Marvel Studios is finally embracing one of the most used tropes in comics: the alternate universe.
The series, created by A.C. Bradley and directed by Bryan Andrews, is a currently running TV series produced by Marvel Studios and streaming on Disney+. The series is an anthology of shorts dedicated to answering various questions posed by a character known as the Watcher, a multi-dimensional being who “observes all but will not, cannot interfere.” Each episode features a different scenario where one element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is altered ever so slightly and thus a chain reaction of events occurs, altering that episode’s universe forever. The series also utilizes many of the original actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe reprising their roles despite the series being animated.
This is a big step for Marvel Studios because up until now they’ve been quite conservative with pulling from some of the more bizarre tropes popular in comics. The strong lean into comic material starting in “Infinity War” and “Endgame” was an obvious point of origin for “What If.” The show has opened a can of worms that was in turn opened by the two previous Disney+ shows from Marvel, “WandaVision” and “Loki.” The whole multiverse concept does pose some problems from a cinematic standpoint. Some natural questions are “What happens when someone dies? Are they revived in a multiverse? Do character deaths even actually matter? What does a multiverse mean for events occurring? If an event occurs one way in one universe and one way in a different universe, which is technically canon? Are they both canon?” These questions are ones that Marvel will have to answer if they want a healthy suspension of disbelief if the multiverse spills over into Marvel movies. This appears to be where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is headed as both “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” appear to hint at the use of the multiverse as primary plot points.
The first season of “What If” will contain a total of nine episodes and has already been confirmed for a season two as well. The exact subject matter of each episode has not been revealed yet but, thanks to a trailer released prior to the series, we can infer a handful of alternate histories are portrayed. Some of these episodes will include an adaptation of the infamous Marvel Zombies storyline, an episode dedicated to Loki receiving the power of Thor rather than Thor Odinson, and a storyline where Peter Parker becomes both Spider-Man and the Sorcerer Supreme. These alternate realities all present interesting scenarios for Marvel to play with.
“What If’s” first two outings featured episodes dedicated to asking “What if Peggy Carter received the Super Soldier Serum rather than Steve Rogers?” and “What if T’Challa became Star Lord rather than Peter Quill?” Both episodes are well-directed and feature unique storylines. One might expect the show to do cliché looks at characters or make frame for frame reshoots of the moves you’ve already seen. This series avoids that while creating scenes that operate more like fun homages rather than taking the easy way out. In the released teaser trailer there’s also a scene quite reminiscent of the infamous “Avengers Assemble” scene in the first “Avengers” film, hinting at a shared universe from some of the episodes. Tune in on Disney+ to watch a new Marvel universe unfold.