All our favorite MCU characters are back in animated form—plus a few more obscure players—in the first trailer for What If…?, a forthcoming series on Disney+ in which key events in the main timeline play out differently, “creating a multiverse of infinite possibilities.” It’s part of the MCU’s Phase Four, in which this multiverse will clearly play a pivotal role.
(Some spoilers for prior MCU films below.)
This new series is based on the What If…? comic book anthology series that debuted in 1977, narrated by a character called Uatu the Watcher, an entity from a computer world who travels throughout the cosmos observing the rise of fall of various civilizations. Each story in the comics centered on an event in the mainstream Marvel Universe, but then there would be a point of divergence, and the rest of the story explored the consequences of that change to the timeline. Marvel Studios first explored the What If…? concept in S4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., when the team members found themselves trapped in a virtual creation called the Framework, each living out a drastically different life.
The Disney+ series recreates the basic narrative framework of the comics, with Jeffrey Wright (Westworld, Source Code) voicing Uatu the Watcher and narrating the episodes. Head writer A.C. Bradley drew an analogy between the Watcher observing MCU events and people watching that famous video of “pizza rat” dragging a slice down the steps of NYC a subway station. “He has no interest in becoming friends with the rat, living amongst the rat, or doing rat things,” Bradley said. “He just goes, ‘Man, this is remarkable. Look at the little guy go!'”
Each of the 10 S1 episodes will explore how a given pivotal event—perhaps the same “nexus events” introduced in Loki—would be altered if things played out a bit differently, such as Loki wielding Mjolnir instead of Thor. Multiple Marvel films and characters will be represented in every episode, and a big part of the series’ appeal is that all the original actors are voicing the iconic roles they brought to the big screen—including the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (aka Black Panther).
The trailer opens with an animated re-enactment of the opening scenes from the original Iron Man (2008). Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is in a military caravan that is attacked by terrorists—except instead of being blown up by one of Stark Industries’ signature weapons, he’s rescued by none other than Killmonger. So, does that mean he never becomes Iron Man? Yes indeed: word is that one of the first two episodes will explore a reality where Steve Rogers takes on the Iron Man mantle instead.
The other episode will feature Peggy Carter taking the super soldier serum instead of Steve to become Captain Britain. The trailer also shows us T’Challa as Star-Lord (teaming up with Yondu), what looks like Peter Parker as Doctor Strange, zombie Avengers, and… Howard the Duck? I think we can safely say that things are gonna get weird—in a good way.
“Time. Reality. It’s changeable,” a voiceover says, which is the whole point of What If…? Between this series and the timeline-hopping antics of Loki—not to mention the casting rumors swirling around Spider-Man: No Way Home—we’ll have explored plenty of this expanded MCU before Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hits theaters next year.
What If…? debuts on Disney+ on August 11, 2021. A second 10-episode season is already in development.
Listing image by Marvel Studios