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What is Marvel’s “What If…”?

Back in its heyday, Marvel Comics worked really hard at trying to create a continuity that worked and made sense. Today, we talk about that part of the Marvel universe has being the Marvel 616 Universe. But why is that designation even necessary? In part because of one of the fun books that Marvel used to publish back in the day: “What if…?

A classic What If look at what would have happened if Cap hadn’t gone missing…

In 1977, Marvel started to give creators the chance to play around with its history and change up its stories. It was smart for a variety of reasons. For one, it let creative people have a chance to really stretch the boundaries of its comic book world but without the danger of really messing up its carefully connected and choreographed universe.

Plus the one-shot format meant that talented folks from other arenas could come in and do one of these alternate reality books or they could let hot new promising talents test drive the characters in pursuit of their one crazy idea.

And boy howdy people out there had some interesting ideas about what and how to use the opportunity. Some of the ideas just are good for character studies. Like for instance, what it the Fantastic Four still got the powers but they were redistributed in a different way. It is a fun way to look at what makes characters tick.

Some of them hit harder than others though. For instance, the What If…? where the loss that triggers Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man isn’t of his Uncle Ben, but rather of his Aunt May.

A What if…? issue that is popular right now is What if Jane Foster had taken up Thor’s hammer. Whereas that was an alternative tale from a 70s comic, we now know that a modern day canon Thor comic picked up that idea and now the idea will appear in an upcoming movie.

Ultimately, the title was a fun way to twist parts of the Marvel Universe on its head and see what tumbles out. What if Punisher became an Agent of SHIELD? What if Captain America didn’t vanish during World War 2? What if Wolverine had killed the Hulk? (Because Wolverine began as a minor character to a Hulk plot before he joined up as an X-Man.)

Now, cut to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. They now have built for themselves quite a bit of a continuity, even playing with its edges with their time traveling shenanigans in Avengers: Endgame and that doesn’t even mention the wild ride of the multiverse that WandaVision and Loki shows set-up. But it is time to see “What If…” again.

So this week will give us our first episode of the animated Disney+ show: What If…?

Now, understandably, Marvel is keeping a lot of details a secret as to now ruin the whole series but we do know some things.

  1. First, a great deal of the MCU actors are returning to do their voices for the animated series, which I think is a great call.
  2. Two, every episode seems to be self contained.
  3. Three, these stories will stretch across the MCU. Episode one is centered on the idea that “What if Peggy Carter had taken the Super-Soldier Serum instead of Steve Rogers?” Episode two is centered around the idea that “What if The Black Panther had been taken by Yondu instead of Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord.)”

What other stories do you hope this season of “What if…?” do you hope they tackle?

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