What if this article had no spoilers? (It does though.)
“Time. Space. Reality. It’s more than a linear path. It’s a prism of endless possibility, where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities creating alternate worlds from the ones you know.”
Not only does “The Watcher” – an über-powerful cosmic being who usually just “watches” and doesn’t interfere with events within the Marvel Universe — say that as the voiceover of the opening credits of every one of the nine episodes of Marvel’s What If…?, it’s also a synopsis of the show’s premise.
Marvel’s What If…? takes the happenings which Marvel fans already know as having occurred as canon within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and turns it on its head, where one small different decision by a character can change the entire trajectory of what would have happened had they made said choice. It’s not just superhero cannon fodder, it’s a geek’s greatest dream — and in some cases nightmares — come to life. It hits hard because many of the MCU’s actors came back to voice the same characters in this animated series.
Though the nine-episode arc may seem like it’s missing something in the finale (since it actually is missing a tenth episode pulled by showrunners to be added later), the premise of the series stays the same as the “alternate universe” trip is completely different with each episode.
In episode one, instead of Steve Rogers getting the super soldier serum from Dr. Erskine to help the allies win World War II, Agent Peggy Carter decides to stay in the room as the experiment happens, altering the serum’s course from Rogers to herself. Instead of Captain America and the red, white, and blue-starred shield, we get “Captain Carter,” a female super soldier with a red, white, and blue flag of Britain shield.
In episode two, instead of the plucky earthling Peter Quill being abducted by a young age by aliens and becoming the Guardians of the Galaxy’s leader, Star-Lord, Prince T’Challa of Wakanda gets abducted and becomes Star-Lord.
What If… Thor was an only child? What If… Doctor Strange lost his “heart” instead of his hands in that fateful car accident?
What if the Avengers were murdered before the team formed? What if most of the planet, including most of the Avengers, became zombies? The possibilities are literally endless in the What If…? series. That’s the fun of it, but also the terror.
YouTube is littered with reactions to the most potent punches in the gut, daggers to the heart, or shocks to the mind for us Marvel fans, many reacting, for example, to the quick killing of the Mad Titan Thanos in the penultimate episode where Ultron beats the Avengers to stopping him from taking corporeal form as Vision.
(For those who didn’t think it would be so easy to kill Thanos, if you’re Ultron-Vision murder-bot with an Infinity Stone still stuck in your forehead, apparently not.)
Over the course of the season, we are introduced to alternate versions of our favorite heroes, unwittingly for some, laying the groundwork for the season finale’s new team: The Guardians of the Multiverse, featuring Captain Carter, spoiled party-prince Thor, Star-Lord T’Challa, Supreme Doctor Strange, Killmonger as Black Panther, Thanos-killing Gamora (seems to be a theme there…), and (ironically) last surviving Avenger alternate Black Widow.
While it is yet unclear how much of this will stick with MCU cannon, what IS clear is Marvel’s What If…? is a wild, eye-widening, heart-stabbing ride.