In 1977, Marvel Comics debuted a new series titled “What If”, which would explore alternate realities based on twists from the established Marvel canon. At last year’s San Diego Comic Con, Marvel Studios announced What If…?, an upcoming Disney+ animated series that will show audiences fun, wild, and weird twists on the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The series’ voice cast will bring back the talents of almost every major actor who has been involved the MCU, and Kevin Feige has confirmed that all of Marvel Studios’ films will be explored throughout the series. Production on What If...?'s ten episode first season is already underway, and work has already begun on the second.
Only a few What If…? premises have been confirmed, teased, or heavily rumored. Other than that, not much is known about the specific stories this series will explore. Before any more details are officially revealed, we here at The Direct have decided to put together our own list of fun predictions for MCU Phase Two twists that the animated series might draw from, as well as a detailed look at one of the few confirmed episode plots: What if T'Challa was Star Lord?
The Marvel Zombies episode will be discussed in Phase 3's article, as the fight between Captain America and Bucky Barnes appears to actually take place closer to the events of Civil War than The Winter Soldier.
If you haven't yet, you can check out our Phase One What If...? predictions here. Now, let's go ahead and visit some alternate universes.
IRON MAN 3
Main prediction: What if Tony Stark teamed up with Bruce Banner to stop Aldrich Killian?
One of the best things to come from The Avengers was the unexpectedly delightful friendship between the science bros Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. With the two wielding advanced intellects, they found a unique sense of understanding in each other, as they both struggled to deal with their cursed pasts.
A few months after this, after Tony's home is attacked, JARVIS flies him to safety with some preset coordinates. But what if instead of taking the faulty Iron Man suit to who-knows-where Tennessee, Tony is flown to the residence of someone JARVIS knows he can trust? What if Tony Stark teamed up with Bruce Banner to stop Aldrich Killian?
Bruce, knowing exactly how to stay off-the-grid, helps Tony keep the anonymity necessary for finding out where the Mandarin is, and where he will strike next. The two team-up in a buddy-cop style adventure across the United States, gathering information on Extremis, AIM, and Aldrich Killian’s connections to it all.
The final fight sequence's House Party Protocol now has one more invited guest, as Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk fight side-by-side to defeat Killian’s army. This simple twist would be a great way to get an MCU Iron Man/ Hulk team-up story that the films never got a chance to explore.
Other possibility: What if Tony Stark became Iron Maniac?
Iron Maniac is an alternate universe’s evil version of Iron Man from the Marvel comics. In Iron Maniac’s world, Tony Stark saw most of his fellow Avengers die in a brutal war against the villain Titannus, causing the hero’s psyche to shatter and turn on his former friends.
The main Marvel Cinematic Universe would never show our beloved genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist throw away his moral code, but that’s exactly why What If…? exists.
At the start of Iron Man 3, Tony was already being plagued with PTSD from the events he experienced in The Avengers. He wasn’t sleeping, he was regularly suffering major panic attacks, and he was riddled with fear stemming from a huge existential crisis. So when Aldrich Killian decides to set his targets on the iron-clad Avenger, what if Tony simply couldn’t take it anymore?
An episode such as this could show Tony Stark dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole, taking drastic measures against his enemies, and eventually the friends who try to stop him. Tony keeps fighting against a world that doesn’t make sense to him, burning every friendship he forged, becoming an unrecognizably psychotic version of the hero the world once loved.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Main prediction: What if Loki obtained the Reality Stone?
Having the God of Mischief in the same film as an Infinity Stone that can alter reality on a universal scale and never letting them interact was a huge missed opportunity.
A bit of a recap for those unfamiliar with the more specific details of Thor: The Dark World: Thor breaks Loki out of prison after Malekith attacked Asgard so that Loki could get Thor and Jane (who has the Reality Stone trapped within her) to Malekith’s home realm. There they plan to destroy the Aether (with a huge ‘ol blast of lightning), it of course doesn’t work, Malekith obtains the Aether from Jane, and Loki is “killed” right in front of Thor.
But what if it was Loki who obtained the Reality Stone? The God of Mischief is no stranger to sorcery and illusions, so Loki wielding the Reality Stone could give Marvel the opportunity to explore the full power of both the character and the red slosh of an Infinity Stone. As fun as it was to see Thanos turn weapons into bubbles (that guy really liked bubbles, didn’t he?), the Reality Stone can do so much more.
What If…? could use this premise to explore some of the more radical plots Loki enacted against his adopted brother from the comics. The MCU’s Loki could do something similar to what happened in The Ultimates comic book run, attacking Thor’s perception of reality and causing the hero to believe everything he’s been through has been one huge, deluded fantasy. It would be a very fun, trippy episode to watch, full of fun alternate realities thought up by the God of Mischief himself.
Or, you know, Loki could also just turn Thor into a frog.
Other possibility: What if Malekith hadn’t been defeated by the Asgardians?
In the opening prologue of Thor: The Dark World, Malekith attempted to use the power of the Aether against the Nine Realms during the once-in-a-millennia dimension-melding event. The Dark Elf wanted to plunge the universe back into one of eternal darkness, until he was thwarted by Thor’s grandfather Borr and his Asgardian forces. But what if Malekith hadn’t been defeated by the Asgardians during this battle?
The universe is back to one of infinite darkness. The Asgardians are no longer the center of the universe, Odin never became ruler of the Nine Realms, and Thor’s origins completely change. This alternate reality could be a fun look at a universe where Thor didn’t grow up in a golden palace, but instead in a world without hope.
Malekith might have taken Borr, and later his son Odin into custody. Thor grows up in captivity and attempts to avenge his grandfather’s legacy. The Frost Giants may have a higher status in this new hierarchy, with Loki maybe even becoming one of the Nine Realm’s most powerful figures. How will Thor’s characterization change now that he isn’t the Mighty Thor? How will Loki’s future be altered growing up with Laufey as his father?
On his quest for freedom, Thor becomes the center of an intergalactic war to bring light back to the universe. Which other heroes will step forward to help? And what version of himself will Thor find he becomes in the process?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Main Prediction: What if Project Insight had launched?
Created as a way to rid HYDRA of anyone who was or could be a threat to the evil organization, once launched, Project Insight was going to kill millions at a time by way of SHIELD Helicarriers. Names included on this list were Tony Stark, Maria Hill, and Stephen Strange, though the full slate of potential threats most likely included every superhero on the planet.
If Captain America failed to stop Project Insight, the world would instantly lose anyone who could stop HYDRA from taking over the world. In this alternate MCU story, only a small group of heroes would survive, as the world plunges into a Man in the High Castle-esque alternate United States. The few remaining heroes must work in secret to remove the evil organization from power.
As HYDRA now has total control, what will the next step in their ultimate plan be? Reviving Red Skull? Finishing his quest to harness the power of the gods? The rest of the world may try to fight against HYDRA’s United States, perhaps even being the catalyst for World War III. If that’s the case, Captain America would hauntingly find himself back in the middle of a world war, this time fighting a seemingly impossible battle for freedom and justice.
Other possibility: What if everyone except Captain America was HYDRA?
When Steve Rogers found out that HYDRA had been hiding within SHIELD, he didn’t know who he could trust. Luckily, SHIELD still had good people within, including Natasha Romanoff, Sharon Carter, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill. Alongside them, Captain America was able to prevail against the villainous organization, foiling their plan to murder millions en masse. But what if everyone except Captain America was HYDRA?
Captain America is now truly on his own. Black Widow, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and countless more are all HYDRA. Everyone is trying to kill him. He cannot turn to anybody for help. Steve must go fully off the grid, just like Fury ended up doing in the original film, while he plots to stop HYDRA from launching Project Insight in secret.
Maybe he turns to some of the Avengers, or maybe he doesn’t know if he can trust them either. Cap’s fight to bring down the compromised SHIELD will be made substantially more difficult. Rogers will take much more drastic measures, and the entire event may force Steve to give up the mantle of Captain America forever.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Confirmed plot: What if T’Challa became Star Lord?
This is another one of the few confirmed plots for the upcoming Marvel animated series. Footage released at last year’s D23 expo, which can be seen on the Expanding the Universe special on Disney+, featured a single animated shot from Guardians of the Galaxy of Star Lord in Morag, except the person under the helmet isn’t Peter Quill. It’s T’Challa.
In an interview with DiscussingFilm, What If...? showrunner Ashley Bradley had this to say about the episode:
With Star Lord T’Challa obviously, we want to know how T’Challa ended up in other planets? What’s the story there? It’s super exciting to work on because again, it’s seeing these characters and seeing the combination of character interactions.
How T’Challa finds himself a Ravager in space could come about in many different ways. One is that he could’ve been the human that was abducted by Yondu in 1988, for reasons completely different than Ego looking for his children. Or perhaps Wakanda had gone on a space mission to find more Vibranium, and T’Challa accidentally found himself on board. Either way, it’s more likely that the focus of the episode will be on the implications of this new reality rather than T’Challa’s origins.
How would T’Challa’s characterization change if he spent most of his life fending for himself in space? Would he still be the same stoic, noble warrior he was raised to be in the MCU? What’s most exciting to think about is how the worlds of Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy will collide to form this new story. T’Chaka and Wakanda will more than likely be searching for T’Challa, using their advanced resources to look through the cosmos for their missing prince.
Which Guardians members cross paths with the technologically advanced country from Earth? Do Wakanda's forces find themselves in the center of the quest for the Power Stone? And does T'Challa's Star Lord also form the Guardians of the Galaxy? Or does he find other cosmic anti-heroes to come together as a team?
This is definitely an incredibly exciting premise for the show to explore, and fans will undoubtedly have a great time watching this unfold. One question remains, though: T’Challa has to have his own Awesome Mix, right?
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Main prediction: What if Ultron succeeded in destroying mankind?
The “Age of Ultron” comic book crossover featured a very different storyline than the MCU’s adaptation. The comic followed a dystopian Marvel world in which Ultron had succeeded in his attempts to destroy mankind, leaving billions of innocents and heroes dead. The Avengers that were left had to go into hiding, utilizing their minimal resources to reclaim their world.
The Avengers sequel never adapted this story due to Marvel Studios pushing their franchise towards the Infinity War crossover. Luckily, a What If…? episode could fully explore this terrifying, dystopian MCU.
While Infinity War provided the Avengers with a similar, albeit much larger, defeat, this one would be concentrated on their world. Ultron would become a tyrannical ruler, continuing on his quest to let Earth evolve.
The underground Avengers would need to work against the clock in order to keep Ultron from turning their world into an unrecognizable version of itself, but the more they fight, the more they’re met with the grim realization that they cannot undo Ultron’s actions. There’s no Infinity Gauntlet to bring everyone back. No time-heist to stop Ultron. How do our heroes rebuild now?
Other possibility: What if Scarlet Witch killed the Avengers?
Scarlet Witch has been the cause for some pretty devastating events in Marvel comics. From warping reality in the iconic “House of M” storyline, to later ridding the world of mutants on the catastrophic M-Day, the heroes around her have suffered time and time again at the hands of Wanda Maximoff. A What If…? episode would be the perfect place to explore a much darker debut for the character.
In the opening scenes of Age of Ultron, Wanda had the Avengers in her sight. She was filled with rage towards the superhero team, and she was hungry to use her newfound powers against them. So what if she hadn’t just let Iron Man and the Avengers walk away with the Mind Stone? What if her powers got the best of her, and she wasn’t able to control herself? What if Scarlet Witch killed the Avengers?
Wanda kills Tony Stark right as he gets his hands on Loki’s scepter. The other Avengers fall in, some meet their untimely ends, and Scarlet Witch escapes, becoming an incredibly menacing threat. Her quest for revenge further clouds her judgement, and her powers grow at a dangerously exponential rate. Quicksilver further questions his sister's actions, as the remaining Avengers are forced to take unprecedented action to stop the super Sokovian. It’s Scarlet Witch versus the MCU, and with powers as dynamic as Wanda’s, will anyone be able to stop her?
If What If…? doesn’t explore this more ominous side of Wanda, at least WandaVision looks like it will.
Main Prediction: What if Hank Pym had chosen Peter Parker to be Ant-Man?
“How did I do, Mr. Pym?”
Utilizing Scott Lang’s expertise in electrical engineering and elaborate heists, Hank Pym was able to find a worthy candidate to continue the Ant-Man legacy and stop Darren Cross from unleashing chaos on the world. But what if Hank Pym had gone in a different direction? What if he had taken his chances on another lovable dork with a heart of gold? What if Hank Pym had chosen Peter Parker to be Ant-Man?
While it may be hard to believe that Hank Pym recruits a 14-year-old high schooler to aid in his high-stakes heist, Tony Stark did later bring that same high schooler to Germany in order to fight alongside/ against some of the most powerful individuals in the world. Although Peter doesn’t have the same life experience as Scott Lang, he would quickly rise to the challenge as he’s proven he can time and time again.
In this reality, Hank Pym finds Peter Parker after seeing his budding YouTube presence, a few months before Tony eventually does. Pym gives Peter the same speech about saving the world, and Peter eventually agrees. He trains with Hank Pym (on his “Pym Tech Internship”), quickly becoming the Amazing Ant-Man -- or, Spider-Ant Man? The Spider-Ant? The Arachn-Ant? There’s definitely room to play with the name.
Though not an expert in corporate espionage, Peter Parker does bring a lot of his own advantages to the table. The boy can climb walls, swing from webs, and sense any impending danger. He’s a science whiz-kid, and his advanced agility would lend perfectly to harnessing the power of the Ant-Man suit. Peter would’ve completed that keyhole jump on the first try. Just saying.
The worlds of Peter Parker and Hank Pym will inevitably collide as Darren Cross realizes that Pym entrusted his suit on a dopey high schooler, leading the psychotic Yellowjacket to go on a one-man rampage against the size-shifting wall-crawler. How will Hope react to Pym bringing in Peter Parker instead of her? Will that be enough to turn her against Hank? How would Peter’s allegiances change now that he’s working alongside someone who hates Tony Stark? And how awesome would a Pym Tech Spidey suit look??
Other possibility: What if Hank Pym did let Hope stop Darren Cross?
After losing Janet van Dyne to the unknown abyss of the Quantum Realm, Hank Pym vowed to never let his daughter suffer the same fate. When it came time to task somebody to don the Ant-Man suit and stop Darren Cross, Hope wanted to take on the mission for herself. Hank wouldn’t hear it, though. He was too afraid of losing her too. But what if Hank Pym had let Hope stop Darren Cross?
A deceptively simple twist, this one difference could spawn a completely different set of events for the fun-sized origin story. Hope enacts Hank’s heist plot much earlier, not needing the time it took to train Scott in using the suit. Hope successfully completes the mission, erases all evidence of Hank’s technology, and puts Darren Cross in prison for conspiring to work with criminal organizations. The story doesn’t end there, however.
HYDRA or The Ten Rings breaks Darren out of jail, and tasks him to make them an army of Yellowjacket suits. He does, while plotting his revenge against the Pym family, and soon an army of shrink-tech weaponized suits reins down on the world, as Hope and her father bring it upon themselves to stop it. Might sound a little like Iron Man 2 actually. Point is, the difference in how efficiently Hope stops Darren Cross would most likely set off a completely unintended set of consequences that the father-daughter pair now have to deal with.
And how would Scott Lang’s life factor into all of this? Maybe Hank Pym initially considers the Baskin Robbins employee for Ant-Man, but quickly decides against it. Once Darren Cross discovers Hank’s plot against him, he might recruit Scott himself, taking advantage of his desperation to pit Scott against Hope and Hank, creating a very new, antagonistic dynamic for the former teammates.