What I want out of Marvel's "What If...?" Cartoon (and what I don't want)

OK, so now that I know that Marvel is doing a What If...? series, I figured I should take the time to say what I would like to see versus what I would not like to see. I should first note that I love What If...? to death and regard it as one of my all-time favorite Marvel comics ever. Yes, there have been many, many, many, MANY terrible What If...? tales over the years, but there have also been many excellent ones, and in any case I can scarcely think of any other comic series besides Exiles that has done more for the Marvel Multiverse than What If...?

With that in mind, what would I, the lifelong What If...? fan, looking for in an animated TV version? What do I NOT want to see? Well, I think in both cases, we can (and should), consult the comic series for ideas, as I think that gives a nice blueprint of both what to do and what to avoid.

Good Idea: Uatu the Watcher

This is a no-brainer. Uatu the Watcher is the main character of What If...?, and while many What If...? tales were able to work without him, I still feel like he is such a pivotal and important character to the series and to the concept, that trying to do a What If...? TV series without him would just not work as well. And, we know that the Watchers exist in the MCU per GotG Vol. 2, and that Disney has bought out Fox (and with it the rights to all FF characters). So there is absolutely no reason to not include Uatu the Watcher. Now, could they do some episodes without his involvement? Certainly. Just as some great What If...? issues did not involve him. But having said that, I do think that the majority of episodes at least, would be much better off featuring him. And it doesn't need to be substantially; just serve as each episode's introduction and ending, as he does in the comics. He doesn't need to hold the audience's hand and explain everything (that wouldn't work), but if he introduces each episode and explains the moment where events are diverging, that can work.

Bad Idea: An excess of depressing, "everybody dies" stories

If What If...? (especially What If...? from about 2006-now), has a major, recurring sin, it's this. While many modern What If...? tales are great (What If Peter Parker became the Punisher, What If? Annihilation Wave, What If Daredevil died saving Elektra?, What If Thor was raised by Frost Giants?, etc.), many other What If...? tales are just lazy, overly depressing, "everybody gets killed horribly because the heroes lost when they weren't meant to" tales. While I do not want the series to condescend to the audience or be the overly-censored affairs many Marvel cartoons are (more on that later), I do not think the show should always go for the most depressing, soul grinding endings or plots possible. I mean, who really wants to see Chris Evan's Captain America or RDJ's Iron Man die horrible, awful deaths over and over?

On second thought, maybe I shouldn't ask that...

Good Idea: Versatility

One of the great things about What If...? is how it had such a robust variety of tales. You never knew what you were going to get in a given story; one issue could have Daredevil going mad after killing Kingpin, while another could be the X-Men duking it out in Asgard, while yet a third story could be someone other than Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk. There's no shortage of possibilities, and at this point the MCU (which the alternate realities in the What If...? cartoon will be divergents of), has no shortage of movies and TV to pull from for ideas. They need not all diverge from just the Avengers movies, for example. Obviously those films offer plenty of ideas for divergent tales, but that shouldn't be the only thing the writers draw from.

Bad Idea: Censorship / Condescension

If What If...?'s cardinal sin is often being too damn depressing for it's own good, the cardinal sin of most Marvel cartoons is that, frankly, they're toothless. Whether it's the painful censorship of the 90s cartoons or the juvenile schlock of Avengers Assemble, Ultimate Spider-Man, and the other cartoons from that universe, a lot of Marvel shows neither take themselves seriously enough nor have the level of intelligence, craftsmanship, and frankly, darkness of a lot of DC's efforts (especially the DCAU). Now again, it doesn't ALWAYS have to be dark (and it shouldn't be), but if the series is written like the god-awful Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble, Agents of SMASH, and Guardians of the Galaxy cartoons, or even the current Spider-Man and Kamala Khan cartoons, I'll be...disappointed, to put it mildly. What If...? doesn't always have to be ultra dark (and in fact is often bad when it is), but this just means there needs to be a balance between excessive grimness and Game of Thrones-esque character slaughter, and the condescending, juvenile, censored bilge of so many previous Marvel cartoons.

Good Idea: Respect some fan ideas

Now I do not mean by this that the writers should make the cartoon into a pandering machine. But having said that, many fans of the MCU have conceived of "What If?" tales already, such as What If Cap and Peggy had stayed together?, What If "x" character died, etc. And I think that looking at what those stories, and seeing what "What If...?" scenarios the fandom seems most attracted to, could really benefit the show. Again, I don't mean to suggest that the cartoon should just do nothing but mindless pandering, but I also don't think it would necessarily be a bad idea to look at the What If...? tales the fans have already come up with, and take advantage.

I know I for one would want to see a "What If Captain America hadn't vanished in WWII?" story. ;)

Bad Idea: Giving characters roles that make no sense for them

OK, so here's the thing about this one; while stories like Rick Jones becoming Hulk, Flash Thompson becoming Spider-Man (one they've done three separate times now), and even Professor X becoming Juggernaut and Punisher becoming Venom, are fun tales that also make logical sense given that the characters are related to the mainstream bearer of the alias in the primary universe. They're the sort of stories that What If...? is meant for. But conversely, things like Logan becoming Wendigo (which, I kid you not, happened in one What If...? story), or something equally nonsensical like Stephen Strange becoming Falcon or Matt Murdock becoming Star-Lord, just doesn't work. While I do find "alias switching" stories to be fun and am admittedly a sucker for them, they don't always work. They have to make some degree of sense. Matt Murdock becoming Star-Lord or, for yet another hypothetical, Nick Fury becoming the Hulk, simply doesn't work.

While this list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive, I do think it's a good start as far as giving some valid ideas of what the upcoming What If...? series should strive for, and what it should avoid like the plague. Now, given that Marvel's track record with cartoons has, with only a handful of exceptions, ranged from overly-censored and mega-corny shlock to juvenile and hyper-caffeinated shlock, I have reason to be skeptical that this new show will succeed. But at the same time, I really do believe that with this What If...? series, Marvel has something potentially very special on it's hands, and I think they should take full advantage. People love the MCU, and I think showing the ways in which the movies and shows we've (mostly) loved could have gone differently would make for a very excellent addition indeed.

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