High Five! Top Seven! – Marvel “What If?” Stories
Posted February 9, 2011on:
In 1977, Marvel came up with a pretty fantastical (and most likely drug-induced) idea. Comic books are always talking about their multiverses, where somebody at some point did something drastically different and changed that universe’s reality forever. Essentially, the writers wanted to nerd out and ask the big, cringe-worthy-fan-fiction-inducing question: “What if?”
With Uatu the Watcher playing narrator, the writers told tales of what might have been which, considering the breadth of what could be asked with this concept, had a tone that ranged anywhere from goddamn ridiculous to downright grim. Even so, it seems like a huge chunk of issues were dedicated to what would happen if Character X had/had not killed Character Y. Over the years there have been two regular volumes (followed by many, many series of one-shots, most being event tie-ins), a parody series titled What the–?!, and (although they’d probably deny it outright) inspired the DC Comics Elseworlds imprint.
Considering the almost 200 issues of the series, most of which are pretty terrible (I think there’s a reason nobody who wrote any of the 90’s What If? issues were ever heard from again), it’s hard to figure out what’s actually decent. Man, good thing you got me here to force my opinion on you. TOP FIVE TIME, Y’ALL.
7. What If? Vol 1 #10 (…Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?) – Originally, in Journey Into Mystery #83 Donald Blake went on vacation to Norway by himself. Here, he instead takes Jane Foster and she’s with him when he gets attacked by those weird aliens from Saturn. She beats him to finding Mjolnir and transforms into Thordis (which, considering that who Donald Blake is has no bearing on who Thor is, makes no sense). She goes around fighting Loki and more aliens in typical Thor fashion. While Thordis is off creating the Avengers, Blake saves the drowning Sif and falls in love with her. Odin realizes that this is all wrong and gives Mjolnir it to Donald, turning him into Thor. And then this gets all daytime soap opera on us. Poor Jane is now crazy-bummed, losing both the powers of Mjolnir and the man she loves to the Asgardians. Odin decides to fix this by granting Jane goddess status and marrying her, making Jane Foster the stepmother to the man she used to love (seriously, that’s like Lois Lane ending up boning Pa Kent). Yeah, gross.
6. What If? Vol 1 #13 (…Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?) – Okay, I’ll admit that the only stuff I know about Robert E. Howard’s Conan franchise I learned from that movie where he punches a camel in the face (in other words, I don’t know jack shit). There are three things that make this issue of What If? great to me. First, Roy Thomas and John Buscema, the regular writer and artist on the more mature Savage Sword of Conan title, handle this issue. Second, everybody in the present either mistakes Conan for Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger (a full four years before the movie, mind you). And lastly, Conan spends his one day in the present beating the shit out of a lady cab driver’s car with his sword, immediately going back to her apartment and fucking her, and foiling an art heist at the Guggenheim. That’s one hell of a day, Conan.
5. What If? Vol 2 #24 (…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires?) – Most of the second volume of What If? is just so terribly, terribly 90’s. Every issue seems to either deal with Wolverine or the Punisher and, well, this issue is pretty much about both of ’em. During the fight with Count Dracula from Uncanny X-Men #159, Dracula ends up biting Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus who go out and start turning all of the heroes and villains into vampires. Realizing that Doctor Strange is the only one who has the power to stop his horde, Wolverine sets out to kill him and succeeds. Apparently death doesn’t really stall Strange, whose spirit launches Plan B: possessing Frank Castle, giving him the Eye of Agamotto and Cloak of Levitation, and going crazy with garlic grenades and a Super Soaker full of Holy Water. To top off the ridiculousness, this issue got it’s own What If? treatment 13 issues later in the story “…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires During Inferno?”
4. What If? Vol 1 #26 (…Captain America Had Been Elected President?) – In Captain America #250, the New Populist Party offered Cap the chance to run for president as a third party candidate and he declined. But what if he’d have run against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election and won? After Cap reveals his secret identity to the world, President Rogers spearheads a massive movement to replace America’s dependency on foreign oil with solar power. He then supplies solar powered weapons to the some revolutionaries in the South American country of San Pedro, hoping to free them from some oppression or whatever. After accepting an invitation by the revolutionaries, it is revealed that their leader is actually Red Skull, who has hacked into the solar energy collecting satellites and turned them into giant laser beams. Cap manages to smash the Red Skull’s controls causing the laser beams to blow them both to bits. Okay, yeah, Captain America’s dead, but look on the bright side! In this reality there was never a President Reagan!
3. What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? #1 – Now, this one is just terribly depressing. With Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the men behind ALIAS, handling this issue you know it’s gonna be good. Following her horrific eight months as a slave to the Purple Man, Jessica Jones is asked to join the Avengers, to which she agrees. Rather than working for The Daily Bugle and having a child out of wedlock with Luke Cage, Jessica winds up marrying Captain America and bringing Wanda’s mental breakdown to light before House of M can ever happen. However, what really makes this story great is that instead of being narrated by Uatu, those duties are given to Bendis himself, drawn conversing with a random patron at a diner in New York City while a forlorn looking Jessica Jones dines behind them.
2. What If? Vol 1 #14 (…Sgt. Fury Fought World War Two in Outer Space?) – In this dimension, it turns out that Leonardo DaVinci’s flying machine actually worked and, therefore, humans were waaay more advanced in the field of flight by the time 1941 rolled around. December 7, 1941, Space Station Pearl is attacked by a bunch of kamikaze lizard men. Later on, Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan host a conference in the Space Station Midway where it turns out that Baron Strucker has been the admiral of the fleet of space stations the whole time, trying to promote Space Nazism while working with the lizard men. It’s cool though, because Sgt. Fury gets rid of Strucker the same way every badguy in any fight on a spaceship has died: getting flushed out of an airlock. The best part of the story has to be the tagline on the cover: “First Star Wars— Then Battlestar Galactica— And now!!!”
1. What If? Vol 1 #11 (…The Original Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four?) – This is by far one of the goofiest issues of any comic I’ve ever seen, made even stranger considering it was written and drawn by Jack Kirby. A mysterious box shows up at the door of Marvel HQ and is opened by Stan Lee, believing it to be a box of cigars. Instead, it’s a small gamma bomb that douses the whole of the staff with radiation, giving Stan super-stretchy powers, Kirby the rocky skin of the Thing, Sol Brodsky the ability to control fire and fly, and Flo Steinberg (at the time Stan Lee’s secretary, later publisher of Big Apple Comix) the powers of invisiblity. After finding another of the boxes, the foursome meets Namor and discover that the boxes were planted by the Skrulls who plan to take over the world from their new undersea base. Kirby and Namor punch a hole in the base’s hull, defeat the Skrulls, and THE END. So, I guess the big question is how the hell did Jack Kirby draw this with those new big, orange sausage-fingers of his?