Marvel's What If Characters' 'Ripple Effects' Shape the World

Disney+ series What If...? is set to bring an alternate T’Challa and Howard the Duck to yet another corner of the MCU.

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T'Challa having a chat with Howard the Duck in the Collector's storage room.
Animated T’Challa (and just a glimpse of Howard the Duck).
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

In each of What If’s self-contained stories from different parts of Marvel’s multiverse, specific characters emerge as people whose actions have an outsized impact on the arc of history. While the universal consequences of people’s actions may be obvious to viewers (and the Watcher), the big flashy differences in scenery aren’t necessarily the most interesting parts of the show’s various tales.

In What If’s next episode, Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as T’Challa, the crown prince of Wakanda who was meant to become the next Black Panther—and would have, were he not abducted by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers. T’Challa traveling into space as a child fundamentally alters the path of his life that leads to his becoming part of a familiar, but different team of galactic guardians. To a certain extent, the episode’s very much What If’s spin on James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films, but when io9 recently spoke with executive producer Brad Winderbaum, he emphasized that the story being told is very much about T’Challa and the unique “ripple effect” he has on the universe.

“There’s a conversation certainly happening between the second and third episodes, one in which we have T’Challa Star-Lord, whose very presence and is his way of thinking, his outlook, and his inherent nobility changes the world around him,” Winderbaum said. “It causes dominos to fall in unexpected ways throughout that galaxy that we know from the Guardians of the Galaxy films.”


Compared to an upcoming Nick Fury episode, which Winderbaum described as an exercise in trying to get the superspy to break under unimaginable pressure and fear, What If’s time with T’Challa is spent exploring the ways in which the hero’s subtle influence on others changes them in profound ways. Characters like the Collector, Winderbaum said, end up becoming incredibly formidable compared to his previous MCU incarnations, while others like Nebula appear to chill out and opt for different appearances. “Once we create those scenarios—those inciting, branching timelines—you just kind of follow the dominos,” Winderbaum explained. “Certain characters are taken off the table by the new events, but what happens in the wake of that? In [the T’Challa Star-Lord episode], the Collector becomes far more powerful than he was in the Sacred Timeline.”

Of all the characters to work into these stories, Howard the Duck—previously seen in his own feature film long before the MCU was born—makes sense for What If. But it also raises questions about whether the feathered hero might make appearances elsewhere in the near future. Winderbaum couldn’t go into detail about just how largely Howard will feature into this season, but he did state that Howard’s being there does say something about the show. “It all [started with] that tag scene at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1,” Winderbaum said. “I think Howard represents like how far we are willing to push it for a joke—and the answer is really, really far.”


What If airs Wednesdays on Disney+.

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