This article contains spoilers for What If…? episode 3.
The third episode of Marvel’s What If…? goes in a different direction than the two that preceded it. Instead of switching roles like Captain Carter and T’Challa as Star-Lord, the third episode hides its turning point under a murder mystery. It’s an episode about the Avengers never existing, which has absolutely nothing to do with the actual comic issue What If the Avengers Had Never Been?, but instead turns out more like DC Comics’ Identity Crisis.
In this branch reality, Hope Van Dyne ended up becoming an Agent of SHIELD. Reading between the lines, she was most likely killed in action by the Winter Soldier (the location she died is the same place Bucky wounded Black Widow). This caused her father Hank Pym to go completely off the deep end. Wearing the Yellowjacket costume, he proceeded to murder Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Hulk, and Black Widow. He was ultimately defeated by a vengeful Loki, who then went and took over Earth in a mere 24 hours.
And hey, good for Loki! When it comes to What If…? stories, Loki is up there with Magneto and Kingpin as a villain who rarely ever wins. Sylvie’s decision paid off for this world.
In the epilogue, we see that Nick Fury has not given up. Even with all those Avengers dead, he’s still going to rebel against Loki with the help of Captain America and Captain Marvel. Maybe in the second season we’ll get a continuation and see if Captain Marvel is overpowered enough to take on everything Asgard has.
In the meantime, I can’t help but think about the other players and factors in this brave new world. Who else could help the Captains and Fury?
The Thanos Threat
So, good news! Thanos probably isn’t going to be a looming terror anymore thanks to Loki’s success. The Tesseract is still on Earth and Thanos would still be interested in it, but the difference is that he would not have found Loki floating through space and would not have used him as a minion. That means we’d probably see him outsource to his other top goon, Ronan the Accuser.
In the regular timeline, Thanos gambled on the mission by giving Loki the Mind Stone, only to lose both. He’d probably try the same strategy with Ronan. Remember what happened when Ronan actually got his hand on an Infinity Stone? He IMMEDIATELY betrayed Thanos. That’s definitely the easy option for him, considering the last time he tried invading Earth he ended up escaping with urine trickling down his leg.
Ronan and his mind-controlled Thanos are more of a problem for the Nova Corps. Let them deal with that.
Iron Man’s Friends and Foes
At the very least, we can count on War Machine helping out. He may have missed the boat against Loki in regular continuity, but he’s still ready to attack with…Hammer tech. Ah, crap. Yeah, Justin Hammer’s just going to be a liability in this situation.
On the other hand, one has to wonder where this leaves Ivan Vanko. He wanted to destroy Tony Stark. Hank Pym did it for him. There is no glorious suicide or massacre destroying Stark’s legacy. What’s next for Whiplash? We could really use the know-how of someone who actually understands arc reactor technology.
Who else has Stark pissed off in main continuity…? The Vulture is a non-factor here, as the events of Avengers do little to push him away from the blue collar lifestyle. Aldrich Killian might oppose Loki via straight-up terrorism by sending exploding Extremis soldiers towards Asgardian forces. I don’t expect any collaborations coming from his corner.
Now, Quentin Beck is someone who might actually prove his worth. It’s too perfect. A man using trickery and illusion to go toe-to-toe with the godly expert on trickery and illusion. Mysterio could really become the alternate universe superhero that his mainstream counterpart pretended to be!
Hulk’s Odds and Ends
Hulk is mainly important in the grand scheme of things for being the perfect wielder of the Infinity Gauntlet and undoing Thanos’ scheme. Otherwise, he’s the big supporting character of the MCU and having him gone is no big loss in terms of ripple effects.
It does mean something that the events of Incredible Hulk are half-finished. Emil Blonsky is a super soldier, but Hulk exploded before he had a chance to kick Blonsky into mush. He might still mutate from the serum he took, but he should at least be an asset for Fury. Having Rogers with him would probably be for the better.
Meanwhile, Samuel Sterns gets to continue his gamma experiments. Who knows if such a thing will pay off?
Where Does HYDRA Fall?
The episode does a good job of using HYDRA as a red herring early on when Black Widow is being led away in handcuffs. They’re still integrated into SHIELD and, unfortunately, that’s probably good for Loki. Unless ego means too much to those in charge, Loki’s rule is everything HYDRA could ever want. Not only order through fear and control, but what’s more for a Nazi offshoot to love than being ruled by Norse gods?
The real problem is that the corrupt part of SHIELD would have access to the Tesseract. In other words, Loki would have access to the Tesseract. That’s very bad.
For once, Darren Cross is interesting. He’s the x-factor in all of this because of how Hank Pym turned out. Cross was the crazy, rebellious son figure in Ant-Man, furious that Pym wouldn’t let him tamper in God’s domain. One has to wonder, does that mean that he wouldn’t be so villainous in this brave new world? Would he still be rebellious, but in relation to a madman, thereby normalizing him?
I would argue that Cross is still bad news. Pym would probably embrace Cross’s attempts to meddle with Pym Particles. Why would Pym care if the technology would go into the wrong hands when he’s already the wrong hands? It could very well be that Cross was already an accomplice to the Avengers murders. It would certainly explain Pym’s costume’s design choice.
One elephant in the room is the events of Thor: Ragnarok and how they’re affected. Guys, Asgard is doomed, especially without Thor. We’ve already seen how lax Asgard becomes with Loki in charge. Think how bad it’s going to be when he’s spread thin and nobody has been keeping tabs on Surtur. This is not going to end well for that world.
Hela’s arrival is only a matter of time. Then again, I’m not sure how the destruction of Asgard would affect her powers and threat level.
The Heroes Yet to Appear
The new characters from Avengers: Age of Ultron are for the most part negated. There’s no Ultron and therefore no Vision. The Maximoff twins won’t be exposed to the Mind Stone and Stark being dead has to do something to soften their need for vengeance. On the other hand…is Wanda truly off the table?
Wanda already has that magical spark. Does it HAVE to be the Mind Stone that sets her on her path to becoming the Scarlet Witch? The Aether is still out there. Maybe Jane Foster still finds it. Maybe not. It’s also possible that reality simply finds a way for someone who unconsciously controls probability. Wanda becoming one with a red energy that warps reality itself is just too on the nose to ignore.
Falcon only joined the superhero business because he got roped into it. Still, considering his skill with the wing tech, Fury could easily be aware of him and what he’s capable of. Sam being one of Fury’s pinch hitters isn’t too big of a stretch.
That leaves two extremely powerful parties. First, there’s Wakanda. I can’t imagine they were really conquered by Asgard. Not if the whole conflict ended within a day. Wakanda probably fell through the cracks of Loki’s interest, seen as a powerless country with no threats worth caring about. He sees the surface and it’s beneath him. Now there’s something to Earth’s advantage.
Then we have the sorcerers. It’s hard to really measure how much these events would alter things with Doctor Strange and his cast of characters. We’ve seen Strange be pretty damn effective against Loki before, but that was without Loki having an entire Asgardian army at his command. Does Doctor Strange even exist as a sorcerer here? Would Loki’s magical tyranny help nip the Kaecilius problem in the bud? This part is hard to call.
Yes, there’s a lot to play with in the sandbox of this world run by Loki. What’s important is that Mjolnir is still sitting in that crater. Loki certainly can’t move it. Even if it isn’t Steve Rogers, someone has to be worthy of putting it to good use.