The many iterations of Kukulkan across films, television, and video games

namor black panther wakanda forever
Image via Marvel Studios

Kukulkan, the feathered serpent god of the Mayans, has catapulted to a new sort of fame in the wake of the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The film is the long-awaited debut of Prince Namor aka The Sub-Mariner who serves as the antagonist of the story. During his introduction to Shuri and her Mother, the Queen of Wakanda, Namor says he is also known by his people — the Talokans — as K’ulk’ukan, the feathered serpent.

The Talokans are a water-breathing offshoot of the mesoamerican Mayan people, and Kukulkan is the name of one of their most prominent gods, revered as both a god of war and a messenger of the gods’ intentions. But Wakanda Forever isn’t the first time Kukulkan hasn’t been used (or occasionally co-opted) by a series or franchise to serve as a character.

Below are some of Kukulkan’s major cultural appearances that pre-date Wakanda Forever.

Q: The Winged Serpent 

In 1982, horror director Larry Cohen released Q: The Winged Serpent, a monster movie loosely inspired by the mesoamerican god Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec version of the Mayan Kukulcan. The film is a very loose reimagining of the 1946 B-movie The Flying Serpent with some broad strokes that make it more of an American Kaiju movie than anything else. For better or for worse, it has little more than a name that ties it to any actual Mesoamerican legend or myth. And Q is really more of a dragon than a winged serpent anyway.

Star Trek

Surprisingly, Kukulkan has a presence in the Star Trek universe, dating back all the way to the first animated series that followed up the three seasons of the original TV series. In the 1974 Star Trek: The Animated Series‘ “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth,” the original crew is transported inside an alien craft shaped like a winged serpent. Inside, an entity calling itself Kukulkan — who also takes a winged serpent appearance — demands that the crew worships them as the ancient Maya did centuries ago.

Kukulkan also makes a brief cameo in the third season of Star Trek: Lower Decks. In the episode “Mining the Mind’s Mines,” a psychic landmine manifests the Flying Serpent god as a physical nightmare of one of the crew members, which then turns them to stone. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it Easter egg, but it’s definitely a winky shout-out to the very first Star Trek animated program.

Shadows of the Tomb Raider

Kukulkan’s use in popular culture isn’t only reserved for movies and films. The god is one of the primary plot devices of the 2018 installment of the Lara Croft franchise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. In it, Croft discovers a secret society known as the “Cult of Kukulkan,” that seeks to bring about a “cleansing of the world” through a ritual involving the Dagger of Chak Chel, an Aztec Jaguar Goddess. The dagger can be used to grant its wielder the power of Kukulkan and the strength to stop the cleansing from becoming a permanent solar eclipse. The final boss fight pits Croft against Amaru, who has become the Kukulkan’s avatar.

 X-Men

While it took Namor until Phase 4 to appear in the MCU, the character of Kukulkan has been around in Marvel Comics for much longer. In fact, the first time the character is mentioned is in a story by Namor’s creator, Bill Everett entitled “The Lost City of Yucatan!” first published in 1948 in the “Golden Age” of comics. But it wasn’t a tale involving Namor. It featured his cousin, Namora, and appeared in her self-titled comic.

Nearly 20 years later, the original X-Men team fought Kukulkan in issue #25 of their first comic book series. In this story, Kukulkan was originally an adventurer and relic plunderer named El Tigre who discovered a pair of amulets that gave him the powers of the ancient Mayan god. In the next issue, he’s defeated by the team and is never heard from again, although the god Kukulkan still is part of Marvel’s comic book continuity and part of the Mayan pantheon of gods.

MCU

And finally, Kukulkan actually appeared in the MCU before he became the namesake of Namor for Wakanda Forever. Kind of.

In Thor: Love and Thunder Kukulkan’s Aztec persona, Quetzalcoatl is not only mentioned aloud by the Asgardian Thunder God himself, but he can also actually be seen in an Easter egg appearance as one of the many gods present in Omnipotence City of the gods during Thor’s plea for assistance from the gods. Of course, it isn’t known if he is worshipped in any way by the Talokans.