This is Part 7 of a multiple post series going over the details and intricacies of the multiple sources of superpowers in Wakanda and how they have changed over the years.
In Part 7, we take all the information we know about the Heart Shaped Herb and its potential toxicity and try and come up with some reasonable fan theories to make it all "work."]
When we first looked at the HSH toxicity, we went over what was shown to us, on panel, in regards to the herb nearly killing Killmonger.
We then went over the on panel instances where the HSH was shown to be non-toxic or implied to be non-toxic.
We are now going to try and fanfic a solution to this curious aspect of the Black Panther mythos using the facts that we have at our disposal.
But first, let's get this out of the way: I am fully aware that the real reason is simply that no one really cares about the history of Wakanda and the history of the Heart Shaped Herb, so the various writers told their story without thinking about the implications of what they were writing. Priest killed Killmonger because he wanted to (and maybe was going to get around to explaining what truly happened but it got cut short). Hudlin re-emphasized the tournament and Bast's explicit contribution, Spider-Man eating it, ect because that is the story he wanted to tell.
But, as comic book nerds and Black Panther fanatics, we owe it to ourselves to figure out what Marvel won't. So without further adeau...
1. The HSH IS poisonous outside the royal bloodline.... and superhuman individuals
- This theory keeps it simple. Parker is enhanced enough to not feel the effects of the herb. S'yan offered it to Storm because Storm is a mutant and powerful enough to handle the herb without the negative effects. Zawadi is nothing but conjecture and can't be proven she took the herb on panel.
Using this theory, you can also state that the herb kills the person before they can even be connected to or reach Bast.
The biggest issues with this theory is the Kasper Cole situation, why T'challa was so shocked and pissed Killmonger bit the dust, and that the entire one day tournament is rigged beyond belief.
2. The HSH reacted negatively with Killmonger's enhancements
- We have no idea what Killmonger did to give himself his powers. Despite Erik being one of the most well known and most frequent adversary to T'challa, we have never gotten a proper origin story to how he made himself into a metahuman fighting machine.
Perhaps whatever sorcery, chemistry, experiments, ect that Killmonger did to himself simply mixed with the chemical properties of the HSH, thus nearly killing him. In his capitalistic ways, he turned this set back into a money making venture, creating a "synthetic" version of the herb and creating a story about the toxic nature of the herb.
This theory is... boring but effective. It allows for Killmonger's near death to simply be a one-off thing that no future writer has to worry about. It works, but it feels kinda lazy.
3. Hunter poisoned the HSH
- Hunter acted like a shady MOFO right before Killmonger bit the dust. These backhanded methods of getting what he wants fits right up his ally. The biggest strike to this theory is that no one ever figured it out, including T'challa. But it is a personal favorite of mine because it is something Hunter would do.
4. The HSH wasn't prepared properly
- We have seen instances where the HSH needed to be prepared by elders to be used effectively. Perhaps Killmonger eating it like an apple wasn't the best idea in the world.
Unfortunately, we saw both Spider-Man and Shuri eat the herb with little to no preparation and the first appearance of the HSH had T'challa eating it raw, so, this theory is not greatest fit.
5. Bast judged Killmonger unworthy of the title
- This is my personal favorite theory and likely the best fit.
We know the Panther powers have some component of the Panther God/Bast involved since way back in Gillis's mini series. This got adapted further by Hudlin and then even more by Hickman.
The HSH doesn't directly give you the powers, but Bast does. The HSH "connects" you to Bast, and you are then judged. Wakanda lore states that those who are unworthy are destroyed, but we saw Shuri deemed unworthy and lived. And, Bast works in mysterious ways and is never, ever straightforward. Whether its sparing Shuri, or seeing the future and doing nothing about it, or letting Doom take all the vibranium... Bast is a fickle, irritating God.
It is also important to note that Priest outright said that the HSH connects you to the Panther God. So even in Priest's continuity, the connection is that.
So, Killmonger was brought before Bast or had his spirit connected to Bast, Bast saw nothing by evil and vanity, deemed him unworthy of the Black Panther title, and put him in a coma. She didn't outright kill him as that would have permanently put an asterisk on T'challa's Black Panther career, her favored son.
The only flaw to this theory is that it wasn't shown on panel. Otherwise, it checks all the boxes, fits with the current mythos established by Hudlin, Mayberry, and Hickman. and makes the Killmonger mess as neat and tidy as possible.