Marvel's What If…? series has a lot of potential. That's kind of its thing, it's all about what might have happened had different characters been in different places at different times. We see Peggy Carter taking up the mantle of Captain Carter, for example, where the main MCU continuity has Captain America. We also see Killmonger rescuing Tony Stark, the iconic Marvel Zombies, and the Guardians of the Galaxy during the Battle of New York. That last one hits pretty hard though, because it's not just the Guardians in place of the Avengers – it's the Guardians being led by T'Challa.
Marvel's What If…? will feature the late Chadwick Boseman's final performance as T'Challa – although since he isn't Black Panther in this universe, his last portrayal of Black Panther will remain his part in Avengers: Endgame. For What If…? to be his final curtain is extremely poignant, because the question 'what if?' is going to hang over the MCU for the rest of its days.
Few people meant as much to the MCU's tapestry as Boseman. Prior to the MCU, Black Panther was a pay grade below your typical superhero leads like Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man. But he represented something unique. He was not just a Black lead, he led with Blackness. T'Challa, despite being African, was originally written as having an American accent. It was Boseman himself who stepped in and pushed for an authentic African accent, and Boseman who worked with the production team to create the Wakanda accent that the characters in Black Panther use. The African colour scheme of red, green, and black throughout the film was also in part because of Boseman's suggestion. He didn't just play Black Panther well, he understood what Black Panther was.
In Avengers: Endgame, T'Challa is used very deliberately. He, alongside fellow Wakandans Okoye and Shuri, is the first to emerge when Doctor Strange uses the portals to bring everybody back. Not Strange himself, not Spider-Man, not any of the literal hundreds of characters that return for the final showdown. T'Challa. He was the future of the MCU – and now we'll always ask 'what if?'
Endgame is a movie about the MCU's legacy, and the legacies within it. It's all about passing the torch, something that becomes rather literal when the heroes need to carry the gauntlet to Iron Man. Tony started the MCU after all, and his death in Endgame marks the end of its beginning. The gauntlet starts with Hawkeye, one of the original Avengers, a man who – like Tony – is at the end of his journey. He could give it to Spider-Man; he's clearly the biggest name of the new era, right? What about Captain Marvel, their most powerful hero? Or how about Wanda, the character set to kickstart Marvel Studios’ expansion into television? Nope. It gets given to T'Challa – the man who would be king.
What If…? was always supposed to be a fairly silly jaunt into all the things the MCU cannot do while it maintains a tight continuity. Captain Carter is cool, but the future of the MCU dictates that it needs to be Falcon, so… let's just do it for a laugh. T'Challa as Star-Lord is just that. While they're both under the MCU umbrella, Black Panther and the Guardians are unlikely to ever work together. In Infinity War, Black Panther is at the heart of the Earth battle, while the Guardians take the lead out in space. Even in the team-up, they're kept far apart. So, let's put them in a blender and see what happens! Boseman has some comedy chops too, although his role as the straight man playing off Shuri in Black Panther means we never fully get to see them. What If…? is a chance for him to show that, a riff off the core MCU where he’s allowed to be more silly and playful, shrugging off the pomp and ceremony of the life of a diplomat – the life of a royal – to adventure through space as a ragtag Ravager.
Even without the extra weight around it, this probably would have been the What If…? I was most looking forward to. Black Panther as Star-Lord isn't the obvious choice for an off-the-wall concept like this, whereas Captain Carter is great but a little on the nose. Now that I know it's the last time I'll ever see (or hear) Boseman as T'Challa though? It takes on a whole new meaning. It's a show that will ask a lot of questions, but it will never be able to answer the one true 'what if?' of the MCU.