This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s What If…? episode 2.
Marvel’s What If…? episode 2 was already a big deal due to it being the late Chadwick Boseman’s final performance as T’Challa. “What If… T’Challa Became Star-Lord” is definitely a bittersweet half hour, showing the would-be Black Panther turning the Ravagers into a force for good and having a truly positive effect on the universe itself.
In this reality, Yondu didn’t personally oversee the kidnapping of Peter Quill as he did in the opening moments of Guardians of the Galaxy, and instead let Kraglin and Taserface take care of the task. They came across a young T’Challa, saw something unique in him, and figured they had the right kid. Fast-forward a few decades and T’Challa is a galactic hero to the point that Korath the Pursuer can’t help but geek out upon seeing him in person.
It’s shortly after this confrontation that we see the biggest bombshell in the timeline. While the episode indeed comes with plenty of sentimentality thanks to Boseman’s wonderful performance, it does bury a pretty major lede: the Ravagers include none other than Thanos in their ranks, with Josh Brolin reprising the role. Yes, the biggest villain of the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a change of heart, and it changed pretty much everything else in the MCU timeline.
At first glance, you’d think that T’Challa recruiting Korath would go up the ladder and eventually lead to Thanos, but not so much. Instead Korath is the newest member. That in itself suggests that Ronan the Accuser would have been searching for the Power Stone with or without Thanos being his benefactor. Ronan’s fate in this reality is left a mystery.
In what is considered to be one of Star-Lord’s greatest adventures in this reality, he crossed paths with the Mad Titan and battled him with words. Through debate and logic, T’Challa was able to explain to Thanos that his plan to destroy half of all life in the universe was in fact evil nonsense and there was a better way. Thanos was swayed by these words and chose to serve T’Challa as a member of the Ravagers, helping make the universe a better place without all the random slaughter.
Although he gets ribbed for his genocidal notions, Thanos does still think there was merit in his scheme and refuses to fully disown his behavior. It’s all incredibly ironic. In regular continuity, Star-Lord gets a lot of blame for allowing Thanos to succeed. Change the man under the helmet and Star-Lord is suddenly the best deterrent against the same threat.
Nebula and Gamora
Thanos being reformed means that he can’t really be torturing his adopted children and forcing them to assassinate people. There is no mention of Gamora, but considering she wanted to escape Thanos and all he stood for in Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s likely that she simply got as far away from him as possible.
Nebula is a different story. Blue skin aside, she’s shown with a more human (and even glamorous) look, albeit with cybernetic markings over one eye. Her behavior around Thanos shows that he did indeed torment her, but T’Challa intervened before it could have been much, much worse both physically and emotionally. Nebula hates Thanos with a passion, but not enough to dedicate her life to revenge.
Instead, Nebula is living her own life. One where she’s in debt to the Collector, but still her life is completely her own. She’s affiliated with the Ravagers, even if that means having to interact with her adopted father.
Really, Thanos and Nebula replace Yondu and Quill’s role with the broken parental relationship that finds its way in the end. The two do eventually bury the hatchet due to Thanos’ heroics and Nebula is later shown to be more embarrassed by her father’s behavior than furious.
A World Without Avengers
What about Earth? T’Challa spends much of his life thinking that Wakanda is gone, which would have tracked for a What If…? story, where zigging instead of zagging so easily leads to things like planets exploding. Not only do we discover that Wakanda is totally fine (with T’Chaka still its king), but so is the rest of Earth. Granted, all we really see is the Dairy Queen that Peter Quill works at, but there aren’t any red flags on the surface.
At the same time, the Collector’s special weapons collection raises some questions. While he uses Hela’s headdress at one point, we do see that Captain America’s shield and Mjolnir are in there. Mjolnir certainly is an exclamation point because, well, how did it even get there and how is the Collector able to presumably wield it?
The happenings on Earth would indeed be incredibly different without Thanos trying to get all six Infinity Stones. Without Thanos, there would be no Loki-led invasion. Without that, there would be no Avengers. The Dark Elves would still be stopped with or without Loki’s involvement, but eventually, Thor would be dumped by Jane. In this reality, it would be logical to say that Jane was Thor’s only major tether to Earth, meaning he would have no need to stick around. He would also have no reason to hunt for the Infinity Stones.
Not sure about Captain America, though. There’s nothing really getting in the way of him stopping HYDRA and enacting the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Collector would have to be going out of his way to get his hands on that shield, since Steve Rogers wouldn’t be traveling the cosmos in this reality. Unless the lack of Avengers means he joins SWORD or something.
Either way, without Thanos mucking things up, Earth ends up without an Avengers roster, but with no noticeable issues that come from it. Hell, without the Mind Stone being thrown into the mix, there’s no Ultron, Wanda Maximoff gets to live without becoming the harbinger of doom, and Baron Zemo has no reason to be angry (ergo, no need to assassinate the King of Wakanda). Not bad.
Instead of being Drax the Destroyer, Drax is a mere bartender and happy family man with sensitive nipples. He credits Star-Lord and the Ravagers for saving his people from a Kree invasion. Since the mainstream Drax considers Thanos to be the puppet master behind Ronan’s doings, it’s very possible that it was this adventure that led to T’Challa meeting Thanos.
Then again, as mentioned earlier, Ronan would have gone for the Power Stone with or without Thanos. It stands to reason that he would have invaded Drax’s world, even without Thanos calling the shots.
Regardless, that’s another violent vendetta cleansed from the timeline.
The Black Order
Ebony Maw, Cull Obsidian, Proxima Midnight, and Corvus Glaive are no longer part of Thanos’ grand plan. Without their cult-like purpose in the galaxy, the Black Order instead end up working for the Collector. Goons gonna goon.
It is rather surprising to see that despite Thanos’ spot as their feared leader in regular continuity, even he is no match for taking on Cull Obsidian and Proxima Midnight at the same time.
Peter Quill and the One Caveat
Things end very well across the board. Almost too well. Even while the first episode showed that Captain Carter would have been a more efficient choice than Captain America, there were still drawbacks to her existence and tragedy still occurred. We really need the same kind of treatment to keep the narrative from beating us over the head with how Peter Quill is a totally lame failure compared to his alt universe replacement.
Having never left Earth, Peter Quill works at Dairy Queen. For some reason, actors from Parks and Recreation who play roles in the MCU end up working for ice cream chains. Go figure.
He’s never put in a position to wield the Power Stone and get his name out there. That doesn’t stop his father, Ego the Living Planet, from tracking him down himself and making him aware of his purpose. This is a cliffhanger that suggests extremely disastrous consequences. Without the Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s virtually nothing to stop Ego from using Peter to fulfill his so-called destiny.
The Ravagers may have helped the universe in so many ways, but it’s very possible that the bill is coming due.