Out this week is the second volume in Marvel’s attempt to reprint some of the greatest not-in-canon stories is What If? Classic: The Complete Collection Vol. 2. With the upcoming TV show, this collection is a certifiable spoiler for potential future stories and it’s also a nice reminder Marvel Comics is about fun first. Where else can you see a story like Nick Fury fighting World War II in outer space, or in another Spider-Man never becomes a crimefighter due to stopping his uncle Ben from dying? I loved the first volume, but can this second volume improve upon the first? I break down all 10 plus stories collected here.
Opening with issue #13 the first story is, “What if Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth today?” which is somewhat hilarious since the character is appearing in Marvel stories alongside folks like Punisher these days. The story is much more petty crime stuff with Conan fighting robbers and whatnot. It features a lot of making out and even a sex scene with a woman he meets and is generally the least creative of the bunch albeit it’s a fun story.
Issue #14 is, “What if Sgt. Fury had fought World War Two in Outer Space?” is a wacky space battle comic that doesn’t use superheroes. If you like seeing spaceships being blasted apart you might dig it. This came out two years after Star Wars and it reads like Marvel was trying to capitalize on the success of that film. If they had only known Disney would own it all decades later!
Mixing things up in issue #15 is “What if Nova Had been Four Other People?” showcasing the Nova powers and how they are used and abused by the wrong candidate. Peter Parker is the most notable to carry the mantle but much like most “What If” stories it doesn’t end well for most. You can’t make the original Nova look bad after all!
Carrying forward the multiple storyline idea is “What if Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel were Villains?” each playing out differently from each other. It’s a grab bag and an odd read in part since Captain Marvel is now Carol Danvers and both Ghost Rider and Spider-Woman are in different places these days.
Following this is “What if Dr. Strange were a Disciple of Dormammu?” with issue #18 which is a classic example of showing the good in a person even when they are corrupted with power.
Possibly the best story of the bunch is “What if Spider-Man Had Never Become a Crimefighter?” in issue #19 which has Spidey continue his career in showbusiness all the way to making movies. He even hires Daredevil for a gig! Spoiler alert: it’s bad to use superheroes for greed.
Following this is possibly the most 70s story of the bunch in “What if the Avengers Fought the Kree-Skrull War Without Rick Jones?” Jones was a big deal at the time and served as a reminder to the readers any of us could team up with the superheroes. It’s not the most interesting story although it does feature almost every major Marvel character.
Issue #21 has Invisible Woman marrying Namor, which plays out the reoccurring plot of Namor desiring Invisible Woman in the classic comics. This story is fun in part because it requires four heroes in the Fantastic Four and has Spider-Man join the team (complete with a 4 on his chest). It ends in a somewhat sad, yet happy way as Invisible Woman gives birth to Namor’s child.
Issue #22 has Dr. Doom go full hero in, “What if Dr. Doom Had Become a Hero?” which is well drawn by Fred Kida. Doom comes up with a new costume to suit his heroic deeds and it suits him.
Wrapping things up with issue #23 is “What if the Hulk’s Girlfriend Jarella Had Not Died?” which is basically an excuse to turn Hulk into a barbarian. It’s a suitable final story since the book opened with Conan, although most folks will read this for the short backup What If tale featuring Aunt May as Spider-Man. There’s also an interesting Celestial story tucked into this issue that doesn’t appear to be a What If story at all.
This book is jam-packed with classic Marvel talent. Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Tom DeFalco, John Buscema, Walter, Simonson, and more make this a must-have for those who appreciate the founders at Marvel.
No explanation is given as to why What If #16 isn’t collected here, which is a bit of a bummer if you’re a completist. Originally printed in 1979 the issue was titled “What If Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Had Remained Loyal to Fu Manchu?” which may be a clue as to why it was pulled. Shang-Chi wasn’t the must culturally appropriate book which I mentioned in my review of a recent republishing of Master of Kung Fu.
This is a good collection although it’s not as wacky as you might expect. There are however a few gems that play out the possible futures where Spider-Man never became a hero and the Fantastic Four were a whole lot different with Invisible Woman joining Namor instead. A weakness of this series might be how it effeectively sold books in their line, but that meant understanding and following those stories to enjoy the stories to the fullest. If you’re a longtime Marvel fan you’ll dig this, but if you’re a casual reader you may want to skip it to avoid confusion or even boredom.