Warning: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s What If…? episode 2.
This week’s episode of What If…? gave Marvel fans a glimpse into what might have been for the so-called Mad Titan, Thanos, but it repeated a mistake from Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame in the process. The show, which imagines alternate scenarios and realities for some of the MCU’s most popular and iconic characters, recently revealed that Thanos wasn’t always destined to be a genocidal mass murderer. However, despite this intriguing possibility, Wednesday’s show failed to resolve one of fans’ biggest issues with the character’s portrayal in the live-action MCU.
In the second episode of the hit show, What If…? explained how the entire Infinity War as audiences know it might have been avoided had T’Challa become Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill. According to the show, the Wakandan prince not only managed to successfully convert the Yondu Ravagers clan into a group of noble outlaws but even dissuaded Thanos from his plan to eradicate half the universe. As a result, on this parallel timeline, the events of the entire MCU to date were effectively prevented. However, even this radical alteration couldn’t fix a major problem with Thanos – specifically, with his associates.
In both the MCU and What If…? Thanos is accompanied by a collection of powerful beings known as the Black Order – albeit, in drastically different circumstances. In the MCU, the Order is, with the exception of Gamora and Nebula, loyal servants of Thanos, most notably paving the way for their adoptive father’s arrival on Earth during Avengers: Infinity War as he hunts for the Infinity Stones. In What If…?, the group is in the employ of the villainous Collector, going toe to toe with Thanos in a climactic fight scene. However, in both interpretations, the cinematic versions of these characters miss the mark dramatically, portraying them as depressingly feeble and ultimately useless.
For example, the character of Ebony Maw, who in the source material possesses enough telekinetic power that he can control and manipulate Doctor Strange, is portrayed in the recent What If…? episode as a glorified surgeon. Much like in the MCU, the character is killed off far too easily for a being of such supposedly significant power. Similarly, Corvus Glaive, who in some comics is shown to have near-invulnerability thanks to his weapon, is simply shot in the back by Nebula. This is an ignominious end for one of the supposedly most masterful military tacticians in the universe.
Although Thanos’ complex characterization was one of many plus points throughout the cinematic Infinity War saga, one area where the films failed to deliver was in making the titan’s Black Order suitably impressive. Characters like Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive were beaten far too easily by human opponents, despite their supposed physical superiority. Reimagining the group for What If…? could have been a masterstroke. However, it seems that this is one area where Marvel once again dropped the ball.