The sixth episode of the animated original Marvel Studios and Disney+ series What If…? detailed the alternate world where the antagonist of Black Panther provides a safe rescue of the MCU’s beloved Iron Man. Taking place at the beginning of the first Iron Man film, the sixth episode provides a new beginning for the safe passage for the premiere avenger, at the hands of Killmonger. However, this time the Age of Iron Man was never born with Killmonger bypassing the creation of the hero that audiences have grown and loved.
The Disney+ series also witnessed a number of returns for MCU characters and their respective actors in voice roles. Of course, Jeffrey Wright (Westworld) portrays the series’ character and narrator The Watcher once more, but this time he is joined by the likes of Michael B. Jordan (Creed) as Killmonger, Jon Favreau (Swingers) as Happy, Leslie Bibb (Iron Man) as Christine Everhart, Paul Bettany (WandaVision) as Jarvis, Don Cheadle (Black Monday) as Rhodey, John Kani (Black Panther) as T’Chaka, Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as Ulysses Klaue, Danai Gurira (Walking Dead) as Okoye, Angela Bassett (American Horror Story) as Queen Ramonda, and possibly the final MCU appearance for Chadwick Boseman (42) as T’Challa.
In a combination of tech geniuses, the still playboy Tony Stark and Erik Killmonger persist in creating an army of powerful drones in lieu of using expendable soldiers. The episode witnesses the return of MCU characters such as Odabiah, Rhodey, Happy, Pepper Potts, and T’Challa. The new duo of Stark and Killmonger is seemingly rewriting the MCU history once more with the redefining of the Killmonger character as a hero and reserving Stark as the static bachelor character viewers witness from the early moments of the Iron Man trilogy. Yet, it proves that Killmonger’s fascination with vengeance on the death of his father is too great as his plan sees a now worldly geopolitical conflict evolve from the ashes of this desire.
“What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” takes further chances which viewers are becoming accustomed to with another episode seeing Stark die in addition to Rhodey and T’Challa, all at the hands of Killmonger in pursuit of obtaining the Black Panther status. Ulysses Klaw also returns and sees yet another double turn in the relationship between himself and Killmonger. The episode revolves around the MCU lacking the Afghanistan capture of Stark and the further removal of his hero status entirely from this timeline. However, the point that episode attempts to convey is the eventual rise of another hero in a similar fashion as the Watcher points out at the end of the program following T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri teaming up with Pepper Potts to unveil the truth about Killmonger’s evil intentions and murders for personal and familial gain.
Coming off the heels of the Dr. Strange and Zombies episodes, this episode does fall behind and that might not its fault as its own due to the strength of its predecessors. What If…? does engage with another familiar origin point from the film franchise and branches off into its absurd world. Yet, it does not have the same draw as the chaotic and destructive psychological twists and turns that viewers witnessed with Dr. Strange’s conversion into heartbreak madness nor the apocalyptic slaughter of Earth’s mightiest Avengers at each twist and turn. Without the transformation of Tony Stark into Iron Man, the episode still presents the recognizable characters as the similar version of their cinematic live-action motivations. Killmonger maintains his desire to avenge his father and take the mantle of Black Panther and the episode just served as another explanation for the creation of new heroes in absence of a Stark/Iron Man run.
What If…?’s sixth episode does find success (shoutout that Game of Thrones Battle of Winterfell reference), but does fall into the same trap as its premiere episode where it crafts a narrative based on pre-existing characterizations. The hypothetical nature of the show does lend itself to immense creativity and flexibility, see the villainous turn of Vision or the humor-filled Thanos. Regardless, it was still amazing to see another incarnation of the Killmonger character.