By Noah Tang
Throughout its run so far, Marvel’s animated series “What If…?” has revisited key points in the MCU, examining how the timeline could have proceeded had one choice been different. The episodes we have seen have shown that some alternate timelines unfold similarly to the main continuity while others diverge greatly from it.
The first episode, “What If…Captain Carter Were the First Avenger,” revisits the events of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the change being that Peggy Carter receives the Super-Soldier Serum instead of Steve Rogers. She later adopts the title of Captain Carter.
I appreciated this interpretation of Peggy Carter. It was interesting to see her character develop again, this time with superpowers. Although she’s still the same person on the inside, she is now gifted with physical abilities that complement her espionage training and strong moral character. The difference can be seen during her first fight with Axis troops when she takes out an entire convoy of Nazis.
Of course, Peggy remains the compassionate heroine that viewers have come to know. The trailers have indicated that she will have a recurring role in the series and interact with characters from other alternate universes, an exciting prospect to be sure.
Other characters from “The First Avenger” are also well-utilized. The Howling Commandos and Bucky Barnes join the fray after Peggy rescues them from Hydra. Iconic scenes are reworked, with Carter now leading the team. Bucky Barnes gets some of the more humorous moments, and the scrawny scrapper from Brooklyn himself still gets a spot under the spotlight.
Despite not receiving the serum, Steve Rogers still becomes a superhero, with Howard Stark building him an early version of the Iron Man suit so that he can fight Hydra alongside Peggy. Several sequences show Steve and Peggy tag-teaming in both ground and aerial combat, the latter of which is particularly impressive.
Despite occurring in an alternate timeline, this episode is generally faithful to the existing MCU canon and tone. For instance, Peggy takes out her frustrations on a punching bag, just like Steve did in “The Avengers.” Howard Stark again provides the shield and uniform, originally made for USO tours in “The First Avenger.” Thankfully, she is not paraded around like Steve was, and Stark designs her uniform to be field-ready from the start.
The standard MCU comedy is present. When a lumbering Nazi goon mocks Peggy, she beats him up to great comical effect. Also, when Peggy arrives to rescue Bucky, he sarcastically asks her if she’s the Queen of England. At the same time, the emotional stakes are consistent with those of the wider MCU. Marvel has usually balanced its humor with poignancy, and this episode is no exception. It contains an appropriate amount of tragedy, and Steve and Peggy’s love story beautifully matches their dynamic in “The First Avenger.”
“What If…?” has the potential to offer viewers amazing content that they never knew they wanted. The animation style is aesthetically pleasing, conveying both realistic physicality and stylized, hand-drawn artistry. I enjoyed most of the imagery, except for the cartoonish HYDRA stronghold. The pacing is somewhat rushed, given that each episode must finish its world-building and tell a complete story in just thirty minutes. Thankfully, this fast pace does not detract too much from the story being told.
I also appreciated how Peggy and Steve became heroes primarily because of their character, not just due to external factors such as super-strength or a super suit. This message reminded me of 1 Samuel 16:7, which states that “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (ESV). Overall, I found this first episode (as well as the next few) to be quite enjoyable. I look forward to seeing where Marvel takes this series.
Episode one of “What If…?” is now streaming on Disney Plus.
Noah Tang is a super-senior Business Management major. He likes to spend time with friends, study theology and watch movies.