When viewers sit back and envelope themselves in the world of Marvel Studios and Disney+’s What If…, they will find themselves confronted with worlds unlike anything they’ve seen before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s exactly what executive producers Brad Winderbaum and Kevin Feige want viewers to feel.
This reimagining of key stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was so radical, in fact, that it drove the very medium of the series.
“It was obvious from the beginning that it needed to be animated because of all the locations and sets and characters and elements we were going to revisit,” Winderbaum explained. “It had to be in a medium that would allow us an infinite scope of whatever we could conceive of.”
It was an infinite scope made entirely possible by the world-breaking events of Loki. That infinite scope presents viewers with a world in which Peggy Carter becomes a Super Soldier instead of Steve Rogers. A world in which Black Panther‘s T’Challa becomes Star-Lord. Or a world in which someone is picking off Avengers one by one. It’s all overseen by The Watcher, voiced by Emmy-winner Jeffrey Wright, as an omniscient, all-seeing being whose only role is to… well… watch.
Kind of like a Marvel version of The Twilight Zone‘s Rod Sterling.
“He’s overseeing the multiverses. Kind of narrating, kind of not. In some ways, as maybe the biggest Marvel fan there is, watching all that transpires and dealing with certain temptations to involve himself,” Wright said. “But at the same time, he’s just living vicariously through these characters, these stories, this mythology, and taking it all in. He’s got probably the highest cable bill that you can possibly imagine.”
Given that wide view of the Marvel Universe, the production team needed to narrow its What If… season one stories to the most impactful they could offer. To do so, head writer A.C. Bradley surveyed the iconic characters available, explaining that the divergent multiverse stories actually came second when developing the series.
The team centered on which icons could most directly connect with viewers.
“When it came to figuring out the story of What If…”, the last thing we thought about was the what if. What we all looked for was, ‘What’s the heart behind the hero? How do we get behind the shield? What’s a part of the story we haven’t told before?’,” Bradley shared. “For me, these characters are iconic. We recognize their silhouettes. We recognize their taglines. But what’s important is how we connect to them.”
So, what can we expect from the wild stories What If… seeks to tell?
Among many thrilling options, one word: zombies.
In the mid-2000s, Marvel Comics created a limited series that explored a multiverse where major Marvel characters were infected by a virus that turned them into powerful, sentient, and flesh-eating zombies. It technically wasn’t part of the What If… series, but the production team for the series wanted to tackle this fan-favorite storyline in the show.
The opportunity was just too great.
“I think I might’ve mentioned it early on as a what if we did this, kind of pie in the sky throwaway not thinking, at first, that there actually was a very famous run,” Bradley remarked. “The fun part of Marvel Zombies, at least for me, was to delve into that initial run. Probably more than any other What If… episode, we drew directly from the comic for inspiration. That was actually a ‘no-brainer’ that we kind of came up with by accident. I just made a zombie pun. I just realized that.”
What If… drops today on Disney+.