Minor spoilers ahead for Black Panther.
Where Black Panther is concerned, a lot of attention has been focused on the title character, the royal family, and the fierce women warriors of the Dora Milaje, deservedly so. But there’s another faction within Wakanda that has yet to be mentioned outright by the Marvel movie’s cast and crew. Just as the Dora Milaje are personal bodyguards of the Black Panther recruited from every tribe in Wakanda, so too are elite spies and assassins recruited from across Wakanda for the nation’s secret police, the Hatut Zeraze.
While speaking with Black Panther star Lupita Nyong’o, she used an interesting turn of phrase to describe her character, Nakia. Her description triggered something in the depths of my Marvel memory, something about an elite team of warriors that existed apart from the Dora Milaje and acted as a sort of CIA for Wakanda. So, while Black Panther might not be factoring the Hatut Zeraze into the movie’s plot, it’s an interesting bit of mythology that deserves some explanation and exploration.
Here’s what Nyong’o had to say:
I can say that Nakia, when we meet her, is a War Dog which means she’s one of Wakanda’s CIA members. Her job is to spy around the world and report back to Wakanda to keep Wakanda safe and keep Wakanda informed … I think as a War Dog, she is in service to her country and to her passion, which is linked to the outside world … I think we see in this film, Nakia has to figure out what comes first for her, [country or king.]
Sure, Nyong’o could simply have been using the term “war dog” to refer to a particularly aggressive and experienced soldier, but another name for the Hatut Zeraze is the Dogs of War. That’s what held my attention. Even though the Wakandan secret police don’t make an appearance in the Black Panther solo film–though it could be argued that Shuri’s all-white costume mannequins are a subtle nod to the assassins’ all-white uniforms–there’s some cool mythology here that’s worth exploring in a future installment … as long as Thanos doesn’t completely destroy the world.
Created by writer Christopher Priest and artist Mark Texeria, and first appearing in “Black Panther” Vol. 3, #4 back in early 1999, the Hatut Zeraze were a team of spies and assassins formed by Wakandan King T’Chaka. Their uniforms, which appear like all-white versions of Black Panther’s armor, incorporate similar Wakandan technology like woven vibranium mesh (which basically makes them nearly invulnerable), cloaking technology that grants invisibility, and boots that allow them to survive otherwise deadly falls and even run across water. Some cool tricks, to be sure, but couple that tech with their ruthless dedication to keeping Wakanda safe, and you’ve got a pretty serious team of super-soldiers.
At least, that’s what the Hatut Zeraze were until King T’Challa disbanded them; he exiled their leader Hunter, the White Wolf, due to his penchant for violence, brutality, and torture. (Hunter offers a whole other angle for a future Black Panther movie.) Once disbanded, the Hatut Zeraze remained loyal to Wakanda but operated as freelance mercenaries until Shuri later reinstated them. A good thing, too, since they factored into the events of “Infinity.”
There’s a lot that deviated from the Marvel comics to the MCU, including Nakia’s allegiances and T’Challa’s acceptance as ruler of Wakanda. Nakia wasn’t exactly a member of the Hatut Zeraze in the comics, but her role within the Dora Milaje had her undertaking some similar missions, a plot point the movie touched upon. Even though Black Panther didn’t highlight the Hatut Zeraze, the movie offers a fantastic opportunity for new and old fans to get to know the title’s incredible characters and its rich mythology that’s unlike anything else in the Marvel Universe.
For even more, be sure to check out these recent reports from our visit to the set of Black Panther:
- ‘Black Panther’: 90 Things to Know about the MCU’s Game-Changing Movie
- ‘Black Panther’: Michael B. Jordan on Erik Killmonger’s Mission in Wakanda
- ‘Black Panther’: Andy Serkis on Klaw’s Return & the Mercenary’s Conflict with Wakanda
- ‘Black Panther’: Chadwick Boseman on T’Challa’s Ascension to Wakanda’s Throne