Marvel’s What If...? is the first of its kind in a lot of ways for the MCU. It’s the first animated project in the interconnected web of movies and TV shows that Marvel Studios has been building out for the last decade.
Instead of focusing on a particular character or storyline, What If...? is an anthology series that explores different alternative universes and realities that spin off from Marvel’s established films and shows so far. And it works — after years of lore-heavy movies and shows, the animated show is a refreshing and fun break of bite-sized superhero shenanigans.
Light spoilers for What If...?, Loki, and the MCU follow
That flexibility was one of the most exciting things about the series, head writer A.C. Bradley tells The Verge. “They’re going to let me write all of them?” she recalls reacting when she was offered the show. “Because so often, women get to write the female heroes, and people of color get to write the people of color heroes, while white men get to write anything they want. So the fact that I was actually going to be able to write Doctor Strange and Iron Man and Killmonger — it was a dream come true. And I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
One episode, for example, reimagines Captain America: The First Avenger with Peggy Carter receiving the Super Solider Serum instead of Steve Rogers; another sees Yondu accidentally nab T’Challa from Wakanda instead of Peter Quill to become Star Lord. Other episodes seen in the trailer show off a world of Marvel zombies, or Iron Man teaming up with Black Panther villain Killmonger.
It’s one of the biggest benefits of What If...?’s animated format, which allowed for stories to be told without (as much) consideration for locations, CGI effects, actor availability, and the practical laws of physics that constrain live-action shoots. “[Animation] is a little bit more freeing in the sense that we’re gonna go to this location, this location, this location — as long as we manage our time properly enough where we can create and paint and draw those things, design those things, we can do it,” explains What If...? director Bryan Andrews.
Some ideas, though, were too far out even for the initial run of What If...?. “There was definitely some stuff that was ... way out there,” says Andrews. “Because at first [Marvel Studios] were like, ‘Yeah, go for it, what do you got?’ And we’re like, ‘Here,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, this is all awesome... Some of these maybe we can do later?’” The goal for the first season, he explains, was to try to keep things within the ballpark of the existing MCU. “They just wanted to play it a little bit closer-ish, you know, spinning off moments that we clearly know or can recognize.”
One thing that fans won’t see in What If...? — at least for now — is any of the multiversal fallout after Loki and Sylvie’s actions in the season finale of Loki. That’s for two reasons. The most practical is the fact that What If...? actually started production before Loki did, thanks to the longer runway for animation. But the creative team also wanted to avoid tying down the new series too much.
“Early on, we had a couple of meetings to talk about what the rules of the multiverse will be,” Bradley explains. “I kind of took a step back and was like, I’m just gonna have fun. I’m not going to write any rules that’re going to step on the TVA. We’re not going to have, you know, The Watcher hanging out with Mobius just yet. We’re just going to show both Marvel and the fans all the weird and wild places that the multiverse can go and just get them excited for it.”
That doesn’t mean that What If...? and its alternate-universe takes on classic characters like Captain Carter might not appear in future live-action Marvel projects down the line. “That [decision] belongs to someone with a bigger paycheck,” Bradley jokes. “It’d be cool,” Andrews adds.
But even if What If...?’s characters don’t immediately pop up in an upcoming movie or Loki episode, it’ll have an impact on the broader MCU no matter what. Andrews mentioned that the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness team took a look at What If...?’s take on the character as the live-action film was being developed. “And maybe they were a little bit inspired,” says Andrews. “I like to think that they were.”
What If...? starts streaming today on Disney Plus.