I’m a comic book nerd. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has read more than a few of my posts on here. One of my favorite titles growing up was Marvel’s What If…, a series of one-off comics where an established premise was given a complete shift based on one fateful decision. It was the first time I was exposed to the idea of alternate realities and timelines, aka the Multiverse Theory. At it’s most basic, the Multiverse idea is that for each decision made, there are infinite possible universes where those decisions lead to completely different outcomes. The new animated series from Marvel Studios, What If…, takes this and runs with it, quite successfully, I might add.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the first episode.
The first episode, titled What If…Captain Carter Were The First Avenger, takes a look at an alternate timeline from one we know of for Captain America: The First Avenger. Instead of Steve Rogers becoming Captain America, Peggy Carter takes the Super Soldier serum when the HYDRA agent interrupts the experiment before it begins and wounds Rogers. The episode treads much of the same ground as the now-cancelled Agent Carter series, namely that the sexism of the 1930s would not have permitted Peggy to reach her full potential. But you can’t keep a good fighter down, particularly once Carter receives her shield and uniform (decked out in the Union Jack no less).
The animation style for the series is excellent, with a good mix of tones and coloration that gels together nicely. The voice work is spot on, with props going to Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, and Dominic Cooper reprising their roles as Captain Carter, Bucky Barnes, and Howard Stark respectively. Ross Marquand returns as the Red Skull’s voice, reprising the role he stepped in to for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame when Hugo Weaving did not return to the role. All of the actors give excellent performances. The standouts, though, are Atwell and Cooper, who bring every ounce of charisma they have to their performances. I’m interested to see how the other episodes play out with their voice actors, since voice acting and live-action acting are two vastly different beasts.
The story beats of the episode play out in some similar ways to the original Captain America movie, with several obvious exceptions. Colonel Chester Phillips, played by Tommy Lee Jones in the film, is killed off during the attack that injures Steve Rogers. This leads to the incompetent Colonel John Flynn (voiced with such wonderful smarm by Bradley Whitford) to lead the SSR and be completely dismissive of Peggy’s new role. Another massive departure is that Peggy reclaims the Tessaract before the Red Skull is able to experiment on it, leading to the creation of the HYDRA Stomper, a proto-Iron Man suit with Steve Rogers as the pilot and using the Tessaract as the power source. Given that the Arc Reactor in the main MCU timeline was a poor attempt by Howard Stark to reproduce the energy output of the Tesseract, that makes a large amount of sense.
The biggest difference is the train mission, which in the original timeline saw Bucky lost during the mission, leading to his capture and transformation into the Winter Soldier. In this timeline, Captain Carter loses Steve Rogers (temporarily), allowing Red Skull to capture the Tessearact and attempt to summon an interdimensional monstrosity to win the war for him. During their final mission, a massive eldritch abomination is summoned, with Captain Carter and Steve Rogers fighting it off before Carter disappears into a portal. While some things changed in this timeline, the ultimate sacrifice made at the end of the story remains the same. Seventy years later, Nick Fury inadvertently brings Captain Carter back, having not aged a day, which is where the episode ends.
For a first outing of this new series, I have to give the Captain Carter episode a big thumbs up. These kinds of short stories are best used for one-shots like this, each telling a self-contained story. Given the myriad of What If… stories that have been developed by Marvel over the years, there’s no telling how many seasons of this show they could conceivably do. But I’m absolutely onboard for it.