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A Review Of Marvel's New Animated Series: 'What If...'

NOEL KING, HOST:

"What If...?" is Marvel's latest series for Disney Plus. It's an animated show that imagines what if your favorite superheroes had different life stories. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says this one is for the fans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's one of the first games comic book geeks like me learned to play from the moment we were old enough to dig into our first copies of "The Amazing Spider-Man" - the game of "What If...?"

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHAT IF...?")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Every universe is different.

DEGGANS: As in what if The Vision and Iron Man really had a no-holds-barred fight or Thanos turned out to be the good guy and Tony Stark wanted to kill half of humanity? See, it's fun when you really get going. But Marvel has supercharged that idea with its wonderful new animated series, "What If...?", based on a legendary comic book.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHAT IF...?")

JEFFREY WRIGHT: (As The Watcher) Reality is not a straight line. Every passing moment is a chance for a new offshoot, a new variation. In fact, there are more realities than you can possibly fathom - an infinite number of what-ifs.

DEGGANS: Jeffrey Wright voices The Watcher, a powerful alien who can see different universes where the lives of superheroes like Captain America and Black Panther may have turned out quite differently. Fifteen-year-old me would be bouncing off the walls by now. One story asks, what if ace government agent Peggy Carter had instead gotten the serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America during World War II? "Handmaid's Tale" alum Bradley Whitford plays a sexist military officer who rejects super soldier Peggy Carter.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHAT IF...?")

BRADLEY WHITFORD: (As Colonel John Flynn) Women aren't soldiers. Who are you?

HAYLEY ATWELL: (As Captain Carter) The name's Captain Carter.

DEGGANS: But the most poignant story comes in an episode asking, what if T'Challa, the Black Panther, had been kidnapped by aliens as a boy instead of Peter Quill and became Star-Lord from "The Guardians Of The Galaxy"? The result is a funny, rollicking adventure where T'Challa becomes a Robin Hood among the stars. He even turns his abductors, an intergalactic gang known as The Ravagers, into a close-knit family who are nevertheless a little slow to come to his rescue when armed guards try to arrest him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHAT IF...?")

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: (As T'Challa) A Ravager never flies solo. I said never flies solo.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As actor) Is that some kind of catch phrase?

BOSEMAN: (As T'Challa) You had me worried for a second.

DEGGANS: It's also kind of emotional hearing the voice of Chadwick Boseman, who died last year of colon cancer, in what was likely his last performance as T'Challa. "What If...?" is a canny move by Marvel, building on its concept of the multiverse explored in an earlier Disney Plus series, "Loki." It features the voices of actors from the big Marvel movies, so it feels like more than a low-rent knockoff, and it keeps new Marvel content coming on Disney Plus to discourage super fans from dropping the service. Best of all, "What If...?'s" imaginative and compelling stories examine exactly what makes these superheroes heroic. The message that true heroes can rise up in any life circumstance is one that comic book geeks everywhere can heartily approve of. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALAN SILVESTRI'S "THE AVENGERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.