When I found out Marvel Comics was releasing a complete collection for their What If? series, I was beyond delighted. It’s a series that spans well over 200 issues, many of which popped up to tie-in to events over the years, and it all began in 1977 thanks to Roy Thomas. The foreword goes on to talk about how fans would write letters asking for Spider-Man to join the Fantastic Four, or Hulk to be intelligent, and Thomas had the grand old idea to make that happen. The series has always been a love letter to alternate universes before that was all the rage.
This collection also houses some of the weirdest plot twists, character combos, and turn of events you’ll ever read in a comic. Many of the premises in this series actually occurred eventually (Like Jane Foster becoming Thor or Hulk being intelligent), but it’s how things turn out where things get truly weird.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The first twelve awe-inspiring issues of the most awesomely offbeat series off all time – collected in one sense-staggering volume. Twelve titanic tales of triumph and tragedy in the mighty Marvel tradition! Spanning from: What if Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four? to: What if the Fantastic Four had Different Super-Powers? Daredevil’s secret exposed? The identity of Thor passed down to another? A new Hulk? Multiple Spider-Men? Some of the ideas that shook Marvel’s foundation got their start right in the realm of remote possibility overseen by the wondering Watcher! But can even Uatu believe his eyes when Jack “King” Kirby rewrites himself and his fellow legends as the Fantastic Four?
Can I jump in easily?
This collects the first 12 issues of the What If? Revolution, so most definitely. Every issue also basically recaps how things are in the Marvel universe to begin with, further making it easy for people to jump in even if they’ve never heard of Spider-Man.
Reason 1: Jealousy, super minds, and body theft.
The crazy thing about nearly every story in this collection is how the slightest change can make for some of the weirdest turns of events. Take the first issue that sees Spider-Man join the Fantastic Four. It’s a fun and bubbly story that utilizes Spidey well in the team aspect (years before he joined the FF for real). All is well until Invisible Woman basically gets so jealous she gives up on Mr. Fantastic and agrees to change her biological makeup so she can breathe underwater. The deciding factor is that the FF doesn’t need her anyway. Yikes.
In the second issue, writer Roy Thomas postulates a universe where the Hulk has the brains of Bruce Banner. It’s a clever take that cleans up Hulk’s life and makes him a hero in the early days of Marvel. Things get very weird however when Galactus shows up and it is determined Xavier, Mr. Fantastic, and Hulk need to combine themselves into one giant super brain. It’s as wacky as the stories come in this collection. Other highlights include Jane Foster becoming Thor (and calling herself Thordis…what?!) and Human Torch and his sidekick Toro burning Hitler alive. Now that’s heavy.
— David Brooke (@Nosocialize) January 9, 2019
Reason 2: The Marvel Bullpen (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, etc.) become the Fantastic Four.
Probably the weirdest issue collected here is issue #11, written, drawn and edited by Jack Kirby. Kirby draws himself into the issue as Thing, Stan Lee gets to be Mr. Fantastic (naturally), Invisible Girl is secretary Flo Steinberg, and Human Torch is Marvel VP Sol Brodsky. I can’t fathom this book selling this idea at the time, but maybe the Marvel Bullpen was far more famous than I give it credit for. Regardless of that, Kirby draws an excellent issue and further proves the wildly weird technology and in-your-face art will forever be some of comics’ best ever.
Reason 3: Things always seem to turn out badly.
If Stan Lee and Roy Thomas had a plan to prove the Marvel universe is the best one, they certainly did an admirable job. Nearly every story in this collection ends with someone dying or quitting. In the Hulk story mentioned above, for instance, the ever-loving Thing is turned into a rampaging monster much like the Hulk. In the Daredevil story, Matt decides to quit being a hero. In the What if the Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers? issue, Mr. Fantastic literally steals Doctor Doom’s body and makes it his own. Now that’s messed up. In the third issue, devoted to an Avengers that never was, a major hero dies to save his friends. All of these endings are extreme in their own right, further proving these stories don’t hold back and end on the best kind of melodrama.
Reasons to be wary?
A slight problem with reading these stories is how each issue recaps the origin or original story before diving into the “What If?” portion. At this point, you probably know Hulk’s origin, which can make each story start off slowly.
Not every story in this collection is a winner, either, as many show their age. What if the Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950s? is a good example of an idea probably making sense 20 years removed from the 50s, but not nearly 70. What if Captain America Hadn’t Vanished During World War Two? is one such example, which is more of a spy story that turns sad when Steve Rogers never gets frozen and ages over time. What if Someone Else Besides Spider-Man Had Been Bitten by the Radioactive Spider? takes the cheap way out, never making a statement story and reducing the narrative to snippets only to reveal Peter is the only destined Spidey.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
Marvel recently opened up the What If? line with fun, done-in-one stories, further proving this series will last forever. Every comic fan has to admit they’ve thought up stories of their own and this series allows us to peer into infinite realities to get a taste. This first collection reveals a very weird and adventurous take on Marvel’s greatest characters and it should not be missed.
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