The only difference between you and me is that you can’t see the difference between you and me.
After saving genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is on the rise, first named head of security, and later as COO for Stark Industries after uncovering a plot to assassinate Tony by The Ten Rings and Obadiah Stane. Working closely with Tony, they build a legion of drones meant to replace and save soldiers’ lives on the front lines of war, but the only way to get them working is to acquire vibranium. Meeting with black market merchant Ulysses Klaue, Killmonger reveals his true plans, killing Tony, Rhodey, Klaue, and T’challa aka The Black Panther when he tries to take the vibranium back to Wakanda.
Arriving at the gates of what would have been his homeland, Killmonger delivers the body of Klaue as a show of service to Wakanda. King T’chaka is happy to embrace his lost nephew, but the time for reunion is cut short when General Ross sends the army of drones against the technologically advanced African nation under Killmonger’s deception that Wakanda assassinated Tony Stark. Killmonger quickly offers a plan to defeat the drones he created, and fights admirably alongside the Dora Milaje and fellow warriors of Wakanda. Rewarded for his bravery, Killmonger is named The Black Panther, protector of Wakanda.
Episode six of “What If…?” Takes us back to the very beginning of the MCU; the first scene of its first movie, Iron Man. With Killmonger’s rescue of Tony, the entire timeline is rewritten, leaving the world without Iron Man, and without the Avengers. It tells a dark story not only of Killmonger, but of Tony Stark, who without his experience being captured by the Ten Rings and learning a humbling lesson, instead sees his almost assassination as a reason to create bigger and badder weapons. Killmonger’s manipulations must have been planned over years to pull the strings of not only Tony, but two world superpowers, forcing America and Wakanda into a conflict he created only for himself to become the victor. It’s a plan worthy of the Killmonger we first met in Black Panther, and that’s kind of the problem.
As intriguing as his plan was, he was still the same villain we’ve seen before. Wonderfully performed by Michael B. Jordan who returned to voice the character again in “What If…?”, Killmonger was one of the better villains of the MCU. He wasn’t simply after power or money, or even solely vengeance. His motivations come from the oppression of African Americans which make his aggressive actions almost justified. He was a villain who not only nearly defeated The Black Panther, but forced T’challa to reconsider his perspective of how his nation could help African Americans in the US and throughout the world. But this episode misses the opportunity to show a different Killmonger, one who doesn’t resort to murder and deception to advance his agenda, but could be a true hero to his people in the US and Wakanda, standing beside The Black Panther to change the world.
It’s difficult to disagree with Killmonger’s perspective, because he’s absolutely correct about the oppression African Americans have suffered at the hands of imperial minded countries. In Black Panther, we got to see Killmonger acting in the same vein as Malcom X, a leader who advocates fighting fire with fire. In this episode, Marvel missed the chance to show Killmonger taking a different approach, advocating for peace and progress through unity and understanding, similar to Martin Luther King.