Top 5: Desperate Issues of WHAT IF?

What If? was Marvel’s long-running, multi-volume book that asked how your favorite stories would have gone if one small piece of the puzzle had been different at a critical moment. Well, your favorite stories and your not-really-favorite stories: as the series went on and all the big questions got asked, plotlines went from the early fish-in-a-barrel stuff like “What if Rick Jones Had Become the Hulk?” to the bottom-of-the-barrel stuff like 1997’s “What if Ghost Rider Was Different?” (I haven’t read it, but I assume he’s banished from Santa’s village for having a red nose. And eyes. And entire head.) Here now are some standouts from that latter category:


5. vol. 2, #16: What If Wolverine Battled Conan the Barbarian?

Well, sure. Why not? What if Speedball were Douglas MacArthur? It’s your book.

During the Dark Phoenix Saga, Wolverine wanders into the Watcher’s kitchen looking for Triscuits or something, and the Watcher punishes him by flinging him into Conan times. There, Wolverine meets Red Sonja and finds out she and Jean Grey look exactly alike, as they both have red hair. There are then a series of your more common barbarian misunderstandings. By the time it’s over, Logan is brain-damaged and Conan is on the moon in the present mistaking the Dark Phoenix for his girlfriend, clobbering Cyclops, and dooming life as we know it in the universe. It’s all a long way to go to see this:

…which is actually quite painful, and not at all what it looks like.


4. vol. 2, #105: What If Spider-Man and Mary Jane's Child Had Survived?

What if a random issue of What If? was used as an excuse to spin off a whole new line of comics, but the line didn’t really take off, but somehow Spider-Girl managed to shamble along with seventeen readers, and then ten years later it was still being published in some form like some kind of unholy zombie periodical, baffling our greatest men of science and marketing alike? I think… it would go something… like-a this.



3. vol. 1, #33: What If Dazzler Had Become the Herald of Galactus?

Once upon a time, Galactus’ herald ran away from him by flying into a black hole and Galactus, Eater of Worlds and cosmic menace, decided that the only being in the universe who could help him retrieve the guy was a roller-skating disco singer in the Valley. But what if Galactus had said, “Never mind. You look like more fun than ‘Terrax the Lamer,’ anyway,” picturing scenes like the one above and smirking ironically? The most surprising thing about this comic is that it is based on a real issue of Dazzler that everyone involved appears to be taking seriously.


2. vol. 2, #100: What If the Fantastic Four Had Crashed in the Land of Oz After Gaining Their Powers?

Sue Storm awakens from a horrible rocket accident to learn she’s landed on Galactus, killing him and stealing his shoes. She has to go to Namor’s castle to get home, and on the way she meets three amazing friends before learning that it was all a dream, and she was actually just in a horrible rocket accident. Oh, and the Micronauts are the Munchkins. Must be seen to be believed, and must be believed to be immediately disavowed.


1. vol. 1, #14: What If Sgt. Fury Had Fought World War Two in Outer Space?

Oh, man.

Yes, Pearl Harbor is a space station. Yes, Nick Fury and half of his men smoke cigars inside their space helmets throughout the issue. Yes, Gabriel Jones is in fact fighting via the use of a laser-bugle for no reason that isn’t a little demeaning. No, I cannot explain why any of this is happening without saying, “Did you happen to notice the blurb on the bottom of the cover?”

Actually, the book’s real premise is that on another Earth, Leonardo da Vinci built all of his fantastical machines instead of just drawing them, leading to the development of flight 400 years early. Don’t you wish I hadn’t said anything now?

In other news, the Watcher has really let himself go to hell over the years, hasn’t he? I warned you, Uatu: there are no carbs on the moon!


  1. The Nazis look a lot different in space.

  2. My fav was "What if Cable killed the X-men??"  All the X-men and I mean everyone (Boom Boom, Jubilee, Sunspot, Wolverine) all on one team.  I don’t know how they handled seating in the Blackbird.

  3. What if "What If?" returned as an on-going monthly?  Not only would I be down for that, but I would also bring sandwiches.

  4. LMFAO, good work Jimski! Roller skating disco queen heralds and space Nazi’s are a good way to start the morning. I wonder if Flash Gordon shows up as the space Captain America?

  5. What if a Publisher Released A Book and No One Bought It?

  6. "Well, sure. Why not? What if Speedball were Douglas MacArthur? It’s your book." 

    That might be the single funniest thing I’ve read on this site in terms of how loud and suddenly I laughed at my desk and how many people in my office heard me.

    well done sir

  7. Your obvious personal antipathy for the Spider-Girl title aside… what exactly is so desperate about that issue of What If? The premise seems like a totally OBVIOUS venue to explore.

  8. Last week I wanted to buy,  "What if….Comics were $1.99 agian!?!?"  But it was too expensive at $3.99.

  9. I actually miss reading What If stories.  The only What If stories that are released these days are What If this event ended differently type books.

  10. Doesn’t the basis of the premise of that What If WWII was fought in space sound a lot like Hickman’s SHIELD series?

  11. @ron – That question makes me want to read SHIELD.

  12. This series was easily one of my top 5 Bronze Age series – I love the issue where Beast and The Thing continued to mutate – I think this was the first back issue I ever bought.

  13. My favorite what if was What if Spider-Man had stayed Captain Universe?

    it was baller

  14. @Roi: I always loved What If The Punisher had became Venom.

  15. Anything Marvel publishes with ‘What If?’ now a days is pretty desperate. They used to be such original stories and now it’s just ‘What if (insert major event here)’. Hell even if some of these stories are god awful in this list, at least they’re original! Conan vs Wolverine sounds stupid, but at least it’s original!

    It must be pretty sad when Dazzler is the one telling you your planet is doomed. So I have to endure all of my energy being sucked out AND see a disco performance? Yeah it’ll be suicide for me thanks.

  16. What if Wolverine was in every Marvel comic……..wait a minute that is the really MU. Sorry.

  17. What a terrific piece, Jim, nice one. I agree, though, that the Spider-Girl one isn’t desperate – heck, surely it’s the most successful of all?

  18. Oh, let me have my fun, you churls!

    I don’t even dislike Spider-Girl. It just baffles me. It sells less than any book that got canceled this year, and it’s just unkillable!

  19. I really want to know what the context of that Wolverine panel is.  It is damn funny set aside like that.

    And it would be great if that Watcher panel was actually in the comic.  I wouldn’t hold it against the creators at all.

  20. I love how Dum Dum is wearing his derby under his helmet!

    Conan and Wolverine seem to be having quite the …tickle fight.

  21. heh, I have that Nick Fury in space issue. It was fun. And really the crazy technology featured isn’t that different from what was going on in the SHIELD books through the ’80s. I want to say there was something about the cover that was different from what was inside, but I forget what. I’m pretty sure the space-bugle doesn’t make an appearance. 🙂

  22. What If? was my fav series as a kid. I had probably a longbox worth bought from various library sales for like a quarter each.

    Looking back, I think that invariably bleak endings may have had a negative impact on my developing world-view.

  23. Along with that Wolverine/Conan What if (which has a place in my heart for some ungodly reason…) my favorite is What if Conan was stranded in the 20th century. He wears a White Leasure suite and walks a Cheetah on a leash. Its pretty amazing.

  24. I remember the "What if Wolverine became Dracula?" The premise is basically the precursor to the more successful Marvel Zombies. Wolverine defeat Dracula, takes his place, and then turns all the heroes and villains into vampires. I remember not understanding how Hulk and Juggernaut could become vampires, but I suppose supernatural fangs can pierce invulnerable skin. Punisher becomes a vampire hunter and it’s not until he kills a vampire Kitty Pride that Wolverine realizes what he has become. Dr. Strange’s spirit appears to him, and then Wolverine reads a spell from one of his books to wipe out all the vampires. Wolverine is only able to get through the spell’s reading thanks to his healing factor.

    Most of the What if? stories are just high concept and sound more interesting in the retelling than in the actual execution. 

  25. Like Brave and the Bold (or Marvel Team Up), What If? could turn out to be a very solid reading experience each month.

    Just need the right creative team(s) and good ideas to make it work. Marvel should try and jump start the series properly and not do event tie-ins. 

  26. I’ve always found it cool that an evil Wolverine often comes to his senses when Kitty dies in a What If? story. See "What If The X-Men Lost Inferno?" for more of that. Really one of the best What If? stories out there.

  27. What if? stories were one of the reasons I got involved in all the back history (and back issues) of the Marvel Universe. I would think a lot of Marvel writers have a lot of fun What-if? stories in their head.  I’d love to see a couple of writers be given a 22 page what if? story and than release it annually as a $4.99 giant size issue or something.  Fraction, Parker and Aaron could maintain a book at this rate for years I suspect not to mention a great place to introduce new talent.  I’d buy it.

  28. That Nick Fury What iF book was one of my faves growing up.  "What if" was everything that I love about comics…. it was fun and crazy.  Good times.  I think comics should unclench a bit these days and be a bit more fun.

  29. That last one is ABSOLUTELY IDIOTIC.  Seriously guys, there are ridiculous ideas and then there’s the waste of brainmatter dedicated to such nonsense and WWII and space aliens is just that kind of nonsense.

    I really have to make sure my DVR is set for Saturday’s Doctor Who.

  30. The thing I love about What If?– and try as I might, I could not work this into the list– is that in my experience, the stories typically fall into two categories: either the writer believes everything is predestined to work out to be more or less the same no matter what, or life as we know it in the universe is destroyed because Daredevil missed his bus. There is very little middle ground. I can still remember vol. 2 #1, "What if the Avengers lost the Evolutionary War?" SPOILER ALERT: The Evolutionary War was a much, much, much much bigger deal than it seemed like when I was reading it.

    TNC et al: I too would love to see a hardcore team take the reins at What If? vol. 3. The thing is, whatever else it might be, What If? is an anthology. It’s about different characters every month, and people just don’t take to that anymore for whatever reason. When you pre-order your books three months in advance, you want to know what you’re gettin’. I guess.

    By the way, eXiles was on this list at #1 or Honorable Mention until the very last minute. They figured it out. Give What If? a regular cast and put it in continuity, and you’re all set!

  31. @Jimski: There in lies the problem. Cause Marvel has done recent anthologies (like Strange Tales) and it worked for them. For some reason. DC seems more keen to try out a full blown series based on different characters every month then Marvel.

    I mean Brave and the Bold might not be a sales success right now….But now it’s clearly one of the best DC books printed for a lot of critics and readers. If Marvel thinks the best thing they could do in comparison is ‘Deadpool Team-Up’ then they won’t try any harder at it. Although to be fair, a Deadpool/Captain Britain team up in the future sounds cool… 

  32. I loved the What if? comics and the eXiles even more. Why was the eXiles series cancelled, was it not as good as I thought it was?

  33. What If Dazzler Had Become the Herald of Galactus?
    …but… but… but there’s no SOUND in space. *head’splode* 
  34. @r3v: LMFAO!!!!

  35. @Jimski: Good call about the Exiles and even when it got stagnant they killed off one of the cast and introduced someone new.

    @TNC: I bet the reason DC is more willing to try different things out is becasue they have less titles than Marvel. Marvel releases so many monthly title it seems like they are always "trimming the fat", so to speak.

  36. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    *Takes out Tuesday Showdown notebook, begins taking meticulous notes*

  37. What If Bendis & Grant Morrison teamed up to create an overthought banter-driven book?