Thatdived for the first time on Wednesday with That the series is based on a beloved comic book series that started in the 70s, and it explores different timelines where iconic events turned out differently, in a multiverse reformed after the amazing events in
This anthology show was created and written by AC Bradley, whose previous work includes Guillermo del Toros Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia for Netflix, and directed by Bryan Andrews, who worked as a storyboard artist on Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack and , along with a lot of MCU movies including .
What if…? may dive into a bunch of different universes, but one being keeps an eye on events across the multiverse and delivers omniscient narrative — the other world. Adding this creature to dramatic vocal gravitas is acting, which you may know from and .
Watching Watcher and making sure all the multiverse madness fits into the cannon is executive producer Brad Winderbaum, a Production and Development Manager at Marvel Studios.
In a series of super-fast Zoom interviews prior to the show, I talked to Andrews, Bradley, Wright and Winderbaum about figuring out the right starting point, diving into Watcher’s long comic book history and recommendations for classic What If…? comics to read.
Here is a transcript of our conversations, easily edited for clarity.
Lead author AC Bradley and director Bryan Andrews
What if…? has a large scope. How do you get started with the kind of stories that resonate with people?
Andrews: It all started in the writing room, working with AC and Brad and just trying to figure out what we wanted to see. We started with what we thought would be fun to do instead of chasing an audience. We had to start with ourselves because we ourselves are fans. And then things just started to come up and take a life of their own. We say, “Oh, yes, we have to do that.” There just came some really great ideas, it was great. It was really fun.
Bradley: The reason I was attracted to this project was because it was not just writing a hero, it was writing them all. It was to find the character behind the famous silhouettes, look for where is the hero and the heart, where do they meet? So with a character like Captain Carter – with Peggy – it talked about who she is as a woman in the 1940s and how it would resonate then and today.
How did you decide to go with Captain Carter to the first episode? That episode is something special, and I think you could tell it?
Andrews: AC did a fantastic job with all of these things, and especially one. We felt like we wanted to start with something retro because I love the time period, I love the genre. But we would not necessarily just do something with Cap. But then AC was like “Peggy Carter gets the super soldier serum.” Everything started to stick together as soon as one thing was unlocked.
Bradley: When I was picked up for the pitch for the show, I was asked to ask another pilot – “What if Steve fell off the train and not Bucky?” So I came in with this whole elaborate pilot, put it to Kevin, he says, “I love it, it’s amazing.” We go to the author’s room. “No, you do not, because – we’re just trying to keep it a secret – we’ll actually focus the first episode on Peggy, where are we going from here?”
And the other part of it, my first day on the job, was that I came in, ready to go to the mattresses to make Lady Jane Thor. And I was told repeatedly by Brad Winterbottom, our amazing producer, that it’s not going to happen. And then he pulled me aside and said “Taika Waititi will do it. “
As long as it happened somewhere, were you happy?
Bradley: She was supposed to be alive in MCU, that was all I was interested in. What surprised me was that I was allowed to play with a strong woman right outside the bat. Often, as a female writer, you knock on the door and you fight battles to try to get people with color, women, different gender backgrounds, sexual identities in scripts. And I was very impressed that Marvel was open to exploration.
Jeffrey Wright, The Guardian’s Voice
Did you read Marvel comics when I was growing up?
Wright: A little. I was not so much a comic head, but I was always fascinated by the Marvel characters. There was a modern edge to the Marvel stuff that was cool.
I have become much more wise at Marvel through my son. I took him to his first Marvel movie like 10 years ago, he’s 19. He was born right into MCU’s cute place, and he’s a little grown up with them. In some ways, I see these characters, and perhaps even play this role, through his perspective. He’s the most passionate Marvel fan I know – Watcher’s passion borrows a bit from my son’s passion.
Do you remember the first time you saw Watcher because he’s an unusual looking character?
Yes he is. When they asked me to play Watcher, I went back to the 1963 Fantastic Four cartoon, where he first appears on the moon, in the middle of this battle between the political east and west – it’s a really fascinating first appearance. He is described as in the known universe, or something along those lines, and I was fascinated by the extent of his power.
If you come to MCU, he is a pretty interesting entry point for an actor in this space that is already well designed and landscaped; it is populated by so many intriguing characters and he comes in with a different kind of power. So yes, my first real introduction to who and what he was going back to the beginning, and then tracing him through.
Executive Producer Brad Winderbaum
Shall we see Captain Carter again after the first episode?
Winderbaum: She is an incredibly important character in What If…? When we had meetings with AC and with Brian and found out who these characters were and what roles they would play in the story, Peggy emerged as an incredibly important player in the overall narrative of the show.
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Want to learn more about Watcher? Like where he was before the multiverse was recreated?
You will learn more about Watcher; he is an impossibly strong character in MCU and in the comics. We had many conversations about what the Watcher is, not just who he is, but what he is metaphysical. And we thought of him as one five-dimensional being who stands outside of time and reality in a way that we can hardly perceive.
Is he the most powerful creature we’ve seen so far in MCU?
I think it can be discussed, yes, he is.
He promises he will not interfere. But in the comics, he does it sometimes. Could we see this?
When we started developing the show, we realized that it’s fundamental to Watcher that he says he does not want to interfere. He shows up and stands in the background when things go horribly wrong in the story. And he’s often an indicator of the other characters that it’s gone really bad – one of my favorite things about Watcher in the comics is that when he shows up, you realize “Oh god, now we’re in the middle of a true Marvel event that actually matters to hell. “
We have a lot more terrain to explore with the character and we’re just introducing him to this series for the first time, but there’s definitely an exciting world to explore with him.
Then you have a special favorite What if …? comics? I love
What if Gwen Stacy had lived? is definitely a highlight. The first What if …? cartoon I downloaded was What if Danny Ketch’s sister became Ghost Rider? instead of him, and that was my entrance to the Ghost Rider comics
And the first time itand became the Mighty Thor was in a What if …? cartoon, which then became part of the main continuity of the incredibly written . There is a lot of inspiration to be gleaned from these comics.
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