The Disney+ MCU animated anthology “What If…?” is now at its sixth episode out of nine for its first streaming season. From its premiere back in August the show’s premise of building episodic stories from divergent events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline have become increasingly off-the-wall, and at the same time more willing to take the consequences of the alternate storylines to outright grim and dark conclusions. Just how much more unsalvageable a situation be beyond the destruction of the universe in episode 4? The latest what-if the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) showcases returns the stakes to more “manageable” levels. But the deviations remain sweeping and the conclusion, still dire.
Let us consider “What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” Scenes from this episode actually have prominent exposure in Marvel Studios’ initial trailers for “What If…?” Its divergence point after all is in the dawn of the MCU. How different does the setting become when, just as he was about to be abducted by terrorists from the Ten Rings in Afghanistan, Tony Stark is saved by a lone US special forces operator, one Erik Stevens, alias Killmonger, secretly Prince N’Jadaka of Wakanda?
The scene where Killmonger tosses away the missile that would have canonically left shrapnel in Stark’s heart gave MCU fans of the character, of which there are many from 2018’s “Black Panther,” hope that his what-if episode will showcase him as a hero. Further scenes from the trailer saw Killmonger leading the people of Wakanda in defense against a highly-advanced invasion force. At the risk of spoilers, it must be said that those hopes will be dashed. Not only does all of Killmonger’s heroic actions factor into his master-plan of ambitious, his alleged noble if extremist ideal of arming abused minorities such as African-Americans to incite revolution are made lies by some of the deaths he engineers throughout the episode.
In fact, the beginning of this episode is highlighted by the Watcher as taking away something vital from the MCU setting. While episode 3 posited the failure of the Avengers initiative to assemble, this one stops the emergence of MCU heroes to begin with. Without his canon abduction, witnessing of his company’s armaments being misused, and worry for his mortality, Tony Stark never becomes Iron Man and remains an weapons developer, whose genius and resources are exploited. Killmonger demonstrates to Stark his designs for a vibranium-powered humanoid combat drone, sheepishly admits he styled it after his favorite anime, and Stark becomes his unwitting, disposable accomplice.
A contributing factor in Erik Killmonger’s appeal as one of the MCU’s best-received big baddies is his being portrayed by actor Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”). Jordan reprises his character’s voice and masterfully sells both his affable heroic public face and the violently callous true nature that drives him towards his goal of returning to Wakanda and putting himself in power. He even shares a momentary argument with T’Challa over their conflicting viewpoints, in another poignant performance by the late Chadwick Boseman, which is just appropriate.
Marvel Studios has also released a new teaser for “What If…?” to mark its series midpoint, and more story-divergent treats are in store for viewers. Most interesting of all is the Avengers-like assembly of some of the alternate-universe characters featured in past episodes from Captain Carter to T’Challa Star-Lord. What does it mean? When does this happen? We will just have to wait for the next episode of Marvel’s “What If…?” streaming Wednesdays on Disney+.
Image from Comic Book Resources