What If…?

Ah What If…?

Who doesn’t love a good What If…? story?

Ummmm, I specifically said a GOOD What If…? story.

That’s better. Thanks Uatu.

Narrated by everyone’s favorite Watcher (aka the only Watcher any one knows the name of), What If…? debuted in the late 1970’s, with the conceit of showing what major Marvel events would be like in other realities, or if one small thing had happened differently.

The original run of the series was pretty harmless, very much a product of it’s times. It’s late 80s/early 90s revival however… well that one tended to get pretty mean. So mean in fact, that a great many of the issues would have been more aptly titled “What if: everybody died in really mean ways?” We’re talking lots of Wolverine and Punisher going berserk stories, lots of the Fantastic Four all dying at the hands of one of the family stories, and especially lots of the good guys lose the big cross over stories…

Case in point: What If: the Marvel Superheroes Had Lost Atlantis Attacks? Just a mean, MEAN comic, and that’s coming from a guy who just 24 hours ago was posting about how he once cut the head of a M.U.S.C.L.E. figure because he wanted someone to get decapitated while playing superheroes as a kid. Every superhero that doesn’t die in the first 10 pages either turns into a brainless snake man or dies in cruel ways at the hands of the handful of super heroines who become brainwashed love slaves to the snake god Set, and who then give birth to more snakes, who then eat their mothers and the remaining snake people and over run the Earth.

What?

Oh, no there isn’t anything more than that. That’s how it ends. Total downer with no other story in mind other than “let’s kill everybody”. Sorry guys, but Fred Hembeck did it better…

I can’t come down too hard on the “everybody dies” issues of What If…? though. They ARE a staple of the series, along with “What If: so and so joined S.H.I.E.L.D” and “What If: so and so killed so and so”. And I’m not going to try and say that the 2nd series of What If…? didn’t have some great issues. Aside from the What If: Wolverine Battled Conan the Barbarian issue shown up top, there was also this totally awesome issue that I read so often it ended up held together with staples and scotch tape:

The cover is somewhat misleading, as Jean Grey isn’t in the issue at all. But as it indicates, it’s a great riff on the classic Last Man On Earth storyline, as Wolverine turns every super hero into a vampire (killing the ones he thinks are strong willed enough to usurp his power as vampire lord, as well as the mystically powered characters), and The Punisher takes on the Charlton Heston/Vincent Price/Will Smi… Charlton Heston/Vincent Price role of last hope for humanity, with a little help from the ghost of Dr Strange. Does everybody die? Pretty much. But it doesn’t end on a downer, and almost all of those deaths MEAN something in the context of the story. Top it all of with art from the under appreciated Tom Morgan, and you’ve got possibly my favorite What If…? issue ever.

This one though… not so much.

These days, Marvel doesn’t do much with What If…? outside of the occasional set of one shots piggy backing on whatever event storyline is in play. Which is mind boggling to me. DC raked in money hand over fist with it’s Elseworld’s line for most of the 90s and 00s, the hit Age of Apocalypse cross over (dibs, Bob!) was one big multi-chapter What If…?, and the Exiles series was pretty much What If…? with a recurring cast, so you’d think that shows that there’s a market for the brand and concept, provided it continues to go beyond the same old same old.

Or not.


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