Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe took off with the 2008 release of Iron Man, much of Marvel Studios’ success is due to the comics that came before it. In addition to bringing to life so many characters created years ago by Marvel legends like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby, the MCU has laid out its plan on some of the most fundamental elements of the comics business model. . Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and Co. certainly didn’t invent the concept of a franchise crossover, but their unwavering commitment to establishing an interconnected universe over a decade of films made their blockbuster success an inevitable result. . And as Marvel Studios continues its burgeoning transition into the television industry, it delves deeper and deeper into the ink-splattered territory of comics, both in style and substance. With the upcoming release of the animated anthology series What if…?, the MCU is leaning more into its comic book storytelling than ever.
Comics can be defined in many ways, but the medium ultimately comes down to the unique blend of prose and visual art that taps into a reader’s imagination in a way that novels or movies do not. can not do so smoothly, quickly or – in the case of the latter – as inexpensively. As we’ve all learned during the explosion of crime-fighting content in the 21st century, the superhero genre in particular destroys the limits of human potential, turning often unsuspecting and otherwise unspectacular protagonists into strange beings of incredible power. Under absurd pretexts like being bitten by a radioactive spider, these stories often transport their heroes to distant worlds, alternate dimensions, or various epochs in history.
Superhero stories, along with the collective narrative they have told across generations, have grown and evolved as new writers and artists brought their own ideas and perspectives to build upon the work of their predecessors. The changes can be as small as a costume adjustment or as large as a complete update to a character’s story. And while at worst, the revival can result in a confusing puddle of colliding details, it has both become part of the fabric of comic book storytelling as well as one of its greatest strengths. The ‘anything can be changed’ ethic of comics has allowed creators to overhaul things that just didn’t work initially, revive fan favorites from the dead to tell new stories to one. new generation of readers, and finally give the chance to experiment without fear of costing a Hollywood studio at the box office millions of dollars.
The MCU has applied much of the comic book methods to their films over the past decade and more, and thrived on its episodic storytelling format long before they started publishing their stories in weekly installments. Even as the credits for each of his films began to roll, there was still a mutual understanding between Marvel’s creatives and audiences that the story was never truly over, as every sting since the Avengers was first mentioned by Nick Fury had fans hungry for more content. Sometimes being part of a larger narrative that fits perfectly into the MCU’s sacred timeline has been detrimental to its individual stories, as movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron struggled with their own storylines as they take it upon themselves to introduce new characters and conflicts to develop later. But even the biggest missteps can find some semblance of redemption as each story contributes to a larger story; six years after the release of Ultron, WandaVision took one of the film’s supporting characters and turned her into the star of one of Marvel’s most critically acclaimed projects to date. Without the relationships that Wanda Maximoff formed and lost in Ultron, the grief she carried throughout her own series wouldn’t have been so resounding.
The upcoming series What if…?, which premieres on Disney + on Wednesday, draws on MCU history like no movie or TV show before. Director Bryan Andrews and Head Writer AC Bradley take some of the biggest events that have happened in over 50 hours of screen time, reimagining how they came about and letting the stories take on new life across nine series autonomous. One episode replaces Captain America with Captain Carter, turning Peggy into a beefed-up First Avenger while also giving Steve Rogers (possibly a skinny mortal) an original Iron Man-like costume years before Howard Stark even had a son. . The series borrows its premise, as well as its narrator, Uatu the Watcher, from its namesake comic book anthology series which began in the late 1970s and which centered its first issue on the question: “What if Spider- Man joining the fantastic Quatre? “
What if…? began as an experiment that allowed Marvel to rewrite its comic book story without any consequences to its canonical storytelling, offering a chance for its creators to take iconic characters and go wild with them. After releasing more than two dozen movies and TV shows, the MCU now has more than enough of its own established tradition to be able to use the same approach to its own history. And thanks to the events of Loki, the upcoming series isn’t even a mere thought experiment or an indication that Feige and Co. are running out of new ideas.
Beyond crowning a delicious first season in its own right, the Loki the finale paved the way for future movies and TV shows. Chief screenwriter Michael Waldron catapulted his series deep into the comic book realm, introducing terms like “Nexus event” into the MCU’s lexicon and establishing the concept of “variant” beings existing in parallel universes, all by featuring an already deceased protagonist in the main canon. When Sylvie stuck a sword firmly into the chest of the One Who Remains, she shattered the so-called sacred timeline, causing countless realities to branch off from their normal paths and begin to collide with each other. While the Time Variance Authority bureaucracy once ensured that every story across the multiverse developed in a specific way, alternate events like a young T’Challa kidnapped by Ravager aliens instead of Peter Quill are now fair game. , repositioning our heroes on entirely new journeys. .
When What if…? arrives Wednesday, it will also mark Marvel Studios’ first attempt at an animated series. While this may reflect a larger cultural shift towards animated storytelling that has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic, it is also just the logical progression for the studio after more than a decade of live-action movies. . Even with an unprecedented track record of star retention on multi-movie deals spanning years, it would be unlikely to try to bring back Chris Hemsworth, Michael B. Jordan and Natalie Portman for action episodes in only 30 minutes direct. to simply remix the greatest hits. Turning to animation, What if…? can dream as big as its artists and director desire and explore an untapped medium, while firing the vast majority of its movie stars, including the late Chadwick Boseman in his final round as T’Challa, for his voice without running into a budget balloon or logistical nightmare.
More than 13 years after Tony Stark introduced himself to the world, the MCU is still looking for new ways to maintain its level of success. But taking inspiration from its own comic book origins, Marvel shows that sometimes the smartest way to move forward is to learn a lesson or two from the past.