Episode six of What If…? takes audiences back to a more grounded alternate reality after two mystical and supernatural stories in the last two weeks. What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark? unfolds an alternate story to the MCU’s debut film Iron Man with an introduction of Micheal B. Jordan’s Killmonger a full eight years before his appearance in Black Panther. As always, What If..?’s technical aspects improve in every episode, and that improvement paired with the story makes for a solid episode of the show that holds its own without fantastical elements.
What If Tony Stark Never Had To Be Better?
The episode begins with Tony Stark being attacked during his 2008 trip to Afghanistan, but instead of being captured by the Ten Rings, he is rescued by Killmonger and returns to the United States without his miniature Arc Reactor, the first Iron Man suit, or a chest full of shrapnel. Upon his return press conference, it is clear that because he never had to grow from his experience as a hostage, he remained the same highly arrogant and self-centered person that he started Iron Man as.
When Killmoger’s appearance in Afghanistan is questioned, he reveals that he knew about the attack, and knows that Obidiah Stane is plotting to kill Tony and take over Stark Industries. Still, both Pepper and Happy are suspicious of Killmonger’s appearance and are especially uneasy at Tony’s decision to appoint him as the new Obidiah. Tony, in true Tony fashion, doesn’t take their caution seriously and takes Killmonger on as his partner.
As a result of his being attacked, Tony decides that he needs to create weapons for the United States Military that are even better than what he’s already giving them, and Killmonger proposes the creation of his doctoral thesis proposal. The unmanned combat drones, aptly named “Project Liberator,” were only in need of two things; a working AI that was gained via JARVIS, and a large power source, found in Killmonger’s vibranium ring from his father.
What If We Went to Wakanda Early?
In the quest for enough vibranium to power and arm the drones, Killmonger sets his sights on Ulysses Klaue with the help of Rhodey. They meet Klaue at his base of operations in South Africa, but unfortunately for Rhodey, this is the beginning of the final stage of Killmonger’s plan.
Killmonger manages to not only take out Rhodey but T’Challa as well with the same technology that Stane used to subdue Tony in Iron Man. When he returns to the United States to try and persuade Tony to go to war with Wakanda over Rhodey’s death, Tony reveals that JARVIS has footage of what truly happened to him when he met with Klaue. Tony then tries to use one of the drones to attack Killmonger but is defeated and murdered.
Killmonger frames the Dora Milaje for Tony’s death, leading General Ross to use the Patriot Act to acquire all of Stark Industries’ assets for the military, much to Pepper’s chagrin. Killmonger then returns to Africa with the drones and reunites with Klaue, killing him at the Wakandan border and using his death as a negotiation tool with the royal family. When they are warned of the impending attack, Queen Ramonda and Shuri — who is only eight in this episode — are both suspicious of his motives, but eventually relent and allow Killmonger’s plan to continue.
The Youngest (and Smartest) Hero in the World
Upon the defeat of the drones (a defeat that was manipulated by Killmonger), King T’Chaka grants Killmonger the title of the Black Panther. While in the ancestral plane, he speaks to T’Challa who asks him if all that he did was worth it, and in a very true to character fashion, Killmonger says that of course it was, because it means that he has the power to liberate black people around the globe from their oppressors.
The episode closes out with General Ross planning to use more Stark Industries weapons to attack Wakanda, and while Pepper clearly opposes this move, she can’t do anything but stand by as the decision is made. Luckily for her, Shuri has managed to make her way to the United States (again, she’s eight, this is hilarious) and reveals that she knows the truth of what happened to Tony, Rhodey, and T’Challa. Armed with this new knowledge, Pepper and Shuri decide to form an alliance to try and take down Killmonger.
What If Killmonger Won?
This episode is a true testament to the writing ability of What If…? offers, and it’s the first of the episodes with a simpler concept that can really hold its own against the ones with more expansive ideas. The way that Killmonger was added into the story worked incredibly well, and the dynamic between him and Tony was so well written that it’s unfortunate it will never be seen in live-action.
Killmonger manipulates Tony by using his own ego to get him to finish Project Liberator, but Killmonger’s desire for justice is what makes him and Tony so similar and drives them to become friends. Killmonger’s ego is tied to his sense of justice just like Tony’s is, and he’s able to take advantage because Tony sees himself in him.
By getting Rhodey, T’Challa, Tony, and Klaue out of his way all within what we can assume was only three or four days, Killmonger is able to use that short period of time to his advantage and gain influence over Wakanda, which had been his main goal the entire time. His quest for global Black liberation is able to begin to come to fruition because he’s able to gain power undisturbed, and in all honesty, this plan is a better plan than the one he tried to execute in Black Panther.
What If…?‘s Overarching Growth
This week’s What If…? not only gives us the wonderful addition of Young Shuri (she really is the star of the episode despite her very limited screen time), but we get to see Queen Ramonda on the battlefield with the rest of the Dora Milaje and Wakandan military. The scenes where she and Okoye are fighting the Project Liberator drones contain some of the best animations in the show so far, something which not only shows promise for the remainder of the season but the second season of What If…? as well.
All in all, the back half of What If…? is shaping up to be a well-rounded collection of episodes that have managed to condense movie-length stories into half-hour segments. Accompanied with the continually improving and innovating animation, the series has continued to show that it will keep on growing and putting out threads for future episodes. While the other episodes that have been more conceptually grounded had been the weakest of the season before this week, this episode of What If…? proved that those stories don’t always have to drag the season down.
Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios
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