Summary

  • What If…?
    , an animated anthology series in the MCU’s Multiverse Saga, explores many alternate realities and introduces several variant characters.

  • Some episodes in
    What If…?
    season 1 received mixed reviews as the experimental series tried to gain traction.
  • What If…?
    season 1’s finale successfully connects different narratives explored in preceding episodes, and set the stage for future storylines in
    What If…?
    season 2 and its spinoffs.

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Released as part of Phase 4 of the MCU, Marvel Studios’ What If…? season 1’s nine episodes began to explore alternate realities and variant characters across the multiverse. Following the introduction of the multiverse in Loki season 1, Marvel Studios’ first animated TV series, What If…?, takes advantage of the concept to give viewers a glimpse of how events could have played out if different choices had been made in the MCU’s history. As an anthology series, each episode of What If…? season 1 explored a different branching timeline and unique characters, though there is an overarching narrative that tied every episode together in an epic season finale.

Marvel Studios What If…? is inspired by Marvel Comics’ What If stories, which kicked off with “What If Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four?” in 1977. Jeffrey Wright’s Watcher narrates stories from across the multiverse, each bringing a new variation on the known history of the MCU, and while he had taken an oath not to interfere, the Watcher soon brought together the Guardians of the Multiverse to battle the villainous Infinity Ultron. What If…? season 2 premiered in December 2023, exploring new alternate realities and featuring several heroes introduced in the premiere season of What If…?, though some episodes in What If…? season 1 were better received than others.

Related

What If…? Season 3: Stories, Characters & Everything We Know

What If…? season 3 is in development at Marvel Studios, continuing the animated series and exploring more realities in the MCU’s multiverse.

What If… Thor Were An Only Child?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 7 (September 22, 2021)

What If episode 7 Jane and Party Thor

What If…? season 1, episode 7, acts as a palate cleanser before the season’s two-part finale. Reminding viewers that the multiverse isn’t all doom and gloom, the episode explores what would happen if Odin never adopted Loki, leading to Thor becoming a hedonist instead of a hero. The joyful idea of “Party Thor” is undermined by the fact that What If…? fails to give him any real development, and ultimately uses a classic superhero trope, as Captain Marvel is called to save the day. Jane Foster is also stripped of her agency, so while it comes as a welcome pause for breath, the episode doesn’t stand well on its own.

What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 6 (September 15, 2021)

Tony Stark Killmonger death in What If

While most episodes of What If…? change small details in the MCU’s history, What If…? season 1, episode 6, responds to a question that wasn’t being asked. Killmonger loses his nuance from 2018’s Black Panther, becoming nothing more than a villain, and the plot is rather disjointed. In fact, the episode’s final moments, in which Pepper Potts and Shuri devise a plan to defeat Killmonger, are far more interesting than the focus of the episode. While this episode is certainly one of the season’s weaker additions, there are powerful moments, including an unforgettable scene featuring Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger and the late Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa meeting on the Ancestral Plane.

Michael B. Jordan reprised the role of Erik “Killmonger” Stevens for a cameo in 2022’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and the villain returned briefly in What If…? season 2’s finale, though was easily defeated by Captain Carter and Kahhori.

What If… Zombies?!

What If…? Season 1, Episode 5 (September 8, 2021)

What if zombies captain america

Marvel Comics’ Marvel Zombies has always been popular, so it was inevitable that What If…? would adapt the stories for the MCU. Set in a reality where a Quantum Realm virus has decimated the Earth, What If…? season 1, episode 5, focuses on a team of superheroes who are fighting for a cure. While practically every zombie trope plays out in this episode, making it predictable and often muddled, “What If… Zombies?!” still packs a punch, particularly in its final moments. While the heroes have found a potential cure, the appearance of a zombified and Infinity Stone-empowered Thanos is a brilliant tease, perhaps for the MCU’s upcoming Marvel Zombies spinoff.

What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 3 (August 25, 2021)

Hank Pym addresses Nick Fury in What If...?

What If…? season 1, episode 3, is a fun riff on “Fury’s Big Week,” which suggests the events of The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor occur in the same week. The idea of the future Avengers being killed off one-by-one prior to forming the team is exciting, and the murder-mystery nature of the episode provided drama and suspense, though it was fairly easy to deduce that Hank Pym was the killer, as the MCU didn’t have many superhumans during this time period. The final confrontation between Hank Pym and Loki is a stand-out moment, and the ending message of optimism provides hope for the future of this reality.

What If… Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 1 (August 11, 2021)

Captain Carter with Sword of Might in What If

What If…? season 1’s premiere episode debuted Peggy Carter’s super-soldier Captain Carter in the MCU, and she has since become a cornerstone of the MCU’s multiversal storylines, having been featured in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and more heavily in What If…? season 2. This episode assures viewers that What If…? doesn’t follow the known MCU’s continuity perfectly, and has little (if any) impact on the main live-action timeline, as this episode changes elements of Captain America: The First Avenger to better fit Captain Carter’s evolution. This episode feels more restrained than those that followed, but was a strong launchpad for the experimental series.

What If…?’s variant of Captain Carter has become a key hero in the MCU’s Multiverse Saga, especially during What If…? season 2, where she dealt with the Red Room, thwarted a multiversal incursion, and battled the villainous Strange Supreme with MCU original superhero Kahhori.

What If… T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 2 (August 18, 2021)

Star Lord T'Challa in What If Episode 9

This episode fully displayed the creative potential of the What If…? concept, imagining a timeline where Yondu had kidnaped the young T’Challa from Wakanda instead of Peter Quill. Interestingly, T’Challa seems to become a much more refined version of Star-Lord, demonstrating a capability to actually bring peace and hope to the galaxy, with the Ravagers becoming a force for good and even the Mad Titan Thanos abandoning his devastating Infinity War plan. Heartbreakingly, this episode marked the final appearance of the late Chadwick Boseman in the MCU, and was set to launch a spinoff series featuring T’Challa’s Star-Lord prior to the actor’s tragic passing.

What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 4 (September 1, 2021)

Doctor Strange looking at his cape in What If...?

Episode 4 is the most powerful from What If…?’s debut season, showing the implications of messing with the multiverse in the MCU. In an effort to change an Absolute Point and save Christine Palmer, Doctor Strange transforms himself into a twisted monster by abusing his new magical gifts, though he inadvertently ends up destroying his entire universe. Themes of grief and desperation are evocative, the artwork of this episode is superb, and the central character of Strange Supreme is compelling, so much so that he returned in What If…? season 2 as a bona fide villain. Even so, this episode may contradict multiversal rules set out in the live-action MCU.

What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 9 (October 6, 2021)

Guardians of the Multiverse in What If Episode 9

What If…? season 1’s finale faces the unenviable task of connecting the wildly different narratives from the preceding episodes, yet it pulls this off brilliantly, giving each variant character their own moment to shine. The stakes for this episode were raised significantly, with the fate of the multiverse hanging in the balance, but with the Watcher and the new Guardians of the Multiverse coming together for the first time, the villainous Infinity Ultron didn’t stand a chance. Story threads from this episode continued to have repercussions in What If…? season 2, proving just how powerful an ending it was for season 1, though the episode’s resolution was perhaps rather predictable.

What If… Ultron Won?

What If…? Season 1, Episode 8 (September 29, 2021)

The Watcher and Ultron Vision In What If Episode 8

When viewed as standalone episodes, What If…? season 1’s penultimate episode is by far the most impactful. While the rise of Ultron into a powerful and threatening villain across the cosmos is exhilarating, a more grounded, character-driven story is told on Earth featuring best friends Clint Barton’s Hawkeye and Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow. The battle between the Watcher and Infinity Ultron is the real triumph, however, spanning the multiverse and acting as a love letter to some of the greatest comic book artists in history, particularly with the use of Jack Kirby’s cosmic special effect, the “Kirby Krackle.” What If…? season 1, episode 8, could be considered a masterpiece.

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