(The following story contains spoilers from the second episode of Marvel’s “What If…” on Disney+)
The first episode of “What If…,” which sees Peggy Carter become the world’s first super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers, largely follows the same script from “Captain America: The First Avenger,” albeit with a few gender-specific tweaks. The second episode of the Marvel Studios animated series, which swaps in T’Challa for Peter Quill as Star-Lord, completely reshapes the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“He’s not a character that arcs so much himself. He’s a character that changes the world around him,” head writer A.C. Bradley tells TheWrap. “We came up with this idea that he kind of becomes a Robin Hood. He is still princely and king-like, in the fact that he is all about creating the best world for people, creating the best life. He’s still very true to who he is.”
In this version of events, not only are The Ravagers the good guys now, but The Guardians of the Galaxy are never formed (Drax is a bartender, for example), The Collector is a super-villain, Nebula is much more well-adjusted (sporting flowing blonde locks) and the biggest change of all of them: Thanos, having been talked out of his plan to eliminate half of all life, is now a good(ish) guy himself and teaming up with T’Challa and The Ravagers.
Bradley said the idea for the episode started when they wanted to have Yondu accidently abduct the wrong kid — in the main MCU timeline, Quill is taken as a young boy after his mom dies from cancer. From there, they had to figure out if it wasn’t Quill who was taken, who could it have plausibly been?
“The original idea came from just realizing that T’Challa and Peter Quill are almost the same age. Because we’re wondering if Yondu took the wrong kid, who would he have taken?” Bradley says. “And there was just something inherently funny about T’Challa being up there with the Ravagers.”
As it turns out, that mix-up — which happens in this alternate reality because Yondu outsources his child kidnapping to subordinates, who think that all humans look the same — turns the Ravagers into a more noble, straight-laced operation. Because as Bradley says, the whole point of T’Challa’s character is his effect on the world (or in this case, galaxy) around him.
“Captain America is almost is a little bit similar, in that they follow their own true north. They stay true to who they are, but then they ripple out to everyone else,” she added.
When it came to Thanos, Bradley said at first they wanted to “avoid the Thanos question” before realizing it was a chance to see just how different events could play out in this reality. “[Josh] Brolin came in and he was really funny. He was calling him ‘SoCal Thanos.’ He’s like really chill.” A running joke throughout the episode, however, is that Thanos still believed his plan of collecting the Infinity Stones and snapping half of life out of existence would have worked.
“He’s still like the the armchair quarterback,” Bradley says.
“What If…” features many MCU actors lending their voice to their animated counterparts, including in this episode Brolin, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian and, most notably, the late Chadwick Boseman in his final performance as T’Challa. Bradley says the episode would not have worked if they had to get someone else to voice T’Challa, made all the more poignant by Boseman’s tragic death last year.
“He was lovely. He asked to read the scripts before he committed to doing the show. I think he signed up really early, but he wanted to read the scripts. And then he asked if he could record a few months later down the line, which was totally fine, because he wanted to be able to do the proper [Wakandan] accent. He was doing another project at the time, they had him doing a different accent,” Bradley says. “He liked that we were still being true to T’Challa. T’Challa is still the hero, he’s just in a different context. And he also thought it was great that he was cracking more jokes.”