I think I’ve reviewed an issue or two of What If … on this blog, so forgive me if I have already told my What If … origin story. I first encountered the comic with issue #4 of the second series. This was the “What If … The Alien Costume HAD Possessed Spider-Man?” issue that featured early Mark Bagley Spider-Man art. I don’t have that copy anymore–it got destroyed over the years and then lost at some point–but it remains an all-time favorite (and at some point I’ll buy a low-grade copy). I had no idea who Venom was at the time but knew about the costume and its story and that drew me in. Well, that and because I was a Crisis on Infinite Earths stan and therefore was already really into alternate universes/takes (DC would come along with Elseworlds a couple of years later and I enjoyed those).
So my LCS got a big stack of What If … books for their “Fresh Fridays” last week and all of them were 99-centers in pretty poor condition, but I don’t care about such things when I just want something to read, so I picked up the stories that looked interesting. Three of them were from the original series and two were from the second.
“What If Captain America Had Been Elected President?” from the first series and “What If Had Led an Army of Super Soldiers in World War II” were two Cap-centered books I grabbed, the former being a pretty good story about what a Super-Soldier as President who did the right thing would look like; the other being a story of how a Super-Soldier as President becomes a fascist dictator. And that second series issue is the first in a two-parter that ends with the REAL Steve Rogers being found frozen in ice. AND … I COULD have had the second part (“What If Captain America Had Formed the Avengers?”) but I didn’t realize it was a two-parter (and probably didn’t even look at the corner boxes). Ah well, I’ll get it at some point.
Issue #38 of the first series is a three-story look into possible far-off futures of several Marvel heroes. What’s it like when Daredevil or Cap or Vision and the Scarlet Witch are old? Much like, say, the more “speculative” looks into heroes’ futures from DC, this was enjoyable, especially the way that the Red Skull turns up to try and kill an aging Steve Rogers.
Then there’s issue #17 of the second series, “What If Kraven the Hunter HAD Killed Spider-Man?” I had to get this one because “Kraven’s Last Hunt” was the first Spider-Man story arc I ever read (if you go and listen to old episodes of my podcast mini called “Origin Story,’ you’ll hear me review the whole thing) and it remains one of my all-time favorite comic arcs. Well, in this one, Kraven has gone just as insane as in the original (complete with the eating spiders thing) but instead of burying our hero alive, he actually kills him. Mary Jane’s search for her missing husband leads to her revealing Peter’s secret to a number of people, including J. Jonah Jameson. This, combined with Spider-Kraven killing people throughout the city, leads JJJ to launch a McCarthy-like crusade against super-heroes. It also leads MJ to find new life as a crusader for super-heroes. It’s one of those typical “the change led to utter catastrophe” stories that gets a little ridiculous (especially since it only could be told in 22 pages) but was still fun.
Finally, my favorite of all of them is issue #43 of the original series: “What If Conan The Barbarian Were Stranded in the 20th Century?” The story revisits a prior issue where Conan was sent to the 20th Century but then returned via a mystical lightning bolt. This time, he misses that lightning bolt by a couple of minutes and winds up becoming a leader in the underworld of New York City, ultimately fighting Captain America. It’s a great, great story with Conan being a fish out of water and getting used to his surroundings but never fully losing his “barbarian” nature. And if I’m not mistaken, I think there’s a reference to the Spidey-Red Sonja issue of Marvel Team-Up in it.
Anyway, that Conan issue is great, and I don’t think it’s been reprinted in very many places due to Marvel’s having lost the license for years (though they recently got it back and published an outstanding King Conan mini). And needless to say, getting a stack of What Ifs in a cheap bin is always worth the investment.
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