The MCU Just Snubbed a Legendary Comics Writer
What If’s look back in time just felt like cosplay.
The Marvel Multiverse allows the franchise to tell different versions of the same story, which is why we can have three Spider-Man variants together, or briefly explore a world where John Krasinski is Mr. Fantastic. But the MCU has narrowed the scope of its multiverse to the anthology series What If...?, which is meant to explore truly wild alternate realities with little impact on the franchise’s broader plot.
It’s a fun premise, but one of What If’s most anticipated episodes was made without consulting the writer who came up with the concept to begin with, and the omission shows in the final product.
Episode 8 of Season 2, “What If... The Avengers Assembled in 1602?,” was inspired by the 1602 run of comics that explored the premise of Marvel superheroes existing in the Early Modern period. The series was written by Neil Gaiman, the bestselling author of Good Omens, The Sandman, and other iconic works.
However, when asked on his Tumblr page if he was approached about the What If adaptation, Gaiman had a simple answer: “I was never consulted.”
That isn’t surprising, considering the liberties What If took with Season 1’s big comic book tribute episode, “What If... Zombies?!” The episode was inspired by Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Zombies comics, but Kirkman wasn’t consulted for the episode or even the spinoff series that followed. In a 2021 tweet, Kirkman revealed he learned about the spinoff just like everyone else, and now it appears another high-profile Marvel writer has been given the same treatment.
Adaptations don’t need to be beholden to their source material, but Gaiman’s absence is unfortunately conspicuous. While 1602 presented a world where the characters faced issues suitable for the time, What If’s version of the 17th century just felt like Renaissance Faire Day at Stark Tower. Loki’s performing Shakespeare, Hela is Queen Elizabeth, and Steve Rogers is a highwayman, but there’s no depth to these alternate characters; they’re just reskins of characters we’ve seen before. What If was only interested in 1602’s aesthetics.
What If writer Ryan Little commented on this approach, telling ComicBook.com, “We filled this episode with 1602 iterations of characters from across the MCU to share with everyone that same fun Neil created when first exploring Elizabethan Marvel in his original run.” But this supposed fun took precedence over adapting the heart and soul of 1602, and a consultation with Gaiman could have been a first step toward replicating the feel of the series. There’s nothing wrong with an anthology series trying some one-off cosplay, but if you’re going to adapt memorable source material, why not do it properly?