What If? is a series near and dear to my heart since it captured so much of my childhood imagination. Running for 114 issues from 1977–1984, coming back from 1989–1998 and coming back again in 2006 (with a few more appearances later on still), the series has had some great legs. Marvel Comics is in the process of reprinting the entire series, starting with those 1977 to 1984 issues and this week their third volume collects #24-35, getting us to 1982.
Volume one of these reprintings started off very weird with less humor, and volume two is filled with stories that aren’t taking enough chances. Volume 3 is far superior to both thanks to incredibly bold ideas, twists on iconic events, and some of the best creators in the business lending their hands to these alternate reality tales. Frank Miller, Herb Trimpe, Tom DeFalco, and Bill Sienkiewicz are just a few of the many names that contributed to this book. It’s because of them, and these three reasons why this is the best collection of What If? tales.
Reason #1: Major iconic moments get a redo
The very first issue in this collection ponders, “What if Spider-Man had rescued Gwen Stacy?” This tale, written by Tony Isabella with art by Gil Kane and Frank Gioacoia does a good job reminding us how the story went, and then ever so slightly showing us how Spidey saved Gwen instead of inadvertently snapping her neck. The story utilizes a few familiar faces to weave a brand new direction for Peter–including marrying Gwen–but it all comes crumbling down. It’s a good example of how this series shows us how things could have been even worse for a hero even when they saved the day.
Though not yet written another example of this is, “What If Spider-Man’s Clone Lived?” written by Bill Flanagan with art by Rich Buckler, Jim Mooney, and Pablo Marcos. The story involves Kingpin, a whole lot of anguish, and a very different ending to the 90s “Clone Saga” but there are emotional beats here we see later on.
Another example is, “What If Elektra Lived?” written and drawn by Frank Miller. As we all know Elektra is alive, though she has died a few times and this was an interesting way to show how Miller wanted her to stay dead. It takes tragedy and brings it to a new level.
Reason #2: Great sense of humor
Most of the stories in this collection are serious save for two, one of which is on purpose. The story that’s pretty hilarious but not trying to be funny is “What If Ghost Rider Were Separated From Johnny Blaze?” In it, Ghost Rider is separated from Blaze and immediately decides to head to the Vatican. Once there he seems to think he can take over the world by sacrificing the Pope. There’s a twist in there to explain it all and the imagery by Tom Sutton makes it all the more enjoyable. A fire-red motorcycle dropping down onto the Vatican is a sight to see.
— David Brooke (@Nosocialize) January 30, 2020
What If #34 is an incredible work of comedy genius thanks to a large swath of Marvel talent. Even folks like Frank Miller get in on the action with most of the jokes landing in one panel to a page. It’s all rather juvenile–like a Ghost Grandpa and Ghost Baby version of Ghost Rider–and yet there’s quite a bit of genius in this issue. I laughed out loud more than once, like the “What If the Watchers Got Together and Watched Watchers Watching Watchers Watching Watchers” by Mary Jo Duffy and Terry Austin. It’s creatively drawn and a fun single page in the story. Even Obnoxio gets a page.
— David Brooke (@Nosocialize) January 30, 2020
Reason #3: X-Men fans can’t miss this
A somewhat kooky take, but in “What If Dazzler Had Become the Herald of Galactus?” we get a taste for how popular the character was in the 70s, but also how different things could go with a different Herald of Galactus. Dan Fingeroth and Mike Vosburg bring us the rollerskating Dazzler with the white costume we all know and love. What’s good about this take is how Galactus truly cares for Dazzler showing us how profound of an impact she can have even on an entity like him.
Another story here that shows what could have been is “What If Phoenix Had Not Died?” Written by Mary Jo Duffy with art by Jerry Bingham this story goes from a happy twist to a horrific nightmare. Pheonix can’t be controlled, Galactus even tells Jean this, but she doesn’t believe him. Well, that is until she kills most of the X-Men in horrible and in darkly specific ways.
Another stand out issue is “What If Wolverine Killed the Hulk?” Written by Rich Margopoulos and drawn by Bob Budiansky this might be one of the most entertaining “What If?” stories I’ve ever read. It postulates what Wolverine would do when Canada fires him from government duties, how Magneto manipulates him, and what happens when he joins the team earlier than when he does in the main books. It’s a tragic end and it’s drawn incredibly well with lots of action.
There are many more great stories in here I didn’t even mention. “What if Captain America became President?” or “What if Daredevil was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.?” are just two others that are exciting, well-drawn, and clever. There are, of course, a few duds, but there are far more excellent stories than there are stinkers.
This is how I remember What If? in my childhood. It’s kooky, it’s clever, and it’s exciting to see another way so many great stories could have gone. There’s something in here for everyone.
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