FULL SPOILERS AHEAD
Death is an inevitable part of life. We all ultimately die, and once you’re dead there will be a collection of “the lasts” left behind: the last conversation you had with someone; the last meal you had; and for actors, the last project they worked on. In honor of the life of Mr. Stan Lee, comic writer and creator of too many characters to name here, Captain Marvel opened not with the normal Marvel logo, but a memorial montage of him. And then there’s Chadwick Boseman, star of Black Panther who died one year ago of cancer. While Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom might technically be the last project he worked on, What If…? is the last media he was in to be released, and this is the MCU’s chance to memorialize him and the amazing work he did. Bit of a downer intro, huh? Well all that hangs over “What If T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” making it a space heist comedy with a background aura of sadness.
The titles really do set up the whole premise. Instead of Yondu (Michael Rooker) abducting a young Peter Quill and taking him on space adventures, Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Taserface (Chris Sullivan) were put in charge of the operation, leading to them abducting the wrong child: T’Challa, son of T’Chaka (John Kani) and prince of Wakanda. From that moment we jump ahead to our new Star-Lord stealing the Power Stone, only to be stopped by Korath (Djimon Hounsou). But it turns out Korath not only knows who this Star-Lord is, but is the outlaw’s number one fan. In this universe, T’Challa reformed the Ravagers, becoming Robin Hood-esque outlaws and helping people all across the galaxy. He’s saved countless lives, and has even stopped major events from ever occurring. See, T’Challa at some point met up with Thanos (Josh Brolin) and convinced him that killing half the universe was wrong, and that there were better ways of redistributing resources. Thanos still thinks it was a good idea, but he’s now a reformed titan. There’s still some tension between him and Nebula (Karen Gillan), who in this universe is a blonde dame straight out of a detective noir film. She proposes a heist for the Ravagers: steal a MacGuffin from Taneleer Tivan, AKA the Collector (Benecio Del Toro). He’s weirdly buff now and filled the power vacuum left by Thanos, becoming the most feared crime lord in the galaxy. The heist is detailed in advance and that’s a surefire sign that things will go wrong. Sure enough while looking for the MacGuffin, T’Challa finds a Wakandan space ship in the Collector’s… collection, I guess. Turns out Wakanda wasn’t destroyed as Yondu had told the earthling years ago, citing that as a reason for not taking the boy home. And then Nebula betrays Star-Lord, giving him to the Collector as part of wiping away her debt. But wait! We have a triple-cross in action! All this was part of the plan–well, not discovering his homeland and family weren’t necessarily dead, but still. The MacGuffin is grabbed, the Black Order (two-thirds of whom are voiced by their Avengers: Infinity War actors) are defeated, and Star-Lord triumphs over the Collector and his collection of weapons–I’ll get to those Easter eggs in a bit. From that victory, T’Challa returns to Wakanda, bringing his space family with him to see his biological family. What a happy ending!
…except that Kurt Russel was listed in the opening credits. See, Ego the Living Planet is still doing his galactic expansion plans from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and a Peter Quill who works at Dairy Queen (now voiced by Brian T Delaney) is easily captured. Are we going to see that extinction level event happen? I wouldn’t bet money on it, but who knows?
Feeling sad about a celebrity’s death is weird. I never met Chadwick Boseman and our lives are so different that we might as well be on different planets, but empathy and a touch of parasocial relationship are a hell of a thing. Everything I’ve seen has suggested he was a great guy and a pleasure to work with, and his portrayal of Black Panther was iconic enough that Marvel decided–for better or worse–not to even attempt to recast the character. He will be missed, not just by his friends and family but by millions of fans. His legacy will live on through not just his voice acting in What If…?, but in the hearts and minds of many.
I really don’t want this to be a complete downer post, so let’s talk about the weapons Taneleer Tivan brought out to fight Yondu and Star-Lord. They really paint the picture that he is the most dangerous person in the galaxy, and gives some apparent confirmation that this is not the same universe as seen in “What If Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” The Collector never directly names who he defeated (and maybe killed, but most likely threw into a display case) to get the weapons, but fans may recognize many of them. We’ve got Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor; the severed arm of Korg (from Thor: Ragnarok); a dagger from Malekith (from Thor: The Dark World); and more. There are two others that really stand out to me, though. He has Captain America’s shield–complete with the star in the center–suggesting that this universe actually had a Captain America, therefore implying that it’s not the same universe where Agent Carter got the super soldier serum. The other is Hela’s helmet and blade, which the Collector refers to as a “necrosword.” In the comics, her blade is known as the Nightsword. The Necrosword… has a complicated history. I won’t go into all of it, but it will get its own paragraph.
All-Black the Necrosword was wielded by Gorr the God Butcher, an alien who resented that gods actually existed and seemingly didn’t care about the people who worshipped them. He vowed to kill all gods, which had him to a collision course with Thor. This led to Thor becoming unworthy of Mjolnir, which was picked up by Jane Foster who became the new, female Thor. This is relevant since we know that Gorr is going to appear in Thor: Love and Thunder, the film where Jane Foster becomes Thor. But Gorr didn’t create the Necrosword; originally it belonged to Knull, the god of darkness and symbiotes. Yup, symbiotes as in Venom and Carnage. All-Black was created when Knull decapitated a Celestial, creating the severed head the Guardians of the Galaxy know as Knowhere. The Celestials, meanwhile, are due to debut in Eternals, so there’s yet another reference to heap on. Anyway, recently Knull nearly destroyed the universe but was stopped by a cosmically enhanced Eddie Brock/Venom using a battleaxe made from Mjolnir and the Silver Surfer’s board. Comics are dumb. Anyway, since Sony owns the rights to all Spider-characters–and Disney hasn’t bought them outright, yet–it’s doubtful that the Necrosword and its implications will show up in Venom: Let There Be Carnage or any other MCU movie, or that it’s anything more than a fun little Easter egg. But you never know! If What If…? shows us anything, it’s that the multiverse is full of wild potential.
Follow Me Elsewhere