Pick of the Week

12.29.2004 – What If…Karen Page Had Lived?

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Writer – Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller – Michael Lark
Colorist – Dave Stewart
Letterer – VC’s Cory Petit

Marvel Comics – $2.99

I’m not one for events. I didn’t, as many of my peers likely did, buy all the issues of What If… that came out this week, but I did decide to take a gamble on the one’s by writers I like about stuff I know about. I was pleasantly surprised by this little tale, and here I am to tell you about it. Normally these one offs attact a lesser pool of talent, or at least those who aren’t as on their game as some of the big guns of comics, but this is Brian Michael Bendis (honestly, who knows Matt Murdock better?) and Michael Lark, who may be new to Marvel fans, but readers of Gotham Central have no doubt about his talent. Not one of the nine of us!

I’m warning you of spoilers now, because I can’t think of another way to talk about this. Either way, the events aren’t as important as the telling, since there are no big surprises here, as much as good storytelling.

So we go back to the one story Kevin Smith finished, his arc on Daredevil, and instead of Bullseye tossing Matt’s club through her heart, he misses. I know, I know, but he doesn’t miss. Well, that’s the point. What if he did? So Karen lives and Matt gets mad and long story short, he offs the Kingpin. Then after a trial, Matt is sent to prison and wallows in self pity. That’s pretty much the plot. But again, it’s the telling of this plot which makes this satisfying. Bendis knows this character, and since he knows him so well, this is a very nice and reliable account of how things might have been.

Gotham Central is clearly now weaker without the strokes of Michael Lark, because I dug his work on this book. It was perfect, and very much in the style of the current Daredevil penciller Alex Maleev. It’s both sketchy and almost photographic. And the mood is matched by the art almost perfectly. You feel like you’re watching a well shot crime drama filmed in gritty stock. That’s what Lark’s art feels like.

I only read one other What If…, and it was the Brubaker story about Spider-Man. That had an entirely different feel, and I also enjoyed it, but for different reasons than this issue. Overall, I’m sure these are forgettable treats, but it’s good to jump off the tracks now and again, and peer around a new corner.

Josh Flanagan
Would probably rather he just stayed at Gotham Central
E-Mail: josh@ifanboy.com

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Comments

  1. Well, as predicted, I bought ALL the What if…? stories as I LOVED the old series. After reading them all, my feelings were mixed.

    I read the 2 Bendis books first and was dismayed to see that:
    1) There was no Watcher! Unless the bald guy in the diner (who looked alot like Bendis…) was supposed to be the Watcher.
    2) He took like HALF the issue to just explain the backstory and what really happened, leaving like literally 6 or so pages to the “What if…” story.
    3) I didn’t really dig Lark’s art on the Daredevil story
    4) I REALLY enjoyed the Jessica Jones story and LOVE Gaydos’ art.

    The rest of the books were just subpar.
    Some had the Watcher, some didn’t. Claremont’s X-Men story was rushed at best and all over the place. There wer emoments of possible goodness, but it wasn’t consistent and the art was horrible.

    The Spider-man story was just ok. I like the comic book store guy with the Watcher t-shirt, nice nod to tradition. But the sotry lacked something, the concept was sound but it lacked a follow through I think, again it just felt rushed.

    The rest of the books were all kinds of awful. The Fantastic Four story and the Hulk story just were such throwawys in terms of story and art, it’s not even funny.

    Sigh

    I’m going to dig up all my “What If…” Vol.2 books now to re-read and see what its like to do “What If…” right.

  2. I only bought some of the WHAT IFs.

    The Karen Page one.
    The Jessica Jones one.
    The Uncle Ben one.
    The Hulk one.

    Out of all of those I thought that the one most true to the spirit of the old, classic WHAT IF… series was the Hulk one. It was the only one narrated by The Watcher, which I think is essential. It also followed the classic formula: a small twist leads to a change in the storyline which ultimately leads to tragedy for the main character. I can’t think of a single old WHAT IF… story that didn’t end in the death of the main character or something very bad happening to them. That was most certainly the case in the Hulk one.

    The two written by Bendis — while well written — were all wrong, tonally.

    The Michael Lark art was kick ass, though.

  3. My choices are so unpopular.

    I for one liked the idea that they took some liberty with the presentation of the watcher. They hinted at it, but didn’t use the old style. Also, for newer readers, who may not be familiar with the watcher, there’s not much point in using him.

    I’m now convinced that if I were to become the head of a Marvel or DC, I would really outrage fans.

    btw, just finished the last ID Crisis, and that was good stuff. Really nice good old fashioned superhero drama I thought, but done with a modern sensibility.

  4. Don’t F with the Watcher. It’s like one of those holiest of holy in the Marvel U.

    Although, IF Bendis meant for him in the diner to be the Watcher among us, that would have been fine by me if there just some sort of nod or something to ole Uatu.

    the fanboys have spoken.

  5. I have no doubt that Bendis meant for himself to be The Watcher. It’s clever, but it’s not “What If…”

  6. So I’m clear, if it’s not done the way it was always done, it’s no good at all? That has been and always will be our disagreement on the production of art. I mean, if nothing is free to adapt and change and must remain the same as what came before it, things get real boring. You can’t stop innovation either way.

    In a way, isn’t the writer the same as the Watcher in overall spirit and concept? The Watcher knows and sees all, but doesn’t interfere. For a lot of writers, that’s the same case, since in my experiences, stories happen more because of what the characters do rather than what the writer wants. True writing at any rate. It just happens that BMB is bald, but I didn’t think the guy narrating actually looked like Bendis other that that.

  7. “So I’m clear, if it’s not done the way it was always done, it’s no good at all? That has been and always will be our disagreement on the production of art. I mean, if nothing is free to adapt and change and must remain the same as what came before it, things get real boring. You can’t stop innovation either way.”

    No one is suggesting comics shouldn’t innovate. But if you are revisiting and paying tribute to a classic concept that was held to a strict narrative structure then you should hold to that model. Otherwise, why do the tribute? If you want to innovate, don’t call the book WHAT IF…

    “It just happens that BMB is bald, but I didn’t think the guy narrating actually looked like Bendis other that that.”

    Michael Lark drew him EXACTLY like Bendis.

  8. the idea behind “what if…” is still the same. it just didn’t use the “exact” same structure, and I don’t really care about that aspect. It isn’t going to change my enjoyment of a story.

    But like I said, we’ll disagree.

    I was looking at it and thinking he was bald but didn’t look like Bendis to me. Maybe he wasn’t round enough. But I feel like between Jinx and Goldfish, I’ve seen Bendis’ face a lot and that wasn’t it. But perhaps I just had too exact of an idea in my head. Or maybe I was thinking about the cartoon version from Fortune and Glory.

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