Marvel’s new animated series What If…? is based on a tantalizing premise: “What if” the great events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, for insiders) had turned out differently?
What if, for example, Steve Rogers never became Captain America? What if T’Challa, instead of becoming the Black Panther, had become Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill? On paper, it’s a nice way to explore the multiple universes sketched by Loki and even Spider-Man: New Generation. However, in practice, the series is a glass that is half full – or perhaps half empty.
The two episodes perfectly sum up the two sides of this coin. The first: “What if … Captain Carter had become the first Avenger?” offers a universe where it is Peggy Carter, the lover of Steve Rogers, who receives the super-soldier serum in her place. The twists and turns that ensue are fun – seeing Peggy settle scores with a bunch of Nazis will bring tears to anyone who misses Agent Carter – but also rings oddly hollow. One of the plagues plaguing the Marvel Universe is its lack of female superheroes (only Captain Marvel and The Black Widow are female-centric) and watching Peggy take Captain America’s place only underscores how rare they are. to come to the fore. The temporary nature of Peggy’s captain status only makes this realization more bittersweet.
Fans also pointed out that although What If…? taking a tiny step toward portraying a superheroine in a hypothetical reality, putting a white woman in Steve Rogers’ place has an oddly regressive side in that in the original timeline, Captain America is now a black man .
Which doesn’t mean Cap would have to be one or the other – but rather that the Marvel Universe would have benefited from more inclusiveness up front, rather than forcing heroes not initially perceived as white men trying to sneak into the limelight once or twice.
A cooler black panther
“What if… T’Challa had become a Star-Lord?” better meets the challenge of its initial premise, because its basic hypothesis, more eccentric, gives it more the appearance of a comic among others than of a throwaway episode. The second episode takes the kind of pace that should be taken when you can afford to do whatever you want with these beloved characters, without having any consequences to bear. For example, this episode turns Thanos into some kind of cranky good guy, who is persuaded by T’Challa to give up his Infinity War project.
It’s also a more interesting exploration of T’Challa’s character. As Charles Pulliam-Moore of the io9 site points out, in the comics and, to a certain extent, in the MCU, the opposition between the responsibility of the character of T’Challa induced by his status as leader of the kingdom of Wakanda and his envy exploring the rest of the world creates an inner conflict in him. Here it manifests in a different way as T’Challa is only just beginning to take into account his past and his legacy.