Let’s Talk about What If…? Episode 1-5
I had a fire a few years ago, and smoke damage ruined my entire comic book collection.
That was only the smaller tragedy, as I lost my library as well. For a writer, that’s a devastating feeling.
The comic book I lamented the most – other than the signed stuff I’ve been sent over the years – was a hardcover of Marvel Zombies.
This story spins off from an idea in Ultimate Fantastic Four. In one parallel Marvel universe, superheroes have turned into zombies.
Suffice to say, this premise took the comic book world by storm, aided by the fact that The Walking Dead’s creator, Robert Kirkman, wrote the book.
More than 15 years later, the MCU canonizes this idea by telling a similar story.
Let’s talk about What If…? episode 1-5, the horror movie where all your favorite characters die!
As always, I’ll cover some spoilers. So please don’t read until you’ve finished the episode.
Marvel Zombies: A Clever Start
Something I’ve admired about the What If…? shows thus far is their starting points.
The show’s producers have targeted seminal events from Marvel movies and then spun them on their heads.
That’s especially true this time, as Bruce Banner once again crashes through the staircase of Dr. Strange’s residence, the Sanctum Santorum.
This time, nobody is there to greet him. Confused, he walks out onto the streets of Greenwich Village, only to notice a 28 Days Later scenario.
Nobody is walking on the streets of New York. However, alien invaders are still on their way. Moments later, Maw and Obsidian arrive right on queue.
The good Dr. Banner catches a break when Avengers show up to beat up the baddies. But, alas, they go too far when they start – you guessed it – devouring their foes!
Welcome to the corner of the MCU where zombies plague society! A quick backstory reveals that, like everything else, it’s Ant-Man’s fault.
Actually, I’m not referencing the Scott Lang character, though. Instead, for the second time in five episodes, Hank Pym is the source of all problems.
Pym tries to retrieve his wife, Janet van Dyne. However, in this universe, bacteria have infected her, turning Hope’s mother into a zombie.
Janet eats Hanks, they both go through the portal and eat Scott, and Hope’s left on her own.
This turn of events allows Hope to show up and save the day for Bruce Banner, though.
In an unlikely turn of events, her wasp swarm kills Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Wong, Obsidian, and Maw.
This is like Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, only taken to the nth degree.
I should mention that Banner also gets an assist from Dr. Strange’s Cape, which has several great bits in this episode.
The Remaining Avengers
Marvel’s zombie stories have followed the same trajectory as the What If…? comics.
The bad guys, who are usually good guys, vastly outnumber/overpower the good guys, who aren’t the usual good guys.
In this story, the core Avengers of Black Widow, Captain America, Iron Man, and Hawkeye respond to the zombie outbreak first. Black Panther also joins them.
The structure here puts a lot of thought into the arching story of Avengers: Infinity War, which is the backdrop for this piece.
Thor wouldn’t have been available because he was on a ship in outer space and was busy watching Loki die. Meanwhile, Black Panther had only recently joined the team.
This team falls quickly, which turns the tide heavily in favor of the zombies.
The resistance group includes Peter Parker, who web-slings Dr. Banner to their temporary headquarters.
Parker shows him a hilarious, VERY Zombieland video about how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, and my heart is full of joy.
Also surviving (thus far) are Bucky Barnes, Sharon “Not the Power Broker” Carter, Kurt from X-Con Security, Happy Hogan, and General Okoye.
The Dora Milaje leader has received a signal that hints at a cure to zombieism. So, the team sets out to save the world.
If you’ve ever watched literally any horror movie, you recognize how ill-fated this trip is, at least for most of them.
Without discussing specifics, the group gets whittled down during a subway journey.
Someone who has never watched a horror movie has the team split up. Rookie mistake.
Happy wins the prize for most entertaining gag, while The Winter Soldier gets off the best quip.
This segment does a lovely job of interspersing humor and horror. It’s probably the best job tone-wise since Ready or Not.
After the train segment, the episode reveals some other surviving Avengers, including Vision, whose very nature makes him safe from zombies.
The shocker is that Black Panther has survived as well. So yes, this means that Chadwick Boseman’s final appearance occurs here rather than in episode 2!
[Editor’s Note: Unless he comes back in one of the remaining season 1 episodes! – String Theory Board Kap]
That glorious, unexpected bonus plays harshly against the inevitable betrayal that occurs here.
One of the Avengers is working at cross purposes to the rest. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, I stress that you should stop reading.
Still here? Then yes, it’s true. The synthetic man has employed his non-human logic differently.
The Scarlet Witch has turned.
So, Vision lures survivors to this camp so that he can feed them to the love of his life. It’d be romantic if not for the atrocity and crimes against nature.
When the Avengers realize what has happened, a battle ensues between the various survivors – including the head of Scott Lang! – and Wanda Maximoff.
You may recall that the MCU has established that Wanda is arguably the most powerful of all Avengers. It’s either her or Captain Marvel.
This battle requires a noble sacrifice, the second of the episode, as Green Battles Red.
Before that, Vision confesses his sin and atones by pulling out his Mind Stone and giving it up to the survivors.
They flee as the fight escalates outside the building. Meanwhile, Peter Parker winds up as the owner of the Mind Stone.
That’s vital information due to the episode’s surprise ending, one that perfectly fits with how the story unfolds.
As the remaining Avengers fly away, the camera cuts to the recently arrived Thanos (!!!). He’s a zombie…and has assembled five out of six Infinity Stones.
Peter Parker’s in trouble.
Marvel Zombies: Final Thoughts
This episode is right in my wheelhouse. I love action-horror movies like 28 Days Later. I’m an even bigger fan of horror comedies like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
I also already acknowledged that I adore the Marvel Zombies storyline, and I say that as someone who doesn’t particularly like the collective works of Robert Kirkman.
So, as long as Marvel didn’t screw this episode up, I was always going to love it…And I did!
What If… Zombies!? tells an excellent story deftly, and it ends on the perfect ending. Moreover, the series has set up a sequel that will be thrilling to watch.
You shouldn’t expect that the Thanos battle will be the last one, either. Like zombies themselves, Marvel Zombie stories have proven impossible to kill.