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What If? REVIEW: MCU meets The Walking Dead in violent horror-fest

Marvel's WHAT IF...? S1E5: The "What If...Zombies?" episode was inspired by the wildly popular Marvel Zombies comics that started in 2005, that, like a fast-spreading virus, quickly spawned over 100 issues.

The first Marvel Zombies series was inspired in kind by the popularity of The Walking Dead comic (Marvel made the link even more obvious by having TWD creator Robert Kirkman himself write the first series), and the resurgence of zombie movies. But the name of the series is even an Easter egg itself, as it refers to a somewhat derogatory slang term for Marvel fans so obsessively loyal to Marvel Comics that they wouldn’t read any other publisher’s titles.

“What If…Zombies?” does not follow the virus origin from the Marvel Zombies comic, where the virus was brought into the world from another dimension by Magneto as a way of thinning the homo sapiens “herd.” Instead, this world’s version of the zombie virus came back to Earth with the original Ant-Man, who contracted it in the Quantum realm.

The Winter Soldier takes aim at a major, unexpected threat

Another difference from the comics is that the tv Marvel Zombies don’t talk. A relief, since all they ever talked about was how hungry they were and that they couldn't help themselves.

Has the Vision found a cure?

The narrative follows the events of Avengers: Infinity War, when Hulk/Bruce Banner is sent back to Earth to warn of the coming of Thanos. But in this alternate world, Banner finds a New York City infested with flesh-eating zombies. From this point on, it’s a brand new story, but following a familiar path of many zombie tales: the survivors stay alive as long as possible and try to find a cure. Until the end, that is, when the Infinity War narrative comes full circle. The sense of dread and inevitability is thick and oppressive in this episode, no matter how hopeful Peter Parker sounds. It’s one of the big reasons why I stopped watching The Walking Dead; zombie tales are damned depressing. Like many What If? tales and zombie tales in particular, the ending isn’t a happy one. However, there is a brief moment of humor early in the episode when Peter produces a “How to survive the zombie apocalypse” video.

A not-so-Happy Hogan helps with Peter's video

The quality of likenesses in the animated versions of the MCU actors varies wildly from episode to episode. Last episode, there was no doubt whatsoever that Doctor Strange was Benedict Cumberbatch; this episode, you’d be hard-pressed to identify any character from the neck up. However, the Vision is extremely well-done.

Peter makes a new friend a part of his ensemble

An impressive number of actors reprise their roles and provide their voices, all but Tom Holland and Chris Evans. Paul Rudd is credited as the voice of Scott Lang/Ant-Man, but you’d never know it; he sounds nothing like himself, ironically. And we get a surprise final appearance from Chadwick Boseman, whose final words as the Black Panther are: “In my culture, death is not the end.”

A zombie tale with zombie superheroes can’t help but be an entertaining and unpredictable story, and this episode delivers the action and several twists you won’t see coming. What If...? continues to be must-see tv.

The 9-episode first season of What If…? airs Wednesdays on Disney Plus

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