The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 1

August 3rd, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s time to begin. Er… now that I’ve done two prelude articles before starting this off, I now realize that I don’t have anything to say for an intro. I could always go over the history of the series. Yeah, let’s do that.

What If first started in 1977 with the issue What If Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four?, based on the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man. The series lasted for seven years until ending with issue #47, What If Loki Had Found the Hammer of Thor? For the most part, the quality remained about the same.

Several years after cancellation, a special was released called What If Iron Man Had Been a Traitor? While not exactly a classic, it seemed to have helped bring the rebirth of the series as volume 2 started the very next year, 1989. Volume 2 followed the same structure of the first volume: Uatu the Watcher would go on a monologue about who he is and what he does, followed by spelling out just what the issue’s story is about. Like I mentioned a couple articles back, this is a good way to learn Marvel history. Me, I just found out Shang Chi’s backstory days ago. Before that all I knew about him was that he’s some martial artist guy without fear and his name makes him sound like Shang Tsung and Quan Chi from Mortal Kombat did the Fusion Dance.

I can’t be alone in this, can I?

Volume 2, starting with the atrocious What If the Avengers Lost the Evolutionary War? was otherwise pretty high-quality in the beginning. Just looking over the list of what came out around then makes me realize that they had their game faces on when cranking these out. The first real snag the series hit was the Timequake storyline. After that, the series became hit-or-miss. It’s also worth noting that volume 2 introduced two-parters into the series. Those I’ll review together as one story.

By the end of issue #76, What If Peter Parker Had to Destroy Spider-Man?, they officially removed the Watcher as the narrator. This led to confusion in some stories, as it’s hard to catch just what the big change is. Once they got to #87, they got a bit lazy and went straight to the point, by just saying who the main character is, such as that issue’s What If…? Starring Sabertooth: Screams in the Night.

As the series reached its end, they would start giving us two-page recaps to explain the issue’s concept as well as brief character descriptions of the story’s main players. That really came in handy when I had to read through Ka-Zar’s god awful issue. There was a special issue that came out during flashback week that starred Bishop, but the less said about that one, the better. Well… except for this part:

Keep in mind, this was the 90’s, so a lot of those latter issues were pretty painful. Still, the volume lasted 114 issues, which is very impressive. The final issue came out in 1998 with a good send-off story based on the Secret Wars. I’ll talk more about that one when I get to it.

Six years of silence later, What If made a comeback. Sort of. During December of 2004, six issues were released. The next December, another six came. There was also a comedic issue called Wha Huh?, but that one was long delayed due to legal mumbo jumbo. Truth be told, most of these new issues were pretty damn underwhelming. I like Bendis as much as the next guy, but his issues about Daredevil and Jessica Jones fell pretty flat. Don’t expect too many of these issues to make the list, but there were a couple of gems tossed in there.

I’m sure by the end of these articles, the solicitations for what Marvel has in store for December will be online. I myself am hoping that they keep going with their annual What If binge and maybe, just maybe, Deadpool will get his own story this time.


Issue: Volume 1, #9
Writer: Don Glut
Artist: Alan Kupperberg and Bill Black
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Back in the 40’s, the heroes of the time banded together to become the Invaders. Then in the 60’s (or roughly ten years ago in current continuity), the Avengers came together. But what about the 50’s? Who were the heroes of the time and what were to happen if they had joined forces?

In the present, Iron Man brings the Avengers to see this. He has a monitor that looks into alternate worlds and watches the events of the 1950’s. One must give Tony Stark props for somehow having cameras that not only show the heroes teaming up and fighting all over the world, but knowing exactly when to film the villain plotting in his hidden hideout.

Asian FBI agent action star James Woo is constantly on the search for the big villain of the time, the Yellow Claw. When being attacked by some goons, he’s helped out by 3D-Man, a smart-mouthed hero with the strength, speed and durability of three men. As it turns out, Woo wants 3D-Man to join a team with the intentions of stopping Yellow Claw’s latest scheme.

Soon others join. The Flash Gordon-esque Marvel Boy signs on. They go to Africa to join forces with Gorilla Man, a hunter cursed to live in the form of the mystical ape he set out to kill. The goddess Venus humors the group. Then there is the Human Robot, my personal favorite.

Years ago, a scientist created the Human Robot, but couldn’t finish him until he had installed a regulator. His crooked manager snuck into the lab and tried to program the Human Robot to kill his creator. Without a regulator, the Human Robot went on a mindless rampage, killing everyone in his path until somehow ending up drowned near the city’s docks. With the help of Namora (who didn’t join), they uncovered the short-circuited body. With Venus’ calming ability and Marvel Boy’s scientific genius, the team finally got the Human Robot under control. Like his creator intended, Human Robot even has sentience and can think for himself.

And now, we have our team.

A month later, the Yellow Claw puts together a team of mind-controlled villains to counter the Avengers. They’re really not worth discussing. Their plan is to capture President Eisenhower because, hey, it’s the 50’s and that scheme is always a classic. At first the Avengers have a hard time getting along (mainly 3D-Man, Gorilla Man and Human Robot nearly getting into a messy brawl), but eventually, they put aside their differences, find the President and get into a big fight scene with Yellow Claw’s villains. Unfortunately, Yellow Claw gets away at the end.

Eisenhower is thrilled with the team’s efforts, but asks them to disband. The world just isn’t ready for superhuman stuff. The members agree and go their separate ways. Back in our universe, the real Avengers take in the heroics they had just witnessed. They realize that the Golden Age Avengers were similar to themselves. Captain America identifies with 3D-Man’s fighting style, Iron Man sees his science-based laser powers as similar to that of Marvel Boy, Beast begrudgingly admits how he and Gorilla Man are so alike, Vision admires the Human Robot for his inner-nobility and Thor points out that Venus being a goddess makes her his counterpart.

The Watcher watches over the Avengers and brings up an interesting point. This may have taken place in another reality, but how do we know it didn’t happen in this reality as well? After all, after the government cover-up, there’s nothing stopping the Golden Age Avengers from being in-continuity.

While incredibly cheesy at points and hard to get into at first, this issue does help warm you up to these obscure characters of yesteryear. Marvel always needed its own JSA, so I wouldn’t mind seeing more from this team.

Throughout the years, there have been a couple of mentions of the Golden Age Avengers, such as in Avengers Forever, but nothing major. Until now. On the week of this writing, Agents of Atlas #1 is set to come out. Agents of Atlas is a modern day spin-off of this What If issue, based on the team coming back together, sans 3D-Man. If it means more Human Robot, count me in.


Issue: Volume 1, #26
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Artist: Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Spider-Man death: No
Background: A while back, a government guy suggested Cap should run for president. He refused and made a speech to destroy rumors. Here, the look of the crowd inspires him to change his mind and he announces that he will run for president.

Steve Rogers as President of the United States would be pretty kickass. But not nearly as kickass as this:

Since Cap has to deal with a bunch of yes-men trying to manipulate him, he decides to choose a running mate he can trust. Enter Andrew Jackson Hawk, a black senator with a vote record that Cap trusts. After some arguing, the two come a decision to run their ticket together.

Long story short, Cap kicks the asses of Reagan and Carter in the polls and becomes President of the United States. He unmasks himself to the public, though few recognize Steve Rogers. Immediately after unmasking, a sniper tries to assassinate him. Cap takes to action and brings the perpetrator to his Secret Service men. One of the guys points out how messed up it is that they’re supposed to be protecting Captain America, but the other admits that seeing him in charge just makes him feel safer.

President America is very successful, all in all. Then comes the subplot about San Pedro, a South American country in the middle of a revolution. Cap comes to greet the head of the rebels and, surprise-surprise, it’s the Red Skull. In a plot similar to Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Skull plans to use some of the satellites President America sent into space to blow up the White House, ID4-style. Cap gets free and screws up the controls so that the beam focuses on where he and Skull are. Cap decides that the only way to stop Skull from changing the beam’s course back to the White House is to take the fight to him. A fight Cap doesn’t have the time to win.

The beam does indeed kill Captain America and Red Skull. The only piece of remains found is the indestructible shield. Later, the superhero community turns out to hear Nick Fury give Steve Rogers’ eulogy.

“I know ya don’t much feel like listenin’ to a speech right now… but someone’s gotta say it – Cap’s dead… But he chose ta die so the country he loved more ‘n anything else could live. An’ I think it’s important to remember that though Cap was the finest man I ever knew, he never considered himself special… He always considered it an honor ta be selected ta be Captain America, always thought it reflected not only him, but on the country that made him. The country that he loved.

“Rest easy, soldier – you’ve done your job.”

While a bit boring at times, there was something fitting about seeing Captain America as the leader of the free world. The concept has been used elsewhere, such as Marvel Zombies and the Last Avengers Story, but here we get to see it in action. Maybe in a few years, they can do this again, in regular continuity.

Plus there’s something funny about how Red Skull’s plotting has left the country with a black president.


Issue: Volume 2, #109
Writer: Bill Rosemann
Artist: Anthony Castrillo
Spider-Man death: No
Background: This is a bit Silver Age and therefore a bit confusing. There was this time when Dr. Doom and the Puppet Master teamed up. They created this fake, miniature town called Liddleville and then hypnotized the Fantastic Four, Franklin Richards and Alicia Masters. Much like a really fucked up version of the Matrix, the six lived with their minds projected into little clone versions of themselves. They all lived as normal people with little to no memories of who they really are. Ben Grimm, in the form of a human, was the happiest. Eventually, Reed found out the truth and they all decided to take on Doom. Still, Ben was the most reluctant. What if he didn’t return to his rocky body and instead lived in his paradise?

He eventually convinced Reed to let him stay by guilt-tripping him. Alicia is spared the truth, since Ben doesn’t want her leaving either. The two are left to watch over Franklin as his parents “move away” for the time being.

One of the biggest clichés in the Fantastic Four is what happens when Ben turns human. The story’s been done to death in both movies, the cartoons and Lord knows how many times in the comics. Ben will find a way to become normal again and then undo it because his buddies need his help as the Thing. Same old shit.

Here, it’s not so different. At first, Ben is having a decent enough time living his dream life, despite the fact that Reed and the others haven’t come back for Franklin. After a while, he decides to use one of Reed’s devices to turn himself into the Thing. It’s when he rides one of Doom’s robots into the sky that he sees the horrible truth: without him there to help, the other three had died against Doom. Their decaying bodies are still plugged into the Matrix-like machine.

All this time, Doom has been watching over Liddleville in the robotic form of a man named Vincent Vaughn (not kidding). Thing confronts him, clobbers him and finds a way to blackmail him to the point that Doom’s robot head gives him instructions of how to return to their normal forms. Thing, Alicia and Franklin wake up in Latveria. Thing is still a rocky monster and Alicia is blind once again. Alicia lays into Thing for how his own selfishness and dishonesty has turned things to shit.

Sadly, an already unhappy ending is made many times worse once the three hear loud laughing. Looking up, they see this horrifying image.

The three are still but toys after all, hopelessly stuck in their mini-Latveria prison for the remainder of their lives. Despite being a seriously weird story, that was one creepy ending.


Issue: Volume 1, #40
Writer: Peter Gillis
Artist: Butch Guice
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Greedy asshole surgeon Stephan Strange got in a car accident and learned that he could never use his hands for surgery again. He hit a bad downward spiral and turned to drinking, until hearing about the Ancient One, who could help him. Strange didn’t believe in magic at first, but he ended up witnessing a battle between the Ancient One and Ancient One’s disciple Baron Mordo. Mordo, as it turned out, was really working for the demon Dormammu. Strange felt the need to fight for the side of good and became the Ancient One’s new student. Now, then. What if Mordo hadn’t challenged the Ancient One?

We see Mordo secretly digging into the black arts, which is where he was meant to come in contact with the Dread Dormammu. Instead, he is attacked by tentacles. This is soon ignored as we see that Mordo is suddenly a worthy student for the Ancient One. He even admits that he feared Mordo would be tempted by evil, but he has proven himself.

When Strange shows up, Mordo submits to the idea that the Ancient One might toss him aside since Strange has more untapped magic potential, yet the Ancient One assures him that Mordo will remain his pupil. Strange stays with the two for a while until coming to terms with his problems. He returns to civilization and becomes a professor, teaching young doctor hopefuls. Tossed in there is an appearance by Donald Blake, whose similar situation of being a crippled doctor inspires his studies.

Baron Mordo works as the protector of Earth and does a damn good job of it. Anything Dormammu sends at him gets sent back with little effort. Dormammu threatens to personally destroy Mordo and his dimension, leading Mordo to enter Dormammu’s world. In his travels, Mordo meets Clea and manipulates her to help him outsmart Dormammu, making it so that Dormammu is bound by his word not to invade Earth. Clea feels disturbed by the power she felt in Mordo and investigates.

As reward for proving himself against Dormammu, Mordo is given the Eye of Agamotto and the pimp red cape we all know and love. Unfortunately, even if we want to believe that Mordo’s legit, we already know from Clea’s findings and the opening scene that something is wrong. Things are even more suspicious when we see that Strange is constantly having night terrors.

It’s revealed that in this reality, Mordo isn’t working for Dormammu nor the Ancient One, but for Nightmare. This was all an elaborate scheme for Nightmare to gain the Eye of Agamotto so he can convince Dormammu to team up with him and cause all sorts of chaos through Earth that both would gain pleasure from. The only thing in his way is Dr. Strange, whose magic potential makes him a threat.

Nightmare attempts to imprison Strange (rather than, I don’t know, killing him?), but Strange figures out a way out. He allies himself with Clea and defeats Mordo as Dormammu finishes off the Ancient One. After what looks to be the death of Clea, Strange gets furious and finally confronts his enemies: Dormammu and Nightmare both holding the Eye of Agamotto.

Full of pure emotion and knowing that the world is fucked if he fails, Strange lets loose all of his magic at once. So powerful and so concentrated is his attack that it blasts his enemies back to their home dimensions. This also causes Strange to age drastically before collapsing and dying. Clea arrives and realizes she’s too late to save him. She mourns despite the fact that she didn’t even know the man’s name.

In the afterlife, Strange meets the Ancient One, who despite being dead, insists that Strange be his disciple.

The idea of Strange not being the Ancient One’s disciple has been done several times in What If, but this did the best job of mixing the main aspects of Strange’s universe into a good story. I have to admit that since I’m not too big on Dr. Strange normally, the Nightmare revelation did hit me by surprise. At first it looked like Umar was the one giving Mordo orders, but that may have just been me ignoring what most Strange fans would deem obvious.

…and also not looking at the badly-drawn cover for more than two seconds.


Issue: Volume 1, #12
Writer: Don Glut
Artist: Sam Buscema
Spider-Man death: No (wow, Spidey gets a perfect score this article)
Background: When testing his new gamma bomb, Bruce Banner saw a young Rick Jones hanging out in the blast zone. He raced over and tossed Rick into a trench. Rick was protected as Bruce took the full blast from the gamma radiation, thereby becoming the Incredible Hulk. But what if Rick Jones had shoved Bruce into the trench first? What if it was Rick Jones who became the emerald giant?

For the most part, this issue is a bit annoying. It’s almost like a big clip show, as Rick just does everything that he and the Hulk have done in normal continuity. Hulk joins the Avengers, Rick becomes the protégé of Captain America, Rick becomes Captain Marvel’s sidekick, etc. One of the differences is that Bruce Banner is trying to revert Rick back to his normal self during all this. He creates a cannon that fires gamma rays, which is fired on Rick several times. The first time, Loki cancels out the effect. The second time (after Hulk leaves the Avengers) is far more successful, though not permanent.

What makes the issue truly worth reading is the dialogue of Rick Jones as the Hulk. Here’s a list of some of his many words of wisdom:

“BAH! Square is too chicken to fight!”

“Soldiers… UNCOOL! Soldiers don’t fight fair! Use shivs… heaters! So I am called ‘Hulk’, huh? Well, Hulk won’t rumble with soldiers… but will CUT OUT INSTEAD!”

“BANNER!! Hulk is gonna total you!”

“Nix! Hulk ain’t no murderer! So better go split!”

“So Hydra wants to rumble with Hulk, huh?! GROOVY! Then Hulk gets to BUST SOME HEADS!!”

“Cap right! Hulk may be tough guy – but Hulk ain’t no bully! So leave Hydra bums to square hero!”

Awesome lingo aside, the story starts to get good towards the end, when everything ties together. While Captain Marvel is on Earth, that means Rick has to float around the Negative Zone. That was their thing back then. It’s only a matter of time before Rick runs into Annihilus, who angers Rick enough to transform him into the Hulk. That’s where things get fun.

“Don’t jive Hulk with fancy lingo, Bug-Man! Hulk doesn’t dig it! And Hulk doesn’t dig you, Bug-Man! Doesn’t like getting choked! So Hulk’s gonna swat the Bug-Man like Rick’d swat some crummy fly!”

The inhabitants of the Negative Zone cheer Hulk on and he thrives on it.

Banner fires his gamma cannon at Hulk through the Negative Zone and its effects are different than what he expected. Not only does it make Rick and Hulk separate into two beings, but it allows Captain Marvel freedom to walk the Earth without having to end up back in the Negative Zone every three hours. Reed Richards pulls Rick out of the Negative Zone, leaving Hulk to finish his business with Annihilus.

Using a ray gun, Annihilus gets the advantage and almost has the fight won. But the Negative Zone onlookers keep cheering for Hulk and not unlike a mustached wrestler also named Hulk, our hero gets his second wind.

“NO! Little weirdoes want Hulk to beat Bug-Man! They keep cheering for Hulk to win! And Hulk won’t cop out on them! So, Bug-Man crashes out on Hulk! And if he wakes up, he’ll shoot his souped-up zip-gun again! Better that Bug-Man stays crashed out! ‘Cause Hulk is sick of getting bugged by freaky Bug-Man!”

Hulk’s final punch knocks Annihilus into a floating rock and causes Annihilus’ weapon to explode, killing him. And so, a happy ending. Rick, Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner can all move on with their lives as the Hulk stays within the Negative Zone. Here, Hulk spends his days joyously, able to exercise his strength on his surroundings while the others there treat him with the respect he’s always wanted.

Next time on the What If Countdown: Loki gets Punk’d.

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7 comments to “The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 1”

  1. That Rick Jones/Hulk lingo is awesome.

    Hard to take seriously, but awesome nonetheless.

    Who wrote that script?

  2. Oh, sorry. Duh, writer’s up there.

  3. The twist at the end of #109 seemed just random and forced to me. Ah, well.

    And I didn’t even realize the whole “Red Skull caused black President” thing. Hah, awesome.

  4. I always hoped theyd do a Transformers What if
    Example. WHAT IF Megatron became the Heroic Leader of the Autobots, and OPTIMUS PRIME Was the merciless, ruthless leader of the decepticons? My bet is PRIME would make a kick ass heartless decepticon (Motormaster). Another good what if would be WHAT IF Starscream Led the Decepticons?

  5. It is weird they never did Transformers– I know they did some Conan What Ifs.

    I kinda have to question doing a top 100 for a series that’s only 176 issues long. A top 50 probably would’ve sufficed. Not that I mind being exposed to the wonders of the funky funky Rick Jones as Hulk dialouge.

  6. Gavok is a masochist who follows the laws of no-man.

    Up next is his Top 20 Issues of That Thing/Hulk Miniseries Bruce Jones Wrote A While Back.

    I tried to tell him it was called “Hard Knocks,” but he didn’t believe me :/

  7. […] that is a comic worth looking at. I’ve already discussed Agents of Atlas here and there. It’s a great miniseries and it’s nice that Marvel looks to be trying to […]