Marvel’s What If series on Disney+ is set to dig into the countless stories unfolding all throughout the MCU’s freshly minted multiverse, many of which bear striking similarities to chunks of the cinematic canon established in previous films. But some of the series’ specific universes will delve into realities that would be almost impossible to manifest outside of animation.
As Marvel Studio’s first animated project set firmly within the MCU — and one about exploring a multiverse of far-flung possibilities — What If is in the unique position of being able to get rather wild in terms of pulling from Marvel’s deep catalogue of famous stories. When Gizmodo recently spoke with What If’s executive producer Brad Winderbaum, head writer A.C. Bradley, and director Bryan Andrews, they all emphasised how the series being animated freed them up creatively to go bigger than they would have been able to otherwise.
“Had it not been animated, we wouldn’t have been able to really plumb the depths of the MCU like we have,” Winderbaum said. “It’s almost infinite what you’re able to do in the animated space, so if you could dream it, you can do it. You want to go back to the Project Rebirth lab? It’s just as easy as going back to Knowhere.”
While many of What If’s episodes rework familiar beats from the MCU, the series will also draw from Marvel’s comics. In any other circumstance, incorporating the outbreak of a zombifying pathogen into the MCU would somewhat derail the entire project. But Bradley explained how the idea to toss zombies into the blender came to her early on after Marvel head Kevin Feige asked for pitches for the show’s first season. “I think I might have mentioned it early on as a ‘What if we did this’ kind of pie in the sky throwaway not thinking at first that there actually has been the very famous run,” Bradley recalled. “Brad was excited, and then Kevin [Feige] kind of surprised us by being like, ‘Yeah, no. You’re doing Marvel Zombies.’’”
Bradley pointed out that more so than any of What If’s other self-contained entries, the Marvel Zombies episode is one for which people might want to brush up on the comics — written by Robert Kirkman, art by Sean Phillips, and covers by Arthur Suydam — in preparation. “The fun part of Marvel Zombies, at least for me, was to delve into that initial run,” Bradley said. “Probably more than any other what episode. We drew directly from the comic for inspiration and for actual specific scenes, because it is so good and less from the movies.”
One of the interesting and potentially trickier bits of adapting Marvel Zombies for the MCU boils down to who all is going to show up. In all of the Ultimate Fantastic Four zombie plots written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Greg Land, the Fantastic Four feature quite largely in the discovery of the zombified universe. Similarly, X-Men characters like Magneto and Wolverine play important roles in Kirkman’s tale. Considering what’s planned for years to come on the big screen, it’s unlikely that any of technically-Marvel’s-but-not-yet-in-the-MCU chunks of IP will pop up in What If.
As much flexibility the series being animated afforded the team, Andrews stated that there were some limitations on what they were able to do due to time and budgetary constraints, but ultimately, they did pour the bulk of their fleshed-out ideas into the show. “We were still able to tell it the way we wanted to and show the things that we wanted to show,” Andrews said. “I think animation allows us the freedom to do that. So we could be big and bold and crazy and expand, which is awesome, and I think that’s what the multiverse should do, and what the story is these stories are going to do.”
What If hits Disney+ on August 11. Keep an eye on Gizmodo this week for more.
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