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There have been so many variations on comic books that a series like What If… was bound to occur. It was first done in 1977 as Roy Thomas pitched a series that would create parallel universes where comic-book creators would look at key moments in the hero or villain’s life and wonder what would have happened if they made different decisions. The Marvel team utilized their fans interest in the series, generating a lot of ideas from suggestions that fans wrote in. These were later fleshed out to create some of the best (and worst) ideas in the series known as What If…. I’ve compiled my favorite 30 What If… stories from Marvel Unlimited. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! Tell me if you agree in the comments!
30. What if the Original Marvel Bullpen had become the Fantastic Four?
An absolutely ridiculous comic with Stan Lee as Reed Richards, Flo Steinberg (or Marie Severin) as the Invisible Girl, Jack Kirby as The Thing, and Sol Brodsky as the Human Torch. The premise is completely dumb but the execution is just as stupid. The comic is incredibly sexist, with Flo being a secretary who gets powers and then mistreated by Stan Lee, who comes off looking like a horrible boss. The only redeeming factor of this is that it’s the first time that Jack had written a Fantastic Four story. Sadly, this is a great example of a What If…story that should have never left the bullpen.
29. What if Sgt. Fury had fought World War 2 in outer space?
A completely ridiculous premise, as Nick Fury becomes a commando, with what seems to be an ill-advised cigar in his mouth, and fights the Second World War in outer space. This is a comic for people who like the idea of someone wearing a fedora inside their space suit, which, granted, is pretty funny. The whole thing is complicated, has Fury constantly yelling things like “What in the sam hill,” and reading fortune cookie messages out of a computer, with Marvel clearly tries to capitalize on the Star Wars space opera buzz with a big space battle. The absolute best part of this comic comes at the end with writers trying to understand certain aspects of previous parallel universes, especially Nick Fury’s death in What If Captain America and Bucky survived World War II and the Hitler Paradox. If you ever get your hand on this comic, go straight to the back, as the gold of this comic is hidden there.
28. What if Daredevil became an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Daredevil goes under the tutelage of Nick Fury and becomes an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The comic is full of training sessions that Matt goes through with Nick barking orders at him as he does better than anyone before him. Everything is all good until Matt’s father gets kidnapped and Matt wants to go after him. It's an origin story of an origin that never happen but it also gives the Daredevil fans easter eggs to make them chuckle.
27. What if Karen Page had Lived?
Kevin Smith and Brian Michael Bendis come together to write a really depressing story of Daredevil murdering Kingpin and then confessing to the murder, living out the majority of his life behind bars. Bendis, himself, narrates the story instead of The Watcher, but while the premise is interesting, the result is only acceptable as it’s nice to know that Murdock will turn himself in, but there’s no real twists in the storyline to keep one interested.
26. What if the Avengers had defeated everyone?
A question for which it would be too easy for the answer to be, well. they went home. Instead, the scenario becomes a fight against the Scarlet Centurion. It’s an interesting premise as the Avengers become the last super-heroes on Earth, only to make it easier for the Scarlet Centurion to take control. But Thor defeats the Scarlet Centurion and, well, the world is left without superheroes, which, while it may be safer, is nowhere near as fun. It’s an interesting comic but it ends with a flatness that hints there could have been more to this story.
25. What if The Avengers Had Never Been?
The Avengers call it quits (for reals this time) and Iron Man gets really annoyed. The Hulk and Namor, who I swear is in just about every one of these, team up against Iron Man and the rest of the crew, so Tony Stark makes them all armor to come together again (except for, Thor who decided not to care and go to Asgard). They fight, and Iron Man dies, which is sad, but really not as sad as this comic, which really didn’t live up to the promise. It’s an OK issue, but nothing special.
24. What if the Invaders had stayed together after World War II?
If you like US Presidents in a comic book, this one is definitely for you. President Harry Truman makes an appearance at the beginning, bringing in a new Captain America, a former superhero named the Spirit of ’76, to follow in Steve Rogers’s footsteps. Bucky is introduced as well, but his fame was that he was a batboy for the Yankees, which is pretty ridiculous. Regardless, the crew, including, of course, Namor, fight the Nazis and eventually save John F Kennedy from robots. Confusing? Yes, it was. But it is pretty fun seeing a comic JFK who has no clue at all what is going on.
23. What if The Avengers had fought evil in the 1950’s?
A new team compiled of Marvel Boy, 3-D Man, Venus, Jann of the Jungle, and Namora fight evil in a time where costumes were bright and breasts were somehow very large. The writer of this issue was Roy Thomas, who originally thought of the What If… series and this one, in particular, is rather good, as you get to see a brand new team interact with each other and, of course, save President Eisenhower from a skeleton person. There is a little bit of a meta element to the whole thing as the universe is shown by the golden avenger to the current Avenger squad to witness their counterparts. This 1950s team would late be brought back as the Agents of Atlas.
22. What if Spider-Man Had Rescued Gwen Stacey?
The answer? Basically, they would have immediately decided it was time to get married and Norman Osborne would be closer to Harry and then decide against donning a costume as the Green Goblin. Who’s the villain, then? Well, J. Jonah Jameson, of course, as he tells the world who Spider-Man really is (Norman outs him) and Parker is left running from both the cops and the press on the day of his wedding. While the comic book world cried when Gwen Stacey died, I think they would have cried a lot more if the comic went in this direction.
21. What if Wolverine had killed the Hulk?
Wolverine kills the Hulk, eventually becomes a pawn of Magneto and is instructed to infiltrate the X-Men house. He, of course, meets Jean Grey, and falls for her completely. He fights back against Magneto, a decision that ultimately ends with him killing himself as Magneto, upon dying, himself, turns Wolverine’s claws on his own neck. It’s a comic with a lot of death in it, and a pretty good tragedy. It's not the best of the series but a solid story with familiar themes that reward fans of Wolverine more than the Hulk.
20. What if Dazzler had become the herald of Galactus? / What if Iron Man was trapped in the time of King Arthur?
Dazzler, like the Silver Surfer, goes in search of planets that Galacuts may consume. She is horrified at what happens to the green and luscious planets, but soon finds herself feeling something toward Galacutus. The story is a pretty much cut and dry tale of Stockholm Syndrome, which, as weird as that may sound, is better than the Iron Man comic that follows it. In the issue in which Iron Man and Dr. Doom go back in time, this time around, Dr. Doom doesn’t follow through with his promise and bring Iron Man with him, instead tricking Tony Stark into staying in the land of King Arthur. Iron Man becomes a knight and fights a sorceress named Morgana with the King, who falls in battle. Iron Man becomes King of England and peace reigns for a hundred years. It’s sort of ridiculous premise that is only there to show sword fighting in an old British time.
19. What If Spider-Man Had Never Become a Crimefighter?
In this universe, Spider-Man stops the thief before he gets a chance to kill Uncle Ben, and he embarks on a television career instead of a crime fighting one. Spider-Man substitutes in for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, gets his own movie alongside Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando, strong-arms Jameson at gunpoint, and tries to enlist the Fantastic Four in his talent agency. He continues signing heroes to his agency and there’s a weird transition as Spider-Man now cares about money more than anything else. All Spider-Man What If… comics eventually go back to great power and great responsibility, but this is one of the better ones as Peter really transforms into a parody of Hollywood that is pretty funny.
18. What if General Ross had become the Hulk?
General Ross saves both Rick Jones and Bruce Banner, but ends up being a Hulk that can’t talk well (his mind works like that of a stroke victim). Ross’s tale is more of a tragedy than Banner’s as, in fighting the military, he throws a tank that lands right on Betty’s house, killing his daughter. He turns back into his human form and Banner shoots him in the head. Pretty grim story and the most depressing of the what-if-someone-else-became-the-Hulk What If... series.
17. What if Aunt May had been killed instead of Uncle Ben?
Ed Brubaker writes this tale of two guys in a comic book store discussing a what-if scenario (one of them happens to have a Watcher t-shirt on). Instead of having a Spider-Man concerned with power and responsibility, we find a tormented Spider-Man who not only has the guilt from killing the assailant, but also must take the guilt from Uncle Ben going to the slammer, as he ends up taking the rap for May's death. This is not your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man story but, instead, a dark, Batmanish Spider-Man that is having a difficult time with loss. It’s an excellent interpretation of a What If… that spidey fans have definitely thought of on multiple occasions.
16. What if Captain America Hadn’t Vanished During World War II?
Bucky Lives! Nick Fury Dies! Captain America becomes head of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Bucky Dies! So much happens in this comic that the audience must have had to read it multiple times to really comprehend what is going on. Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes continue to be the awesome duo, but when Steve gets too old, he becomes head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Bucky takes Cap’s shield after following a very homoerotic back and forth shown above. Rick Jones assumes the role of Bucky, but not for long as, soon, Captain America, which is now the original Bucky Barnes, gets killed by Hydra, leaving the door open for Rick Jones to be Cap. A lot is going on in this comic that spans decades, and it may just make you wish they made a novel of it, instead.
15. What if Nova had been four other people?
Richard Rider gets sidestepped as Nova in this What If.... for a pretty intense wife whose husband had been murdered (turns out the Kingpin was behind everything, and she doesn’t hesitate to kill him). She continues to go mad until Reed Richards sends her into the Negative Zone. Then, the Watcher shows a homeless black man as Nova and he fight the Skrulls until he gives his life to save Earth. And lastly, Peter Parker becomes Nova after the spider that bites him makes him disabled, which consequently causes Aunt May to die of a heart attack. When Peter protects Uncle Ben from getting killed he accidentally kills the assailant and then gives up being a superhero. The alternate super hero books sadly always end up the same way where the reader goes, huh, I guess they picked the right guy.
14. What if Jessica Jones had Joined The Avengers?
Bendis narrates this from a diner where Jessica Jones sits behind him in a booth. In this parallel universe, Captain America convinces Jessica Jones to become a part of the Avengers, and she becomes a close member of the team...so close, in fact, that she and Steve Rogers end up tying the knot and Jessica Jones finally gets to live happily ever after. It’s easy to get pulled into this episode and see the arc of Jessica Jones going from someone that was controlled by the Purple Man to a happy wedding (to Steve Rogers, no less).
13. What if the Fantastic Four had Different Super-Powers
The Fantastic Four get different powers as Ben Grimm grows insect-like wings, Sue Storm gets Reed Richards' former powers, and Johnny Storm becomes a metal man, aka Mandroid. Oh, and Reed Richards becomes a brain. Yes, you heard me right: Reed Richard becomes a brain that floats around. Doom captures the brain, which somehow can still communicate, and the two have the weirdest conversation imaginable. Doom fights the Fantastic Four and Reed Richards finds himself in control of Doctor Doom’s body as the Watcher quotes poetry from Thomas Lynch. The comic ends bizarrely as Doctor Doom, as Reed Richards, stands triumphantly as Mr. Fantastic with a 4 on his chest and a blue cape.
12. What if someone else beside Spider-Man had been bitten by the radioactive spider
While Peter Parker knew that great powers means great responsibility, this What If… comic explores what would happen if other characters became Spider-Man. Sadly, they’re all not very good at it. Flash Thompson, who was jerk at the beginning, gets killed trying to be a super-hero by the Vulture, Betty Bryant, who wears a sexy one-piece swimsuit as the most absurd costume, can’t bring herself to use her super-strength and eventually quits, and Colonel John Jameson uses a rocket pack to fly but ends up falling to his death. What happens to Peter? Well, he finds the dead spider and figures out a way to be Spider-Man, himself, so basically this What If… solution is basically the same thing happens.
11. What if Rick Jones had become the Hulk?
Instead of getting protected by Bruce Banner, Rick Jones becomes the great green one. Yet Rick is ashamed of his transformation and, most of the comic is how he becomes Bucky Barnes after helping Captain America but then, sadly, Hulks out in front of him, running away, ashamed. Banner, though, finds a way of separating Rick Jones from the Hulk and, by the end of the day, Rick gets a girl, Captain Marvel makes a visit, and the Hulk is somewhere in the Negative Zone having a ball (Hulks LOVE negative zones). All in all, this was a fun series where an alternative reality is shown with a lot of crossovers, making everyone pretty happy.
10. What if Jane Foster had found the Hammer of Thor?
Instead of Donald Blake taking up the hammer and fulfilling his destiny as Thor, Jane Foster becomes Thordis in what is a retelling of the Thor origin story. While Marvel would use this idea again with Jason Aaron at the helm, this Jane Foster Thordis version has Thordis become part of The Avengers and an incredible hero in her own right. Yet Odin, of course, sees that she is a false Thor and forces her to give the hammer to Donald Blake to restore order and complete his destiny. What does Jane Foster get out of all of this? Thor’s hand in marriage? Nope, she instead becomes a goddess and, for some reason, decides to marry Odin as Thor marries Sif. Strange ending, but a supposedly happy one.
9. What if the world knew Daredevil is blind?
Afterbeing taken down by Spider-Man, Electro spills the beans on Daredevil’s secret, to which Spider-Man responds that it makes sense he’s blind because the yellow costume is butt ugly. With the cat out of the bag, Karen Page finds out, and they fall in love, while Daredevil has a medical procedure that restores his sight. With his sight intact, he loses his super-powers, marries Karen, tells the world he’s Daredevi,l and becomes the District Attorney. Oh, and Foggy is sad at the end because he loves Karen, as well. This is one of many stories where the answer to the What If... is, he got married and stopped being a super-hero. Yes, it provides closure, but boy, is it not good comic book material, and feels like a cop out.
8. What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?
Peter Parker, low on funds, decides to join the Fantastic Four in what would be the first What If… comic book. His involvement with the beloved group has J.Jonah Jameson admit he was wrong in calling Spider-Man a nuisance and, together they become a super group of the Fantastic Five. Unfortunately, as super groups tend to go, one of the people in the group feels a little left out, and that weak link is the Invisible Woman, Sue Storm, who gets kidnapped and eventually leaves Reed Richards for Namor. Also, they make it so Sue could never change her mind by irreversibly making her one of his amphibious race. At the end, Spidey wonders if he never joined, if things would have gone differently, but the Human Torch assures him that most likely it wouldn’t, while we all know the real story.
7. What if the Hulk had the brain of Bruce Banner?
Full of the most hilarious quotes out of any of the original What If… series, this issue sees the Hulk’s beginning reenacted with Bruce Banner’s brain intact. This leads to a very sweet conversation with the Gargoyle wherein Hulk and Gargoyle become friends. Then, Banner changes back to his former self and he and Betty decide it would be romantic to go on a boat ride in a lake as The Watcher hides beneath a tree to watch. Later, the Hulk teams up with the Fantastic Four and Charles Xavier, and they fight Galactus together. Finding no other way to beat him, they go into the Psychotron and become one entity, a combination of their powers, and beat Galactus, but revert to their former selves, but without any super powers. Oh, and the Thing goes crazy for, really, no apparent reason. It’s a good, long issue but also it’s really completely ridiculous.
6. What if Namor grew up on land with his human father?
Robert Kirkman writes this story of how Namor refuses to return to his homeland, and instead fights with the Human Torch against the Nazis. It’s a really dark tale that has the Nazis take over Atlantis and keep the Human Torch as a prisioner, taking his energy for their own use. An excellent Namor story serves as a really interesting What If… tale.
5. What if the Beast and the Thing continued to mutate?
Long story short, this was good for Thing, bad for Beast. Thing gets to return to human form, giving Ben Grimm the skin he’s been wanting, while Beast loses his mind in an incredibly sad tale. Beast is relegated to live in the wilderness as an animal, whereas Ben Grimm gets the girl and Bill Foster, Black Goliath, takes his place in the Fantastic Four. A surprisingly good story that is interesting and sad and one of the better What If… stories.
4. What if the alien costume had possessed Spider-Man?
The alien costume that becomes Venom consumes Peter Parker until it finally leaves him for The Hulk, and then Thor. Parker gets years taken away from his life and has a heartbreaking scene om wjocj he sees Aunt May. Finally, Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans, has to come from the moon to take care of the alien costume. Black Cat, throughout the entire comic ,stays by Spider-Man’s side and makes a sacrifice to get her revenge by killing the entity instead of allowing Doctor Strange to send it away. Overall, it’s a pretty good issue about something every Spider-Man fan has thought of at least once.
3. What if Phoenix had not died?
The power of the Phoenix really gets put on display as Frank Miller pulls no punches in this alternative reality. Phoenix defeats Galactus and then makes the mistake of taking the energy from a star while Kitty Pride is taking notice. Oh, also, Phoenix doesn’t like to be second guessed as she destroys the X-Men one by one as they all beg for her to stop, ending, of course, with Scott. Through her regretful actions, she decides to annihilate space and time together, destroying that entire reality. This What If… could have also been titled, What If…Phoenix had a really bad day and it would be the same result.
2. What if Elektra had Lived?
The answer to this is that Daredevil would have been a lot happier, and his sex life would have improved dramatically. In a brilliantly composed issue by Frank Miller, this comic tells a complicated story without that many words. Matt Murdock is crushed without Electra, but with her, it seems his life has grown significantly. It’s a gorgeously drawn book and one of the best of the What If… series.
1. What if the Avengers had become pawns of Korvac?
Korvac brings back the Avengers but, this time to do his bidding in the very best What If… possible. The Watcher is attacked and then forced to not watch, but act, while Korvac lays by the pool and forces the Avengers to act. Captain America, The Vision, and Hercules get killed and Korvac kills everything on Earth until everything goes into oblivion. It's definitely a little of a downer, but it’s what you expect when you get Frank Miller and Larry Hama together. The scope of the comic, though, is pretty amazing as this is really an epic of a tale that ends with a bang.