Marvel’s What If: The Stories We’d Like to See
The new animated series will show us alternate takes on the Marvel Cinematic Universe's timeline. Here are scenarios for every Marvel movie.
This Marvel article contains spoilers.
When Disney+ hits, one of the many shows tying into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is What If, set to be on-demand in summer 2021. The show will be animated, albeit using many of the actors from the various MCU movies. Based on the What If comic series, which was created in the ’70s, the anthology series has a pretty basic concept: take an important part of Marvel history, zig when the original story zagged, and then write a story out of that.
For instance, the comic had an issue where Spider-Man saw the thief who would eventually kill Uncle Ben run by and figured that stopping him would be good PR. He unknowingly saved Uncle Ben’s life in this scenario, but he didn’t learn any major lesson about power and responsibility. Instead, he became a more self-centered ass whose ego was so out of hand as a media personality that he caused a disgraced J. Jonah Jameson to found the Sinister Six as a revenge ploy.
In the case of the new animated series, the stories will be based on the movies’ continuity. So far, we know that one of them will be about Agent Carter receiving the super-soldier serum treatment instead of Steve Rogers.
That got me thinking about what other stories we can get from the movies. I’ve decided to take every Marvel movie and brainstorm a What If scenario that would work for each. Play along at home! It’s fun!
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What If Tony Stark Died?
The story of the movie ends where it should have begun. Tony Stark and his military entourage are under attack and a bomb goes off near Stark. The shrapnel cuts too close to his heart and there’s nothing that can be done. Obadiah Stane takes over the company. Maybe Pepper, Happy, and/or Rhodey investigate and take him down. Maybe not.
What’s important is that Iron Man can no longer be the focal point of the MCU. Presumably, things are going to get really, really bad. Especially with that time the High Council tried to nuke New York City. Then again, greedy as he is, Stane would be on Earth’s side during that conflict and could probably at least lend some kind of hand.
In a world without Stark, I can’t help but think of what all those villains created BECAUSE of Stark would be like. Imagine Loki conquering Earth and being undone by the likes of Stane, Vanko, Killian, Vulture, and Mysterio. Not Hammer, though. He’d still be a total weasel and would try to betray them at the first attempt.
What If Abomination Joined the Avengers?
A plot thread the MCU movies played with briefly before writing it off in a Blu-ray short was the idea of The Incredible Hulk‘s Emil Blonsky being roped into joining the Avengers. Obviously, he ended up getting nixed because he kind of went on a big rampage through Harlem, but maybe if things went down differently, he would be found less accountable…at least in the beginning.
Before Bruce Banner gets his treatment from Sterns, he might find out about all the horrible experiments he was working on and that would set off the Hulk. A surviving Sterns would still gladly transform Blonsky, only this time Blonsky would be seen as a hero for putting his body on the line so he can bring down the Hulk. With the military behind him, he’s able to win and keeps his dark side in check enough that he’s able to work with the government and be their personal weapon of mass destruction.
The way I see it, this could go very wrong during the events of Avengers. The team is going to be at each other’s throats as is, but in the original version, they were still good people. When there’s a psychopath in the midst, this can only end badly.
Poor Cap, finding out that this guy is his legacy.
IRON MAN 2
What If Iron Man Wanted to Avenge His Father?
When in doubt, go with the Soviet-controlled alternate reality. Worked for Superman and Valiant Comics. It would certainly work for Iron Man 2.
In this scenario, Anton Vanko is able to keep his intentions to himself long enough to screw over Howard Stark, bring the arc reactor schematics to the Motherland, and reap the rewards. Ivan lives a life of luxury while Howard Stark becomes a disgraced figure in the American public’s eye, ultimately destroying himself through alcoholism.
This leads to a story where Tony Stark figures out his father’s tech in order to wage a war against the Vankos for destroying his family. Add in Justin Hammer as his weasely sidekick and you got a stew going.
What If Loki Allowed Thor to Be King?
Loki was the first real “villain who was in the right, but went about it the wrong way” of the MCU. At least in the first act. One of the better parts of Thor was that, in the beginning, Thor was a big jerk and Loki was well aware of this. His initial plot was the save Asgard from having to deal with Thor in charge. Said plot gave Thor the character development needed to prove himself worthy while Loki ended up damning himself.
Loki probably could have done himself a better service if he just let it happen. When Thor runs Asgard into the ground, Loki will be there to take over and fix things. Or maybe Thor will just admit that he isn’t fit to lead and hand over the throne. Either way, the big laugh will come from someone telling Loki that if he knew Thor was going to be such a shitty king, why didn’t he do anything about it?
What If Captain America Survived World War II?
Seems to be one of the easiest ideas. Hell, this was one of the very first issues of the What If comic and even gave us the first iteration of Bucky Barnes as Captain America. So we have Captain America defeat Red Skull in such a way that he doesn’t have to crash the plane and get frozen for a bunch of years at the end of the movie. Instead, Captain America fights through the rest of the war and we don’t have all that awkward finger-pointing that Steve gets for his Endgame epilogue.
read more: The 100 Best Marvel What If Moments
I’d like to see Cap be in the thick of Hydra’s inner-takeover of SHIELD, especially with Bucky still alive and looming in the shadows. Not only am I down for more team-ups between Steve Rogers and Howard Stark, but the idea of Cap being something of an uncle figure to Tony is too great to ignore.
What If Loki Betrayed Thanos?
Recently, Marvel made it an official retcon that, during the events of the first Avengers movie Loki wasn’t 100% himself. Wielding the Mind Stone, he was really being manipulated by Thanos, which is their way of handwaving all the horrible stuff he did so we can more easily get behind him as a protagonist.
This reminds me of Marvel’s Earth X miniseries, which took place in a universe where all the god-type characters were really overly-evolved mutants from another planet who were endlessly powerful but were molded by the beliefs of others. In other words, all the Asgardians are scaling back their power and acting like Asgardians because when they came to Earth, that’s what humans believed them to be. Loki, being all about trickery and mischief, was the one who could see through it all and realized what he truly was.
I want that kind of energy in the Avengers storyline. I want Loki to figure out that he isn’t in full control of his actions. When Thor implores him to join him against the higher power, let Loki piece it together. The image of Loki working with the Avengers against Thanos is a cool one, but the real conflict is figuring out what to do from there. Whether or not he’s on their side, nobody’s going to trust Loki when the plan is presumably, “Let’s use these two Infinity Stones against a guy who has none.”
IRON MAN 3
What If Aldrich Killian Killed Himself?
Iron Man 3 begins with an origin for Aldrich Killian as the third most interesting character to call himself “The Mandarin.” He got to meet Tony Stark briefly at a New Years’ Eve party, Stark lied by offering to meet him on the roof later that night, and it was at midnight that Killian realized that Stark had essentially blown him off. He considered walking off the roof to his death, but was instead inspired to get his shit together and start up a big arms-dealing conspiracy.
Let’s take him out of the picture. There’s no Extremis plot, no drunk actors, no Vice President getting arrested, etc. This also means that Tony doesn’t get grounded. Part of the conclusion of Iron Man 3 is that Tony is able to grow up and move on in a sense.
People often criticize the MCU for ways it’s walked back Tony’s growth over the years, though. Tony’s attempt to move forward blows up in his face with Ultron, and thanks to his addictive personality, he can’t help but go back to his Iron Man ways and briefly kill his relationship with Pepper. Even in Endgame, he struggles with what kind of man he should be.
Perhaps the lack of Iron Man 3 would hinder his journey in the long run. He doesn’t blow up his armor or get his arc reactor removed. He keeps being as reckless and dedicated as he’s ever been. It costs him his relationships, but does the ends justify the means? How far can a driven Stark go, exactly?
THOR: THE DARK WORLD
What If Jane Foster Discovered Her Worthiness Earlier?
Granted, we don’t know the context of Jane Foster becoming the new Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder, but it’s going to happen in the upcoming movie, it’s happened in the comics, and it even happened in one of the first What If comic issues. Thor: The Dark World is one of the least exciting MCU entries and Natalie Portman peaced out due to how they handled her character, so let’s jump ahead to the Jane-Thor development.
read more: Thor: Love and Thunder – Jane Foster as Thor Explained
Jane’s already in Asgard for the underdeveloped Meet the Parents concept, so the setting is right. Maybe have her wield Mjolnir to save Frigga and see where it goes from there. I don’t know. It’s not like the villains are going to carry this story.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
What If Nick Fury Died?
The threat from Winter Soldier is such a Gordian knot, and thanks in part to Nick Fury’s help, Hydra was defeated in a rather clean way. Take Fury out of the picture. There is no secret resurrection. He’s straight-up dead. Now there’s no finale based on releasing all the SHIELD files to the public and cutting off Hydra’s head.
Captain America and his buddies still defeat Hydra, but it’s messy. Hell, we might even get the Agents of SHIELD crew involved in this one because why not. Alexander Pierce may be killed or at least thwarted, but the story after the fact will be that Captain America is an enemy of the state, creating a variation of his Secret Avengers from Infinity War.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
What If Ronan Destroyed Xandar?
What If was made for this one. Guardians of the Galaxy plays up Ronan’s disdain for Thanos and the possibility of them throwing down. Early on, Nebula warns Ronan that it’s a fight that he cannot win, but is totally on his side when he’s able to wield the Power Stone. It’s promised that once Xandar is wiped out, Ronan is going to go to war with Thanos.
read more: Marvel’s What If? Animated Series Coming to Disney+
A full-on villain vs. villain war would be a damn fun episode. Obviously, like an arms race, each side is going to have to try to build themselves up with more Infinity Stones, presumably making it three-on-three by the time the two throw down. Don’t know how the Soul Stone would figure into this, but depending on how close Ronan and Nebula become…PROBABLY not good for Nebula!
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
What If Ultron Wasn’t Corrupted?
More specifically, the question is, “Could it have worked?” The creation of Ultron was Stark’s desperate attempt to protect Earth from a threat that he knew, deep in his heart, was going to come from the skies any day now. Ultron ended up blowing up in his face and caused the Avengers to splinter prior to Thanos’ run for the Stones. Had the plan worked out, Thanos would still need to invade Earth in order to get his hands on the Mind Stone and Time Stone.
As an aside: Thor doesn’t know where the Time Stone is, so I figure he’ll trust the Mind Stone to remain on Earth under Stark’s care because he’s already established that he doesn’t want to keep two in Asgard.
While the previous entry is more about two villains clashing, this one is about a war between faceless soldiers. Endless dog creatures fighting endless Ultrons or empty Iron Man armors or whatever. Win or lose, this one has the potential to cause more worldwide damage than Thanos’ casual stroll through Wakanda.
What If Hank Pym Trusted Hope?
Hank Pym doesn’t choose Scott Lang to be his successor in Ant-Man. Maybe Scott’s still in prison. Or maybe Hope is his first choice after all. Either way, he builds Hope her own Wasp costume for the sake of stopping Darren Cross. She’s hindered by her inferior cat burglar skills but ends up being a bit colder and violent when it comes to ending Cross’ plans.
The real conflict comes in Civil War. Wasp is very much on Captain America’s side, but Tony Stark tries to get through to Hank Pym on the subject. Hank begins to waver, realizing that as much as he’s hated his technology being in the government’s hands, it still might be safer than what Cross had intended. This, in turn, causes Hope to resent her father all over again as the war between heroes commences.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
What If Quicksilver Was Alive?
This is technically more of an Age of Ultron entry, but with a focus on Civil War. Quicksilver is able to save Hawkeye’s life without sacrificing his own. It’s hard figuring out a good switch for Civil War, but including Quicksilver in the mix might be the biggest offset. The shadow of Sokovia would still be looming, but at least he’d be there to help prevent his sister from becoming a black mark on superheroes.
Not only would he help turn the tide in the airport battle, but if Pietro were to be there for the final battle, he’d possibly be able to talk Iron Man down. I mean, Tony Stark is arguably equally or more responsible for the deaths of Pietro and Wanda’s parents than Bucky was for Tony’s parents, but Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are able to move past that. Quicksilver can fix the Avengers before Zemo is able to splinter them.
What If Doctor Strange Used Time Travel to Save Himself?
Stephen Strange takes a look at Dormammu and decides, “Nope!” He’s going to use the Time Stone to prevent the universe from being taken over, but he goes about it in a more reckless way. He rewinds time to the point that he’s able to stop Kaecilius using magic save-states, which he figures takes Dormammu off the board. Deciding that the other magic folks can carry on without him, he then attempts to prevent himself from texting while driving.
Strange continues on with his earlier life, the mega-demon is no longer a threat, and life goes on. Or does it?
Strange was warned that overusing the Time Stone would cause massive repercussions, so things would undoubtedly go very wrong for the Sorcerer Supreme. Bonus points if this relates to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
What If Ego Raised Peter Quill on Earth?
Ego was never going to be anything other than a monster. Charming or not, he killed a whole lot of his own children as part of his plot to kill just about everyone else in the name of finding his purpose. His redeeming quality was that he had some true love for Meredith Quill, but he didn’t love her enough to keep himself from being an outright bastard. He was afraid that his love for her would keep him from achieving his goal, so he killed her in a rather cowardly way for someone so powerful.
I want to see a world where Ego saw things through and stayed with Meredith for good. What kind of person would he have become? I imagine he would have grown old, died of natural causes, and his body would have regenerated on his planet self, presumably with second thoughts on what to do with his powers. It’s not too different from the Fantastic Four storyline where they turned Galactus human for a time and showed him the beauty of normal life.
But really, I’d like to see what kind of man Peter would become. I can’t imagine he’d be drawn to the stars if his mother had lived longer and he wasn’t kidnapped, but cosmic adventure is in his blood. Who’s to say?
What If Spider-Man Joined the Vulture?
Getting so mad at Tony Stark that you turn into a supervillain is so easy that it seems to happen every other day in the MCU. Sometimes the bad guys even have a point! Hell, Captain America disagreed with him on whether or not to allow Iron Man to blow up Steve’s best friend and that caused Cap to become an enemy of the state. It makes you realize that Rhodey’s ability to put up with Tony’s bullshit is the most amazing superpower of them all.
So in this What If? scenario, when Iron Man strips Spider-Man of his upgrades and gives him a time out in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter really loses it. When he’s being driven to the homecoming dance, he tells his date’s father about how much of a jackass egomaniac Tony is. In this moment of bitching, Toomes sees Peter as less of a threat and more of an opportunity in the form of a kindred spirit. The two end up working together and Vulture succeeds in stealing all that swank hero stuff from Stark’s plane.
At first, it’s just Peter turning a blind eye to criminal activity out of spite. Just like the OTHER time that happened, it doesn’t work out too well for him. Iron Man is able to figure out that Spider-Man had some kind of involvement in the act and uses the Sokovia Accords as reasoning to bring the hammer down on him. Spider-Man escapes, but Vulture dies in the process. There goes another father figure.
Spider-Man decides to prove himself against Iron Man by taking all the stolen tech that Vulture had accumulated and finding worthy people to wield it in the name of starting up an underground, street-level vigilante group.
What If Nebula Killed Thanos?
In Guardians Vol. 2, Nebula is last seen leaving to go slaughter Thanos. We don’t see her until Infinity War, where it’s shown that she failed. Her failure is what helps Thanos realize that Gamora knows where the Soul Stone is and he goes on his rush to get all the Infinity Stones. Let’s just say that Nebula succeeds and kills her adopted father.
Now look to the mid-credits scene from Thor: Ragnarok. Before Thanos’ ship arrived, Thor and Loki had an interesting discussion about whether or not Loki can peacefully coexist with Earth’s inhabitants due to the events of Avengers. This possibility would never be explored due to Infinity War suddenly happening.
read more: 20 Uplifting Marvel What If Stories
But without Thanos? We could actually see Thor as a king who isn’t bogged down by PTSD. We can see a Hulk that isn’t at odds with himself. More importantly, we can see how Loki deals with New Asgard. Especially since he happens to have a Tesseract in his possession.
What If Killmonger Remained King?
Invading Wakanda and succeeding is nigh impossible. You need to have the Infinity Stones or the Phoenix Force to make it happen or else you’re going to end up like the Skrulls that one time — a pile of bodies sent back to space with the message, “THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU INVADE WAKANDA,” written in blood. This is one of those stories.
Killmonger is an angry hypocrite with no foresight. His plan to arm the underdogs of the world will do nothing but create chaos and untold casualties. It won’t take long for Wakanda to become a major target. Rather than throw every superhero at the nation, Iron Man goes alone because he thinks his tech know-how could counter that of Wakanda’s. While this is going on, Captain America chooses to go on a one-man mission to take down Killmonger after hearing that Bucky has been killed.
The good news is that Cap and Iron Man are able to work together and even work through their differences. The bad news is that neither survives. After such a failure, Nick Fury sends in as many heavy hitters as possible (deciding to hold off on calling in Captain Marvel), but the results are the same. Killmonger’s regime stands tall, even though Wakanda is relatively worse for wear. He does find himself fascinated with the remains of Vision, especially the glowing gem on his head, and keeps his head as a trophy.
The dust has cleared and Killmonger finds himself the king of a global warzone. His victory is shortlived as Thanos and his Black Order arrive for the Stones. Before ending Killmonger’s life, Thanos does give him credit for wiping out half of Earth’s population before Thanos even had the chance.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
What If Star-Lord Kept His Anger in Check?
One thing that annoys me is when people cite Peter Quill as the reason why Thanos was able to complete the Infinity Gauntlet. Yes, they were so close to pulling off the Gauntlet, and yes, Star-Lord losing control and punching Thanos in the face screwed that up. I get that.
Here’s the thing: Doctor Strange knew that it would happen and didn’t do anything to prevent it because apparently removing the Gauntlet would have still led to a loss. There was only one possible way things were going to work out and that was everything up to the end of Endgame. Star-Lord’s tantrum made little difference and, it’s possible to say, everyone might have been better off because of it.
What I want to know is why that would have been so bad? How would defeating Thanos in that moment have led to defeat? What kind of possible future did Doctor Strange see?
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
What If Ant-Man Joined the Secret Avengers?
Rather than submit himself to house arrest, Scott Lang sacrifices seeing his daughter in order to hang out with Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon for a few years. This leads to a major juggling act because he’s still going to get that weird vision from Janet, but things will be a million times easier to deal with because he doesn’t have to beat the clock with the Jimmy Woo business and he has his Avengers pals watching his back. Ghost is defeated, Janet is rescued, Hank is grumpy, and Hope has lost her respect for Scott for essentially abandoning Cassie.
Anyway, the most important thing here is that the Avengers no longer think Scott is under house arrest and are able to bring him to Wakanda and people can finally be excited to see that Thanos butt thing happen. Do it, Marvel. Do it, you cowards.
What If Captain Marvel Killed Ronan?
Being a prequel that deals with the Kree, Captain Marvel features a couple of brief scenes that show Ronan the Accuser as one of the antagonists. As we know, decades later, he and Korath will become rogue soldiers out to exact revenge on the Xandarians. That means that in Captain Marvel, Ronan is protected by plot armor. What If features no such thing, so there’s nothing stopping Carol Danvers from simply blowing up Ronan’s ship instead of intimidating him to escape and fight another day.
As time goes on and Thanos needs villains to do his dirty work, he doesn’t have Ronan on hand. What he does have is the Mind Stone and what Captain Marvel has is a history of being susceptible to mind manipulation. Thanos ends up forcing Captain Marvel into being his enforcer and decides that he doesn’t even need Loki to begin with. Instead, Danvers razes Earth and tears through the Avengers. She also annihilates the Guardians of the Galaxy before they can even get started as a team while securing the Power Stone.
In the aftermath, a surviving Peter Quill is found in an intergalactic bar, drinking through his depression. A man appears before him, claiming to be his father, with the suggestion that maybe learning his true power for the sake of getting revenge on Captain Marvel (among…other things) is Peter’s purpose.
What Became of Thanos 2014’s Timeline?
As I already mentioned, Endgame is the only possible version of the movie’s events where the good guys win. Any and all tangents end with Thanos’ victory. So let’s move away from that.
Endgame’s time heist created two major alternate timelines. One is the alternate version of Avengers, where Loki escapes with the Tesseract and Hydra thinks Cap is on their side. We’ll be getting a whole Disney+ series on that reality.
The other is what’s left behind from the second Thanos. There’s a universe where Gamora, Thanos, and all of Thanos’ underlings and soldiers (minus Ronan) simply ceased to be. They all went to another timeline and never came back. Does that mean that Ego conquers reality? Does the Collector go forward with his plan to acquire all six Infinity Stones?
And what of Earth? This could go in different directions, considering a deleted concept from Endgame was that Thanos 2014 decided to tear apart his timeline’s Avengers before making the time jump. There’s a lot of potential in that episode.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
What If Mysterio Was Iron Man’s Protégé?
So Quentin Beck created this world-changing hologram technology, watched his boss use it for the sake of personal therapy, make fun of it, and then call Beck out of line? Hey, Beck really shouldn’t have used the lives of a bunch of innocents to prop up his plan, but he had every right to be pissed at Tony Stark.
If television and movies have taught me anything, it’s that if you angrily insult your boss to his face, you have a 50/50 chance of either getting fired or getting a promotion. We saw the firing timeline, so let’s see what happens when Stark decides to actually listen to Beck. I imagine Beck would solidify his belief in the Sokovia Accords and take Spider-Man’s spot in Civil War. Just think about how anti-climactic that airport battle would be when Iron Man’s side ends up being a bunch of holograms and Bucky gets yoinked away in the confusion.
Beck could conceivably figure out Zemo’s plot through his tactics, but the question is how he would follow up on that. Does he step in Zemo’s way or does he agree and allow the Avengers to implode?
Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and would love to see DC do an animated or live-action version of Elseworlds: Speeding Bullets. Read more of his articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L