Warning: SPOILERS for What If…? episode 2.
Nebula (Karen Gillan) appears in Marvel’s What If..? episode 2 titled “What If T’Challa Becomes A Star-Lord,” but she looks significantly different from her live-action counterpart — why? Marvel Studios officially dabbles in animation with its latest Disney+ series. Based on the comic books from the same name, What If…? imagines what the MCU would’ve been like if one minor detail in the Infinity Saga is changed.
The animated series kicked off with pondering on the possibility of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) taking the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers and becoming Captain Carter. What If…? episode 2, on the other hand, visualizes an alternate reality where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the persona of Star-Lord and not Peter Quill. Aside from the narrative jumping point which was essentially lifted from the intro of Guardians of the Galaxy, the outing takes several twists and turns, with various other unexpected characters partaking in the narrative. That includes the involvement of Nebula, who sets up the Wakandan Prince and the rest of Yondu’s (Michael Rooker) Ravager clan for a mission to retrieve the Embers of Genesis from the Collector (Benicio del Toro).
Interestingly, however, Nebula looks very different from her usual MCU appearance. Aside from Gillan’s unmistakable raspy voice and her blue skin, the character could’ve passed as an entirely different player in the franchise. Gone is her signature bald head in live-action and in its place is her long lustrous blonde hair. She also doesn’t have any mechanical parts on her body. While Loki establishes that variants’ looks can vary significantly, this is not the sole reason why What If…?’s Nebula barely resembles her movie version. Instead, it can be chalked up to having a different backstory that’s rooted in her relationship with returning What If…? cast member Thanos (Josh Brolin). In the main MCU, Nebula is the emotionally and physically tortured adopted daughter of the Mad Titan. That aspect of the narrative has been carried over to this alternate universe, but instead of a tumultuous relationship, the pair has a healthier dynamic, despite starting off on the same abusive trajectory. At one point, they even team up to fight Black Order members during their escape from Knowhere.
Since Nebula was not physically tormented as much by her father in various ways (she still was, as made clear by her existing eye augmentation), the animated version of the character was able to maintain her natural biological makeup. This explains why she doesn’t have all of the cybernetic properties and body features of her live-action counterpart. In the movies, fitting her with robotic compartments was Thanos’ way of upgrading her to be a more skilled assassin. She has a cybernetic arm, a contact whiplash, a regeneration implant, and visual prosthetics among others — most of them function as weapons. Without a number of these inorganic changes to her body in What If…? episode 2, Nebula is also able to grow her hair, as was initially in the comics. In print, she had darker and longer locks until after the Infinity Sage; the injuries she suffered during that resulted in more extensive surgery and her baldness.
Admittedly, there’s an argument to be made about how Avengers: Endgame failed to deliver justice for Nebula given what she’d gone through under Thanos’ brutal and cruel grasp. She wasn’t even given the opportunity to properly confront the Mad Titan for his crimes. What If…? suggesting how she would’ve turned out if she had a better relationship with her adoptive father somehow makes her MCU arc so much more tragic.
Marvel’s What If…? releases new episodes every Wednesday on Disney+.