This week, Marvel Studios and Disney+ released the first episode of What If…?, a new animated spin-off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that explores alternate realities that differ from the movies in key ways. In the first episode, a minor change to canonical events leads to Steve Rogers being shot before he can receive the super-soldier serum that turns him into Captain America during World War II, leaving British intelligence agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, in both the cartoon and the movies) as the only viable option to become the world’s first super-soldier. Freshly imbued with super-strength, Peggy decides to jump headfirst into the fight against the Red Skull and Hydra as Captain Carter, and quickly establishes herself as a hero who might actually be better and cooler and more fun to watch than Chris Evans’ Captain America in the movies.
Peggy was always a great character, even before the animated series made her a superhero, so one of the best things about What If…? is that it has given her and Atwell another chance to be in the spotlight. But rather than letting this effort stand on its own as a fun—and very, very well-deserved—tribute to a pair of unsung MCU heroes (both the character and her actor), the heavy hand of Marvel Studios is in danger of making a mess of it. Criticism bubbled up this past weekend, before What If…? had even premiered, when the official Captain America Twitter account replaced its bio and banner image with What If…? plugs, with even the display name of the account becoming “Captain Carter.” While obviously just a promotional move, as the whole Captain America Twitter account is, a number of fans were offended by the fact that imagery related to Peggy Carter—a white woman—replaced imagery related to Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, who officially became the new Captain America (and the face of the Captain America Twitter account) at the end of Disney+’s The Falcon And The Winter Soldier.
Like most Twitter drama, it was a lot of noise made about something that doesn’t really matter, but there is something to be said for the fact that Marvel jumped at the chance to replace a Black man with a white woman in its promotional materials. They’re promoting different things, and Sam Wilson isn’t particularly relevant to what Marvel needs from the news cycle right now, but the concern is that it implies that there’s some impermanence to Sam Wilson’s Captain America or that he won’t be afforded the same level of attention and respect that Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers got when he was Captain America. It’s not really about Twitter; it’s about assuming the worst and suspecting that Marvel Studios will chicken out of making a Black man the real new Captain America. (On a similar note, people have also been quick to point out that the Guardians Of The Galaxy Twitter page hasn’t made a similar change to swap in Chadwick Boseman’s version of Star-Lord, who will debut in the next What If…? episode.)
The Falcon And The Winter Soldier somewhat whiffed its depiction of the new Captain America a little bit already, sticking him in a story that failed to live up to the excellent performances that Mackie and co-star Sebastian Stan gave, but that still doesn’t mean there’s any reason to be concerned. A fourth Captain America movie is in the works, one that will presumably focus on Sam, and Marvel will hopefully do the right thing and update the Twitter account again at some point (Peggy is pointedly not called Captain America). The company probably didn’t even consider that this might be a problem, which, yes, is part of the problem, but it seems like this is all just a side effect of Marvel’s other concern: It doesn’t have enough confidence in What If…? as a show or Captain Carter as a character.
Earlier this month, the creators of What If…? coyly teased that it’s “no coincidence” that the show is premiering after Loki, which ended with a couple of Lokis witnessing the unchecked expansion of the multiverse and infinite timelines splitting off into infinite other timelines. The implication was that What If…? is MCU canon, just not canon for the main universe that the MCU takes place in. These are real alternate universes that exist alongside what happens in the movies, not one-off experiments that don’t matter—well, they don’t matter, because they’re alternate universes, but Loki plays with other timelines and the next Doctor Strange movie does have Multiverse Of Madness in its name. So they kind of do matter, and Marvel has seemed increasingly desperate to convince everyone of that. Shortly after that “no coincidence” statement, What If…? writer AC Bradley explicitly told IGN that, yes, this is the MCU multiverse we’re talking about. These are canonical Marvel Cinematic Universe stories, just not for the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’ve seen pre-Loki.
In other words, Marvel wants to make sure that people consider What If…? with the same legitimacy that they’ve given to Loki and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and even Avengers: Endgame, but it’s hitting the “please pay attention!” button so hard that it’s distracting from the stuff that’s actually worth paying attention to—like Captain Carter, whose appearance in the MCU is a long-awaited payoff to years of fan-service teases. A version of her, who really was an alternate-universe Captain America, first debuted in the Marvel Puzzle Quest mobile game years ago, quickly becoming a fan favorite and later cameoing in some comics like Exiles, where she met a team of timeline-hopping heroes who didn’t fit in with the rest of the main Marvel universe. That was all after Atwell’s Peggy Carter made a big enough impact on Captain America: The First Avenger that she got her own very good spin-off show on ABC.
The What If…? creators have already teased that they’re planning to bring back Captain Carter in the next season of What If…? and there are rumors that she might show up in Doctor Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness. Also, her episode of What If…? is a ton of fun. The character is great and is clearly already well taken care of; Marvel just needs to stop insisting that she and her show are a big deal and just let them naturally become one. And we spent a whole season of a TV show establishing why Sam Wilson deserves to be Captain America, so let him have the damn Twitter account. Captain Carter should have one of her own at the very least.