After introducing the non-comic literate to the concept of ‘What If…?’ with a first episode that made one big but not extreme change, the second episode really explores the idea. This isn’t simply the case of switching the main character, the ‘What If…?’ here changes everything. The story borrows the premise of ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ and the majority of the actors from that film and ‘Black Panther’, including Chadwick Boseman in one of his final performances, reprises their roles but it does not just retell the film.
The title is ‘What If.. T’challa Became A Star-Lord’ but the actual decision that that creates this alternate timeline comes from Yondu. Rather than collecting Peter Quill (the Star-Lord we know) from Earth himself he outsources the job to his team of Ravagers. This bunch of incompetents can’t tell the difference between humans and end up kidnapping the wrong kid. They snatch T’Challa, the prince of Wakanda, who is out adventuring beyond his country’s border against his father’s wishes.
T’Challa grows up to take the name Star-Lord and it is the pureness of his character that changes the galaxy. He is someone that everyone who meets him falls in love with. The first scene of the episode recreates the opening of ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ with Star-Lord stealing the Infinity Stone but this time when Korath arrives he recognises him and is a big fan of his works, so much so that he ends up joining the team. They all end up in a space bar where we tick of a list of characters who have changed by the charm and good nature of T’Challa, the most shocking of which is the mad Titan himself – Thanos. The new Star-Lord has managed to convince him of the error of his ways and this has had a massive knock on effect as he his no longer the greatest threat in the galaxy. Drax is now just a barman and Star-Lord fanboy and Nebula, while still a rogue, has a better relationship with her father and is all in one piece.
It’s Nebula who drives the story forward as she sets up the macguffin for T’Challa to chase. She wants the Ravagers to steal the Embers of Genesis, “nutrient-rich cosmic dust from an ancient supernova with the power to terraform entire ecosystems”. She sells this to T’Challa as a way to provide for all the needy in the galaxy which would, in a way, make him the anti-Thanos – give people more rather than halve the population. The Embers are in possession of The Collector, who has filled the power vacuum left by Thanos’ change of heart, and stored at his base on Knowhere where they are protected by The Black Guard.
Upon arriving at Knowhere T’Challa, Yondu, and Nebula enter The Collector’s base pretending to be new clients while Thanos and Korath remain outside to cause a distraction. While searching through all the artifacts and lifeforms stored in glass cases T’Challa comes across Howard the Duck. Howard claims to have knowledge so T’Challa frees him to be his guide but it quickly becomes apparent that Howard just wants a drink. Continuing on his own T’Challa stumbles across a Wakanda spaceship that causes his Black Panther necklace to light up. He finds a message on the ship that his father never gave up looking for him. While he is on the back foot from this information, Nebula burst in with The Collector and it turns out it was a double-cross to add T’Challa to the collection. He is imprisoned with the rest of his team but the flip flops don’t end there. It turns out the the whole thing was concocted between Star-Lord and Nebula as a ruse to free Nebula from a debt she owed to The Collector and steal the Embers.
As they try to escape T’Challa is confronted by The Collector, who is revealed to have all the Avengers’ and many villains’ weapons in his collection implying that he has killed them all, and the Ravagers face of against the Black Guard. Thanos takes on the Black Guard himself, against the wishes of his daughter, but they best him and when it looks like all is lost Nebula returns to save him. In doing so she unleashes some of the power of the Embers which causes massive vines to start growing that begin to rip apart Knowhere.
Star-Lord and Yondu struggle against the Collector until they work together and defeat him by stealing the wristband that controls his collection. They use this to lock him inside one of his own glass cases and free everyone he had in his collection to whom they leave his fate. The pair escape from Knowhere using the Wakandan ship that was discovered earlier and T’Challa decides to return to Earth and his real family. While he gets his happy ending we are left with the stinger that Peter Quill is now working in a burger bar and Ego arrives to collect him to carry out his evil plan with no Guardians to stop him.
This episode was pure fun from start to finish. Everything about it felt like a fresh adventure that we had not seen before and all the changes made were effective and believable to the story. Boseman sounded like he was having a lot of fun with this new role that was very different from the usually very earnest parts that he played, it’s sad that we won’t get to experience more of this style of acting from him beyond what we will get in this series as he had a Harrison Ford-esque swagger to him.
Hopefully this will set a benchmark for the rest of the series to follow. The more adventurous and out there they get the better. It took balls to take Thanos, their biggest villain to date, and turn him into a comedic sidekick but it worked. Everything they did with T’Challa worked. Korath had more personality here than he had in the two films he has appeared in. If they can keep the core of the characters the same and get weirder with everything around them here and have it accepted by the audience it will give the films an opportunity to push themselves more creatively and grow the Marvel Studios brand even further.