After the awesomeness of Captain Carter in What If…? S1:E1, I stopped to think about the next installment of What If T’challa was Starlord? Remember, What If started as a comic back in 1977 and drew their stories from already existing events in the comic Universe. I wondered where they would be drawing their source material and how would they choose? These two episodes made me realize the Marvel Cinematic Universe was large enough, after fourteen years of blockbusters, to sustain a multiverse. It was large enough to begin asking, What If…?
We will only see characters who have an existence in the MCU. Which is another fine reason to expand their Universe while fans are still interested. I look forward to the Eternals (2021), which may bring forth mutants like the X-Men and maybe the Fantastic Four. With that bit of strange trivia out of the way, let us get to T’challa, son of T’chaka and heir to the Black Panther legacy. Or that is what we would have said if we were still in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Instead, we are now headed for a parallel reality of interest to the Watcher where young T’challa wanders from the security of his hidden home of Wakanda. T’challa is picked up by two aliens who were not known for the quality of their work in the MCU. Before we share anything else, we want you to know I will be revealing secrets. If you don’t want to know, go watch the show. I can wait.
Why does the Watcher look into other realities?
One of the things to remember about Uatu the Watcher is he does not just watch alien realities. He watches interesting realities where the efforts and the stakes are often incredibly high. In the comics, he would only tell us stories where what happened was important but in the alternative reality, things were even worse. Knowing this, anything Uatu (voiced by Jeffery Wright) says should give you pause no matter how uplifting it might appear to be.
Yondu Udonta sends his minions, Taserface and Kraglin Obfonteri to Earth to pick up the son of a renegade Celestial. Ego wants to weaponize his children, scattered across the galaxy, turning them into weapons of mass destruction. Ego hires Yondu’s Ravagers because they are mercenaries and he considers them expendable should his children be dangerous.
The Ravagers Go Legit… Almost.
The Ravagers come to Earth and instead of finding Peter Quill, they detect the only other significant alien energy signature on Earth, the Great Vibranium Mound hidden in the heart of Wakanda. Seeing T’challa alone, they scoop him up and jump back into the galaxy proper before realizing they have the wrong kid.
T’challa, who had just voiced displeasure to his father T’chaka, with being trapped at home, is only too eager to travel into space and into adventure. Now let me be the first to say, this had an odd feeling. Because part of being in the African Diaspora is the idea that aliens came to Africa and stole the natives and took them to another world for exploitation, I had a moment.
But I got past this. Why? Because T’challa grew up to be everything Starlord was supposed to be. Scrupulously good. Imminently intelligent and incredibly wise, able to reason with the most unreasonable of people and turn them toward his ideals. Goddamn. I had no idea until he meets Korath the Pursuer on dismal, isolated, planet Morag.
I’m your greatest fan!
In the MCU, Korath the Pursuer (portrayed by Djimon Hounsou) didn’t know who Starlord was. Worse, he made great efforts to let Starlord know just how uninterested he was in knowing his name. Of all the characters in this particular work, all reprised by their on-screen voices, Korath got the most love. His enthusiasm with Starlord is infectious and sets the stage for what to expect. Rather than being a bumbling nobody, to our surprise, T’challa’s Starlord was a hero of import. Radical. Revolutionary. Visionary. A champion. Starlord stole from the rich and gave to the poor… like that famous renegade, Robin Leech.
Korath the Pursuer was not only aware of the legend of Starlord, he was the ultimate fan. He knew of his exploits and felt honored to be opposing him, though he did express interest in changing sides. Their battle made me laugh as the two tried to remain polite even as they fought for the Power Stone.
I loved this episode. Not just for T’challa’s heroic mien. I loved it because T’challa was a hero who wasn’t just the Black Panther. He was a hero because he chose to be. He chose to lead the Ravagers with Yondu, who pretended to be the leader because T’challa was too humble (and presumably too smart) to want the job of wrangling the prickly temperaments of Yondu’s mercenaries.
Thanos: The Cheerful Titan?
Introducing Nebula (Karen Gillan). She’s not the Nebula you know, psychotic, murderous and covered in cybernetic devices. This Nebula is beautiful, lacking any significant hardware and calling T’challa, “Cha Cha” in a way that gave you goosebumps. What else does she call him? The mind wanders. The Ravagers would take almost anyone into their ranks. Even former warlords like Thanos of Titan played again by Josh Brolin. A Thanos not covered in armor, maximizing his superpowers and trying to terrify everyone within earshot. A Thanos having a drink and discussing his mad plan for Universal domination the way you and I might discuss a game of Risk. ‘Because it’s still genocide,’ you say. And he continues drinking and smiling that scary smile.
This episode has everything you could want. Thanos as a good guy, Nebula as a bad guy, the Collector as a fashion model and talented wrestler. And if you wanted Howard the Duck to cameo, and who doesn’t, you got that. This episode shoehorns so much goodness into the 30 minutes you wonder how it was done. So much pandering even the Watcher was eyeing his merch corner wondering if he could squeeze in one more thing.
The unexpected treat for me was the Collector. Vainglorious. Pompous. And willing to mix it up. I love they gave him a chance to show how dangerous the Elders of the Universe can be. They’re the most dangerous senior citizens in the Universe!
What If…T’challa was Starlord? S1: E2 gets an 8.5.
This heist/family drama is incredible as it wanders through the Guardians of the Galaxy’s stories and cherry picks the best bits. And the ending… The ending was flawless and more than a little terrifying. Maybe we will get to come back and tidy up next season.
The second episode of What If…? was simply masterful, showcasing the talent of Chadwick Boseman one more time and giving us one more reason the MCU needs to recast such a dynamic character as the Black Panther. The character and the man’s time in the MCU shouldn’t be over yet. Tune in next week when we see Loki Invading New York, except this time, maybe he wins… What happens to the Avengers? Only the Watcher knows for sure.
The Collector never looked so good (or talked so much trash). Great reversals and characterizations, outstanding artwork, and a story chock-full of goodness, with an ending that’s hard to beat. Two in a row. I can’t wait for Episode 3.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.