M’Baku, Leader of the Jabari: Changing the Men of Marvel

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Mbaku - But Why Tho (1)

When we think of the Men of Marvel, who I highlighted in my last piece here, we think of washboard abs, broad shoulders, and what the ideal man should look like. We’ve been shown the exaggerated 20-packs and the insane shoulder to waist ratio in our comic books as what men should aspire to be. They should aspire to their heroism but in many ways also aspire to their physical strength and bodies. However, strength doesn’t only come in one body type, contrary to what our screens and pages would have us believe. Which is why M’Baku matters.

In the lead-up to Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, there were many threads about the Men of Marvel which included gifs and stills in which twitter-users expressed their thirst for Bearded Captain America, Thor, and the other Men of Marvel. With the Black Panther trailers and tv spots, the appreciation of Michael B. Jordan’s (Killmonger) body and the Dora Milaje was everywhere. However, no one mentioned M’Bkau, leader of the Jabari. This is due in large part to the fact that the character didn’t have prominent marketing prior to the film with the exception of one character poster and a gif of him holding W’Kabi in the air. That being said, immediately after the film was released, M’Baku’s new name was “mmm’Baku” and Twitter was alive with thirst.

Played by Winston Duke, M’Baku is a character that steals every scene that he is in. With his jokes from his throne, his adherence to tradition helps save Wakanda, and his honor over self-serving choices and ambition is what makes him a hero. M’Baku was the breakout star of the film and left audiences wanting more from Duke. Beyond his dynamic acting abilities, the focus has been on how good-looking he is, making a lot of conversations (as seen above) about his body.

M’Baku also has a different body type from the other Men of Marvel. Although Thor, Killmonger, Captain America, Bucky, etc., are all different characters with different personalities and motivations, they all look like they walked out of a cross-fit magazine (which makes sense because you know, they’re superheroes). But M’Baku shows the fact that you don’t need an eight-pack or an insane waist-to-shoulder ratio to be fit. In fact,  his ritual fight with T’Challa is as entertaining as it is a good battle between two different fighting styles. M’Baku and the actor that plays him, towers over his co-stars at 6’4″ and with his heavier build has gained him the title of “THICC King” on Twitter.

The introduction of M’Baku as a leader and a formidable opponent does more than just give us another character, it opens up what a hero looks likes. In our heroes, we seek people in peak physical condition – you know, with all the running and punching – but we too often limit that condition to Killmonger’s body type. In the joint series from ESPN and Marvel, 1 of 1: Genesis and 1of 1: Origins, the parallels between heroes and athletes are made. When we see bodies in action, bodies running, fighting, and playing, we realize that our bodies are products of their environments and also reflections of what we have trained them to do.

Mbaku - But Why Tho (1)

When we look at athletes’ bodies, JJ Watt’s body type is vastly different from  Cam Netwon’s even within the same sport. One has trained to stop the football and the other trained to move it. They play the same sport and are even both the same height (6’5″) but their positions on the field have shaped who builds mass and who leans up. On the other side of this when we compare JJ Watt’s 6’5″ and 290lb frame to that of an offensive lineman like Bryan McKinnie who stands at 6’8″ and 353lbs we see that what your role defines what the body-type should be. M’Baku’s stature and larger frame don’t limit him from being a fighter instead that enhance his style of fighting.

Just looking to football, the player body types can range from 5’10” and 185lbs and smaller to McKinnie’s size. This is because each role requires different skills and those skills are improved by making your body fit them. As a tribe, the Jabari warriors are larger than that of the other tribes of Wakanda – shown in the ritual combat scene below. We can’t know for sure why, but we do know that Ryan Coogler (director Black Panther) took the time to show that the people of Wakanda are not one size and not one culture. They are a people of many with different nuances shaping the world of Wakanda on screen. That being said, I would love to see the Jabari meal plan that let’s their warriors bulk on a vegetarian diet.

As the MCU stands to grow and introduce new heroes with the wrap of its current phase, I am more than certain that we will see even more varying body types. Spider-Man is thin and small, perfect for swinging around New York. Captain America is literally a super-soldier whose body was modified for peak performance in a military capacity. And M’Baku is a leader of tribe in the mountains who is there to hold onto traditional fighting styles which uses vibranium augmented wooden staffs and size.

Although we have different bodies in the MCU, you don’t see people thirsty for Iron Man, Hawkeye, War Machine, or Falcon, not in the same levels as the other heroes and they’re all still relatively small. But M’Baku, with one of the larger bodies of the universe, has shook the twitter-sphere so much that articles have been written on thirst levels (here, here, and here). He is on everyone’s minds right now and with a role in Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther past $500 million in it’s first week, I believe that M’Baku is here to stay.


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