep underwater in Taloka, and that vibranium-infused flowers transformed (mutated?) the Talokanil. These concepts, along with the introductions of Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), and character development of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), have laid the foundations for phases 5, 6, and beyond. The stage is set for a global conflict across the MCU that could reverberate through upcoming Marvel films and Disney+ shows, including Captain America: New World Order, Thunderbolts, Ironheart, the Fantastic Four film, and the rumored Okoye series—all leading to Avengers: Secret Wars.
Captain America: New World Order to Thunderbolts
In Wakanda Forever, Namor reveals that vibranium exists outside of Wakanda and blames the Wakandans for putting his people, the Talokanil, in jeopardy from world powers seeking the precious metal. Unsurprisingly, the United States is one of those countries. While the film focuses on the conflict between Wakanda and Talokan, the true threat is the outside forces preparing to resort to hostile methods to acquire vibranium. Despite the best efforts of Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), Wakanda Forever ends with the United States planning to attack Wakanda and Contessa Valentina primed to lead any counterattacks. As Valentina wryly tells Ross in the film, she dreams of a day when the United States is the only country with vibranium.
Valentina makes it clear that the president of the United States wants to attack Wakanda, and after Okoye intercepts a police transport to free Ross at the end of Wakanda Forever, relations between the two countries are sure to be frayed. The United States could use these events as an excuse to attack Wakanda, with its true motivation being an effort to acquire vibranium.
A battle between the United States and Wakanda would put the new Captain America, Sam Wilson, squarely in the middle of the conflict. Anthony Mackie is set to star in the fourth Captain America film, Captain America: New World Order, which is being written by Falcon and the Winter Soldier scribe Malcolm Spellman. Wilson fully claimed the mantle in the Disney+ series, which also strengthened his ties to Wakanda: He not only carries the vibranium shield of Captain America, but the Wakandans also gifted him with the upgraded suit he wears now. How Wilson responds to plans by Valentina and the United States to attack Wakanda and acquire vibranium could be a central theme of the upcoming film, leading directly into Thunderbolts.
The upcoming Thunderbolts film will feature a team of Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and Red Guardian (David Harbour). Contessa Valentina has been gathering the motley crew of superhuman characters throughout Phase 4, and the purpose of that team finally becomes clear in Wakanda Forever.
In the comics, the Thunderbolts are a team of superpowered beings who vacillate between being led by the villainous Baron Zemo and reformed by the likes of Hawkeye and Bucky Barnes. It seems that the MCU version of the Thunderbolts will begin as antagonists attempting to infiltrate Wakanda and steal its vibranium.
THUNDERBOLTS official concept art as revealed at D23 Expo— Bucky Barnes In HD (Fan account) (@BuckyInHD) September 11, 2022
The makeup of this Thunderbolts team is strategically designed for such a mission, between Yelena’s Black Widow training and Ghost’s powers of intangibility and invisibility. The conflict should be particularly interesting for John Walker, who had a memorable run-in with the Dora Milaje in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and will likely relish the opportunity to exact some measure of revenge against the Dora. On the other hand, Bucky Barnes, like Sam Wilson, owes the Wakandans for helping him to rehabilitate his mind and for creating his new arm. Bucky and Wilson may very well find themselves trying to mediate a conflict between the two global powers.
As we know from Wakanda Forever, the United States isn’t the only country seeking vibranium, seeing as French soldiers were apprehended and humiliated in the film for trying to attack a Wakandan ship. Among the interested international parties could be a certain monarch of Latveria: Victor Von Doom. In the comic series Black Panther (2009)—by Reginald Hudlin, Jonathan Maberry, Ken Lashley, and Will Conrad—Shuri dons the mantle of the Black Panther for the first time when T’Challa is in a coma, following an attack by Doctor Doom. Doom later frames Namor in an assassination attempt on Shuri, until the Fantastic Four get involved and help to reveal the true villain.
This story line will lead to the major comics event Doomwar: a six-issue miniseries by Maberry, Conrad, and Scot George Eaton, that reveals that Doctor Doom orchestrated a coup in Wakanda and attempted to pit Namor and Black Panther against each other in an effort to steal Wakanda’s vibranium. Doom succeeds, taking all the vibranium in order to harness it and enhance his mystical powers. A massive battle ensues, in which two Black Panthers are joined by the Fantastic Four, War Machine, Deadpool, and the X-Men to take down an enhanced Doctor Doom.
With the exception of the X-Men, all of the major players in this story line are present in, or coming soon to, the MCU. While Wakanda is distracted by the United States, and with a tenuous truce in place between Namor’s Talokan and Wakanda, the time is ripe for the MCU to introduce Doctor Doom as one of the big bads for the upcoming phases (along with Jonathan Majors’s Kang). Rumors persist that Wakanda Forever originally had a post-credits stinger that would tease Doctor Doom, but that it was pulled last minute to ensure that the moment did not diminish the emotional mid-credits stinger and tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. The fact that Wakanda Forever has only one mid-credits scene, while the past five Marvel films (and 15 of the past 18) had two stingers, lends some credence to the rumors. If true, that was narratively the right decision, as the mid-credits stinger provides an emotionally cathartic end to the film. But with Namor now in the MCU, and with a Fantastic Four film coming soon, Doctor Doom can’t be far behind.
Avengers: Secret Wars
It’s possible that Marvel Studios will swerve and base the MCU version of Secret Wars on the Doomwar story line from the comics. However, even if Marvel decides to pursue a story that is more directly inspired by the source material, the events of Wakanda Forever introduce several key elements for Secret Wars.
Secret Wars (2015)—not to be confused with the 1984 comic of the same name—is a nine-issue miniseries that concludes the “Time Runs Out” story line in Avengers and New Avengers by writer Jonathan Hickman. It’s one of the most momentous arcs in recent comics history, and one that resulted in a reboot of the Marvel comics universe. In that series, various Marvel universes collide and threaten all existence, including the primary Marvel universe, Earth-616. A group of the most powerful superheroes—known as the Illuminati and consisting of Reed Richards, Black Panther, Tony Stark, Black Bolt, Captain America, Doctor Strange, and Namor—comes together to forestall the apocalypse.
Namor later joins a rival group of villains, known as the Cabal. The two groups try to prevent the destruction of the multiverse in various ways, but ultimately fail. The collision of universes results in one surviving patchwork universe in which Doom, now called God Emperor Doom, gains near-unlimited power and re-creates reality in his image. God Emperor Doom is eventually defeated by a collection of superheroes led by Reed Richards and T’Challa, who wields the Infinity Gauntlet (yes, that Infinity Gauntlet).
The details of that story are so fantastical that it’s unlikely to be directly adapted into the much more grounded MCU. However, the key characters are Black Panther, Namor, Reed Richards, and Doctor Doom. The concept of the multiverse already has been introduced by the MCU, primarily through the Disney+ series Loki and the films Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and it’s sure to be a primary element in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which premieres in February 2023. The appearance of the Illuminati in Multiverse of Madness hinted at a potential Secret Wars story line and was likely a tease for the MCU version of the superpowered group, and might include Shuri, Namor, Reed Richards, Riri Williams, and Sam Wilson.
The MCU version of the Cabal could include Loki, Namor, Doctor Doom, and the Hood. The Hood is slated to appear in the Ironheart series as Riri Williams’s primary antagonist, setting up a conflict between the two that could grow into another one between the Illuminati and the Cabal in future stories. The events of Secret Wars in the comics resulted in an amalgamated Earth-616, bringing characters like Miles Morales (who had previously existed as the Spider-Man in Earth-1610) into the main universe. Similarly, Avengers: Secret Wars, which we know will follow Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, could consolidate the various realities into one, while also serving as a means of introducing new characters into the main MCU universe.
Mutants in the MCU
Wakanda Forever also introduced concepts that could shape more long-term MCU projects—most notably through the eventual introduction of the X-Men and other mutants. Namor was the first mutant in Marvel’s comics, and Wakanda Forever establishes him as a mutant in the MCU. The movie reveals that the Talokanil were originally Mesoamericans who were transformed into aquatic beings after ingesting a vibranium-infused flower. Namor calls himself a mutant, which is confirmed via a DNA analysis by Shuri. The film seems to draw a distinction between the physical transformation of the Talokanil and the mutated DNA of Namor, making it unclear whether only Namor is considered a mutant or whether the Talokanil as a whole are as well. Regardless, Namor is the latest in the deliberate sprinkling of mutants in the MCU, including Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel and Mr. Immortal in She-Hulk.
Even more noteworthy than Namor is the idea of vibranium in the deep sea. Many fans have wondered how Marvel can introduce a whole race of mutant beings almost 15 years into the MCU. The question of where mutants have been throughout the events of the Infinity Saga hangs over any potential mutant-related story line, and while mutants did exist in the MCU before Black Panther’s sequel, they didn’t yet seem to exist in large numbers. Wakanda Forever may have just given us the answer.
In the comics, Kamala Khan is not a mutant; she’s an Inhuman. Following the events of another major Marvel comics event, Infinity (written by Jonathan Hickman), a Terrigen bomb is detonated and releases massive amounts of Terrigen mist worldwide. Terrigen mist triggers a process whereby people who have latent Inhuman genes are transformed into Inhumans. In Ms. Marvel #1 (2014) by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, Kamala Khan is revealed to be one of those people with latent Inhuman genes whose powers are triggered after she’s exposed to the Terrigen mist.
The decision to change Kamala into a mutant in the MCU, combined with the vibranium that exists in Talokan, could indicate an eventual appearance of the X-Men. A massive battle that involves world powers and superhuman beings in Doomwar or Secret Wars could result in the release of massive amounts of vibranium mist into the Earth’s atmosphere. This could be the global event that exponentially increases the presence of mutants in the MCU and paves the way for the X-Men.
Ron Seoul-Oh is the founder and editor-in-chief of POCculture.com, a pop culture expert, and the creator of the Shang-Chi Challenge and the Return 2 Wakanda charity initiatives. Ron is a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer–approved critic and has been cited by the Los Angeles Times, CNN, CBC, and more.
A previous version of this piece listed the members of the wrong iteration of the Cabal. It has been updated.