Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
Marvel’s Loki introduced the multiverse into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and What If…? explores the fundamental question at the heart of the idea: If just one thing was changed about the Marvel stories we know, how would events play out?
In a vast Multiverse, what heroes, villains, utopias and apocalypses exist because of one simple choice? The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) guides audiences through different hypotheticals episode to episode, with one catch: He is only capable of observing, never interfering with the events transpiring. Such is the Watcher’s destiny.
What If…? is also Marvel Studios’ first foray into animated storytelling, something their sister studio, Lucasfilm, has taken advantage of for over a decade. The difference between their approaches is apparent from the start. Lucasfilm has relied on a CGI style that has taken years to reach its potential and still looks strange and blocky. Marvel, on the other hand, has gone for a much more cinematic approach. Although not always organic, the action beats in the first three What If…? episodes are stellar, and the studio’s choice to hire actors from their live-action endeavors to voice (most) of the characters makes up for any stiffness in the animation.
It remains to be seen if most audiences will make the jump from live-action to animation for Marvel. The Lucasfilm animated series have always been side stories that, for fans who care enough, just happen to be some of the best in the Star Wars franchise. But that’s the key: for fans who care enough. Those animated Star Wars endeavors have never made the leap to the general audience. They’re a large investment of time and energy. Marvel certainly has a larger fanbase, but the question is whether those fans are willing to watch something like What If…?. I’m genuinely curious to see what traction it gets.
I can say, though, that as a fan who will casually rewatch Marvel movies, What If…? is a very rewarding experience. It is smart, funny and uses its premise to the fullest degree possible. The first three episodes represent three different types of genre story structures and use a wider variety of characters than the advertising lets on and in surprising ways. Each feels like it could be a pilot for an ongoing series of its own, but there is no clear through-line beyond the Watcher’s omniscient gaze.
In comic-speak, each episode is a perfect #1 issue, a self-contained story that leaves audiences wanting more of the characters and their worlds. It is pitch-perfect What If…?
What if Peggy Carter had stayed in the lab with Steve Rogers?
The first What If…? is a simple question: During Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter chooses to stand in the observation room while Steve Rogers is injected with the Super-Soldier serum.
Apparently, events would transpire in such a way that Peggy herself ends up injected with the serum and Vita-Rays, becoming a Super Soldier for whom no one asked. It’s the 1940s, after all. Who wants a woman leading the charge?
Thankfully, Captain Carter has her trusty friend Steve assisting her in a suit of armor designed by their mutual friend Howard Stark. His steampunk Iron Man, aka the Hydra Stomper, is a pretty sweet ride (and looks like an amazing toy). The story of Captain Carter plays out in an odd mirror to the events of the first Captain America movie and is an excellent introduction to the concept of What If…? without straying too far from the source material. Atwell returns to voice Peggy, along with several supporting characters. Chris Evans is noticeably absent as Steve, but it doesn’t hurt the final product.
This episode feels the most like a classic piece of alternative universe fan-fiction, a staple of my generation of fan culture. I’ve written about my respect for fan-fiction plenty of times over the course of my writing career. This premiere episode of What If…? takes a beloved relationship between Peggy and Steve, then flips it on its head to see what shakes out. The shift in the power dynamic is, frankly, pretty wonderful, and my only problem with this episode is that there aren’t more stories of their goofy flirtation. It’s the same problem as the movie, I suppose, and the reason why Avengers: Endgame ends with their time-travel reconciliation. That ending makes no sense logistically or on a character level for Steve Rogers, but the two are so One True Pairing that the emotional impact of them finally dancing back in 1946 carries it anyway.
What I’m saying is, this is an obvious premise for What If…? and it’s an obvious premise for a reason.
If you’re new to Serial Consumer, part of the purpose is to write about what my favorite franchises are trying to sell me in any given episode … and what I’d absolutely buy. I collect comics and 6-inch action figures, so my list usually includes stuff in that vein.
I also talk about what I purchased in the past week.
My pull-list at Downtown Comics North in Indianapolis currently consists only of Moon Knight and indie titles by James Tynion IV. So, in this case, I bought The Nice House on the Lake #3 and Department of Truth #11. I’m waiting to read Lake once the bulk of issues are released, but I love Truth.
I am pretty nonplussed by Marvel’s present output and trade-wait most of it. I love D.C.’s current Batman title, but … same. There was a long period of my life when I followed comics month to month, but that ended when I started watching 500 movies a year like a moron.
I’m a big collector of collected editions, but most of my planned August purchases were delayed: The What If…? Classic Omnibus, which collects the first 24 issues or so of the original 1977 series, is now a September release, and the omnibus of Charles Soule’s Daredevil run has been delayed until November.
Marvel Legends is the 6-inch line of figures inspired by Marvel films and comics. I’m far more selective about them than I am the Star Wars Black Series line, but I still have two nice shelves of characters I like, particularly because Legends more frequently go on clearance. In the past week, I purchased several clearance figures from the Shang-Chi movie, including his sister, Xialing, and friend Katy. The Xialing figure is exceptional and has better articulation than the figures for either Shang-Chi himself or the villain Wenwu. Given that these are kung-fu figures, that seems pretty important.
What does this episode inspire me to buy? I’ll be honest, I pre-ordered the Marvel Legends 6-inch Captain Carter figure on Amazon the second I was able to weeks ago. And I hope to order the Hydra Stomper set when it hits clearance prices. It’s currently $50, which is steep, but will probably hit $30 or so at Walmart or Target next spring.