We’ve all asked the question – What If?
We are intrigued as much by what happened as by what might have happened if just one thing or another went a different way. From the classic film It’s A Wonderful Life (perhaps the most famous “What If?” movie of all) to the Mirror Universe in Star Trek, we can’t get enough of these stories. Marvel Studios launched its first animated series asking this very question – What If? – and introduced us to the multiverse in a way that is sure to tie into Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve already had hints of the multiverse in WandaVision and more directly in Loki (both streaming on Disney+), but this show directly explores what those universes look like through the eyes of The Watcher!
The original comic book on which the show was based, What If? has been a popular book since 1977 when it debuted with the question “What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” (disastrous – Sue leaves the FF and joins with the Sub-Mariner forever). That initial run included some of the most beloved stories in What If? canon including “What If Spider-Man had rescued Gwen Stacy?” “What if Phoenix had not died?” and “What If Wolverine had killed the Hulk?” It went on to produce 12 more series of books through the present day. Consistent throughout was the role of The Watcher who recorded these events, but did not interfere in their unfolding. In most instances, things turned out worse for the world, but on occasion things turned out better, but always there was a twist.
The same is true for this animated version. Each story revolves around a “What If?” with different scenarios evolving from that question. Season 1 of the show includes nine such stories with an upcoming Season 2 exploring nine more. The exact release date of the second season has not yet been announced, but so far in Season 1 we have been treated to stories about Peggy Carter becoming the first Avenger, T’Challa becoming Star-Lord, the Avengers never being formed, Doctor Strange losing the love of his life, and the coming of the zombie apocalypse (it doesn’t turn out well). While not all of the voices are reprised by the original on-screen actors, it is amazing how many of them are including a bit of a bittersweet reprisal by Chadwick Boseman who we get to hear bring Black Panther to life one more time. In fact, Chadwick has been in a number of episodes in this first season – a real treat for fans like me. It’s pretty amazing to see how many stars have come back to play even minor roles in these stories. You’ve got some of the biggest names like Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), but also stars like Bradley Whitford (John Flynn), Neal McDonough (Dum Dum Dugan), and Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) who only appear briefly giving life to their characters once again. The list of “A-list” actors on this show would shatter the budgets of most series but somehow A.C. Bradley, the writer and executive producer for the show, was able to entice them all to return.
Overall, I’m enjoying this trip through the multiverse. Not all stories are as strong as others, but what is most intriguing to me is if we will see live action versions of some of these characters in the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness film coming in 2022. I suspect that somehow these What If? tales are more than just windows into an alternate universe. Like with almost everything Marvel it all ties together somehow and that is probably the biggest draw for me. Not What If? but what next?