Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four Re-Watch. What If…? Part One

It’s been a year since I last did a rewatch, ending Phase Three with Spider-Man: No Way Home. Now that the Infinity Saga is over and Thanos has turned to dust, our surviving heroes have moved on… with various degrees of success. Phase Four incorporates both Cinematic releases and television programs. For the television programs, I am limiting each article to three episodes each

Episode one

Title:  What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?

Director:   Bryan Andrews.

Writer:   A.C. Bradley 

US Release Date:  August 11, 2021

Variant characters: Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Abraham Erskine, Howard Stark, Dum Dum Dugan, Johann Schmidt, Arnim Zola, Nick Fury, Clint Barton, John Flynn, Chester Phillips

Summary:  During World War II, Steve Rogers is chosen to become the world’s first super-soldier by receiving the Super Soldier Serum developed by Dr. Abraham Erskine. When Erskine asks if Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) Agent Peggy Carter wants to watch the procedure from a safe distance, she chooses to stay in the room.

As Erskine and inventor Howard Stark prepare to put Rogers through the procedure, Heinz Kruger—a spy from the Nazis’ science division Hydra—becomes nervous due to Carter’s prescence and attacks the lab before the transfusion can begin and attempts to steal the serum. He kills both Erskine and SSR leader Chester Phillips and shoots Rogers before Carter kills Kruger. With limited time to complete the procedure, Carter volunteers to take the serum. She is successfully enhanced, but new SSR leader John Flynn refuses to allow her to join the war because she is a woman.

Revealing in a flashback sequence, in Norway, Hydra’s leader Johann Schmidt / Red Skull obtains the Tesseract, a powerful artifact that can manipulate space, with which he plans to win the war. Flynn refuses to send anyone to stop Schmidt, but Stark secretly gives Carter a costume and a shield made of vibranium, which she uses to attack a Hydra convoy and successfully retrieve both the Tesseract and Hydra scientist Arnim Zola. After this success, Flynn promotes Carter to a combat role and she becomes “Captain Carter”.

Carter and Rogers rescue Rogers’ friend Bucky Barnes when he is captured by Hydra forces, with Rogers piloting a weaponized and armored “Hydra Stomper” suit that Stark built with the Tesseract. Carter and Rogers go on to fight in numerous battles with Barnes and the Howling Commandos until Rogers goes missing, presumed dead, during an attack on a Hydra train.

Carter and her allies infiltrate Schmidt’s castle after she obtains its location from Zola, and find Rogers alive. Schmidt, intending for Hydra to continue in Nazi Germany’s place after its collapse, uses the Tesseract to open a portal and summon an interdimensional creature, which quickly kills him. Carter and Rogers battle the creature until the Hydra Stomper runs out of power. As Stark closes the portal, Carter sacrifices herself by entering it while pushing the creature back into it.

Almost 70 years later, the Tesseract opens another portal which Carter emerges from, meeting Nick Fury and Clint Barton.

Easter Eggs: Carter’s superhero costume, especially the shirt, includes elements of the costume of Marvel’s period British World War II superhero, Union Jack, with the Union Flag making up the chest symbol.

The cephalopod monster’s name is not revealed, but it bears major similarity to a multidimensional monster from the Marvel Comics, the Shuma-Gorath, although it had to be renamed Gargantos, after a sea monster in the Marvel comics, as Marvel didn’t have the rights to name Shuma-Gorath, which came from the Robert E. Howard short story “The Curse of the Golden Skull”.

Episode two

Title:  What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?

Director:    Bryan Andrews

Writer:   Matthew Chauncey

US Release Date:  August 18, 2021

Variant characters; T’Challa, Nebula, Yondu Udonta, Korath the Pursuer, T’Chaka, Thanos, Taneleer Tivan / The Collector, Ego, Kraglin Obfonteri, Taserface, Howard the Duck, Okoye, Carina, Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, Drax, Corvus Glaive, Ramonda, Shuri, Cull Obsidian, Cosmo, and Peter Quill

Summary:  In 1988, the Ravagers are hired by Ego, a Celestial, to retrieve his son Peter Quill from Earth. Ravager leader Yondu Udonta assigns this task to his underlings Kraglin Obfonteri and Taserface, who mistakenly abduct a young T’Challa from Wakanda.

20 years later, T’Challa is a famous galactic pirate and hero known as Star-Lord. He has reformed the Ravagers, who are now inspired by the Earth hero Robin Hood, and has persuaded Thanos to abandon his plan of eliminating half of all life in the universe and become a member of the Ravagers. He also believes that Yondu attempted to return him to Wakanda as a child, but it had been destroyed. While obtaining an orb containing the Power Stone from the planet Morag, T’Challa recruits Korath the Pursuer to join the Ravagers.

The Ravagers are approached by Nebula, who proposes a heist to steal one of Taneleer Tivan / The Collector’s artifacts: the Embers of Genesis, cosmic dust capable of terraforming ecosystems and eradicating galactic hunger. At Tivan’s headquarters on Knowhere, the Ravagers distract his Black Order henchmen while Nebula and Yondu offer him the orb, which allows T’Challa to infiltrate Tivan’s vast collection of artifacts. He finds a Wakandan spacecraft that was sent in search of him and realizes that Yondu lied about Wakanda. The Ravagers are all captured when Nebula seemingly betrays them to Tivan.

T’Challa decries Tivan’s practice of imprisoning others in his collection, which inspires Tivan’s assistant, Carina, to shoot Ebony Maw and free T’Challa. Nebula shoots Corvus Glaive and rescues the rest of the Ravagers, revealing that she and T’Challa planned a triple cross which enabled her to acquire the Embers. Nebula and Thanos defeat Cull Obsidian and Proxima Midnight while T’Challa and Yondu defeat Tivan. Carina frees Tivan’s numerous captives, leaving Tivan at their mercy.

T’Challa forgives Yondu for his deception, and they return to Earth so T’Challa can reunite with his family in Wakanda. Elsewhere on Earth, an older Quill is now working as a Dairy Queen janitor when he is approached by Ego.

Easter Eggs: Groot can be seen in silhouette inside one of the Collector’s pods.During his fight with T’Challa. The Collector says he got his rock arm weapon “from a rather chatty Kronan.” This is most likely referring to Korg. Thor’s Mjölnir is among The Collector’s collection, along with Captain America’s shield. The Collector dons the helmet and uses the necrosword of Hela. The ending scene with Ego and Peter Quill takes place at the same Dairy Queen shown in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. It’s where Meredith Quill and Ego go to in the beginning of the film, where Ego shows her his “seed” implanted in the ground.

Episode three

Title:  What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?

Director:    Bryan Andrews.

Writer:    A.C. Bradley and Matthew Chauncey

US Release Date:  August 25, 2021

Variant characters; Nick Fury, Hank Pym / Yellowjacket, Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, Tony Stark / Iron Man, Phil Coulson, Brock Rumlow, Clint Barton / Hawkeye, Betty Ross, Bruce Banner / Hulk, Loki, Thaddeus Ross, Sif, Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel, Thor, the Destroyer, the Warriors Three, and Jack Rollins.

Summary:  Over the course of a week, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury attempts to recruit heroes for the Avengers Initiative, starting with Tony Stark. Agent Natasha Romanoff gives Stark an injection to alleviate his palladium poisoning, but it proves fatal. S.H.I.E.L.D. detains Romanoff, but Fury helps her escape so she can find the killer. Meanwhile, Thor arrives on Earth and attempts to retrieve his hammer Mjolnir, but is accidentally shot and killed by Agent Clint Barton, who later dies in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.

To analyze what killed Stark, Romanoff approaches Dr. Betty Ross, who finds that a microscopic projectile was injected into Stark. Fury deduces that the killer is targeting his list of Avengers Initiative recruits, leaving Romanoff and Bruce Banner as the remaining targets. Romanoff discovers that Ross is hiding Banner just as Ross’s father, General Thaddeus Ross, arrives to arrest them. Banner is shot and transforms into the Hulk, attacking General Ross’s men before exploding.

Loki arrives on Earth with Asgard’s army to avenge his brother’s death, but Fury negotiates a temporary truce so that he can identify the killer. Romanoff discovers that someone used a deceased agent’s profile to access S.H.I.E.L.D.’s network. She is subsequently murdered, though she manages to send a message to Fury revealing that the deaths are related to “hope”. Fury realizes that Romanoff was referring to Hope van Dyne, who had died on a mission after Fury recruited her into S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fury proposes an alliance with Loki to catch the killer, and they confront Hope’s father Hank Pym, who built a “Yellowjacket” shrinking suit to commit the murders as a means of getting revenge against Fury. Loki defeats Pym, who is taken into Asgardian custody. Loki decides to stay on Earth and subjugate humanity, quickly becoming its ruler. Fury begins assembling more heroes, finding Steve Rogers frozen in ice and summoning Carol Danvers to Earth.

Easter Eggs: This story was inspired by “Fury’s Big Week”, a limited series comic book published in 2012 that served as a tie-in to Phase one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It explained how the events of Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor were happening at the same time. Hence the title cards featuring the days of the week in between scenes.While never explicitly stated in the episode, Hope’s killer was the Winter Soldier. She was killed in Odessa, Ukraine, which is where Natasha said she was attacked by the Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.Loki’s speech to the UN is nearly word for word identical to his speech to the German crowd in The Avengers. In the original comic books, Pym was the original Yellowjacket, a new identity he took on when he became emotionally unstable.When Betty Ross tries to stop Natasha from opening the closet Bruce is hiding in, Natasha says “Move, or I’ll make you move!” Echoing the “Move, or you will be moved” line said to her by Ayo in Civil War.

My take: The What if comics were always fun reads, but you had to have knowledge of the stories in order to appreciate the story. For example the first issue was “What if Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” In order to understand the story you had to not only know that Spider-Man tried to join the Fantastic Four in Amazing Spider-Man #1, but you had to know the next couple issues of both Spidey and the FF.

This is true of any story which has an alternate history. You can’t have “Yesterday’s Enterprise” until the third season because you have to get to know the cast on order to appreciate the changes. That is of course the fun of these kind of shows