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Ranking The Episodes Of Marvel's What If...?

In 1977, Marvel launched a comic called "What If...?," an anthology series that would allow its writers to tell stories that deviated from what happened in the main canon of their books (known by most as the 616 universe). These fascinating tales could take key events from the comics' history and alter simple things that would have great consequences, all without disrupting the company's ever-growing and constantly changing timeline or their big superhero events, although several of the books warranted more explanation or were just so imaginative that their ideas eventually made their way into storylines for the 616 reality. 

With the success of the MCU, it's no surprise that Marvel would greenlight a new series of these adventures for Disney+, using animation to show off several new non-canon ideas all guided by Uatu The Watcher. Now that the MCU's opening itself up to the Marvel multiverse, "What If" is the perfect chance to explore some of those concepts and show what a few of these worlds could look like in creative ways. The show features wonderful cel-shaded animations along with several familiar voices from the films. But not all alternate history tales are created equally, and with that in mind, here's a rundown of "What If...?" Season 1, ranked from worst to best.

9. What If... Thor Were an Only Child?

Loki and Thor have one of the better-established relationships in the MCU. Both of these Asgardians are incredibly important to the other's upbringing, and as this episode shows, they keep each other checked in ways we might not normally realize. The idea of asking how things would be different if they didn't grow up together is a good one, in other words; unfortunately, this episode's execution is a bit lame. Instead of taking the approach of showing what would happen if The Trickster God wasn't there to help with villains like Malekith the Accursed or Hela, fans are given a feel-good party episode showing the two closer as "bros."

The episode also gives us a battle of cosmic powers between Captain Marvel and Thor, which some people have been wanting to see, and shows how far someone like Maria Hill would be willing to go against a perceived threat, but the rest of the good parts are due to cameos and a surprise ending that introduces a much more interesting problem. The rest feels like padding while Jane Foster tries to find love and smooth things over with the world at the same time. Howard the Duck can only save so much, and the episode meanders so hard that at one point, Surtur starts fondling the Statue of Liberty. Numerous episodes of "What If...?" play it a bit too safe, and this one plays it safest of all.

8. What If... Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?

Some of the best characters in the MCU are the villains and Killmonger is a favorite of many, so it's no surprise we're given a "What If...?" episode that shows what it'd be like if everything went Erik's way. It starts with him saving Tony Stark from his own Jericho missile, meaning the playboy was never captured and doesn't become Iron Man. One might assume this might lead to Killmonger becoming Iron Man, or a version of War Machine, but his mission from the "Black Panther" movie is still very present. This time, though, he has a much greater plan to accomplish his goals — and he's going to be incredibly successful, with a more impressive list of victims.

The plan now involves his doctoral thesis from MIT, while still utilizing the body of Ulysses Klaue to gain him favor in Wakanda, leading to the reward of becoming the new Black Panther and essentially controlling the homeland that betrayed his family. All just the lead-up to the conversation Erik has with T'Challa on the astral plane, which, because of the lesson taught and a vocal appearance from Chadwick Boseman himself, feels special. The last battle, however, is just going through the motions, pomp and circumstance for Killmonger returning home and taking over. Thankfully, he doesn't fool everyone, as Shuri and Pepper Potts are onto him and could potentially prove his ruin in a later installment.

7. What If... Ultron Won?

Sure, this is an episode about Ultron and what he could have done with all that potential had the Avengers not stomped him as they did in the sacred timeline, but it's also where the real story of "What If...?" begins. We've had seven tales that help set up the multiverse, so the next logical step is to put it in jeopardy. Ultron, in Vision's body and powered by the Infinity Stones, is quite a threat; with that kind of power, he's operating on a different level. It's nice to see that Black Widow and Hawkeye are still fighting for Earth (or what's left of it), but Ultron has bigger fish to fry, as there are still worlds to conquer outside of his own.

Watching Ultron rise to power is amusing — he goes toe-to-toe with Captain Marvel and defeats Thanos in an almost embarrassing fashion. This episode deserves credit for several things, including an "Indiana Jones" reference, using Arnim Zola, and giving Hawkeye the opportunity to finally sacrifice himself like he always wanted to. The best part, though is getting more of Jeffrey Wright's Uatu. We see some real personality from him as the realization that the multiverse could come to an end if the Watcher doesn't break his oath and act — and prior to that, the fight between Uatu and Ultron works as an overpowered spectacle that highlights the power of the enemy the collected heroes will have to face.

6. What If... T'Challa became a Star-Lord?

Although this episode still focuses primarily on the change of a single character, it incorporates elements of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Black Panther" while opening up the narrative landscape. Thanks to a case of mistaken identity, Peter Quill has been left on Earth to work in a Dairy Queen (with his dad) while T'Challa becomes Star-Lord and attempts to change the universe, acting as its version of Robin Hood. This incarnation of Star-Lord is a mixture of both characters' traits, and he's accomplished impressive feats.

This version of Star-Lord makes great changes, reforms the bandits he ended up with, and saves the galaxy a lot of trouble by sitting down and talking Thanos into becoming a much more understanding Mad Titan. Seeing these differences and hearing Chadwick Boseman's voice work are the best parts of the episode — they're downright charming, honestly — but the rest of the plot, which sees our heroes relieving the Collector of a powerful item, all plays out as expected. It's enjoyable, but doesn't add much. There are a few warm moments when tensions run high and we get to see how certain relationships work and show the importance of families, far and away, but there might have been more.

5. What If... Zombies?

This is the episode that many fans spotted in the trailers and couldn't wait to see the carnage unleashed, even in animated form. The title says it all: The walking dead invade the Marvel Universe, and for anyone who just wants to just sit back and enjoy the non-stop ride, it might be the most thrilling episode. "Marvel Zombies" as a comic started in the pages of "Ultimate Fantastic Four" and led to some crazy events, a few of which made it into this episode, but this time the threat comes from the Quantum Realm.

This takes place during the events of "Infinity War," but there's a much more immediate problem at hand — don't worry, though, Thanos still has time to make his dreams come true. Viewers get to see a fun cast of characters, including a fun team of zombie killers (shout out to Kurt from "Ant-Man") that have to be a bit more hardcore and face the fact they're about to die and/or have to kill their friends. It isn't going to be easy, as the zombified heroes somehow keep their powers, and those who do make it out have a greater challenge ahead of them. The segment at the military base with Vision is the best part, with an added level of intrigue, but the horror elements are solid. Couple that with the violence and amount of cartoon decapitations in the midst of Spider-Man reminding everyone about the tropes of scary movies, and the whole episode is an enjoyable experience.

4. What If... the world Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?

It's always good to see more Nick Fury, but this episode finds him having the worst week ever. Taking place during the earlier MCU timeline, this is less an adventure and more a requiem for the original Avengers team. What if the world's mightiest heroes were taken out mysteriously, easily, and efficiently, to the point that it made them look amateurish? That's the premise, and it has a solid payoff that reveals the murderer, unravels his motivation, and depicts the aftermath. It shows a different side of Hank Pym, in other words — and it's one we all knew he had in him.

This type of story happens in comics now and again — some genius figures out how to take down an unstoppable super-group handily, either focusing on personal weaknesses or using novel approaches. What makes this better is seeing someone like Nick Fury, a spymaster, stuck in the dark about everything happening in front of his eye. Thankfully, he's quick on his feet, and Fury always has a backup plan, even if he has to call in some of his big guns a little early.

Most viewers will appreciate the surprise of the various assassinations and embrace the more adult content, but the ending may not thrill everyone who isn't an avid comics reader or studies the MCU.

3. What If... The Watcher Broke His Oath?

This is it, the jam-packed finale of Season 1 of "What If...?," and after a few short introductions to show the recruitment of this new team and planning sessions in a pub, it's time to fight. This gives fans an exciting conclusion to everything they've been watching, as many characters are thrown together and other tales are wrapped up in small ways. The Watcher has broken his oath to save the multiverse, but will this unique team of Marvel heroes be enough to save the day? It's time for them to finally let loose and this episode excels with the action, leaving many viewers happy and teasing just enough for what's to come.

The speed at which the action breezes past important questions and established rules is the major flaw in this last installment. Several of Uatu's decisions here could've used more explanation as well, but perhaps having him in the final battle was too risky or would have done more than simply break his oath. Most of these failings might've been addressed with more time — extending the finale into one more episode perhaps — but it's easy to just ignore that for a few minutes and enjoy watching the culmination each of these adventures led to. It's a solid prototype for a random team-up against a cosmic foe, but hopefully, it's just the start of deeper and even more imaginative adventures for future seasons of "What If...?"

2. What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?

The premier episode of the series nails the general idea of how a conceptual show like this is able to explore larger ideas without losing focus on the importance of smaller ones. It takes a single movie that many fans know well and uses Peggy Carter opting to stay near the action as a means of changing the story drastically, while keeping the larger outcome. A different person gets the super soldier serum, and the lives of Steve Rogers, the Red Skull, and Bucky Barnes all play out quite differently. 

The changes made are intriguing, even if they are just massive rearrangements that connect back to canonically established points. For example, Captain Carter isn't frozen for decades; instead, she gets to portal right into meeting Nick Fury and Hawkeye during the first "Avengers" film. Hayley Atwell does a wonderful job of playing a souped-up Carter, slipping right into that hero role while landing the emotional scenes. It isn't as bleak as some of the other episodes and the scope stays narrowed, but seeing Captain Carter's origins and knowing what's to come allows this outing to stay grounded and enjoyable while still holding the door open for more grandiose adventures.

1. What If... Doctor Strange lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?

Doctor Strange is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe, but what if he used those abilities in nefarious ways? All it would take is a change in motivation. A grief-stricken sorcerer who never found humility, but put all of his energy into changing one moment in time instead of doing more with what he still had, could doom the world in the name of the embrace of a woman he couldn't let go of. It's poetic, deliciously dark, and sets up an extremely focused episode, one that's arguably the best smaller story shown.

The dark path that Stephen Strange follows is dramatic and painful, performed excellently by Benedict Cumberbatch, who even gets to act opposite himself in an amazing confrontation and a stellar battle. Having him see and speak with The Watcher shows how strong the character has become, at the cost of this new grotesque form. Not only does the villain succeed (sort of) and sacrifice everything to make it happen, he's left repentant and yearning to make up for his actions, realizing the lesson about suffering that took him too long to understand. The last few moments for this version of Doctor Strange are a bitter swan song of failure through achievement — and an almost perfect ending.