Black Panther sees the newly crowned King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) dealing with some serious problems in his sovereign nation of Wakanda - problems that could have global consequences. The movie pulls in CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) to help defend Wakanda from its enemies (both new and old), but T'Challa's new pal Captain America (Chris Evans) is nowhere to be found. As the first prelude comic for Avengers: Infinity War explains, Captain America and the broken remnants of the Avengers are actually on missions of their own during the events of Black Panther.
To recap, Cap and T'Challa's relationship got off on the wrong foot when they found themselves on opposing sides of Captain America: Civil War's civil war. T'Challa, believing that Cap's old friend Bucky Barnes a.k.a. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) was responsible for the U.N. bombing that killed his father, T'Chaka (John Kani), joined forces with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in an effort to hunt down Bucky and bring him to justice. When it was eventually revealed that Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) was the real killer, T'Challa made amends by offering Bucky sanctuary in Wakanda (albeit in cryogenic stasis).
So, where are Captain America and the Winter Soldier during the events of Black Panther? Both the prelude comic and the movie itself shed some light.
Where Is Captain America During Black Panther?
The prelude comic reveals that after Cap left Bucky in Wakanda, he - along with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) - formed a smaller strike team working against international threats. In the prelude comic, the team are focused on stopping a terrorist group who have gotten their hands on some Chitauri weapons left behind after the Battle of New York in The Avengers. A major theme of Civil War was the Avengers facing up to the consequences of their previous adventures, so it makes sense that Steve Rogers would feel responsible for cleaning up the continued fallout of the Avengers' fight with Loki. It's also natural that he would form a team with Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson, since the trio first formed their own mini-team in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The question of "Where are the Avengers?" frequently comes up in response to MCU solo movies - and Black Panther is no exception. After all, T'Challa and Steve are now friends, so Captain America would surely be willing to help out if he heard that Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) was back on the scene. However, while Black Panther has high stakes with potential worldwide ramifications, it's also about the King of Wakanda dealing with problems that Wakanda created for itself. It's noted early on in the movie that Wakanda does not accept aid from foreign countries (mainly because it doesn't need it), and T'Challa was raised in an extremely self-contained culture, so it likely wouldn't even occur to him to ask outsiders like the Avengers for help.
As for the rest of the superhero team... the prelude comic implies that Tony Stark is preparing to deal with the cosmic threat of Thanos by himself. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has retired (again) and gone home to be with his family. And Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) have paired off together, with Vision now disguised as a human (except for that big glowing yellow rock in his head).
Where is Bucky Barnes During Black Panther?
Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Black Panther
The Avengers: Infinity War prelude comic reveals that T'Challa's sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is working on a cure for Bucky Barnes, who can be turned back into the mindless killing machine known as the Winter Soldier any time he hears a set of ten trigger words (the result of mental programming by HYDRA). Shuri works to solve the problem by creating scans of Bucky's brain and running simulations of potential cures on digital copies of his mind (instead of the real thing), so that she won't do any damage while trying to make him better. Eventually she is able to come up with an algorithm that will flush out the influence of Bucky's trigger words, without erasing his personality and memories. As a bonus, the algorithm could also prove instrumental in the advancement of Wakanda's AI technology.
Shuri references Bucky's presence in Wakanda during Black Panther, when Agent Ross is brought to her lab with a bullet in his spine, and she comments on him being "another broken white boy for me to fix." The outcome of her hard work is revealed in Black Panther's post-credits scene, which opens on a POV shot of a group of Wakandan children gathered around someone who is lying down in a hut. They scatter when the person stirs. Outside, Shuri asks, "Were you playing with that man again?"
When "that man" emerges from the hut - to a picturesque Wakandan lake - it's revealed that Bucky Barnes is conscious and on his feet again, seemingly cured of his HYDRA brainwashing (though still missing an arm). The Wakandans call him "White Wolf," and Shuri calls him Sergeant Barnes - until he corrects her, asking her to call him "Bucky." The short scene ends with Shuri telling Bucky that there's still a lot he needs to learn.
Bucky was featured in the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, fighting alongside the Avengers and an army of Wakandans, with a brand new right arm to replace the one that was ripped off by Tony Stark. It looks like Shuri managed to fix him just in time for him to get thrown into a new war - this time against the terrifying threat of Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.
Avengers: Infinity War Prelude #2 will release on February 28th, 2018.
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