T’Challa being Star-Lord in Marvel’s What If…? raises questions about the identity of that timeline’s Black Panther. Obviously, T’Challa being taken away from his homeland as a child in the alternate scenario depicted in Marvel’s What If…? means that he couldn’t have become the Black Panther or the King of Wakanda. Yet, someone had to fill the role, but their identity is for now a mystery.
In the MCU, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) succeeded his father as the Black Panther a few years before taking the crown of Wakanda. In the timeline of Marvel’s What If…? episode 2, however, his life took a markedly different turn in 1988 when he was kidnapped by Yondu and brought into the company of the Ravagers. As a result, T’Challa spent the remainder of his childhood and several years of his adult life traversing through space with the Ravagers and behaving like a space-faring Robin Hood. It wasn’t until he found out the truth about the circumstances behind his kidnapping that he returned to Wakanda and reunited with his family.
The version of the royal family seen in Marvel’s What If…? spent a large period of time without T’Challa being at their side, but what about the Black Panther? With T’Challa running around in space as Star-Lord, Wakanda could have chosen a different character to assume the Black Panther mantle. The problem, though, is that their options for a successor to T’Chaka would be very limited, considering that only members of the royal family can be given this honor. One candidate would be Shuri, but it’s not clear if she would have been old enough in the timeframe of episode 2. Since the episode’s events coincided with Guardians of the Galaxy’s story, it presumably took place in 2014. If Shuri was a teenager in 2017’s Black Panther, she may be too young to be Black Panther at this time.
An alternative to Shuri would be Black Panther’s villain, Erik Killmonger. He didn’t get to become King of Wakanda in the MCU, but it’s possible that T’Challa’s absence could have changed the direction of his story. He was abandoned by the royal family when his father died in 1992, but if T’Chaka wasn’t focused on grooming T’Challa to be the new Black Panther and King of Wakanda, it may be that Killmonger wouldn’t have been overlooked in the way that he was in the main MCU. Reportedly, Killmonger will be Wakanda’s king in a future episode of the animated series, so the question of Black Panther’s identity could be explored sometime soon.
If Killmonger nor Shuri is the Black Panther in Marvel’s What If…?, Wakanda may be simply without a champion for the time being. In other words, there may not be a Black Panther at all in 2014. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan for one to take up T’Chaka’s mantle. They may be getting Shuri ready to consume the Heart-Shaped Herb and don the iconic costume as soon as she reaches the appropriate age.