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The Stakes in Marvel’s ‘What If…?’ Are Higher Than You Think

If you thought Marvel’s What If…? is just a fun animated comedy series, think again.

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Earlier this week, Marvel Studios debuted two episodes from What If…? season 2, which is hitting Disney+ on December 22. After the screening, three of the minds behind the animated anthology series—writer and executive producer A.C. Bradley, writer and producer Matthew Chauncey, and director and executive producer Bryan Andrews—sat down for a Q&A, revealing that What If…? has deeper ties to the live action Marvel Cinematic Universe than audiences might think.

What If…? is a lighter take on the MCU, placing familiar characters in new realities, and exploring all their alternate selves throughout Marvel’s multiverse.

“Part of the fun [of this show] is that we have all of the toys that the MCU has to offer, but none of the responsibility of having to fit exactly into this larger narrative,” Chauncey said. “The challenge is that we only have 22 minutes to tell these stories, but the hope is that unlike some of the live action movies that deal with multiverse stuff, What If…? is the show where you actually get to live in these alternate realities for a whole story.”

A.C. Bradley and Matthew Chauncey at a Q&A for What If...? season 2.
A.C. Bradley and Matthew Chauncey. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Marvel’s Multiverse Saga, which began with 2020’s WandaVision and is slated to end with Avengers: Secret Wars, explores all the different realities that exist within the multiverse. Along with the standalone stories in Marvel’s films and Disney+ shows, the Multiverse Saga also contains an overarching storyline in which the multiverse’s infinite timelines are in danger of being destroyed.

Chauncey went on to explain how What If…? aims to flesh out the multiverse. “Hopefully [the show is] filling in that larger canvas,” he said, “and kind of creating the stakes of the multiverse for those live action movies, because I think sometimes when you’re dealing with the multiverse, you’re like, ‘oh, there’s an infinite number of Peggy Carters. What does it matter if you lose one?’ But I think hopefully our show is making you invest in all these worlds and all of these characters, so that everything in this multiverse really does matter.”

The problem Chauncey is talking about is, unfortunately, very real. We’ve already met multiple variants of Peggy Carter’s superpowered variant Captain Carter, one of whom appears in the live-action Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. If one of those variants dies—or 10 of them, or a hundred—it doesn’t feel like a big loss when there are infinitely more waiting in the wings. In other Marvel projects, the multiverse itself doesn’t feel quite real. In Loki season 2, for instance, the multiverse is just a set of lines on a computer monitor. Despite the characters’ grief when some of those lines disappear in episode 2, it doesn’t feel like there’s anything truly at stake.

But with nine madcap new What If…? episodes—and tie-ins with the live-action MCU—that might start to change. Let’s hope that when the multiverse collapses in Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, we’re sobbing into our popcorn.

(featured image: Disney+)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href=""></a>