Tags Matching: Elseworlds

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.


The Golden Age.

Alternate reality stories are usually a crap shoot. Retro stories about Golden Age characters usually are better reads, but not by much. But this one, I promise you, is a guaranteed win. One of my all time favorites.

As I have mentioned previous, most of the comics I got were hand me downs of sorts from a friends older brother. However, prior to that, when my age was still in the single digits, I did occasionally get some from my parents. For some reason, and I don’t know if this was by my request or their own volition, the comic I would most likely get from my mom or dad would be a DC Who’s Who. I remember 2 issues distinctly: Who’s Who In The DC Universe Update 1987 issues 1 and 3 (for anyone interested, you can get all 5 of the 1987 Who’s Who Updates below. Most Who’s Who issues are cheap as hell, since they’re really only “valuable” to super nerds like myself).

The point of the Updates was to provide, well… updates for new characters, characters with histories changed due to Crisis, and supporting characters who had since been given more attention via their own books or increased visibility in other books. Since this was one of my earliest exposures to the DC Universe, I think it explains my love for such characters as Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, The Suicide Squad… and the All Star Squadron.

Post Crisis, the All Star Squadron was basically a catch all for all the Golden Age era super heroes and mystery men, and rather than be the focus of their own book as they had previous, now served more as a supporting characters in the Young All Stars comic, which was intended to provide Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman analogues (Crisis had removed the major DC characters from it’s WW2 continuity). But as a 9 year old, I had no clue about any of that. I just knew that:

a. The All Star Squadron had so many members that it took 2 pages to list them all, and a magnifying glass to see them.
b. That all of the members looked incredibly cool (even the Red Bee looks awesome when you’re 9).
c. They fought Nazis. Even at 9, I knew that Nazis = ultimate fictional bad guy.
d. It said one of them DIED. I can’t describe how intense that made them seem to me at 9 years old, when most of my other comics involved He-man beating Skeletor because of Beast Man’s bungling.

So, flash forward 10 years, to a bored 19 year old me looking through the comics at the smoke shop in downtown Salem (they sold comics and tattoo magazines there along with the cigars and porn, I was there often). I saw a beaten up copy of the Golden Age, and instantly fixated upon it. Some deep down memory of that Who’s Who issue made me recognize the plethora of lesser known DC Universe characters posed front and center, even if I couldn’t remember their names immediately. And it was written by James Robinson, whose first two Starman collections were “Morgado is too broke to buy graphic novels from Barnes and Noble so he just reads them there” staples. I was well into my love for the Wild Cards series (and oh how I will be talking about that eventually), so the idea of real life events like HUAC taking place alongside flying supermen was right up my alley. And it was used, so it was cheap enough for me to afford.

I won’t go into details other than to say that even though it’s an Elseworlds, it isn’t so far removed from regular DC continuity that it’s too outrageous to enjoy (and Robinson brought aspects of it into the mainstream universe with his work on Starman and JSA), and it’s got an OUTSTANDING twist. It’s because of this reveal that I won’t go into further detail; I’d hate myself forever if I ruined it, even if I am bursting to share it. But suffice to say, if you’re into real life history, Golden Age characters who had (at the time) been either forgotten or surpassed by their Silver Age versions getting a chance to shine, and a twist straight out of the best pulp WW2 fiction, this is a MUST BUY.

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