When Black Panther debuts this Friday, audiences will get an introduction to one of Marvel's coolest superheroes. But while the film will undoubtedly show off the T’Challa’s super powers—acute senses, super strength, all-around bad-guy pounding skills—it’s unlikely to dwell on his other special ability: being very, very rich.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that Black Panther is the richest super hero of all time. That may come as a surprise considering Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark’s entire brand is built around being one-percenters. But while Wayne and Stark may be titans of industry, T’Challa is the king of an entire country. And not just any country. The Black Panther’s home of state of Wakanda, located in East Africa, is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the Marvel Universe. As Wakanda’s leader, T’Challa is effectively in control of his homeland’s resources.
Those resources are very valuable. Beyond groundbreaking tech, Wakanda is home to massive reserves of Vibranium—the ultra-rare sound-absorbing metal that Captain America’s shield is made of. The material’s almost mystical properties make it extremely pricey. Pure Vibranium retails for about $10,000 per gram (Fantastic Four #607), and Wakanda’s vaults hold 10,000 tons of the stuff (Doomwar #1). That comes out to $90.7 trillion dollars worth of Vibranium. Tony Stark may have some fancy cars and a nice house, but T’Challa’s mineral wealth alone is worth more than the GDP of the entire (real) world.
Unfortunately, it’s not exactly clear if Black Panther’s Vibranium reserves have survived the hazards of a world filled with super villains. In the Doomwar story arc, T’Challa was forced to release a fail-safe that rendered Wakanda’s processed Vibranium inert in order to prevent Dr. Doom from gaining control of the country’s stockpile. (Activating that fail-safe can’t have been an easy decision. The demolition of all that Vibranium destroyed three times more wealth than the Great Recession). Luckily, Vibranium appears to have returned to Wakanda in the latest iteration of Black Panther comics, so hopefully T'Challa has rebuilt the nation's reserves.
While Black Panther certainly seems to be the richest superhero in terms of economic power, it might not be right to think of Black Panther as “rich” in the same way as Batman and Iron Man anyway. For one, money isn’t nearly as important to T’Challa’s character as it is for Wayne and Stark—after all, their powers literally come from being rich (high tech suits and Batmobiles don’t come cheap). Black Panther may be wealthy, but that fact doesn’t play a big role in his story. Another key difference is that T’Challa’s wealth, while under his effective control, technically belongs to the people of Wakanda. Black Panther probably could go on a Stark-style spending spree if he wanted to, but as a respected leader of a nation, that’s not really his style. It’s also worth pointing out that money has a different meaning in a world where there are space ships, and living gods, and fantastical technology seems to be invented every day. But that doesn’t mean it’s not totally awesome that Black Panther could buy 900,000 Iron Man suits (if it was in Wakanda’s interest, of course).