Long thought impossible to adapt to the screen, What If...? is finally getting its moment to shine. Introduced by Jeffrey Wright's Watcher, this animated series sees the intergalactic interloper visit all manner of alternative worlds in which things happen just that little bit different for our heroes. Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter becomes Captain America, T'Challa is Star-Lord, and zombified Avengers are all coming to Disney Plus.
In the comics, What If?, similar to the MCU cartoon, is all about exploring the worlds of Marvel's Multiverse through the lens of alternate versions of popular characters and stories. Since its launch in 1977, the series has presented dozens, if not hundreds, of alt-reality visions of Marvel heroes, some of them wildly different from their mainstream counterparts – and some of whom have even made it into the core Marvel Universe for a time.
The first season is just scratching the surface; there are all manner of storytelling possibilities in Marvel's back catalog. With that in mind, we've handpicked five What If...? scenarios ripped from the panels that would be ripe for a small-screen adaptation. One thing to note: Marvel inconsiderately picked some ideas for their other movies and shows – once considered far-fetched, a former What If? scenario that saw Jane Foster deemed worthy to lift Mjolnir is now being transplanted wholesale by Taika Waititi into Thor: Love And Thunder. Regardless, that still leaves us with plenty of winning episode ideas.
What if Loki found Mjölni? (Vol 1 issue 47, October 1984)
We've seen this peaked at in the Loki series on Disney Plus, we a Loki Variant wielding Thor's hammer, but an entire episode on the character would be very, very interesting. Loki’s jealousy of Thor has been obvious from the get-go, managing to manipulate the God of Thunder into losing his way with just a few wicked words and a pinch of magic. Imagine what he could do were he deemed worthy to lift Mjolnir.
Actually, we don’t need to imagine; as he makes clear in Avengers Assemble, he considers himself the boot to the ants that are humanity, and intends to rule as such. We can’t imagine the Avengers would be too happy about that, but we can’t see them standing against an empowered Loki and the mobilized forces of Asgard.
Oddly enough, this is also a real-life What If? scenario – Tom Hiddleston actually screen-tested for the role of Thor way back when, and even more incongruously, he looked the part.
What if the Vision destroyed the Avengers? (Vol 2 issue 5, November 1989)
Imagine if Wanda and Pietro Maximoff hadn’t had that last-minute crisis of conscience and prevented Ultron’s transfer into Vision’s body. Or what if, instead of choosing to team up with the Avengers, he decided that they were a threat to humanity, and just had to be eradicated?
Whether Vision could actually do so is another matter. Thor would likely prove to be an obstacle, as would Iron Man and Hulk, but let’s just say he managed it. An Ultron-possessed Vision would be a lethal prospect, and would probably spell doom for the world. There would be a nice old battle, perhaps, with the few heroes powerful enough to pose a meaningful opposition (Doctor Strange for one, and Nick Fury might deem this an emergency worthy of summoning Captain Marvel to Earth).
As for when Thanos and co. finally turn up – well, let’s just say Ultron/Vision would be much less obliging to have the Mind Stone torn from their head than his regular MCU counterpart.
What if Tony Stark became Sorcerer Supreme? (Vol 2 issue 113, October 1998)
We’ve already seen from their pithy exchanges just how similar Tony Stark and Steven Strange are, loathe though they would undoubtedly be to admit it. So would we even notice if Tony donned the Cloak of Levitation and Eye of Agamotto?
The comic sees Tony mixing magic with technology in order to battle Dormammu. There are elements that wouldn’t translate well to the small screen (as much as they dislike each other, we can’t see Stephen Strange betraying Stark like in the comics), but imagine the spectacle.
Now, imagine Tony’s reaction upon realizing just what he’s capable of. In the original Iron Man, watching Tony act like a kid-in-a-toy shop joy with each new discovery ("Yeah, I can fly") is extremely fun. Imagine how happy he’s going to be when he realizes he can magically refill his martini glass at will?
What if Thanos joined the Avengers? (What If Infinity: Thanos issue 1, October 2015)
It's pretty unthinkable: what if the Mad Titan took up arms on the Avengers' side?
Even this comic-book scenario comes with heavy caveats: he gives the Avengers a means to protect Earth largely through self-interest, as you would expect. But in the context of the MCU, there are possibilities. What if, in between wishing the Infinity Stones out of existence and getting decapitated by Thor, he decided to help the Avengers bring everyone back – either in the interests of saving his purple hide, or because he genuinely regretted lobbing Gamora off a mountain and wiping out half of existence?
Just picture it: Thanos throwing himself off the cliff on Vormir in order to regain the Soul Stone. Or events proceeding exactly like they do in Endgame, only for old Grimace to encounter his past self. Think of the smackdown potential. His past self would probably win, but it would be well worth watching. Genocidal maniac though he may be, there is genuine conviction behind his actions (however twisted and misguided) and a tumble into vaguely heroic territory isn't completely beyond the realm of possibility. Plus, “Avengers Assemble” would sound a hell of a lot more menacing coming from him.
What if Peter Parker became the Punisher? (Vol 11 issue 1, October 2018)
Seeing as how Marvel rather unceremoniously cut all ties with its Netflix properties – Punisher among them – the chances of Frank Castle or any of the Defenders showing up are remote. Even so, the possibilities for this one are just too juicy to ignore.
While we haven’t yet been treated to Spider-Man’s origin story in the MCU, we have a hunch that Uncle Ben meeting his untimely demise is involved. But what if, instead of prompting him to embrace great responsibility alongside his similarly substantial power, he ended up becoming less friendly neighborhood spider and more angry arachnid? Recurring villains like Doctor Octopus, Kraven, and Sandman would likely recur a whole lot less.
Admittedly, in the context of the MCU, it’s hard to picture. While we could comfortably imagine Andrew Garfield going dark, and have already seen Tobey Maguire do so (though we kind of wish we hadn’t), Tom Holland just doesn’t seem to have a nasty bone in his body. But then again, it’s always entertaining to watch the nice guys play against type, and we’re sure Holland would relish the opportunity. Of course, he’d probably tell us all about it in press interviews prior to the main event, but hey, that’s not our fault.