‘What If…?’ returns to Disney+ for a much delayed second season, and the first episode is a fantastic start to the series, exploring what would happen if Nebula joined the Nova Corps from the ‘Guardian of the Galaxy’ films. It’s a compelling proposition, especially as the Nebula the audiences are familiar with would never join the equivalent of space cops.
What follows is a half-hour ride as audiences explore Xander like they’ve never seen it before, dark and under siege. Ronan the Accuser still wants to wipe the planet off the galactic map, but there is a planetary shield to stop him. Nebula must follow a case in this new world, and prevent the shield from being lowered.
The episode is very much aiming to be a condensed noir thriller, with the cynical cop Nebula exploring a rundown city attempting to solve crime with the help of dubious characters and unlikely betrayals. While this episode does have a moment that seems a bit forced to fit the tropes of a noir thriller, it largely succeeds at this.
It takes Nebula on a long journey throughout the planet and even finds her working briefly with Yon Rogg, a surprising appearance and one made even more impactful as Jude Law returns to voice. It makes complete sense given his Kree species. His defection to Ronan is less surprising, but it leads to an enjoyable action sequence in the Nova Corps headquarters.
Another pair of surprises was Howard the Duck and Korg (to which Taika Waititi returns to voice), who also have substantial roles running a bar and illicit weapons store on the planet. Their inclusion speaks to what makes this series so fun, it gives the ability for the writers to mix and match different characters based on what they think would be interesting.
There is a moment that seems somewhat contrived, where Nova Prime reveals she has used Nebula’s ability to interface with various computer ports to open the shieldgate as she’s in league with Ronan, but Nebula counters with the fact that she anticipated this doublecross, and so doublecrosses her doublecrosser and actually tricked Nova Prime into destroying Ronan. It ties in with the somewhat abrupt way the Ronan portion of the episode wraps up, but these episodes are only half an hour long.
Nebula confronts Nova Prime and fights her, on the tip of a starship and the Nova Corps building, a very symbolic and satisfying way for Nova Prime to end, in that universe at least. This episode is a strong start to season two and shows the success the series can have when it operates in different genres than what the Marvel Cinematic Universe would usually.