[Spoilers for Black Panther and its post-credit scene]
Let’s take a deeper dive into those brief but vital moments of Black Panther‘s post-credits scene, with an eye on revelations from Marvel’s recent comics.
I saw Black Panther again this weekend, and when the post-credits scene came up, I was surprised to hear significant amounts of confusion ripple through the audience as to who was onscreen and what was going on. This was my daily reminder that while I feel like I practically live in the MCU due to writing about its movies for a decade, not everyone lives there with me. So here’s a closer look at what was happening with the Winter Soldier in Wakanda, and what this means for the character and the MCU going forward.
The post-credits scene is first seen from the perspective of someone waking up in a Wakandan hut, surrounded by curious children. We soon learn that it’s James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, minus his fearsome Winter Soldier metal arm that was destroyed in Civil War. Shuri is there to greet him, and they have the following exchange:
SHURI: Good morning, Sergeant Barnes.
BUCKY: Bucky. [This is a long way from the days of “Who the hell is Bucky?”]
SHURI: How are you feeling?
BUCKY: Good. [sincerely, to Shuri] Thank you.
SHURI: Come on. There’s much more for you to learn.
I was excited to see Bucky, one of my MCU favorites, not only out of cryogenic freeze, but in a relatively peaceful state for the first time since he appeared as Steve Rogers’ swaggering best friend from Brooklyn in Captain America: The First Avenger. For Bucky Barnes to say that he’s feeling “good” is a pretty earth-shaking development, character-wise.
If we go by Marvel’s Infinity War lead-in comics (in this case, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War Prelude), plus the interaction in the post-credits, Bucky’s newly zen status is due to the genius of another favorite: Shuri. (Is there anything Shuri can’t do? No, no there is not. She’s smarter than Tony Stark.)
The end of Civil War saw T’Challa offer Bucky sanctuary, and a newly metal-armless Bucky choosing to be frozen until a solution could be found to the problem of his 70-odd years of brainwashing. After his seeming death in The First Avenger, Bucky was turned into the Winter Soldier, a master assassin and a weapon of war, and he didn’t trust himself not to be compromised again.
Enter Princess Shuri of Wakanda, who can do anything.
So if Marvel’s comics work as canon filler for the movies, Shuri developed a procedure to help Bucky between the events of Civil War and Infinity War. (When she quips that T’Challa has brought her “another broken white boy to fix” with Agent Ross, the first was Bucky.)
As Shuri explains to T’Challa, the algorithm she created was designed to filter out the influence of “trigger words” that had been programmed into Bucky to force him to comply with orders. This was a tricky, delicate business, as she sought to separate Bucky’s brainwashing from the rest of his personality and still keep his original “self” intact.
“Essentially, I should be able to reboot him,” says Shuri. After decades of having his mind wiped again and again and again, a reboot seems like exactly what Bucky needed.
The more I think about it, the more I adore this explanation for various character development reasons. Not only does it showcase Shuri’s abilities once more, firmly establishing her as the MCU’s new and improved Tony Stark-type, it gives Bucky deeper ties to Wakanda, since he hasn’t just been asleep the whole time.
Seeing Bucky awake and well at the end of Black Panther means that come Infinity War, he’ll presumably be totally in control of his own actions, a mentality he hasn’t had access to for seven decades. If Bucky was deemed by Shuri, T’Challa, and the Wakandans to be safe enough to chill in their environs with children around him, that’s pretty damn promising for his state of mind going forward.
I’d been afraid that in Infinity War we’d see Steve or some other member of Team Cap show up in Wakanda bent on thawing Bucky out because they’re in dire straits and have no choice but to use him. But instead, if Bucky fights now, it will be because he is choosing to do so—choosing his own battle for the first time in, well, ever.
When it’s time for him to fight in Infinity War, this won’t be a confused, just-dethawed Bucky rushed back into combat. This will be a Bucky with at least some of his trauma healed, who has been living quietly and learning about the culture around him. We know from the trailer that significant Infinity War action takes place in Wakanda, and a Wakanda under attack by Thanos’ minions.
I can see Bucky wanting to help defend the people who have saved and sheltered him, actually self-selecting to be on the front lines—not drafted by the Army or brainwashed by HYDRA or even simply to support Steve. For the first time since the beginning of The First Avenger, we got to see a Bucky Barnes who doesn’t look haunted and hunted. And that’s because Shuri has worked to restore the essence of who he was before the brainwashing and preserve the memories that made him him, while “trying to destroy what HYDRA made him to be.”
The post-credits scene of Black Panther suggests that Shuri’s procedures succeeded.
Much has already been said about the Wakandan children referring to Bucky as “White Wolf,” a character in Black Panther comics who was T’Challa’s adopted brother and eventually rises to be the head of the country’s secret police. This could have been a winking easter egg for Marvel comics fans, but it also could indicate the direction the character will go in the MCU.
Black Panther is very much primed to be leading Marvel into its next phase, and its massive success all but guarantees we’ll be getting a lot more of Black Panther, its characters, and its country. While there’s long been speculation about whether Bucky will inherit the Captain America mantle someday, for him to stay tied to Wakanda actually makes a lot more sense than for him to suddenly rediscover allegiance to a country he’s been estranged from for 70 years.
Director Ryan Coogler recently explained why Bucky didn’t play a larger role in Black Panther:
“In our world, we kind of figured that Bucky Barnes would be [Shuri’s] assignment. We kind of drop the hint at that when they bring Ross in and she’s like, ‘Oh another one.’ So, we dropped hints in there, but what we kind of decided was that her cracking his mental code, if Shuri’s as smart as she is, that wouldn’t really be a big problem.
“But Bucky would have horrible PTSD, he would need spiritual guidance. The last thing he would need to do is jump into that civil war, and so that was kind of the thought process there. And it could be potentially problematic if it’s a bunch of Africans fighting and you bring in a white dude, he comes in shootin’ people,” Coogler said with a laugh. “We were aware of that. Bucky’s not trained to neutralize people peacefully, he’s an assassin. We were like, ‘I don’t know if we can do that.’”
Black Panther is at its heart an intimate story of Wakandan politics, as well as the denouement of a tragic family drama. I loved how independent from the rest of the MCU it felt, and for Coogler to bring in MCU outsiders would have just complicated and muddled the narrative. (Agent Ross was more than enough of an outsider presence.)
But going forward, as T’Challa’s U.N. speech suggests, Wakanda’s story will become about the country’s new role in shaping world events. I hope we get to see many MCU characters, not just Bucky, benefitting from Wakanda’s brilliance and fighting for its future.
(images: Marvel Comics)
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