13 Surprisingly Drastic MCU Character Changes In 'What If...?'

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Vote up the 'What If...?' changes that completely reverse MCU characters.

It doesn’t take a transformation into one of Marvel's What If…? zombies to undergo a drastic character change in the newly existent Marvel Cinematic Multiverse. That’s just one of many What If…? remix moments, and if there’s one thing the animated series has proven, it’s that small choices can lead to some truly drastic differences.

The best What If…? episodes tend to be those in which the changes to the plotline are minimal - ideally condensed to a single altered decision - but in which the changes to character arcs are massive. After all, what’s the point in watching alternate versions of your favorite heroes and villains if they don’t, well, alternate from the norm?

  • Thanos Drops His Universal Conquest After Meeting T'Challa
    Photo: Disney+

    The episode “What If… T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?” delivers exactly what it promises, and its slice of the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse is far better off for it. The Prince of Wakanda operating on the galactic level solves a lot of cosmic problems before they occur, and chief among them is Thanos the Not-So-Mad Titan.

    Through some past conversation, T’Challa was able to talk Thanos down from his mission of universal halving - if not to give up on its merits entirely - and now Thanos is a loyal member of Star-Lord’s Ravager crew. How exactly T’Challa convinced Thanos - who once thought he was “the only one with the will to act” - that he was wrong is perhaps best left offscreen, but it’s a truly titanic testament to T’Challa’s diplomatic abilities, and the positive consequences are obvious.

    A non-bellicose Thanos means no Chitauri incursion of Earth, no Ultron, and no scramble for the Infinity Stones. This universe is grateful for a lot of T’Challa’s work, but none more so than the taming of Thanos.

  • Loki Stays With The Frost Giants And Grows Comfortable In His Own Skin
    Photo: Disney+

    The episode asking “What If… Thor Were An Only Child?” does not, surprisingly enough, answer the same question about Loki. That’s because, in this reality, Loki is never adopted by Odin and instead grows up with his kin in Jotunheim. Whereas the All-Father once cited a predictable, cruel upbringing in justifying his abduction of a Frost Giant infant, this Loki seems to be the beneficiary of an exceptionally well-balanced home life.

    Not only is this Loki closer with Thor without their familial relation, but he’s also clearly tight with his “Ice-Bros,” some of whom are presumably fellow offspring of Laufey. That means that, in this universe, Loki has finally found a family that he feels accepts him, and that’s something he never really found in the mainstream Marvel Cinematic Universe - nor in the alternate timeline that saw him take on the TVA.

    Here, Loki isn’t just content, he’s quite literally comfortable in his own (blue) skin. It’s quite honestly an extremely sad contrast that this Loki so plainly stands out from the crowd just by being proud of himself and knowing that he belongs. 

  • Hank Pym Turns Into A Homicidal Villain After The Demise Of His Daughter
    Photo: Disney+

    In “What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” Hope van Dyne makes the choice to become an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of seeking a career in the tech field, and she falls in the line of duty as a result. That single loss of life is all it takes for the Avengers to lose their lives, too, because that’s all it takes for Hank Pym to completely snap and begin a rampage against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

    Hank being clever enough to take down the Avengers isn’t all that out of the ordinary - he is the inventor of Pym Particles, after all, the technology that enabled both time and quantum travel. But though he’s always been a surly fellow, grumpiness is a far cry from homicidal rage. All of Pym’s vigilante actions in the mainstream reality revolved around him getting small and punching baddies in the nose. At no point does he hint that he’s holding within him the capacity for cold-blooded murder. But apparently, the demise of his daughter is more than enough to unlock it.

  • Nebula Discovers Her Inner Femme Fatale Without Her Bad Dad Weighing Her Down
    Photo: Disney+

    Sometimes, even the happier turns of What If…? are still inherently tragic. Such is the case of Nebula in “What If… T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?” Here, Nebula is fun, flirty, and fabulous - a full-fledged femme fatale. In other words, she’s everything that the original MCU Nebula was never allowed to be.

    In this reality, Thanos is convinced early on in his mad campaign to take a more peaceful path, and that frees Nebula from his thrall before he’s completed all but a few of her forced modifications. She’s got her natural blond hair, her individual agency, and far more of her authentic personality than MCU audiences have ever seen before.

    All of which is fantastic for this Nebula, despite her still understandably terse relationship with her adoptive father. It’s just that it really emphasizes just how awful the original Nebula had it, and that’s incredibly sad.

  • Doctor Strange Becomes Set On Breaking The Universe Without Christine Palmer In His Life
    Photo: Disney+

    As his ex, Christine Palmer seems to play an important role in the origin of Doctor Stephen Strange, but not an excessively large one in his life thereafter, save for operating on him and his mystical allies a time or two. But “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands?” proves that just having Palmer around is important to Strange, because without her, he’s apparently on the brink of becoming a universe-collapsing threat to all existence.

    Choosing to have Christine accompany him on the night of his fateful accident sets off a Final Destination-style outcome loop in which she is guaranteed to perish. Strange studies the mystic arts for the express purpose of bringing her back to life, but he’s warned by the Ancient One and others that it is impossible. Undeterred, Strange breaks the laws of time and space, co-opting the Time Stone to rewrite the past again and again, trying to save her. When even that doesn’t work, Strange begins absorbing the power of various nether beasts from other dimensions until his power is so vast that the walls of reality crumble around him.

    An entire universe perishes because Christine Palmer does - or, more specifically, because Stephen Strange can’t let her go. 

  • Bucky Never Becomes The Winter Soldier With The Hydra-Stomper To Save Him
    Photo: Disney+

    It’s fairly rare for characters in alternate Marvel Universes to have happier lives, but there are some pleasant exceptions. Take, for instance, the Bucky Barnes of “What If… Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?” who gets protection from both Peggy Carter and Steve “Hydra-Stomper” Rogers and thus never ends up in the hands of the Winter Soldier Program. 

    Without the weight of those awful experiences on him, this Bucky’s sense of humor is a lot less dark, and his pluckiness really comes to the forefront. The only real bummer in the altered course is that it all but ensures that both Barnes and Rogers will be elderly and quite possibly deceased by the time the era of the modern MCU rolls around. But Bucky, at the very least, will have lived a significantly more charmed kind of life.