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So far, Marvel Studios’ What If…? has dropped five episodes, and each has managed to provide a fresh take on iconic moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the animated series specializes in providing off-the-wall revamps, it still includes established storylines and other elements from the comics. The recent zombie episode is a perfect example of that. And as it turns out, the animation team also worked hard to perfect one of Jack Kirby’s iconic pieces of art, which was used for the Doctor Strange-centric episode.
The fourth episode of the show, “What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?,” took viewers to a universe in which the master of the mystic arts never lost the use of his hands. Instead, his lover, Christine Palmer, was killed in that fateful car accident. Ultimately, this Strange sought out dark magic to revive her, which transformed him into an evil variant of the character we know. The episode features some of the series’ best sequences and, when I recently spoke with Stephen Franck, the show’s animation supervisor, he explained that a lot of work went into completing it. This included getting one Jack Kirby detail just right:
You know, it seems like, at least in my experience as an artist, the abstract things are the hardest ones to do because you don’t have any sort of… Like if it’s a face, well, you know, it’s a face. But when you’re talking about pure abstraction, you know, then it really relies on the design, on the artistic quality of it. And so the Kirby Krackle that you’re going to see in [the Doctor Strange] episode, that you’ve seen, is something we’ve worked extremely hard on, to capture that iconic thing and not only do it 100% justice to how you know it and love it from the books, but also make it work as part of a film experience. So I’m going to say it’s a small detail, but it’s something that a lot of, no pun intended, energy has gone into.
Longtime Marvel Comics readers are sure to be familiar with the signature Kirby Krackle. Jack Kirby began using this art technique during his work on the ‘60s runs of Thor and Fantastic Four. In it, the late artist used black dots to illustrate negative space that would surround various kinds of energy. Readers could usually find the krackle in images of explosions or when characters came into contact with cosmic locations or entities. And in the case of What If…?, the Kirby Krackle was used to help show off evil Doctor Strange’s powers:
Viewers who were aware of the krackle were likely pleased to see it used to such great effect. It’s honestly pretty amazing just how natural the iconic illustration looks in motion. The cool design didn’t appear in the original Doctor Strange film and, now, I’m wondering if there’s any way it could actually be integrated into the live-action MCU. That Strange movie is available to stream on Disney+, which you can sign up for using this link.
It’s interesting to think about what the Kirby Krackle could look like in the live-action realm, and I’m hopeful that Marvel Studios will crack it someday. Until then, I’m more than happy to see it appear on What If…? a few more times.
What If…? drops new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.