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'Marvel’s What If…?' has a solid reason for leaving X-Men & Fantastic Four out of the mix…for now

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Aug 18, 2021, 9:40 PM EDT

The MCU mix-ups continue apace on the small screen at Disney+ this week, as Marvel’s What If…? explores a body-swapping tale that finds a not-yet king T’Challa (in the late Chadwick Boseman’s final Marvel performance) journeying the Universe as a Star-Lord stand-in for Peter Quill.

T'Challa and more familiar characters from the MCU movies — most of them voiced by their original actors — are due for some seriously skewed destinies as the remainder of the animated series’ nine-episode debut season plays out. But one set of Marvel heroes we won’t be seeing are those who’ve recently ventured into the Disney-owned fold from their former home at Fox.

From the X-Men to the Fantastic Four to Deadpool, the previosuly Fox-owned side of the Marvel Universe isn’t part of the Season 1 jumble for What If…?, though the reason they’re still sitting on the sidelines might not be what you think. As What If…? executive producer Brad Winderbaum explained recently to Collider, it’s not about tying up loose ends when it comes to franchise rights; it’s just that none of those characters has yet shown up in any of the 23 movies that make up Marvel’s Infinity Saga.

“We had very few parameters when we were ideating the show,” explained Winderbaum, “but that was certainly one of them: We wanted to make sure that the characters were firmly rooted in the MCU. It had nothing to do with rights, nothing to do with the future stories we wanted to tell. It had everything to do with what What If…? is, which is a spin on established storylines, so we looked primarily at the Infinity Saga.”

That explains why we’ve seen Peggy Carter pick up Captain America’s shield, as well as why we won’t be seeing — at least not yet — Deadpool dancing around in Baby Groot’s leafy little body (just as an off-the-cuff example). But it doesn’t mean it’s not at least a theoretical possibility for the show’s already green-lit second season — or, if the time's right, in seasons farther in the future. From the moment a character enters MCU screen lore, explained Winderbaum, it becomes fair game for the What if…? treatment: “Once it’s there, we get to make it,” he said.

What If…? hasn’t just expanded the alt-reality idea of what an MCU hero could be; it’s also expanding the possibilities for Marvel’s mighty toy merchandising arm. After all, what Marvel movie fan wouldn’t want to snap up a collectible T’Challa in Star-Lord’s iconic helmet?

Those kinds of merchandising possibilities, said Winderbaum, were “not on our mind when we first conceived it, although very quickly we realized that it would be very cool.” Ever ready to find the next “hot toy,” he added, Marvel’s higher-ups were “over the moon” when they realized the series’ potential to extend its fresh character spin all the way to the toys themselves.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to playing around in the oversized MCU sandbox, and Marvel's What If…? is only getting started. Catch T’Challa in full Guardians of the Galaxy mode with Episode 2, which premieres today on Disney+.