Written by David Holland
Much like the first episode of “What If…”, this week we are revisiting the greatest hits of Phase 1. In 2008 Marvel launched an incredibly ambitious project. In the post-credits scene of “Iron Man”, Nick Fury teases the existence of the “Avengers”, ultimately culminating in the film of the same name. The timeline in the MCU is always a bit fuzzy, but the comic tie-in “Fury’s Big Week” reminds us that the events of “Iron Man 2”, “Thor” and Hulk’s initial return to the United States all happen within a few days of each other. This episode asks: “What if that week went horribly wrong?”
In our MCU, Tony Stark gets a temporary treatment for his paladium poisoning before discovering the mystery element that would heal him. In this episode, that treatment kills Stark. That’s one Avenger down. When Romanoff gets blamed, she is forced on the run. That’s two. The next day a powerless Thor tries to retrieve his hammer, but is killed by an arrow. Clint Barton, the obvious suspect, is arrested and then dies mysteriously shortly after. That’s three and four. Within the first ten minutes of the episode, three would-be Avengers are dead and one is a fugitive.
Romanoff tracks down Betty Ross (remember her?) and, by happy accident, finds Bruce Banner. Fury, meanwhile, is confronted by Loki. The god of mischief declares that Earth will be taken in retribution for the death of Thor, crown prince of Asgard. Because if there’s one thing we know Loki would be mad about, it’s Thor dying.
While Loki uses the Casket of Ancient Winters to go full Mister Freeze, Hulk is killed in the course of a fight with Thunderbolt Ross’s forces. This comes as a particular surprise since Hulk is famously impossible to kill, at least physically. Fury negotiates time to find Thor’s killer, and Romanoff goes hunting. Before she can tell Fury the truth, she is killed by an apparently invisible assassin.
At last, the truth comes out: Hank Pym is behind the Avengers’ deaths. In this universe, Hope van Dyne was an agent of SHIELD and died in the line of duty. Vengeance over his daughter’s death drove Pym to murder the potential Avengers recruits. Desperation makes Fury work with Loki to stop the wayward Ant Man. Loki, however, isn’t finished. After stopping Pym, he declares himself King of the World. Of course, Fury isn’t one to just give up the planet.
It’s cool to see “What If” go back and remind us of the simpler days of Phase 1. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the events of “Captain Marvel” or Hank Pym’s days as Ant Man had already happened by the time “Iron Man” took place. Fury gets an opportunity to shine in this episode, reminding us that he is incredibly resourceful, especially with the backing of all of SHIELD. He knows who he prefers to trust – Romanoff, Barton, Coulson – but in a pinch he will make necessary alliances such as the one with Loki. This episode is also a great reminder that Hank Pym is a few Cocoa Puffs short of a full box. That doesn’t always come through in the MCU, so it’s nice to see it expressed in this universe.
If you enjoy this article and would like to support this writer, please check out our “Support a Writer” tier over on our Patreon page and select David.Holland.
Also please consider joining our Discord channel, to discuss this article and more.