Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
This episode of What If…? feels like two episodes smushed into one: What if Killmonger won and what if Tony Stark had never been imprisoned? Despite being two stories, it’s the most straightforward scenario we’ve had since the second episode, which I appreciated. The high concept isn’t hidden, like in episode three, and it’s actually subverting events in the main MCU timeline. This story posits the idea that Killmonger set his sights on Tony Stark as a potential vehicle for his eventual takeover of Wakanda a decade earlier than the events of Black Panther, taking advantage of Stark’s selfishness and ego to build an army of Stark Drones and incite war between Wakanda and the United States. Frankly, it’s a better plan than the one Killmonger used in the actual movie.
But it’s all very painfully straightforward and really introduces far more interesting potential stories than the one it actually follows.
First, a story about Tony Stark not becoming Iron Man feels like an essential What If…? to be told in an MCU series. “What if … Tony Stark never became Iron Man?” You want to see it! It’s the foundation of the MCU. Unfortunately, that’s only about half of this episode’s story and it’s not even the main one: He’s a supporting character in Killmonger’s story. Perhaps it’s because Michael B. Jordan returns to voice the iconic villain whereas Robert Downey Jr. is decidedly not present to voice Stark. I don’t know. It’s just a shame that a really cool idea is wasted as a plot device in an episode that would rather give fans of Killmonger some extra material.
Don’t get me wrong. That makes some sense. Killmonger is the best human villain the MCU has ever had, to the extent that some viewers actually agreed with his insane perspective. He’s sympathetic to an extent and incredibly charismatic, which is what makes him dangerous and fun to watch. Those are what the writers dig into with this episode. What works here works because of Jordan’s performance. But the problem in this episode is that there is no character to oppose him: He walks all over everyone he meets, aside from two characters whose alliance is only hinted at in a cliffhanger.
Once again, we have another What If…? episode that ends in a cliffhanger, which is incredibly frustrating.
Another stray thought: Killmonger alludes to infiltrating the Ten Rings. It’s possible he did so in the main MCU, too, which suggests a story I want to see: Did Killmonger have any kind of interaction with Wenwu from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? Shang-Chi does such a shitty job of world-building or explaining the Ten Rings that it at least leaves its options open for cool prequel material, I guess. I’m still not really clear on what the Ten Rings ever accomplished.
I kind of wish this episode hadn’t boiled the relationship between Tony and Killmonger down to just being another, more nuanced attempt by the latter to take over Wakanda. It did not feel like much of a What If…? by the end of the episode.
What I’d Buy
When Black Panther was released, I actually contemplated buying a figure of Killmonger’s incredible military costume. Unfortunately, the Marvel Legends version had weird arms. But maybe I’ll take a look on eBay and see if they’re still pricey.