What If...?

Alternate realities, different continuities and the Multiverse in general are often explored in comics – with DC’s Elseworlds and ‘Crisis’ crossovers, amongst other initiatives and series, providing well known jaunts into the variety of possibilities that twists on familiar formulas can bring – and on Marvel’s side of the fence, they have different continuities such as their now-defunct Ultimate and New Universe lines, along with crossovers that attempt Crisis-style smooshing of realities such as Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars. One-off jaunts into twists on familiar tales and characters – more akin to DC’s Elseworlds stories – can be found in their What If…? comics, which started with ‘What If Spider-Man Had Joined The Fantastic Four?’ way back in 1977. The What If…? series, which have explored a wide variety of intriguing possibilities across various series, have always been an interesting peek into what may have been – and writers have generally been able to really go wild with the outcome of the stories, shorn of the need to continue them into ongoing sagas.

Naturally, the animated TV adaptation doesn’t focus on changes to comic continuity; instead, it looks at how the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be altered by small changes in familiar events. The first episode focuses on what happens when Steve Rogers is unable to complete the process that turns him into the muscular Super Soldier – and instead, Peggy Carter takes his place.

This opening episode is great; Jeffrey Wright’s narration as Uatu, The Watcher – who is also the narrator/’host’ of the What If…? comics – is perfect in its slightly icy detachment, as befits the race of beings who can see all of these possibilities unfold – but are forbidden to interfere. There’s some well-handled social commentary, with the era’s sexism in the military’s reluctance to accept Captain Carter as their heroic figurehead explored to great effect. Ross Marquand turns in another superb impression of Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull (following his appearances as the character in Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame) and the rest of the cast do great work with their vocal performances too.

There’s an expressive look to the comic book-styled CGI animation, which both recreates familiar scenes from Captain America: The First Avenger and gives us entirely new sequences to boot. The action sequences are great, including a superb, 1940s swing-soundtracked montage and some excellent fight scenes. Peggy’s enthusiasm for her role as The First Avenger is incredibly infectious; the contrast between her and Steve (with Steve’s role vastly different in this alternate reality) is really fun, as are the changes that occur to their relationship. There’s many more twists to the story we’re all so familiar with that I won’t spoil here.

The first episode is such a compelling tale in its own right that it’d be great to see this particular thread continued, but that’s both the blessing and curse of What If…? – the set-ups and stories can be so tantalising that it’s tempting to want more, but there’s always new questions to be answered within the premise of the show – and to keep exploring entirely new worlds is part of its appeal.

Marvel’s newfound interest in exploring the Multiverse – following the hints in WandaVision and the more overt possibilities brought about by Loki’s climax – has worked out great so far, especially given the real world issues of actors aging or leaving their parts – along with story possibilities closing off as the overarching Infinity Saga drew to a close. Where do you go once you’ve reached such a crescendo that whatever you do next could never possibly hope to top it?

Marvel’s answer? Anywhere. Everywhere. The possibilities truly are endless.

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