By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Most people who love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will have seen Captain America: Civil War by now before heading to see X-Men: Apocalypse. While long-time comic book readers may grin at the conversation T’Challa has with Natasha (Black Widow), not everyone is going to understand the reference made about how two Egyptian goddesses figure into his belief system. What he said also reveals a potential story direction for his solo movie. The detail is not that much of a stretch to interpret in the context of this movie either.
As T’Challa explained, “In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping-off point. You reach out with both hands, and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into the green veld where you can run forever.”
In what I first understood from his statement is that his father’s spirit freely roams the Earth. But there’s a deeper context not many viewers may catch on to. Bastet (her full name) is a peaceful goddess, a divine protector of cats. She represents grace and affection. There is no need for violence unless provoked. She can be used as an instrument of vengeance. In the earliest references to this figure in The Pyramid Texts, she is there to guard, if not protect, the king.
The darker side, the one who thirsts for vengeance and is an embodiment of destruction, is prominent in the role Sakhmet (original spelling) represents. She can breathe fire and even soothe the savage beast. She participates in an orgy of destruction and salivates wantonly upon the carcases of her enemies. According to myth, Destruction of Mankind, the sun god Ra, is concerned with what humanity is plotting against him. Other versions suggest he’s displeased with how mankind has developed because mankind believes turning old has made him unwise. Thus, after hearing council, he ordered they be punished. These people were not obeying his laws and much worse, the Ma’at (divine order/justice) was not respected. Thus, The Eye was summoned to kill them all. She would arrive by night as the vicious Sakhmet. Even when most of the criminals are wiped away, she continued in her bloodlust and killed with abandon. The gods were unable to stop her. The only way to placate her was to get her drunk. One night, while Sakhmet is asleep, the rivers are spiked with beer. When she needed to refresh herself upon awakening, she drank from it. Eventually, she became too intoxicated to remember her standing orders. Much like The Hulk being serenaded with kindness, the rage within would fade and thus, she would revert to her calmer self.
Variations of this tale had her transforming back to Hathor (a cow goddess representing fertility, universal love and joy) instead of Bastet. No matter which figure represented the better half, the concept remained the same. These divinities made their appearance in the Marvel Universe long ago in Avengers #112 (June, 1973) and a bit more recently in Heroic Age: Prince of Power #2 & 3 (2010).
The Online Marvel Appendix offers a great potential outline for how The Black Panther movie might flow:
(Avengers #112) – An African tribe welcomed the journalist known only an Umbala to observe their ritual worship of the Lion God. Umbala was loving it, until N’Laka revealed that they needed a human sacrifice for their lord to return–and it was Umbala. The Lion God took possession of Umbala’s form and led a group of African-Americans to assault Avengers Mansion, under the pretence of demanding that the Black Panther returns to Wakanda. Upon gaining entrance to the mansion, “Umbala” took mental control of the Black Panther, revealed himself as the Lion God, and teleported away with T’Challa. He attempted to force the Panther to reveal how the Panther God could maintain his followers without appearing to them. The Panther refused, and so the Lion God sought to force him by threatening his team-mates. He returned to the mansion and overpowered the Avengers, but Thor recovered quickly and summoned down a lightning bolt, which seemingly destroyed him. In reality, the Lion God survived (although his totem-stick was destroyed) and relocated to a cavern beneath the mansion, from which he planned to make another assault.
This story can help unify the movies in the sense of how the heroes dislike being controlled by a higher order.
The only person who can be The Black Panther is one deemed worthy by others from the tribe of the title. The role of hero or protector has to be earned. The same rule should apply to the Avengers. While the world fears them because of the damage wrought in a global scale, the world also needs them because no one else is able to thwart the threats that are coming (namely alien invasions). We can still blame Tony Stark for creating Ultron.
No reason is offered as to why the small country of Wakanda made an Egyptian Goddess its patron saint. Her worship and this culture’s adoption of her wisdom is explained in the comics though, in the 2007 edition of The All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update #4/Myth –
Siblings Sekhmet and Bast are feline war gods with male and female forms ruling over Upper and Lower Egypt. Bast fled when the pharaohs rose to power and Sekhmet absorbed her sister’s power base from Lower Egypt. Moving her sect to Memphis, Sekhmet protected the pharaohs in battle.
After the times of the pharaohs, Sekhmet only had a fringe cult and became jealous of Bast, who had become the Panther God of the powerful nation Wakanda.
Even before Avengers: Age of Ultron, this country is a place that foreigners want to plunder because it’s the only source of vibranium (which was used to make Captain America’s shield). This mineral is more precious than gold and diamond combined! Whoever can rule Wakanda can use it to take over the world!
The greed some agencies show for material wealth is a vice Captain America worries about. After the incidents in Winter Soldier, he believes all the governments around the world are corruptible. If the Avengers was to allow being ordered by council to a troubled country for all the wrong reasons, then they are no better than their enemies. While The Avengers have an eye upon the world, nobody has an eye on them. The Watchmen analogy is older than time. When the sun god Ra kept a watchful gaze upon of all of Ancient Egypt, his domain, he worried about his image and how the welfare of his followers should be managed. “The Eye” is a term to mean how far any company’s (deities included) reach goes. For Ra, his eyes are represented by his lieutenants — Hathor, Sekhmet, Bastet, Wadjet, and Mut — and he’s willing to let them operate independently.
Interestingly, the whole MCU Civil War happened because these soldiers do not like being put under watch by a higher order. Osiris and Isis feuded with Seth. Horus sided with his Pharaonic parents, and his fight with Seth is neverending. While in Egyptian lore, we see how Sekhmet can lose control, she can be brought back to the fold if given the right amount of booze. The Black Panther knew he can not give in to vengeance, and thus had the power of Bastet behind him instead of Sekhmet, using the movie’s spelling. However, The Avengers can not be brought back together the same way. While Steve Rogers does write a letter to Tony to say the team will be there for each other, he has to operate on his own accord than a rule of another. What’s funny about the Civil War movie is in the fact Iron Man was not interested in bringing anyone in. He gave in to his emotions and was the perfect Sekhmet, unable to see a true course of action. The Black Panther witnessed the destruction of the Avengers, not mankind.
Whoever Tony Stark leads will end up becoming the New Avengers, which may include Spider-Man after he gets some S.H.I.E.L.D. type training from either him or Agent Coulson. The implication in this direction was revealed when Ultimate Spider-Man the Animated series started. With no surprise, The Black Widow is no longer taking sides. However, for those heroes formerly imprisoned, Steve Rogers have rescued them. They have to lurk in the shadows and remain underground. Even though Rogers said he will have Tony’s back when needed, will this secret group of Avengers become Marvel’s New A-Team?