/“What If…?”: Marvel through a different lens
Graphic by Bell Jackson

“What If…?”: Marvel through a different lens

By: Jacob Gross

Marvel has begun to experiment in their recent Disney + original show “What If…?,” an animated series that takes a glimpse at the different possibilities that the Marvel universe could have taken. Every episode takes a different choice and opportunity from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and asked what could have happened with one choice made different. “What If…?” asks the viewer to contemplate which parts of their heroes were formed by circumstance, and which parts are inherent.  

The series is the first animated series to tie directly into the current Marvel Cinematic Universe and has a fast-paced, engaging story-telling style that is sure to be beloved by any die-hard Marvel fan.  

Each episode of “What If…?” is narrated by an interdimensional being named The Watcher. The Watcher sees all possible timelines, watching: “a prism of endless possibilities, where a single choice can branch out into endless possibilities, creating alternate realities than the one you know.”  

Voiced by Jeffery Wright, The Watcher is the perfect storyteller, being someone who can exist both inside and outside the story. The series starts with them being a more traditional narrator, but as it goes on, The Watcher takes a more involved and personal role.   

The first seven episodes are ostensibly disconnected and random, jumping between different multiverses of possibilities. These episodes ask questions like what if Peggy Carter was given the super serum instead of Steve Rogers? 

The episodes seem to have two different styles and structures. The first style of episode has a more lighthearted tone that picks a character and throw them into a different role or franchise. 

The second episode format is inherently darker and more personal. It stares into the depths of each character and their determination, surmising what makes the hero we know. One of the standout episodes from this style is “Dr. Strange,” which explores what would have happened if Dr. Strange had lost his girlfriend, Christine Palmer, instead of the use of his hands. 

This episode sends him on a similar journey to his origin movie, but he pursues the mystic arts with much more anger and desperation, looking for a way to reverse the accident. The Stephen Strange we are left with is an amplified shell of the original, displaying his talent and determination, but not his compassion and level-headedness. The episode drives him further from the hero into a near villain, who will do anything to reverse time. 

The last two episodes take a slightly different approach from the earlier episodes. In these episodes, The Watcher becomes a more involved character, assembling the alternate heroes from the first episodes to fight against an alternate, vastly more powerful Ultron.  

The animation style is compelling and experimental, with the lighting resembling oil paints more than traditional animation. In CBR’s article, “Marvel’s What If…? Artist Explains the Show’s 100-Year-Old Art Style,” CBR said the art style was inspired by 20th century American illustrator J.C. Leyendecker. 

The art style was created by Bryan Andrews with collaboration from Ryan Meinerding, Head of Visual Development at Marvel Studios. The series was directed by Bryan Andrews, who wrote for “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and was a story board artist for all four Avenger movies.  

The show explores the backbone and internal logic tying the MCU together, providing some footing for future Marvel projects. Some of Marvel’s most anticipated movies – “Spider-man: Far from Home” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” are expected to take an interdimensional approach, and “What If…?” provides some clues on how Marvel plans to approach the multiverse.  

“What If…?” is not intended for first time Marvel fans, with almost every episode relying upon plotlines from the MCU movies. This continues a trend in Marvel of more niche premises, with them expanding the universe they have created instead of trying to maximize new viewership.  

“What If…?” is a terrific show, offering a different lens to view the Marvel franchises and their heroes. While the earlier episodes had rough pacing, the later episodes found a more focused, encapsulating rhythm as they got the viewer to ponder the question: what if?

+ posts

Jacob Gross is a writer for The Alabamian. He is an English major with a creative writing minor. He has played guitar for a few years and really enjoys painting even though he believes he is bad at it.