Marvel’s What If…? is back! Over two years has passed since the series last streamed a new episode. But now Disney+ is spoiling us with nine brand new episodes across nine days. Today the first of those episodes, “What If… Nebula Joined the Nova Corps?”, makes its debut.
The premise is simple, What If…? continues to give us glimpses in to alternate versions of the MCU. Versions which vary only slightly to that we’ve seen before. But which offer up fascinating stories spotlighting lesser known or fan-favourite characters from across the franchise. As the title suggests, this episode focusses on Nebula who is once again voiced by the very capable Karen Gillan. In this version of reality Ronan the Accuser betrayed and killed Thanos, leaving Nebula afloat in space awaiting her inevitable fate. Rescued by the Nova Corps and taken under the wing of Nova Prime, voiced here by Julianne Grossman and not Glenn Close, she is eventually drafted to become a member of the Corps. When Ronan attacks Xandar the Nova Corps activate their planetary shield. A barrier which is set to stay active for 50 years allowing ship to approach the planet. Unfortunately the shield has bathed the planet in darkness, leaving Xandar as a Blade Runner-like location which the Corps now protects.
From there we pick up with Nebula as she is sent on a last-chance mission from Nova Prime to solve the murder of a very familiar face. We instantly enter familiar territory as Nebula comes across a string of characters from the MCU who happen to have found themselves trapped on Xandar. In quick succession we meet Michael Rooker as Yondu, Seth Green as Howard the Duck, Taika Waitti as Korg, and Peter Serafinowicz as Garthan Saal. Then there’s the first appearance of Jude Law as Yon-Rogg, last seen inhabiting the role in 2019’s Captain Marvel. Each serves as a nice reminder that this isn’t the MCU as we know it.
The thrust of the episode finds Nebula traversing this dystopian future-like world. Uncovering a sinister plot which threatens to overthrow the power of the Nova Corps and its leader. It’s cool to see the MCU exploring a dark more noir sci-fi style of story. There are a couple of great twists which are well buried rather than heavily signposted. With season 1 it felt like What If…? struggled to maintain a level of engagement from the audience. But if this episode is anything to go by then season is a marked improvement in the quality of the writing.
The animation style remains mostly in tact from season 1. The cell shading style really works with the Blade Runner-like appearance of Xandar. Its rainy alleyways and neon lights all stand out beautifully. It adds a much more intoxicating aesthetic to a series which spent much of its first season on Earth.
The return of Marvel’s What If…? is as engrossing as it is beautiful. This noir science-fiction detective thriller makes for a brilliant season premiere and hopefully signifies a strong season which lies ahead.