Marvel’s What If…? comic was always good for a nice, fun one-off story, but just because they were self-contained takes on alternate realities doesn’t mean they never mattered to Marvel Comics’ main continuity. An issue about the Avengers forming in the 1950s created the concept of the superhero team Agents of Atlas. Situations like the Spider-Man Clone Saga and Jane Foster as Thor first originated in that comic series. Even Skaar, Son of Hulk showed up in a What If…? story a week or so before appearing in regular continuity.
The animated What If…? show on Disney+ seemed like it was just a neat side project that meant nothing in the long run, but now that doesn’t seem to be the case. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness appears to follow up on What If…? more than we had initially realized. We already knew that the movie was going to incorporate the events of WandaVision and a Loki reference is to be expected, but seeing it tied so closely to the cartoon anthology series is just wild.
Here are some reasons how What If…? is essential viewing for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Various episodes of What If…? show that with alternate history comes disaster for many of the Marvel heroes. None of these stories hit harder than the fourth episode, “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” In what appears to be the only episode to have 100% of the cinematic cast members reprising their roles, Stephen Strange’s origin brings more tragedy in the form of a broken heart, survivor’s guilt, and aggravation at the injustice of the universe.
This variant of Strange tries to change the past, but fate refuses to bend to his will. He then dedicates decades of his existence to absorbing magical beings until he becomes a dark shadow of himself. A shadow that is more powerful than any Doctor Strange in the multiverse, but a corrupted sorcerer regardless. With this great power, he forces the timeline into the direction he wants, but in the process breaks it. As the universe falls apart due to paradox, he becomes the only survivor and realizes his folly.
A version of Strange that appears to be Strange Supreme pops up in both trailers for Multiverse of Madness, giving our hero a creepy grin and telling him, “Things just got out of hand.” It’s hard to say if this is a quick cameo or something more, but considering how the narrative is based around Strange’s magic getting dangerously out of hand, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with the biggest example of how bad Strange can screw things up.
The poster girl for What If…? is Captain Carter, a variant of Agent Peggy Carter that became a super soldier instead of Steve Rogers. Not only was she the star of the first episode, but Marvel has been getting plenty of use out of the design via video games and comics. Due to her post-credits scene at the end of the series, it’s more than likely that her story will be continued in the second season.
Carter doesn’t appear in any of the Multiverse of Madness trailers, but her vibranium shield does make a subtle appearance on the movie poster. Through the various reflective shards of broken glass, you can see Captain Carter’s Union Jack shield mixed in there.
So what does Carter have to do with Strange? Hard to say for sure, but she has tussled with a certain threat familiar to Strange…
In Captain Carter’s reality, Red Skull was not initially able to weaponize the Tesseract. He instead went crazier by trying to summon a demon from beyond that would annihilate the Allies. From a portal came a series of green tentacles that proceeded to maim Red Skull without a second thought. Carter sacrificed herself by pushing the tentacle beast back into the portal and reappearing victorious many decades later.
Similarly, that tentacled beast showed up in the Strange Supreme storyline. At first, it was too powerful for Strange to face on his own, but then he absorbed enough magic from other sources that he was able to devour the not-quite-shown-in-full squid deity.
It’s speculated that the tentacles belonged to one Shuma-Gorath, the go-to Strange villain, Japanese game show host, and good friend of Dhalsim. Strange is shown fighting Shuma-Gorath in the trailers, though officially, it is not actually Shuma-Gorath. Due to some legal mumbo jumbo relating to Shuma-Gorath first being mentioned in a Conan the Barbarian story, the Many-Angled One is renamed Gargantos for the movie.
This one is probably a red herring, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Various shots in the trailers show Strange in an undead form. Scarlet Witch may also be a zombie in one shot, though she may also just be injured and bleeding while being intense. It’s hard to tell.
The fifth episode of What If…? is called “What If…Zombies?!” and is about Janet Van Dyne unleashing a zombie plague across the world. Strange and Wanda both show up in zombie form, though neither has any unfinished business in terms of the narrative. Strange’s body is destroyed by Wasp in the beginning of the episode and Wanda is killed in the season finale by an all-powerful incarnation of Ultron.
The visuals in the trailer might be playing with our familiarity with the concepts, but I’m not so sure how close they will be related to said episode. It’s still worth a look.
Strange’s Love for Christine
Rachel McAdams played Christine Palmer in the first Doctor Strange movie and while she was vaguely a romantic interest for our hero, their past was mostly swept under the rug. They were in a relationship at some point, Christine still cared for Strange after his accident, he was an asshole to her, then he showed up as a wizard later to get some help, which mended their fractured friendship. While she did kiss him on the cheek before he left, it seemed apparent that his new lifestyle wasn’t going to involve the two of them reconnecting romantically.
Even though the What If…? episode centered around Strange deals with a demonic and destructive version of the character, he’s ironically born from a kinder and less egocentric variant of the original. Strange Supreme never ended his relationship with Christine, meaning she was there during his fateful car crash and died in the wreckage. With the Time Stone, he becomes obsessed with preventing her death and fails over and over again due to reality insisting that what’s done is done. This obsession leads to the death of an entire universe.
From what we’ve seen of Multiverse of Madness, Christine is getting married to somebody else and Strange, while at the wedding, is probably feeling raw about it. Considering Scarlet Witch is being presented as a foil for him, it makes sense to contrast one’s excessively-powerful existence with the tragedy of love lost. We don’t know how badly this Christine situation will affect Strange, but from What If…?, we know how far it could take him.
The Power of a Sorcerer
It’s always nice to clang the action figures together and What If…? did a pretty good job with that. For one, we know how dangerous an unhinged Hank Pym can be. From the mainline MCU, we’ve already seen that Strange is on another level compared to Thor and Loki. Strange also was the best overall counter against Thanos when Thanos had four of the six Infinity Stones (Thor, despite burying Stormbreaker into Thanos’ chest, was more of a right place/right time situation).
We get some more use of our Multiverse of Madness magic users and what they’re capable of in What If…? In the zombie episode, the zombified Wanda is last shown running into battle against the Hulk. When she’s revisited in the finale, there’s no sign of Hulk so…I guess that speaks for that! The finale also has a team of characters from various worlds take on a variant of Ultron powered by the Infinity Stones. While Strange Supreme was outmatched, his power level was so ridiculous that he was easily the MVP and the main reason why the heroes lasted as long as they did.
Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch may have their limits, but What If…? gives us an idea of how much damage they’re capable of.
Uatu the Watcher’s Broken Oath
The final episodes of What If…? are dedicated to the series’ narrator Uatu the Watcher being roped into the story and reluctantly having to bring together the Guardians of the Multiverse to put an end to Infinity Ultron. Earlier on, in the Strange Supreme episode, Strange called out to Uatu for help, but Uatu refused. In the finale, Uatu had to break his oath for once in order to save the multiverse and probably because it was partially his fault that Ultron became aware of all the other realities.
Now, there is no real indication that Uatu himself will appear in Multiverse of Madness, but with all the ties to the show, one has to wonder if his actions will tie into it. Uatu had an oath against interference and stopping Infinity Ultron went against it. What exactly does that mean? What are the cosmic repercussions? The latest trailer shows that Strange is being imprisoned and punished for crimes against the multiverse. Does this relate to whatever system the Watchers are part of? Is it a system created because of his actions?
I suppose we’ll have to wait for May 6 to find out, when Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in theaters.