Maybe the weirdest thing about this week’s What if...? is that it’s technically based on an Avengers tie-in comic from 2012, Marvel’s The Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week. The comic took an immediate place in the lexicon of Marvel movie fans by pointing out a simple fact: Nick Fury is a very busy guy.
And it was exactly that comic that series creator A.C. Bradley wanted to give a What If...?-style spin to in the series third episode.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for episode 3 of What If...?, “What If... The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?”]
Before Disney Plus was even a twinkle in a Disney executive’s eye, Marvel Entertainment was planning much humbler cross-media connections for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: a television show following the agents of SHIELD, and, naturally, tie-in comics.
Written by Christopher Yost and Eric Pearson — who would later go on to help script Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Widow — with art from Luke Ross, Daniel HDR, Agustin Padilla, and Wellinton Alves, Fury’s Big Week was based on one subtle fact from the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man 2, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and the final scenes of Captain America: The First Avenger all happen in the same week.
In one week, Nick Fury and Agent Coulson hopped around the globe, pulling Captain America out of the ice, investigating a weirdly heavy hammer in New Mexico, and giving Tony Stark the tools he need to cure his palladium poisoning — all while Bruce Banner and the Abomination were tearing up Harlem.
“We knew early on we wanted to play with [Fury’s Big Week].” Bradley told Polygon over zoom. “Originally it was going to be almost a French farce, where everything just keeps falling apart.” But the idea really developed when she decided to zero in on Nick Fury himself, and find a new side of the unflappable SHIELD director.
“Let’s show [Nick Fury] having a crisis of faith, wondering whether or not he’s making the right decision,” Bradley said of her thought process. “If the Avengers Initiative is going to fail, well, how do we make it fail? We start killing off all the Avengers before they can rise. Once we had that, it was a matter of finding our favorite moments in those three movies and figuring out ways to twist them.”
In that way, “What If... The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” was conceived almost backwards, with the creative team deciding on an outcome before figuring out the one simple change in the Marvel movie timeline that would snowball into such a crisis. Figuring out what had changed meant figuring out the episode’s ultimate villain, one character who could do what Loki, Ultron, and Thanos couldn’t: kill all of the Avengers.
“We didn’t actually have a ‘What if?’ yet” Bradley told Polygon. “So the ‘What if?’ is ‘What if Hope Van Dyne became a SHIELD agent?’ And that could be an entire episode on its own. But then also this notion of She became a SHIELD agent because Fury convinces her and she passes away. Hank Pym — this actually makes sense for him. He wouldn’t have been able to reconnect with his daughter by this point in the timeline. The loss of her, after the loss of his wife, it would have driven him over the edge. So it all came together in a really nice way. It was a puzzle, but at the end of the day, the picture was worth all the struggle.”
And Hank didn’t even have to jump up anybody’s butt.