Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes has been struggling with an identity crisis ever since reemerging from his would-be death in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Upon his return in 2014 as the eponymous Winter Soldier, he was no longer the brave soldier who seemingly lost his life in World War II; instead, he’d been brainwashed by HYDRA and turned into nothing more than a merciless killing machine.
Nevertheless, by the end of the second Cap film, and carrying over into the third, we began to see signs of Bucky’s former self once again shining through. In fact, if not for Helmut Zemo’s interference, he likely would have continued living a peaceful and solitary life in Europe. Sadly, that just wasn’t in the cards for him.
After his latest dose of mental manipulation, Bucky – who was granted asylum in Wakanda – opted to be placed back into cryostasis until a cure for his brainwashing could be found. That being said, it hardly came as a surprise to Marvel fans when the MCU’s next trip to the fictional African nation, which occurred in Black Panther, concluded with a Winter Soldier cameo appearance. Upon regaining consciousness, we see Bucky emerge from a small tent, one-armed and sporting a decidedly Wakandan robe. He’s then greeted by T’Challa’s sister Shuri, who addresses him by repeating the name three young locals had called him just moments earlier: White Wolf.
While this name certainly strikes a chord with longtime comic book fans, at the time, the argument could be made that it was nothing more than a simple Easter egg. However, the debut of one of the magazine covers for next month’s Avengers: Infinity War confirms that White Wolf was more than just a term of endearment assigned to Bucky by the locals – it’s his new codename.
“Sebastian Stan’s rehabilitated assassin now goes by White Wolf,” the description accompanying the magazine cover reads. “It’s intriguing to see a man whose memories were scrambled, wiped, and rebuilt paired with Pom Klementieff’s alien mind-reader [Mantis].”
But just who is White Wolf, anyway?
In the comics, White Wolf – like Bucky – is a Caucasian outsider who ends up in Wakanda. More importantly, though, he’s also T’Challa’s adopted brother.
Created by Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira, Hunter, aka White Wolf, first appeared in Black Panther #4 in 1999. After his parents were killed in a plane crash in Wakanda, Hunter was adopted by King T’Chaka and raised as his own. However, even though the reclusive Wakandans were deeply suspicious of this outsider, Hunter took great pride in his newfound home.
Unfortunately, his pride soon turned to jealousy. Once T’Challa was born, Hunter came to the realization that, unlike T’Chaka’s birth son, he no longer had a claim to the Wakandan throne. Still, that never stopped him from attempting to prove his worth, and through his perseverance, Hunter was able to rise through the ranks of Wakanda’s secret police, the Hatut Zeraze. T’Chaka eventually appointed him as the leader of the organization, at which time he received the moniker White Wolf.
After T’Chaka’s death, T’Challa – the new Black Panther – decided to disband the overtly violent Hatut Zeraze. Becoming mercenaries, Hunter and his men abandoned Wakanda, but his national pride outweighed his resentment towards his adopted brother, and as such, he was still willing to fight for his country – and for T’Challa – when necessary.
Judging from what we’ve seen heading into Infinity War, which has not only shown Bucky in Wakanda but also leading the nation’s army into battle (albeit with T’Challa, Cap and company by his side), it would appear that the former Winter Soldier is being groomed for a full-fledged rebranding as the MCU’s stand-in for Hunter. The next question is whether the newly dubbed White Wolf will get a comics-accurate costume somewhere down the line.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War stars Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Benedict Wong, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Holland and Anthony Mackie. The film opens April 27.