'Captain America: Civil War': The Backstory of Everett Ross

Why is Martin Freeman playing the "Emperor of Useless White Boys"?
Mark Texeira/Marvel Entertainment

Martin Freeman's mysterious Captain America: Civil War character has been revealed, and while the name might not be one that will mean anything to the majority of the Marvel Studios audience, comic book fans are overjoyed. So who is Everett Ross, and why should anyone care about him?

Perhaps the most important thing to note about the character is that he's not, specifically, a Captain America character. Instead, he's more closely connected to another character making his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in May's Civil War: T'Challa, the Black Panther.

Although Ross started his fictional life in 1998's Ka-Zar Vol. 4 No. 17 as an essentially faceless government official tasked with dealing with a jungle hero best described as a Tarzan wannabe, he came to prominence as one of the two leads of the critically acclaimed third volume of the Black Panther solo series launched later that year.

Ross' placement in the series — as an audience surrogate and often the butt of writer Christopher Priest's snarky sense of humor — was both cynical and inspired. "Comics are traditionally created by white males for white males," Priest once said, talking about the reason for Ross' presence. "I figured, and I believe rightly, that for Black Panther to succeed, it needed a white male at the center, and that white male had to give voice to the audience’s misgivings or apprehensions or assumptions about this character and this book."

The character offered more than simply a white lens on the African king. He was a necessary counterpoint to Priest's take on the Panther as a protagonist. As Priest returned the Black Panther to his roots as a political figure as much as a superhero, he became a hugely capable character able to out-think Iron Man, out-fight Captain America and out-threaten Wolverine. Meanwhile, Ross assumed a more ridiculous and comedic role, accidentally making a deal with the devil in exchange for pants and being every bit as clueless as the Panther was masterfully strategic.

(Not for nothing did the character become known as "Emperor of Useless White Boys," a nickname he gave himself but one that flipped the racial politics of the two leads from what readers might have expected from a superhero comic book.)

Outside of Priest's Black Panther series, Ross has made few appearances. He showed up in an issue of Uncanny X-Men and in later Black Panther comics, but each time in connection with T'Challa or the Black Panther mythology.

While many of Marvel's other comic book bureaucrats have ended up frustrating multiple superheroes — Henry Peter Gyrich debuted in an issue of Avengers but has terrorized everyone from Spider-Man to the X-Men since; Valerie Cooper similarly debuted in X-Men before showing up in issues of Captain America, Iron Man, Avengers and Thunderbolts, among others — Ross remains resolutely a character connected almost exclusively with Black Panther as a property.

With that in mind, while it's yet to be revealed exactly what Freeman's Ross will be up to in Captain America: Civil War, it seems more than likely that his true purpose in the movie will be to set up an appearance in the Black Panther movie. That feature is scheduled for a February 2018 release, with Creed's Ryan Coogler directing. Civil War, meanwhile, will be released on May 6.

 
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