What If…? finally gives Iron Man a vibranium suit… kind of. The creation of an AI army instead of vibranium armor seems like a squandered opportunity.
Warning: SPOILERS for Marvel’s What If…? episode 6.
Marvel’s What If…? has finally given Tony Stark the chance to build a Vibranium Iron Man suit, in a certain sense. What If…? episode 6 imagines a universe where Erik Killmonger rescues Tony Stark from imprisonment by the Ten Rings in Afghanistan, as seen in Iron Man. Without these experiences, Tony never becomes Iron Man and Killmonger is given a position of power in Tony’s inner circle, an alteration to the sacred timeline that sends repercussions across the universe.
In the episode, the “gearhead orphans” work together to actualize Killmonger’s brainchild: automated combat robots dubbed Liberator Drones. After a failed test, Killmonger suggests that Vibranium could be a sufficient power source for the drones, leading them straight to the likes of Ulysses Klaue. Killmonger murders both Rhodey and T’Challa in the ensuing attempt to secure Vibranium, carrying out his duplicitous ascent to power. Tony confronts Killmonger after learning of his involvement in Rhodey’s death, hoping to use the prototype drone against him, a plan which unfortunately leads to Tony’s death.
Fans have speculated about the potential strength and durability of a Vibranium Iron Man suit for years. Without a doubt, Vibranium armor incorporated into the inventions of Tony Stark would have been awesome to see realized in a feature film. However, in What If…? Tony’s ingenuity is exploited to create the long-awaited Vibranium suits of armor in an opportunity that appears wasted. For one, Tony is killed off mid-episode, which doesn’t allow him the chance to see the Vibranium alloy drones in action. Furthermore, the drones seem to be little more than fodder for Killmonger and the Wakandans for the rest of the episode. Why are the Liberator drones such an ineffective army?
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the Vibranium drones are deployed on their first real mission against Wakandans with weapons of the same caliber. Killmonger designed the fight patterns of the drones and the Dora Milaje carry Vibranium weapons, so it stands to reason that the drones appear less effective than they might if faced with a non-Wakandan threat. Unfortunately, the Liberator drones were nothing more than disposable tools in Killmonger’s plan to orchestrate a war between the US and Wakanda and gain the trust of King T’Chaka.
Even more critical to the Liberators’ failure is the loss of Tony Stark. Tony was half of the creative potential behind the drones. Although What If…? gives him the chance to build the prototype (albeit without a human pilot), the episode kills him off before he can make any improvements to his invention. Killmonger allows the US Government to take over the manufacturing of the drones and use them for their own combat needs. Part of what makes Tony and his Iron Man armor so powerful in the main MCU timeline is his relentless pursuit of a better design. Tony never stops improving his armor and, despite his personality when he first becomes Iron Man, he never stops becoming a more selfless hero either. Perhaps, given time, this version of Tony may have realized that automated drones are not as effective as putting the armor on the right person. Since Tony is killed so early on in this What If…? universe, he is not able to upgrade the Vibranium armor further, which most definitely would have made them more formidable.
The drones are the bare minimum of what fans had hoped for from a Vibranium suit, though this is largely because of Killmonger’s duplicitous reason for creating them. However, literally anything could happen in the What If…? series, meaning a true Vibranium Iron Man could have occurred in a more satisfying capacity (although perhaps this is still a possibility). Regardless, it is a shame that Marvel’s What If…? develops Vibranium armor in such a lackluster, short-lived manner and -more importantly- without Tony Stark.
Marvel’s What If…? airs every Wednesday on Disney+.
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