Today, a new feature that (eventually) will examine every issue of What If? Volume One. Anyone who is a fan of 1980s Marvel—and if you like super-comics, that’s the era to admire—remembers Uatu the Watcher’s solo monthly, What If? It was a comic that took famous characters or moments in Marvel history and reimagined them with alternate endings.
I was looking over my old loose issues the other day and realized that many of the What If? comics became actual storylines—part of the Earth 616 continuity. I’d been wondering what would be a good way to do a retrospective of the series, because I absolutely loved it when I was ten years old and much of this site is devoted to my inner child, but I didn’t really want to do a “panel from every issue” series on it because What If? is non-canonical. So, here we go with “What if What If? was what was?”
Today, the first three issues of What If?
What If? #1. The debut of What If broke into the scene with the headline “What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” For 1977, it was the perfect launch: Marvel’s two best known properties, both of which had animated series on the air, combining into a kind of no-brainer story written by one of the decade’s most prolific writers, Roy Thomas.
Issue #1 also established the trope, borrowed from The Twilight Zone, that all What If? stories had to have a tragic ending. In this one, Spider-Man joining the team inadvertently causes Invisible Girl to run off with Sub Mariner. Here we see Spidey taking it personally and going on another of his patented guilt trips…
Did it come true? Yes in the pages of FF #1 (2010), after Johnny Storm’s death at the hands of Jonathan Hickman. Technically, you could say it didn’t come true, I suppose, because Human Torch’s death meant the Fantastic Four were three, not four, and because they changed their name to the Future Foundation—so Spidey joined that organization, not the Fantastic 4, but close enough.
Oh, and then there was that other Fantastic Four….
What If? #2. For their second issue, Thomas and illustrator Herb Trimpe asked, “What if the Hulk had Bruce Banner’s brain?” Note that the tag line on the very cover tells you it’s going to end badly…
Did it come true? Boy howdy. Many, many times. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the Hulk you’re reading about does or doesn’t have Banner’s brain. Recently, Mark Waid used the concept to give Hulk armor and a steady job at SHIELD.
What If? #3. The third issue of What If? was the first one that really showed what the title could do. First of all, it had a powerhouse team: Jim Shooter and Gil Kane. Second, it had a great concept: What if the Avengers had never been? Putting to one side how sexist Shooter could be, we get some very cool ideas, like Iron Man giving armor to Hank Pym, Rick Jones, and Janet Van Dyne and Sub Mariner coaxing Hulk to help him wage war on humanity.
And of course, tremendous Gil Kane art.
Did it come true? Of course not. The Avengers is Marvel’s biggest franchise. But Iron Man has built armor for other characters throughout the years, like Spider-Man, James Rhodes, and others, and Sub Mariner has always been kind of a dick, so part of it did.
So far, Uatu is two for three in asking questions that are more “when” than “what if”. Come back soon, or click the tag below, to see if his track record continues.