Saturday, September 28, 2019

Captain America's Multiversal Madness

I don’t know about anyone else, but the first time I saw Avengers: Endgame in theaters, I was absolutely blown away. I loved the exploration of the characters’ trauma following Thanos’ victory. A lot of people have made a big deal about the movie feeling plot-less after Thanos’ first death, but that was not an issue for me; the movie has no driving force at that moment because the heroes have no driving force beyond trying to recover from what had happened. Not to belabor the point, I enjoyed every aspect of the movie. The shock value (Cap wielding Mjolnir, the A-Force sequence, and the like) wore off for the second viewing, but it is still enjoyable on repeat viewing.

And then Captain America got his “happy ending” at the very end, and my mind was blown with the possibilities.

That’s where I want to go in this article: talk about the alternate reality created by Steve Rogers’ decision to go back to 1945, right after his presumed death, and create a new life in the past with Peggy Carter. Frankly, I think this alternate reality is the most interesting of the 6 (see below) created by the movie, and it would be a fantastic basis for a Disney+ series in the future.

Alternate Realities Created by Avengers: Endgame:
AR 2018- created by Barton testing the time travel and taking his son’s baseball glove
AR 2014- the one where Thanos jumps ahead to the main universe and gets snapped
AR 2010- Rocket and Thor mess with the events of Thor: The Dark World
AR 2008- the Avengers play with The Avengers
AR 1970- Steve and Tony infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D.
AR 1945- Steve’s “happily ever after”

Before getting into what’s different, there’s one myth that needs to be dispelled:

Myth:  Peggy’s Main Universe Children are Steve’s

A while back, Anthony and Joe Russo made the comment that they always envisioned Peggy’s 2 children being hers with Steve. However, their comments after the fact are not canon, and I flat-out disagree with them on this point. While it is possible that she might have had twins after Steve’s “death” who were conceived before that final mission, that is the only way this is possible given the rules of time travel established in the MCU. And even this does not fit with the established canon, because Peggy Carter does not have children and is not pregnant in Agent Carter, which goes through 1947 in the main universe timeline. So Peggy and Steve in the main MCU timeline do not have kids. And Steve going back in time does not change that.

Professor Hulk explains this:

“Time doesn’t work that way. Changing the past doesn’t change the future…. If you travel to the past, that past becomes your future and your former present becomes the past which can’t now be changed by your new future.”

Steve’s past is the main continuity we have been following for 23 movies, 3 ABC shows, 6 Netflix shows, and 2 shows on Hulu and Freeform. Steve going back in time cannot change any of this (and it would completely alter the events of Agent Carter at a minimum). So Peggy and Steve having children is something in the alternate universe, NOT in the main MCU continuity!

This is a long way of making the general point that when Steve goes back in time, he and Peggy do not grow old together within the main universe. It’s an alternate reality. And I think that alternate reality would look vastly different from the main universe.

Technological Advances

The concept for this is borrowed in part from the book series 1632 by Eric Flint (available on Kindle). The premise for that series is that in 2000, the fictional town of Grantville, West Virginia, gets pulled back in time and dropped in 1632 Germany. The series follows the events of this new timeline as the “uptimers” (people from 2000) adapt to the new conditions and learn to modify the technology with which they are familiar and put it to use during the middle of the Thirty Years’ War. Some technologies can be adapted to the technology of the time (along with the knowledge and resources from the future), while other things remain impossible. For example, they are able to develop airplanes in 1633, but not modern jet airplanes. Nineteenth-century ironclad ships are possible, but submarines are beyond their capacity for much longer.

This forms the basis for how I think the technology in this alternate universe would change after Steve’s arrival in 1945: some modern technology could be adapted, but it would be dependent on the technology of the time and the knowledge that Steve brought back with him.

As a caveat, Steve Rogers is not an engineer or a scientist in the MCU, so he would not be able to reverse-engineer a quinjet or smartphone by himself. However, that’s not to say that his presence would not have an impact. On the contrary, I think that Steve’s well-documented talent (as an artist), coupled with his close friendship with Howard Stark, would result in a number of major technological advances well in advance of when they happened in the main universe.

First, I think Howard would develop an efficient, working ARC reactor during his own lifetime – maybe by 1950. The technology was originally developed by Howard Stark and Anton Vanko in 1966; the reactor itself is well within Howard’s ability. Tony’s major innovation was to miniaturize it, which increased its efficiency. Given that Tony was able to build his Mark I ARC reactor in the Afghan cave, Howard would probably be able to build his own miniature ARC reactor in a lab. I suspect the reason he never did was because it didn’t occur to him that miniaturizing the technology would make it more energy-efficient. The major contribution I see Steve making in this regard is to tell Howard that it’s possible and how important it was.

Howard may still be unable to synthesize the element Tony used in his later ARC reactors, but I think there’s a good chance he could. He first discovered, studied, and diagramed the element through his work with the Tesseract, which was found shortly after Steve’s disappearance (probably 1945). Starting to work on the ARC reactor and its energy source earlier (and having the efficient miniature ARC reactor) might enable Howard to synthesize the element during his own lifetime. If not, he could adapt Dr. Zola’s machine for capturing Tesseract energy to create “super-charged palladium” as an alternate fuel to power his ARC reactors.

Second, Steve’s memory and drawing ability, coupled with Howard’s engineering knowledge, makes it possible that Howard could reverse-engineer some modern technology (the quinjet and helicarrier, for example) based solely on Steve’s memory of their design and the knowledge that they are possible. Captain Marvel implies that the quinjet is the fifth generation of that particular design, since the jet she and Fury use is a “quadjet.” If we guess that the quadjet was a prototype in 1995 and the quinjet had been in service for several years in 2012, that leaves about a 10-year gap between generations. Working backward, the first-generation “unijet” would have been developed around 1965. Quinjets combine helicopter and airplane technology, both of which are available by this time (the first helicopter was built in 1936), so it would be possible for Howard Stark to design a working “unijet” much sooner than the 1960s.

Steve’s presence may not result in the miniaturization revolution that made a lot of modern technology possible; that is well beyond his ability. Consequently, it is obvious that not everything would be within their collective ability to reverse-engineer. However, it is certain that technology would develop differently in this timeline than the original one.

A third contribution Steve’s presence in the past could make is in the Pym Particles he used to travel back. Although S.H.I.E.L.D. failed to synthesize the Pym Particle on its own in 1989, access to the Particles themselves, Steve’s time-travel suit, and anything Steve remembers from Hank Pym’s lab in 1970 would at least get Howard started on trying to synthesize his own. There’s no guarantee of success (or when that success might occur), but it’s still a possibility.

Future Knowledge

Ultimately, whatever specific advances in technology Steve’s presence in the past facilitates would pale in comparison to the impact of his future knowledge on future events. However, this comes with a caveat.

Steve’s very presence in the past will change subsequent events in subtle (or drastic) ways from that moment onward. Consequently, Steve couldn’t just use his future knowledge to play the stock market (as suggested in Austin Powers): his own investments themselves would change the overall performance of those stocks! Likewise, knowing about the Korean War, Vietnam War, 9-11, and the like would not necessarily enable Steve to stop those events from happening; Vietnam and 9-11 in particular are so far into the future that they might never even occur in this timeline. Even if Steve did absolutely nothing to alter future events, his mere presence in the past would alter the course of Peggy’s life, her main universe husband’s life, and eliminate her main universe children from the timeline entirely. This is another reason that it would be pointless for Steve to sit on the sideline for 70 years, if he even could while knowing that Bucky is being used against his will as a covert Hydra assassin!

However, Steve’s knowledge of both past events and the possible future would allow him to make some major changes to this new timeline.

First, Bucky would never become a brainwashed Hydra assassin. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agent Carter season 1 imply that Zola was not able to do his work on Bucky until well after the war was over, when he was finally reinstated by S.H.I.E.L.D. and after sharing a prison cell with Dr. Faustus for a while and learning his brainwashing techniques. By the time this could have happened in the new timeline, I expect Steve to have recruited a group of the Howling Commandos to search through East Germany and the Soviet Union to find and rescue Bucky. After they rescue him, Howard probably builds him a new mechanical arm.

Before leaving Arnim Zola, we also need to cover that elephant in the room:  Hydra’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. Given Steve’s knowledge of how it happened (so helpfully given to him by Zola himself), Steve might be able to prevent that branch of Hydra from infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. at its formation – or at least make an attempt. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed that Hydra is much larger than the S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltration, and the group outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. would probably survive long after the war, but Hydra would not be able to suborn S.H.I.E.L.D. from the inside in the same way. Stopping it would be as easy as convincing Howard that whatever benefits he might receive from recruiting Hydra scientists would not be worth the eventual price.

Steve’s knowledge of other “superheroes” (or “gifted” individuals) would also play in here, though not in the way you would think. Most of the heroes who have appeared in the MCU to-date were born well after 1945, so they probably would never exist in this universe. There are four exceptions to this.

The first is Hank Pym, whose age isn’t specified, though Michael Douglas was born in 1944 and we can use that as a guide. Hank would only have been an infant at this time, so his life would take a drastically different track simply because of Steve’s presence. It is possible that at some point down the line Hank discovers the Pym Particle in this timeline (assuming that Howard is unable to reverse-engineer it first from Steve’s samples); it’s also possible that it happens sooner than in the main universe, or even that it never happens at all.

The second is Thor, who is around 1450 years old in 1945. However, we aren’t told about any visits Thor makes to earth before 2011, so he may not have any impact on this alternate timeline. Of course, I suppose Steve could just walk out into a field somewhere and shout “Thor” a few dozen times, or call out for Heimdall to open the Bifrost, or even just summon Mjolnir to himself (that would attract some attention!). Any of those events could bring Asgard in general and Thor in particular into the story decades before they factor into the main MCU.

The third hero is the Ancient One. Given that the Avengers know the location of the New York Sanctum (which probably has never moved) and that the Ancient One is several hundred years old, she would still be the leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts at this time. In fact, since the magic users seem capable of recognizing people who are from a different reality (such as both Frigga and the Ancient One in Avengers: Endgame), she might even go to investigate Steve once he appeared in 1945. If Steve did form a 1945 version of the Avengers in this reality, I would expect to see the Ancient One involved, even if she only sends another Master of the Mystic Arts to join the team.

The fourth and final hero who fits in this category is T’Chaka. Like Hank Pym, his age is never confirmed, but the actor, John Kani, was born in 1942, making him 3 years old in 1945. Likely T’Chaka’s father (Azzuri in the comics) is still the Black Panther and King of Wakanda after World War II. Steve’s presence in 1945 might not convince King Azzuri to open Wakanda’s borders the way that T’Challa did in 2018, but Steve’s knowledge of Wakanda, the Black Panther, and the vibranium mound could prove to be enough to convince King Azzuri to at least give them some assistance. If nothing else, Steve needs some more vibranium to make a replacement shield!

Finally, Steve knows that the biggest and most dangerous threat to the future of the Earth is going to come from space. He knows that space travel is possible. He’s seen and been inside space ships. I expect that, knowing all of this, Howard would jumpstart a S.H.I.E.L.D. space program as soon as possible. In our timeline, the first manned mission to the moon took place in 1969; the first object from Earth to land on the moon was a Soviet craft in 1959.  Most of the necessary technology already existed in 1945 (it was used to bomb Europe), so it would not be farfetched to think of a Tesseract-possessing S.H.I.E.L.D. sending a manned mission to the moon by 1954 and working to maintain a presence both in near-Earth orbit and on the moon thereafter. Such ships might even be powered by a version of the ARC reactor developed by Howard Stark.


I think this alternate reality, in which Steve goes back in time to 1945 and grows old with Peggy, needs to be explored in some form. There are so many ways in which this universe could differ from the original universe. Perhaps Captain America, Black Panther (Azzuri), Peggy Carter, Bucky, Thor, and the Ancient One form a version of the Avengers in 1950 to stop a KGB/Hydra attempt at reverse-engineering the Super-Soldier Serum. Perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D. creates a S.W.O.R.D. branch in 1960 in response to a threatened Kree invasion, leading to a run-in with the Inhumans on Attilan. Perhaps in 1970, Steve and Peggy’s children (who inherited part of Steve’s Serum) form their own Avengers team with Ant-Man (Hank Pym) to stop Leviathan from taking the Cold War hot. The possibilities are limitless for where this alternate reality could go.

Personally, I think this would work best as an animated series on Disney+, along the same lines of the Marvel What If series. A series would allow for more long-form storytelling, with each season jumping ahead a couple years (even a decade perhaps) to explore this reality as it progresses. Animation also gives them the opportunity to work in much crazier stories than are feasible in a live-action series (even with the budgets that Disney is giving the live-action series).

Do you think Marvel should develop an animated series set in this alternate timeline? What do you think this world would look like under the influence of Steve’s future knowledge?  How different do you think it would be in present-day? I would love to read what you think in the comments!

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