After our trip to a bleak zombie-filled reality last week, episode 6 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe animated series What If…? landed on Disney Plus Wednesday. This instalment brings us back to the events of MCU opener Iron Man, and sees a seemingly altruistic Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) -- a bitter Wakandan outcast who's determined to take his country's throne by force -- altering the timeline by interfering with into one of Tony Stark's formative moments.
The omniscient Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), who observes the multiverse's many realities, asks What If... Killmonger rescued Tony Stark?
Vibranium SPOILERS incoming.
Iron Man erased
This reality branches off from the mainline MCU early in the first Iron Man, after Killmonger uncovers Obadiah Stane's plot to assassinate Tony with the Ten Rings terrorist group. Killmonger, who's still serving as a US Navy SEAL at this point in the timeline, saves Tony from the Stark Industries bomb that would have embedded shrapnel near his heart and slays the Ten Rings goons who'd have captured him.
This cuts off Tony's journey to becoming Iron Man, and he remains a total jerk (as opposed to the slightly less of a jerk he became during the main MCU timeline) and kicks off a bromance between him and Killmonger.
The Wakadan outcast becomes Stark Industries' new chief security officer (much to Happy Hogan's chagrin), and he immediately outs Stane for his role trying to get rid of Tony, earning him a superfast promotion to chief operating officer. Well played, Killmonger.
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Conveniently, Killmonger developed anime-inspired plans for an automated combat drone for his doctoral thesis. He suggests they use vibranium as a power source, and Tony decides to enlist Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to get more from arms dealer (and professional dirtbag) Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis).
This results in an awesome appearance from Black Panther (the late Chadwick Boseman), who takes out Klaue's goons. However, it was all part of Killmonger's plan. He murders his cousin T'Challa and Rhodey, putting Stark Industries at odds with Wakanda.
Killmonger betrays everyone
Tony realizes Killmonger was responsible for Rhodey's and T'Challa's deaths, but his attempt to stop the Wakandan outcast with a Liberator drone fails and Tony is slain as well. This escalates the conflict with Wakanda, so the US military takes over Stark Industries and sends an army of Liberators to the reclusive African nation.
Once there, Killmonger betrays and murders Klaue, then uses the arms dealer's body to earn the Wakandans' trust. He did the same in Black Panther, but T'Challa was alive in that reality and successfully fought back against his cousin's coup.
In this universe, T'Chaka is still king and undoubtedly feeling guilty about killing his brother N'Jobu (Killmonger's dad) in Oakland when his nephew was a kid. T'Chaka accepts Killmonger without reservation, and further ingratiates himself by stopping the Americans' Liberator forces. Shuri is the only one with doubts about Killmonger.
Seizing Black Panther's power
With T'Challa gone, T'Chaka allows Killmonger to become the new Black Panther. He encounters his cousin in the Ancestral Plane, and T'Challa warns him that his stolen power will be his downfall.
The slain hero is almost certainly right, since Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross is determined to wipe out Wakanda. Shuri comes to Pepper Potts with proof that Killmonger murdered Tony and T'Challa (poor Rhodey doesn't get a mention), and the pair set out to reveal his deeds to the world.
Observations, WTF questions and Easter eggs
- Afghanistan's Kunar Province is located in the northeastern part of the country.
- This is our second What If…? cameo from Leslie Bibb as journalist Christine Everhart, who first appeared in 2008's Iron Man.
- "And bloody Marys. Hangover's starting to kick in." Tony drinks pretty heavily in this episode, which is likely affecting his judgment as regards Killmonger.
- When Tony mentions miniaturizing an Arc Reactor, he rests his hand over his heart. He uses an Arc Reactor to keep his heart beating in the mainline MCU.
- It's our third time hearing the late Chadwick Boseman in the show. We'll reportedly hear him as T-Challa once more.
- Killmonger uses the same sonic taser tech Stane did in Iron Man when he incapacitates Rhodey and T'Challa.
- Why did the Liberator drone throw Killmonger away after grabbing him in Tony's house? If it had just held on, he wouldn't have been able to destroy it. Throwing their prey away is a silly trope for unstoppable killer machines.
- The Watcher doesn't have much to say in this episode, but looks pretty disappointed after Killmonger stands triumphant.
- Shuri is just a kid at this point in the timeline, as evidenced by her legs dangling when she sits in Tony's chair. She's still smarter than everyone around her, though.
Join us for more Easter eggs and observations next Wednesday, Sept. 22, when episode 7 of What If…? hits Disney Plus.