A tropical paradise, where Shadowcat of Excalibur is tanning. Ninety three degrees in the middle of October? Ahh, Wakanda, you have to love it, she sighs while her pet dragon Lockheed is busy trying to open a coconut. Stowing away on Brian’s private plane was a brilliant idea, she remarks, even if she must say so herself, since Lockheed can’t. “It’s a business trip, Kitty. You’ll be bored,” she mockingly imitates Captain Britain. Well, if this south African kingdom is boring, she is more than prepared to yawn to death!
She is unaware that someone is watching the two of them from the jungle. The stranger decides that the dragon may be a little wonky but the girl seems harmless enough. He will let her live.
As he walks away, leaves rustle. Does he think they are being spied on? Kitty asks Lockheed. Naaah, both of them decide. She guesses she’s just not used to west and welaxation. She heads for the lake and suggests Lockheed work up another round of coconut milk in the meantime.
Elsewhere, not too far away, Brian Braddock and Meggan are standing at the edge of a volcano, surrounded by Wakandans celebrating a ceremony. Holding her lover’s arm close, Meggan fears that these people are going to use her as a virgin sacrifice. Brian assures her she’s safe on both counts.
Half the reason he invited her along on this trip was to broaden her world view. There is more to Africa, to its people that she is used to seeing on a late night showing of Tarzan and the Warrior Women. Take this nation of Wakanda as an extreme example, he lectures, while a dark figure begins to appear and rise from the volcano. One of the original inhabitants of the Dark Continent, the Wakandans are arguably the most technologically advanced people on Earth. Their chief natural resource is Vibranium, the rarest of precious metals.
The man upon the throne is Prince T’Challa, the Black Panther. The figure has risen – the Black Panther himself – who greets them on behalf of his people. All right, a Wakandan in loincloth shouts out, that’s a wrap. “See ya back at the clubhouse.”
Brian introduces Meggan as his administrative assistant. Meggan bungles it by asking a “ministrative” what? Kissing her hand, the Panther assures her her sense if humor is paralled only by her beauty which is without equal. Brian shakes his hand too, apologizing for his brother’s absence. As he is aware, Braddock Enterprises was Jamie’s sole province for years. That he is fulfilling his brother’s responsibilities is an honor to his title as an English gentleman, T’Challa assures him.
Meggan asks him to excuse her density, but they are inside a live volcano. Shouldn’t they be bursting into flames any second? Anywhere else perhaps, he explains and shows her a gateway into the volcano to a facility. Vibranium is not the only natural wonder of Wakanda. This geothermal anomaly, a cold volcano, is but another. This is why their scientists are studying it twenty-four hours a day.
And here he thought they’d just come inside to escape the humidity of the jungle, Brian jokes, T’Challa assures him, a few days in this paradise they call home and he’ll be swinging from the vines with the rest of them.
Meggan is surprised. One moment they are in the middle of a jungle, the next in a futuristic lab… That’s the very dichotomy which has come to symbolize the entire nation Wakanda, Brian explains. T’Challa adds they do not know the half of it. Take the villagers who greeted them with a traditional African ceremony. They represent a group of his people who would like nothing more than for Wakanda to return to its old ways. As a leader of the entire country, however, he has a responsibility to keep Wakanda competitive with the other major countries of the world, both technologically and financially.
But enough of the burden of leadership. Let them return their attention to the reason for their visit. He introduces “Lord Braddock” and Meggan to the partners in this venture: Captain America and Iron Man. Cap greets them with a warm smile while Iron Man mumbles less convincingly that it’s his pleasure. The two British heroes are impressed.
At that moment back at Braddock manor, Cerise swears in her native tongue, Hearing her cry out, Kurt Wagner teleports into her room to ask what is wrong. It’s this lipstick, she tells him disgusted. It tastes horrible! Kurt snickers and tells her he does not doubt it, before showing her that it is to be applied externally instead of eaten.
There are so many customs unique to this place, she sighs, she sometimes doubts she will ever fit in. Fitting in is not all it’s cracked up to be, he comforts her. Still she would like to try. Exactly the reason he is escorting her to the opera this evening. To understand Verdi is to understand the world! He closes the door with his tail. Does he understand the world? Cerise asks. Not really, Kurt admits. But then he never had much luck with Verdi either.
Meanwhile in Wakanda, the Avengers, the Panther, Brian and Meggan are having a toast. Captain America notices that Iron Man is also drinking alcohol, another sign that apparently it is no longer Tony Stark under the armour.
As most of the quintet commences to mingle with Wakanda’s upper state people only Meggan and Iron Man are left. It’s been a while, she remarks. He apologizes, telling her she has mistaken him. Oops, she whispers, she almost forgot the whole secret identity thing. Does she know he’s James Rhodes? he wonders. She’s not used to all this, she whispers, but she won’t tell if he doesn’t, and walks away. Tell what? he asks, completely confused.
T’Challa suggests they now begin talking business. They gather around a table. The Panther explains that while the problem of toxic waste has yet to impact upon Wakanda, they realize the part that their abundance in Vibranium might play in the eradication of a condition that threatens the entire global village. To this end an informal international operation may be the first step to a better tomorrow for all the children of the world. He’d like to thank Braddock Enterprises for initiating the creation of self-devouring waste containment.
Ahh, Jamie, Brian thinks. The mysteries of his mind never cease to amaze.
Of course, Stark International, T’Challa continues as he turns to Iron Man, played a vital part in their success with its generous donations of millions of dollars of technology. And finally the US government – represented by Captain America – was gracious enough to supply several tons of raw toxic waste for these studies. They were… happy to do it, Cap replies tactfully.
The mysterious watcher observes, thinking that the king caters to the whims and wants of outlanders. Enjoy the role as courtjester he vows, for soon a new king will sit upon the throne!
After the feast, they shall witness the results of their unified efforts, but first bring on the foods! T’Challa claps and Wakandan women bring… pizza. He was expecting a rare African delicacy, Iron Man remarks. The Black Panther is nothing if not the perfect host, Captain America replies. The Panther urges his guests to eat and drink. There is more than enough food, beverages and ceremonial blessings for all.
While they feast there are ceremonial dances. Especially striking is a tall figure in a wooden mask who taps several dancers and servants on the head. Meggan remarks she thinks he’s cute. He’s a dancing icon, Brian informs her. No doubt a respected and revered figure in Wakandan mythology. Maybe, but she still thinks he’s cute, she decides.
Not very far away a content and dozing Kitty is unable to appreciate the beauty of the tropical sunset as suddenly she hears a scream of terror. It’s one of the servants the dancer tapped before. She cries that her head feels as if it is splitting in two. T’Challa asks the others to stand back. The medic will be here in a moment. They watch in horror as her skull expands and transforms into a head like that of the wooden mask.
Brian holds the horrified Meggan and states that judging by her cries the woman was transformed against her will. T’Challa swears the person responsible will answer to the Black Panther. Could it be someone intent on disrupting the meeting?
Iron Man brings the bad news. Apparently, every native Wakandan at this ceremony has been transmuted into a wooden head replica of the ceremonial dancer.
The dancer drops his robe to reveal an entirely wooden body. He assures them he is much more than a dancer. He is the living embodiment of the Wakandan people as they should be. Pure. Primal. Prepared to wrest the country from the grip of the twentieth century world.
T’Challa addresses him as U’mbaya. Is that him? He knows this man? Cap asks. He may have known the wide-eyed graduate student he once was, U’mbaya replies, but he and the rest of the world have yet to meet Icon!
At the opera in their box, Cerise cries, touched by the drama of the story. Nightcrawler has not yet figured out how to tell her it’s a comedy they are watching. That moment, they are being offered complimentary champagne courtesy of the gentleman in the box opposite them. He looks across to see the man toasting at them. He explains this is Sir Raleigh Chamberlain, one of Europe’s most flamboyant international arms dealers. Although suspected arms dealer is the politically correct term. He is taunting them, flaunting because Excalibur is too busy with the likes of Vixen and Sat-yr-9. They seem to have no time for the lower echelon of the criminal underworld.
Chamberlain grins. Suddenly, the woman on his lap is startled by a mysterious blast hitting his champagne flute. She falls over the balcony. Luckily, Nightcrawler is there to catch her. Cerise shifts to her costume, announcing the energy blast came from above.
The origin is clear too, an elderly moustached man, dressed in armour (with the symbol of the lion rampant) sitting on an electronic flying steed, and carrying an energy lance. He shouts: Hear me, heathen wizards and serpents of sin, for your dastardly doings are past. A holy endeavour is now to begin and virtue shall triumph at last! No longer shall greed and avarice and the brokering of human life be tolerated upon these shores, Lord Chamberlain! If he stays in England, he shall incur his wrath! He’ll be gone by dawn, Chamberlain mutters.
At least something good has come of this, Nightcrawler decides. Cerise asks for the stranger’s name. For now and forever he is the Knight Errant, comes the reply before he flies off. And woe to the wicked, for the gauntlet has been hurled!
Nightcrawler grabs Cerise to teleport. Why are they going after him? she demands. Is he not one of them, a hero? His heart seems to be in the right place, Kurt admits, his methods warrant scrutiny.
In Wakanda, Icon warns those assembled not to underestimate him as others have done before. Yes, he is exceptionally ugly. But he is also unnaturally powerful! A lance grows from his pinky and threatens Meggan’s throat. Brian order Icon to let her go, swearing to himself that he has to worry about his secret identity.
Captain America puts a hand on Brian’s shoulder, suggesting he leave this kind of thing to the professionals. “But he...” Brian begins to protest before amending that he realizes that. T’Challa agrees this is not the place for bystander. He presses a button and Vibranium containment rises around Brian and Meggan to keep them safe.
Fools, this changes nothing! Icon swears. Nothing! Er, hardly anything!
Wow, Meggan states. That’s one way of putting it, Brian remarks. Another would be to say they are trapped in a self-illuminated portable containment unit. And judging from the complete lack of noise, he is willing to bet it’s constructed of Vibranium. He hits a wall. Not even a bang (let alone a dent). It’s impossible for him to smash through.
Lucky for everyone involved then she just happened to be in the neighborhood, Shadowcat grins as she phases up from the ground. What a coincidence! Meggan observes happily while Brian just groans.
Outside. Icon warns the heroes not to take another step or he will order his mindcontrolled minions to destroy their wooden bodies by attacking the heroes. Their blood – their splinters – will be on the heroes’ hands.
Surrounded, Iron Man remarks this is a graphic thought he could have done without. Cap remarks this is the Panther’s call. He does not see where he has a choice, the Panther states. On the contrary, Icon claims. He can abdicate the throne of Wakanda to him or stand by and watch his people die!
Neither one is a viable option! Kitty shouts, phasing in with Meggan (now shifted in the form of a black woman), while the new Excalibur is here to stop him!
This is intolerable! Icon rants. Any other day of the week there’s one costumed adventurer in all of Africa. He decides to overthrow the government and suddenly Wakanda turns into a haven for superheroes!