Third Episode Of What If…? Matches The Comics With Avengers
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The Third Episode Of What If…? Matches The Comics With Avengers Tale

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BY August 27, 2021

If you were a Marvel Comics nerd growing up, then chances are you were a fan of What If?, the comic book series that offered different versions of Marvel characters’ stories. One hallmark of that series was that the central “what if?” usually resulted in really bad stuff happening. I suspect this was the case for two reasons. First, with no continuity to worry about, the writers and artists had freedom to do all sorts of things they could never get away with otherwise. Second, none of the Marvel editors wanted to create an alternate universe that was “better” than the main Marvel continuity. It took us until episode 3 to get a What If…? story that really feels like the classic version of the comic and it’s bad for the Avengers.

As any good Marvel Cinematic Universe fan knows, the events of Thor, Iron Man 2, and The Incredible Hulk all took place at about the same time. Naturally, things worked out in all of the stories such that these characters could unite in the first Avengers film. Instead of imagining a world that doesn’t need the Avengers, like the Star Lord T’Challa episode did, this story shows us just how wrong things could have gone.

Insofar as there is a central character in this story, it is Nick Fury, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. Fury is one of those characters who works best as a mystery. We don’t really get to see him out there kicking ass and beating baddies, because his story works better when it’s a legend. (Both in-universe and amongst fans.) The third episode of What If…? goes deeper into Fury’s character, showing us that his superpower is building alliances.

Spoilers to Follow

Why the Avengers Episode of What If…? Is The Most Faithful to the Comics

What If Avengers Image via Disney+

In the span of 20 minutes, we watch five of the six original Avengers die mysteriously, and the Hulk’s death is especially gruesome. Loki invades Earth, only rather than leading an Army for Thanos, he’s bringing the Asgardian army to Earth to avenge the death of Thor. In order to stop the mysterious killer (a completely mad Hank Pym, voiced by Michael Douglas), he enters into an arrangement with Loki. This leads to him taking control of Earth, at least until Fury discovers Captain America frozen in a block of ice. This also feels like a branch of the multiverse that we’re gong to follow up on, though this may be the episode that pushed to season 2.

Either way, what makes this story, essentially “What if Hope Van Dyne died serving SHIELD?” so faithful to the comics is, well, how poorly everything goes. Part of the fun of the comics, for both readers and (probably) the writers, is that they could kill or alter beloved Marvel characters. Seeing Spider-Man or Captain America struck down, even in a story that “doesn’t count,” still evokes a strong reaction. For kids reared on the Infinity Saga, this will be a tough episode to get through. In the end, things are way worse than they were in the once-sacred timeline.

This is the kind of story that I assume we’ll pick up in the future, but if they don’t, that’s even more on-brand with the comics. All too often, these horrific realities would unfold, and the storytellers would not let readers off-the-hook with even a glimmer of hope for its future.

It’s most reminiscent of What If? Volume 1, Number 45, titled “What If The Hulk Went Berserk?” In this issue, the Hulk kills all of the original Avengers, save for Thor who kills him.

The Limitless Potential of What If…? Goes Beyond Dark Timelines

What If Avengers Image via Disney+

The best thing about an episode of What If…? is that it only has to tell its own story. Even though some of these episodes are setting up to connect to future episodes, they don’t have to. This show can tell a single, standalone Marvel story with no worry about continuity or consequences. This definitely feels like a series we’re going to have around for a long, long time. As audiences comics’ vocabulary increases, they will be able to jump into new scenarios more quickly. We might end up seeing some more comics-accurate versions of stories like Civil War or even Secret War in animation, using the MCU as a kind of shorthand entry-point.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, studio executives balked at the idea of Batman and Superman appearing in a film together. They felt like such a crossover would demand too much of casual audiences and would force their franchises into a continuity trap. Today, we’ve enjoyed two decades’ worth of cinematic comic book stories. So, we’re at a place where shows like What If…? or some future “Elseworlds” series can use that cultural familiarity to do what they’ve done for the comics. In ten years, unless there is a massive collapse in interest for superheroes, I bet we get a live-action Injustice story.

This also might fix a problem in fandom, where people get very upset about new versions of characters or stories. In a world where there are “imaginary” superhero movies and shows, there will be enough versions of these characters that everyone can find at least one they enjoy.

What If…? debuts Wednesdays on Disney+.

What did you think of this episode of What If…? Share your thoughts, theories, reviews, and how you would have told this story in the comments below.

Featured image via Disney+

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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