“What If?” A New Medium For a New Age of Marvel

Marvel’s newest television show “What If?”, the fifth installment of the highly anticipated “Phase 4” is unique in its format and medium. Since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, their products have been solely theater-released films. As the franchise’s fourth streaming television show and first animated project “What If?” stands apart.

Since the 2019 release of Disney’s streaming platform, “Disney+”, the global “superpowers” content has branched out. The shift from the big screen to at-home streaming opened up a world of possibilities, allowing the company to create longer running projects whose release spans several weeks.

“Captain Carter” in “What If?”’s first episode “What If….Captain Carter Was the First Avenger?” This episode explores the possibility of Peggy Carter becoming the first “Supers Soldier” in the place of Steve Rogers. (Taken from “Den of Geek”)

Disney began this new phase with three Disney+ exclusive shows that exist as part of the main timeline, “WandaVision“, “The Falcon & The Winter Soldier“, and “Loki“. These exclusive shows follow some of the previously established characters of the MCU and help to introduce the newest phase of Marvel surrounding the “multiverse.”

Unlike Marvel’s other ongoing projects, “What If?” stands alone from the main MCU timeline. The creators play with the idea of infinite realities and how small changes in established timelines could change the course of the story dramatically.

Based on the comic series of the same name, “What If?” takes a new look at familiar marvel stories. The concept of the “multiverse” has been a growing part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a few years now, and this show feeds off of that concept, exploring the endless possibilities of different timelines.

“We realized early on that as long as you’re focusing on the characters, it really doesn’t matter if that character exists in a parallel timeline or in the town next door,” stated Brad Winderbaum, executive producer of the series in an interview with Den of Geek.

By using already established and beloved characters, the creators were given the freedom to expand beyond the usual limits. Creating character-driven stories that are supported by the new and unfamiliar surroundings and plots is a new and unique tactic in the MCU.

The first episode of the series, “What If…Captain Carter was the First Avenger?” plays around with one of Marvel’s most iconic stories, “Captain America: The First Avenger”. The origin story of Captain America was one of the MCU’s first movies and is familiar to a majority of the new show’s audience.

In this diverging timeline, a supporting character and Captain America’s love interest in the original movie, Captain Peggy Carter, ends up being injected with the “Super Soldier Serum” and transforms into “Captain Carter.”

Zombie Iron Man in “What If?”’s most recent episode “What if…zombies?” This episode explored the idea of what would happen if a zombie apocalypse reached earth (Taken from marvelcinematicuniverse..fandom.com)

In the original movie, Steve Rogers becomes the Super Soldier, but Carter’s decision to stay downstairs during the procedure ends up with her in Rogers’s assumed position. The story plays out similarly to the original, but the small change that leads to a whole new protagonist makes the episode exciting and intriguing, making the viewer ask, “what will happen next?”

Unlike the familiar pilot, the rest of the series has a more unexpected and unique take on the well-known stories of the MCU, taking beloved characters down evil paths and even the addition of a zombie apocalypse. The show seems to be both a creative outlet for the creators and a chance for long-time fans to revisit and rethink the stories they know so well.

With only half of the show’s episodes currently released and streaming on Disney+, the possibilities for what comes next are infinite. If the remaining episodes follow the current trend, Marvel fans can look forward to another month of exciting and unexpected remakes that leave them wondering, “what next?”