“What If … Disney Made An MCU Cartoon?”

Unlike Uatu, I have vowed to interfere with your viewing enjoyment of assorted Marvel adaptations! Disney’s first official MCU cartoon, “What If…?”, is simultaneously canon & irrelevant to the MCU because of they’ve officially admitted there’s a multiverse. Every Marvel adaptation is now retroactively part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, completionists!

The series premiere is the most boring, yet I spent the most words discussing it. It acclimates viewers to the concept as subsequent episodes become more experimental. It doesn’t do anything as provocative as Steve Rogers professing blind patriotism is bad. These brisk episodes expect you to conversant with the MCU, which shouldn’t be an issue if you’re streaming on Disney+. “What if … Phil Coulson lived?” is available to stream now too. Some of the minutia has been fudged in these altverses, but it’s not like the movieverse continuity is airtight. At times like those it makes me wish the series wasn’t beholden to the MCU at all. What if … you read below for SPOLIERS for the speculative fiction that Uatu & I watched? What if … this phrase wasn’t at all overused in this post?

Peggy is short for Margaret because is rhymes with Meggy?

Is “What If…?” a direct spinoff of Loki? Showrunner AC Bradley & director Bryan Andrews say the cartoon was in development earlier than Loki & Dr. Strange & The Multiverse Of Madness, although it’s likely that this synergy was always part of Kevin Fiege’s secret masterplan. It doesn’t need to be directly linked since audiences will watch anything Marvel branded these days without the “It’s all connected hook.” (Ironically Marvel Studios has tried to low key disavow Agents Of SHIELD, which had a great “What if … HYDRA won?” arc.) The “What If…?” comic stories rarely connected to each other since they were designed as one-off alternate realities that usually ended with everyone dying to show 616 is the best of all possible worlds. (A big exception was the debut of Mayday Parker as Spider-Girl, who got a long-running spinoff series.)

The live action MCU cast return to voice their animated selves except Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, James Spader, Dave Bautista, Michael James Shaw, Ray Stevenson, Chris Pratt, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson (Congratulations on winning your lawsuit!), Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leticia Wright, Rene Russo, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas/Zachary Levi, & Zoe Saldana. In their roles we get Josh Keaton, Ross Marquand (who previously replaced Weaving in Infinity War) twice, Fred Tastasciore thrice, Brian Delaney, Mick Wingert, Lake Bell, Stephanie Panisello, Mike McGill, Alexandra Daniels, Hudson Thames, Kiff Vandenheuvel, Beth Hoyt, Ozioma Akagha, Josette Eales, David Chen, Max Mittelman, & Cynthia McWilliams.  Weaving, Pratt, Johansson, Holland, & Saldana have voice over experience so it’s a bit ironic those celebrities were replaced, whereas many of the returning cast are unaccustomed to voice acting so they sound off.

I like the detailed animation for the most part. Everybody is modeled on live action MCU counterparts with more saturated color. The stylization leans more towards realism than most cartoons, so you don’t notice the uncanny valley until you look at the action figures. Of course there are a handful of unrecognizable outliers like Christine Palmer that make me wonder if they forgot to get the likeness rights to all the voice cast. The action is very fluid & expressive. It leans more towards slapstick, which works in over the top escapism but less so in dour murder mysteries. The mouth-sync can be off at times, which demotes it to a webtoon vibe. It’s not quite as good as Pixar or regular Disney quality, but I still appreciate what they’re aiming for.

Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright is a fantastic voice for Uatu the Watcher. The star of Batman: The Audio Adventures, who previously voiced a MODOK expy on The Venture Brothers, makes Uatu sound far less unbearable than he is the books. (Luckily casting wasn’t up to me, or you’d be saddled with Wallace Shawn or Stephen Tobolowsky instead.) They ought to work Wright’s Watcher into live action. Do you think Uatu views the TVA akin to Disney beancounters that kept prematurely cancelling his favorite Marvel TV series for arbitrary reasons? (Surely Feige can un-cancel New Warriors so we can all enjoy Milana Vayntrub as Squirrel Girl & Keith David as MODOK!) Is he suddenly able to perceive a vaster array of realities because of upheaval in the organization?

Captain Carter is a cool character inspired by Agent Carter season one fanart (I think the most influential one might’ve been by whoever made the Peggy for President shirt, but I can’t find the original now that Marvel’s officially latched on to the idea.) that got adapted into the Exiles comic & Marvel Puzzle Quest game. I guess they didn’t call her Captain Britain to avoid confusion with the multiversal superhero corps they have no apparent plans to introduce yet. Concept art gave her a mask, which has been lost along with the video game’s necktie. Large Marge Cater has a blast wrecking Nazis! Her joy is infectious. The action montages are more dynamic than the live action counterparts. Bigger Peggy is even stronger than Steve Rogers was a Captain America, which makes sense as she wasn’t emaciated pre-serum. What if … they expanded this into a live action gig since Hayley Atwell looks like she’s getting ripped for the next Mission Impossible?

Steve Rogers doesn’t become Captain America because the HYDRA saboteur somehow shoots him without making him bleed. He gains an additional limp to his list of IV-F frailties. Making Rogers the Tesseract-powered Hydra Stomper (a more unique marketing name than Iron Man, especially since there will be numerous Iron Man variants in this overall series) as a consolation prize somewhat undermines Muscle Margaret .  (It’s inspired by the “I can’t believe it’s not What If…?’,” Bullet Points.) On the other hand, it adds more novelty than this protagonist switch since Peggy is cut from the same moral fiber as Steve. I do like how the Steggy romance deepened with them remarking they’re each other’s hero though. Patriotic Peggy hitching a ride on HYDRA Stomper’s back has Stargirl riding STRIPE vibes.

The first episode is basically just a condensed Captain America: The First Avenger with earnest Captain Beefcake swapped out for the even more enthusiastic Captain Cheesesteak. Bradley Whitford reprises his misogynistic Agent Flynn from Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter that everyone forgot about because it contradicts her spinoff series. Hedy Lamarr taught Howard Stark everything he knows except Deutsch. The rushed climax is randomly more akin to Hellboy with Red Skull foolishly summoning a hentai monster that’s probably not Shuma-Gorath. (It used to look less like Starro.) Although there’s less unnecessary death than in a typical Elseworlds “What If…?” comic, the ending still contrives to mimic the MCU status quo by separating the lovebirds & Mega Carter winding up in the present despite the Time Stone not being involved in her portal. (The Tesseract remains either a super-battery or will teleport anything it touches into another solar system with no consistency.) There’s nothing to prove Stucky isn’t endgame in this altverse.

The second episode has a much more innovative story by swapping T’Challa for Peter Quill. The new Star-Lord can’t stop turning enemies into friends with optimism, compassion, & good faith arguments. He even gets Thanos Captain Genocide to reform. Fans disillusioned by Chris Pratt view this episode as dunking on the mainline Star-Lord, although in fairness T’Challa’s royal upbringing prepared him to be a force for cosmic social justice much more than Quill’s. His parents starting him on diplomacy lessons early really paid off! Djimon Hounsou voiced Black Panther in a cartoon, so Kortath fanboying over T’Challa is reminiscent of The Suicide Squad having a scene with double Calendar Men. Based on the dates onscreen, this adventure occurs in 2008. Pre-90’s Nebula had bluish black hair, so this MCU variant being blonde is doubly jarring. Hela’s power coming from her helm & The Collector getting a hold of it are both unbelievable. Carrie Coon gets more to do here as Proxima Midnight. It’s a silly story but a fitting victory for one of Chadwick Boseman’s final performances. They spoil it a bit by abruptly having Ego personally locate Quill in the last scene.

“What if … this universe’s true nexus point wasn’t revealed until the climax?” The third episode felt most like a classic comic from this series with lots of death & a new team tease at the end. “What If … The Earth Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” was actually “What If Hope Van Dyne Was a SHIELD Agent Who Died Offscreen?” Seeing Hank Pym as a crazed Yellowjacket was fun, but Iron Man & Thor could’ve easily died without his meddling. They wanted a murder mystery instead of SHIELD looking evil or incompetent (despite already being infiltrated by HYDRA). Replacing Ed Norton in The Incredible Hulk scenes would’ve been more jarring if I’d bothered to watch it. Inflation fetishists should get a kick out of his scene, which also confirms Ant-Man could’ve easily exploded Thanos from the inside without needing to embiggen himself. It was probably intended as a joke, but this makes a good case for bisexual Phil Coulson. (Both he & Melinda May have the hots for Thor!) Loki finally conquered Midgard! Fury put logos on all the prospective Avengers’ caskets. Despite it being tricksy, this is my favorite installment.

“What if … the universe really wanted Christine Palmer fridged?” Once Strange becomes obsessed with defying the natural order to save a loved one, you know this will end catastrophically. (There aren’t enough subversions of this.) Dr. Strange absorbs a gnome & a six-eyed raven that may be referencing Trigon’s daughter. Reality melting into black goo is supposed to by misguided Strange’s fault, but it also seems like it could be from The Ancient One splitting this timeline in half. The colors on obsessed Dr. Strange are groovy & he has a better cape collar.

“What if Spider-Man was voiced by … Hudson Thames? That’s just two rivers smushed together!” The zombie horror was undermined by all the comedy. Why did the survivors agree to be in Spidey’s goofy anti-zombie PSA video instead of just telling newbies not to get bitten? Happy Hogan making his own superfluous sound effects felt in-character though. This contains the MCU’s first direct reference to Uncle Ben! Like episode three, this is Pym’s fault! Why was Vision feeding Black Panther to Scarlet Witch as opposed to feeding her people who wouldn’t be more useful to him working on a zombie solution? Giant-size Wasp was keen, & she pulled a Ray Palmer inside Sharon Carter! How’d they salvage Ant-Man’s head if he was one of the first infected? Who transported the zombified Avengers from the West Coast to the East Coast?

“What if … Marvel refused to update ‘Salvage Yard, African Coast’ from Age Of Ultron?” That’s a 19,000 mile coast! So T’challa was Black Panther back in 2008? I thought he’d only taken up the mantle after his dad was killed? Killmonger’s anime war-mech dissertation at MIT seems like something that should’ve been relevant in Black Panther, but it’s not a dealbreaker. The movie not showing Queen Ramonda personally kicking ass is the greater oversight. This features Don Cheadle as Rhodey ahead of Iron Man 2, which isn’t even the weirdest butterfly effect in the series. Tony Stark would’ve remained an even bigger jerk had he not had to reforge himself into Iron Man. He dies by being speared in the shoulder? (I don’t think I’ll tire of drinking the tears of viewers outraged by Stark & Thanos constally being casualties.) While other episodes end on an abrupt downbeat, this one ends by suggesting Shuri & Pepper will vanquish Killmonger.

“What if … the MCU still refused to acknowledge Balder The Brave’s existence?” (Nothing says the movieverse Hela doesn’t exist in this timeline, so technically the title about Thor being an only child is incorrect.) This is the most polarizing & farcical episode that might as well be a Looney Tunes or What The–?! altverse. A flashback image ostensibly from the prime MCU timeline shows child Loki using The Casket Of Ancient Winters on Thor without turning blue. The plot is sort of like The Cat In The Hat on a cosmic scale. Partying destroys planets! Darcy Lewis muscled in on Beverly Switzler’s man! (Let Lea Thompson direct Howard The Duck, you cowards!) She’s DTF HTD. Loki would cease to be a runt if raised on Jotunheim & wouldn’t have inadvertently assembled the Avengers.Thor vs. Captain Marvel was fun. If this irresponsible Thor can wield Mjolnir because Odin didn’t place the worthiness enchantment on it, why can’t Carol life it off herself? Perhaps Thor would still be worthy anyway since throwing parties seems to be a better diplomatic strategy than starting wars? The Ultron invasion that surprises even Uatu is even more tacked on than Ego’s DQ visit & zombie Thanos.

“What if … Ultron went with cliched nuclear holocaust rather than more creatively using Sokovia as a meteorite?” Wasn’t JARVIS preventing him from getting the nuclear launch codes? Ultron in Vision’s body immediately bisects Thanos with his mind-laser as soon as he teleports in. Thanos had 5/6 of the Infinity Stones, but how’d he get them all ahead of schedule if this happens at the end of Age Of Ultron? Becoming the Infinity Gauntlet allows Ultron to break the Fourth Wall perceive the multiverse. He grows armor resembling his earlier form, which undermines the visual of him being in a new body. Uatu was surprised by the end of the prior episode whereas this shows him witnessing Ultron crossing into other realities. Now would be an excellent time for the TVA to prune!

Loki suggests that Infinity Stones only work in their native timelines, yet the functional Infinity Gauntlet 2.0 was made from Infinity Stones boosted from other timelines? This cartoon also supports them working in any dimension. The TVA being so far out of chronology doesn’t excuse the Time or Reality Stones no longer functioning either. So it sounds like Loki is the one out of continuity with the MCU on this aspect.

Red Guardian’s shield debuts in animation as Uatu loses patience with Hawkeye. The art department turned themselves into Cyrillic Easter Eggs. So the main timeline has a backup of Arnim Zola’s code at its Siberian HYDRA base? Can analog code easily be uploaded & downloaded via arrow? Black Widow can carry Arnim Zola in an Ultron drone on her back whist fighting drones. She somehow looks more badass just with shorter sleeves. Hawkeye suddenly has forecefield arrows. Uatu doesn’t so much choose to intervene as Ultron forces his hand by attacking him. The Watcher’s armor looks nifty.

“What if … Uatu interfered as expected by turning the series into Exiles?” The Watcher chooses to break his vow by assembling The Guardians Of The Multiverse: Blacklight Dr. Strange, Power Peggy, Party Thor, Star-Lord T’Challa, King Killmonger, Post-Apocalypse Black Widow, & Thanos-Destroyer Gamora. (So now it’s not going to be as impactful when he breaks his oath to warn just one Earth about Galactus.) Some fans wanted the mutliversal team-up to be introduced much sooner, but but I’m glad this show mostly remains true to the anthology roots. Gamora in hand-me-down armor comes from an episode where Iron Man goes to Sakaar instead of Hulk that got bumped to next season. She comes with an impressive Infinity Crusher doohickey that destroys Infinity Stones, so her episode would’ve been more worthwhile than the zombies one. Her machine doesn’t work because it’s only calibrated to the Infinity Stones of her reality, however, so I don’t have to complain about its conveniently improbability. The GOTM’s battle with Ultron is fun because Strange gives them light-up magic armor, clones Mjolnir, & drops several tons of zombies on him. Nat & Peg become shield sisters. Ultron is taken out King Harold II-style with an Arnim-arrow to the eye. (Did BW have a second, or is this actually an incredibly similar yet distinct alteverse to the previous episode?) Then we finally get to see Zola’s face in the torso of a robot like Kirby intended! Naturally Killmonger seizes the Forever Rocks for himself with his secret knowledge of advanced cybernetics. While he & Zola-Vision are fighting over them, Strange cordons them all off into a pocket dimension he’ll watch over for eternity. So he’s the GOTM’s MVP.

The danglers from earlier episodes get tied up better than expected. The arbitrary downer endings are usurped by arbitrary upbeat endings! Uatu sends everyone back to their own realities except Widow, whom he sends to free the Loki conquered world. T’Challa rescues Quill from Ego. Shuri’s revolution wins by default since her cousin is taken off the board. Maybe Supreme Strange teleported away that entire Earth’s zombie supply? Is Steve being alive in the HYDRA Stomper going to be a Winter Soldier situation? Captain Carter is set to recur each season, so that’ll definitely be addressed.

“What If…?” seems to have split the fandom. Some are annoyed that it’s so far irrelevant to the main MCU because of its very concept. Others are frustrated by the late introduction of an overarching threat undermining the anthology spirit. I’m somewhere in the middle. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as must-see viewing, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Not all the episodes wowed me, but it had nice variety. So it’s much like the longer Marvel movies. It’s an amusing palate cleanser of imaginary stories, but then again, aren’t they all?

~

The Marvel Legends toys for this show look like the animation, which is a double edged sword. Since the MCU officially has a multiverse now, many collectors wanted these to have realistic likenesses to add to their live action shelves. Rumors that some of theses variants may cameo in Dr. Strange 2: Multiverse Boogaloo has led to speculation that their may be reissues with less cartoony faces. Nebula comes with so many Uatu parts to offset how superfluous she feels. (If her design had black hair & sleeves, comics collectors would’ve bought her to represent classic Nebula.) She’s got the height, but is Captain Carter buff enough? (“What if … Polaris had the Super Soldier Serum?”) Most of worthwhile variants unmade (Ravager Thanos, Frost Giant Loki, Infinity Ultron, armored Uatu) seem like they’d need to be BAFs or deluxe figures. I guess they could do Thor, The Collector, Gamora, Black Widow, & fill out the rest of the slots with more zombie variants since the public loves Marvel Zombies for some reason. (Disney has since relaxed its former policy that zombified superhero merch hurt the brand.) Or they could do repaints of characters that weren’t substantially different looking like Killmonger in animated colors.

“What if … Hot Toys had this cartoon license?” The hair still wouldn’t be photo realistic.

~

I didn’t see Venom: Let There Be Carnage yet. It has to be better than the first one, but Venom 2: Symbiote Boogaloo still looks pretty meh. I’m also upset about Carnage having an elongated tongue.

I saw Titane instead! It’s the finest auto-erotica opus since Crash! Each scene features a “Danger, Will Robinson!” moment. It’s up there with The Green Knight & The Suicide Squad for my favorite theatrical films of the year. So I’m not going to do a full review of it! Sorry, Julia Ducournau, but your magnum opus came out at a time I was already backlogged for blogs. Anyway, my Riverdale review is due within the next day because my priorities are in order.

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