When it comes to doing countdowns of the best What If issue, I’m not the first. A couple years ago, Wizard magazine had their own top ten list. Here is their version:
10) What If Captain America Were Revived Today? (volume 1)
9) What If the Beast Continued to Mutate?
8) What If the X-Men Lost Inferno?
7) What If the Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Superpowers?
6) What If Pheonix Had Not Died? (volume 1)
5) Humor issue (volume 1)
4) What If Daredevil Killed the Kingpin?
3) What If the Hulk Went Berserk?
2) What If Conan the Barbarian Were Stranded in the 20th Century?
1) What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man?
Does this list coincide with my list? Not very much. Only two of those issues make it into my top ten. Three of them aren’t even on my list in the first place (I already talked about why #7 sucked). One of them is in this article.
Back to the real list.
95) WHAT IF THE FANTASTIC FOUR HAD DIFFERENT SUPER-POWERS?
Issue: Volume 1, #6
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Jim Craig and Rick Hoberg
Spider-Man death: No
Background: After getting their dose of cosmic radiation, Reed Richards and pals crashed to Earth and soon discovered they were granted special powers. Reed could stretch, Sue could turn invisible, Johnny could cover himself with flames and Ben became a rocky monstrosity. Though they became a successful hero team, their powers defined the paths they had taken. This goes double for Ben, who would rather not look like the dark side of the moon. So, what’s to say that they had to get these specific powers?
At first, nobody can find Reed. Sue tends to Johnny, which suits Ben just fine since he doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s experiencing severe pain in his back. All of the sudden, pink, scaly wings spring out of his back. Johnny freaks out at this and doesn’t even realize that he’s becoming metallic, much like Colossus. Much like Thing in the regular continuity, Johnny lashes out at the others and Sue is the one who calms him down by restraining him with her stretchy body. The three take a second to wonder what’s happened, only to realize that Reed is still missing. They find him in the wreckage, now reduced to a brain.
Reed is able to live and communicate as nothing more than a telepathic brain. The four, of course, decide to use their powers for the good of mankind. They go by the hilarious names of Big Brain, Dragonfly, Ultra-Woman and Mandroid. Immediately, I pray to one day see a crossover between Mandroid and Manimal. As the Fantastic Four, they do the hero thing as successfully as normal. Dragonfly gets to keep his good looks and loves to fly, so the thought of curing himself doesn’t even cross his mind. Mandroid doesn’t seem to mind his own change of appearance, though when some kids make fun of him within earshot at an electronics store, he uses one of his powers to turn the nearby stereos on at full blast.
Big Brain, on the other hand, is almost resigned to his fate. While he does enjoy spending his time cracking scientific riddles, he can’t help but realize that he can’t ever be with Sue anymore. Now Sue is beginning to fall for Ben, while all he can do is occupy his time to ignore his pain.
Then Dr. Doom steps in. He’s been watching over the four for a little while and upon meeting Reed for the first time in years, he tells him that he may be able to return him to a human being. Reed willingly goes along, only to find out that – surprise, surprise – it’s a trick. Doom takes off to Latveria, leaving a beat-up Mandroid in his wake.
Mandroid, Dragonfly and Ultra-Woman band together and go to Latveria to save their leader. Doom tells Big Brain about how he’s going to use his powers to fuel a time machine so he can go back in time and steal Blackbeard’s treasure. Good God, was Doom’s debut storyline ridiculous.
Despite being surrounded by a force field meant to cage his powers, Big Brain sends a psychic blast strong enough to attack Doom. Doom is still powerful enough to resist it, but then the other members of the Fantastic Four show up. As a nod to Hawkman, Dragonfly now wields a mace. Doom takes apart both Dragonfly and Mandroid, before slapping Ultra-Woman around like a bitch. Big Brain starts getting pretty pissed; an anger that builds after every hit. Finally, he’s had enough and bombards Doom with his mental power. Doom tries to blow up his castle at the last minute and even though he succeeds at it, it’s still too late.
The Fantastic Four all survive the explosion. Especially Reed, who had sent his mind into Doom’s body at the last moment. Now Reed is a scarred freak in a metal jumpsuit, but at least he can do jumping jacks now.
The Watcher ponders over whether or not Sue can love Reed, considering how he looks like under the mask, but cops out on telling us because it’s not for him to judge. That bald asshole pulls that shit all the time.
Would I want to see more adventures from this team? No, not really. But it was a fun issue with a fun concept. There is another issue with a similar concept of giving the Fantastic Four different powers, but that will be later on the countdown.
Oh, and before I forgot…
94) WHAT IF THE BEAST AND THE THING CONTINUED TO MUTATE?
Issue: Volume 1, #37
Writer: Tom DeFalco, Alan Weiss, David Anthony Kraft
Artist: Sam de la Rosa, Alan Weiss, Mike Vosburg
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Henry McCoy, the Beast, used to look human enough. Then, due to genetic experimenting, he turned himself into a furry, blue beast. Luckily, his intellect remained the same, but what if it went just as animal as Beast? As for the Thing, there was a time when MODOK infected him with a radioactive virus that caused him to mutate into even worse shape than normal. Giant Man (Bill Foster, also known as Black Goliath) convinced him to keep fighting in hopes of finding an antidote. Thing was distressed, but agreed to fight alongside Giant Man and Captain America. He did get his cure, though at the same time inadvertently robbing Giant Man of curing himself from radiation poisoning. So what if Thing was a big baby about it and refused to fight for a cure? There is a third story tossed in there about the Silver Surfer. After he turned on Galactus, the Eater of Worlds disowned him and forced him to remain on Earth as punishment. Galactus surely could have chosen other forms of punishment, right?
Let’s start with the Thing story. Thing’s afraid of losing his mind and going on a rampage, so he gets as far away from civilization as possible. Giant Man and Cap still go after AIM, where after a lengthy fight, Giant Man injects himself with the cure (with enough left to potentially cure Thing) and completely manhandles MODOK to the point that the little-limbed freak cries uncle.
The Fantastic Four and Alicia follow thing to a cave, where he’s desperately trying to hide from them. Alicia comes to him, begging to be there with him, even if he is going to die. She brings him out and Thing’s mutated to the point that he now looks like a wax figure of the Abomination after spending two days in the sun.
As Reed had feared, Thing’s cosmic makeup and his virus have merged to the point where he’s becoming critical. He’s going to explode. Reed pulls Alicia in as Sue creates a force field. Alicia blindly stares directly into the explosion as the Thing goes off. The follow-up surprises them all. Not only is Alicia now able to see, but Thing is unconscious on the ground… in the form of Ben Grimm.
Reed helps bring Ben back to full health and assures him that both the virus and the cosmic radiation are completely out of his system. Ben gets ready to marry Alicia and quit the superhero business. Reed, meanwhile, knows exactly how to fill the void in the team.
In the Beast story, he goes a bit feral due to his new mutation. The other X-Men try to save him, but he ends up attacking them all. I’d go into more detail here, but I’m continually distracted by this one panel that looks an awful lot like Beast urinating onto Angel.
The more the team attacks Beast, the more he believes they hate him because of what he’s become. Towards the end, he’s close to killing Jean, when Xavier arrives. Beast, for a second, has a moment of clarity and with the little remaining of his humanity, begs Xavier, “Prr-Profess’rrr… please don’t… let me… become… this!” while crying into his lap.
The X-Men deliberate on what to do with Beast, but the idea of caging him up disturbs them all. With Angel’s suggestion, they send Beast to the Savage Land, where he hunts alongside Ka-Zar in the open land.
Now to the Silver Surfer story. Before leaving Earth, Galactus takes back what’s his and relieves Norrin Radd of the power cosmic. Norrin remembers his past and his love on Zenn-La. Galactus, of course, won’t bring him back home and Richards has no idea where Zenn-La could be in the universe. Norrin accepts his defeat and asks the Fantastic Four to teach him the ways of Earth. While that would have made for an interesting story, the Watcher arrives to interrupt.
He’s feeling guilty, but at the same time, he holds onto his honor. He won’t interfere and send Norrin back home, but if, say, the F4 were to go to his moon base and use his technology to find where Zenn-La is… who would stop them?
Meanwhile, Galactus returns to Zenn-La, preparing to devour it. Shalla Bal, the love of Norrin’s life, finds out about what happened to the Surfer and begs Galactus to spare Zenn-La in return for her becoming his new herald. Galactus agrees and reforms her into Starglow.
Norrin and Richards eventually come across a device in the Watcher’s garage that works as both transport through the stars and a compass. Richards figures out how to work it and sends Norrin on his way. Across the cosmos, Norrin finally gets to his destination… only to find Starglow nearby. It takes him a minute, but he realizes that she is actually Shalla Bal and she doesn’t even remember him.
Norrin confronts Galactus, who admits that he removed Shalla Bal’s memories of Norrin Radd in order to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake again. Even though Galactus is usually above such emotions, he also admits that seeing one of his heralds in anguish does make him feel a little bad. Since he sees the nobility in the Silver Surfer’s actions, he returns the power cosmic to Norrin Radd… for a price.
The Silver Surfer will be Zenn-La’s own superhero, much like the Fantastic Four are to Earth. The difference is that the Silver Surfer will be barred from leaving Zenn-La’s atmosphere, much like how Surfer couldn’t leave Earth in regular continuity.
These were all decent enough stories, but I found myself enjoying the Thing-based one more than the rest. Not only did I like the side-story of Giant Man proving himself worthy of being a top tier Marvel hero, but it’s one of the few What Ifs were everything turns out 100% all right in the end without seeming too forced. I’m looking at you, What If Jessica Jones Joined the Avengers! For those of you who haven’t read that one, here’s a quick summary:
“Thanks for letting me on the team, Cap. Say, Wanda is acting a little weird, don’t you think?”
“Good thing you pointed that out! Man, you just saved us all from a colossal disaster, I bet! Let’s get married!”
93) WHAT IF PETER PARKER HAD TO DESTROY SPIDER-MAN?
Issue: Volume 2, #76
Writer: Terry Austin
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Spider-Man death: No
Background: At a science exhibition, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. The results caused him to become more than human. Stuff happened and he now fights for good as Spider-Man. So what would have happened if the spider bit Flash Thompson?
Flash only came to the exhibition to pound on Parker for having eyes for his girl. After getting bit by the spider, he leaves the building and almost gets hit by a car. He stops the car and tears the drivers out of it, but Peter stops him from going too far. Peter makes a deal with Flash to help him out with his powers by making him gadgets and the like. Unbeknownst to Peter, Flash has some ideas of his own.
While making the Spider-Man costume for Flash, Peter is spotted by a burglar outside. The burglar decides not to rob that house and instead goes next door. He ends up shooting Mary Jane Watson and later dies in a police shootout at the warehouse. Peter sadly sees that he has to help out Flash in hopes that incidents like this will no longer happen.
Flash finds out about the Vulture’s latest heist and steals the villain’s money… only to run off with it, declaring the Spider to be the criminal of the future. His next stop is to web Parker up on the ledge of a building so that once the webbing dissolves, Peter and his knowledge of Flash’s secrets will die. Peter uses his own ingenuity and a test tube of solvent to get himself free. Still, he knows that once the Spider finds out, Peter be off just as badly.
Uncle Ben notices that something seems wrong with Peter and they have a talk. Peter vaguely explains the fix he’s in and Ben lectures him about standing up for what is right. Peter wonders if he should do that knowing Ben and May might pay for it, but May enters the room to ensure him that they’ll be proud. And so, Peter decides that he has to stop the Spider. Without any powers of his own in this world, he decides to go at it the Batman way. Peter Parker = prep-time.
Some time later, the Spider is at the Daily Bugle, assaulting Jonah Jameson for some reason never really explained. Jameson notes how much it sucks that his son had to die (without Spider-Man to save him in this reality) while assholes like the Spider still thrive. Suddenly, Flash’s spider-sense goes off. What could possibly pose a threat to the Spider?
That motherfucker can.
While the two each have their own advantages (Peter can’t even hit Flash due to his speed and spider-sense), Peter looks to have a better grasp on the situation. His spider-legs are coated in a metal that webbing can’t stick to. His outfit releases a mist that dissolves the webbing that hits his face. When the Spider tries to go for a direct fight, Peter affects his mask with a chemical that makes the eye lenses opaque on both sides. After removing his mask, Flash grabs Betty Brant and strangles her.
“I’ll break her neck if you don’t back off, Parker – I swear I will!”
Peter merely smirks and presses a button on his chest. “Typical. Despite all your power, you’re just a petty bully, reverting to type.”
A sonic wave frequency blasts out, causing Flash’s spider-sense to go bonkers. He flails around uncontrollably until passing out from the pain. Jameson and Betty both laud Peter for his efforts. Knowing that he’s going to be the news, Peter goes home to tell Ben and May what happened. They’re both proud of him and think he did the right thing.
Just then, the Fantastic Four show up to bring Peter and family to the Baxter Building. They’re holding Flash Thompson and have separated the radioactive isotope from his blood (it hadn’t had the time to fully mix into Flash’s system yet). Peter fantasizes about Reed giving him the isotope so he can use those powers for good, but Reed simply pours it down the drain. Peter doesn’t need any powers. He’s got the makings of a hero as is.
And so, even without his physical strength, spider-sense and other abilities, Spider-Man continues to fight crime in a more Doc Ock-looking form.
The idea of Flash Thompson becoming Spider-Man has been done before and will show up later on the list. As has the idea of a superhero’s character having to fight a reckless wielder of his powers. Still, I have to approve of this issue just because we finally get to see teenage Peter Parker beat the crap out of Flash Thompson and be in the right to do so!
92) WHAT IF ROGUE POSSESSED THE POWER OF THOR?
Issue: Volume 2, #66
Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: John Royle
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Rogue made her debut in the Marvel Universe fighting the Avengers along with Mystique. She used her absorbing power to knock out Thor, but what if she had gone too far? What if Rogue had taken in enough of Thor’s essence to wield Mjolnir?
Rather than the Watcher, this story is told by Destiny, who sits in prison with Pyro and Avalanche. She sees a possible, though unlikely future where Rogue takes in too much of Thor’s power. Rogue loses control and tears the Avengers to pieces. Without Thor’s restraint, her punches are enough to kill Vision. Hawkeye and Jocasta also die in the rampage. Rogue calls upon Mjolnir and flies off, leaving Wonder Man in awe.
Mystique and her gang fly off after successfully saving Destiny and the rest from prison. Blob makes an advance on Rogue, which ends with him being tossed into the waters below. Pyro freaks out and tries to attack, but he ends up turning the entire aircraft into an exploding fireball. Only Rogue survives, decimated by what she’s done. That’s when Loki arrives to take her in as a sister.
Rogue continues to have horrible visions involving Thor’s past. Loki tells Rogue stories about how Odin cast them out of Asgard and that he’s a total ass that needs to die. The two lead Loki’s army to overtake Asgard. In a big battle, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four show up to lend a hand.
Loki leads Rogue to Odin, who accepts his impeding death. Rogue hesitates.
Just then, within Rogue’s mind, Thor shows up. He explains that Thor is more about ideals than identity. By wielding Mjolnir justly, Rogue can fill in the void that’s been hurting her her entire life. She must become Thor.
Rogue comes to and protects Odin from Loki. Odin realizes that the love he had for his son Thor is still alive in his new daughter. She destroys Loki’s army and becomes one of the most reveared heroes. The enscription on Mjolnir amends itself to become, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he – or she – be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor!“
Back in the prison, in the true universe, Destiny feels good to know that the true results of Rogue’s prison break won’t involve her dying. She is still hurt to know that Rogue may never feel the peace and acceptance that she did in the world where she was Thor.
I liked this issue because while the concept is weird in itself, it’s also based on something that probably should have happened. Not saying I’d want this in continuity, but if I was a criminal with the ability to steal powers, I’d take all I could get out of Thor. It also touched many corners of the Marvel world without seeming like a gigantic crossover event. That’s crafty.
91) WHAT IF THE X-MEN STAYED IN ASGARD?
Issue: Volume 2, #12
Writer: Jim Valentino
Artist: Jim Valentino
Spider-Man death: No (damn. Okay, I swear he dies at least once in the next set)
Background: There was a story where the X-Men and the New Mutants went to Asgard and got into some adventure. At the end, Loki gave them the choice of staying or leaving back to Midgard (Earth). It was a unanimous decision to leave. Here, Wolfsbane is too in love with a wolf prince that she speaks out against leaving.
The group votes on their fate. It is tied 8 to 8, but a hesitant Storm gives the final vote. She wishes to stay. To show how just he is, Loki sends those who wished to leave back to Midgard. Those who stay are Wolfsbane, Sunspot, Cypher, Mirage, Rogue, Cannonball, Nightcrawler, Magik and Storm. The others return to Earth and the X-Men teams become a bit jumbled.
It’s worth noting that if Loki hadn’t decided to let those who didn’t want to live in Asgard leave, then Warlock would’ve died of starvation. Man, those guys are amazing assholes. “No, Warlock. I don’t care if you have nothing to eat here. I want to swashbuckle! (Pretend I said this with a German accent, please.)”
From there, we briefly see what becomes of the various X-Men in Asgard. Cypher becomes the realm’s first librarian, due to his ability to understand even the most ancient scrolls. Cannonball falls in love with a dwarf princess. For some reason, Rogue is without her energy-draining power here and finally finds someone. Mirage becomes a valkyrie. Since Odin is dead, Asgard holds a gathering to discuss who should become the new ruler of its world. Around this time, Loki had transformed Thor into some kind of frog mutant, so he suggests Storm as the new Goddess of Thunder. She is given her own enchanted hammer and the support of the people. That last part is Loki’s magic’s doing.
Too much stuff goes on for me to keep track of here. Hela, the Goddess of Death, is pissed at Storm for a past conflict and wants her soul. Storm ends up fighting Frog Thor (thinking he’s a demon… again, thanks to some of Loki’s persuasion) and gets knocked out. Hela comes to take her soul, with Sunspot defending Storm’s body. With the wave of Hela’s hand, Sunspot simply dies.
Long story short, Thor’s curse is ended and he becomes human. A huge Lord of the Rings battle takes place with all corners of Asgard showing up to lend a hand against Loki’s minions, while the bigger powerhouses join together and succeed in killing Hela. There are a couple sort of major deaths in the battle, including Wolfsbane’s prince, who was the entire reason they stayed in the first place.
The epilogue explains the happy endings of the remaining characters. Thor goes back to Earth and stays with the Avengers while giving Storm the nod to rule Asgard. Cypher becomes her vizier. Since the king of the dwarf people died in the war, Cannonball becomes their new king and has a child. Rogue marries her newfound love Fandral the Dashing and the Warriors Three roster changes to Volstagg, Hogun and Nightcrawler. Wolfsbane has a litter to take care of, Magik becomes the new Enchantress, Mirage peacefully rules the underworld, and so on. But what about Loki?
Loki is given an audience with The Ones Who Sit Above in Shadow (the toppest tier of the Asgardian gods). He tries to weasel his way out of punishment by claiming that his meddling made Asgard a far better place. He begs for the power to rule Asgard. They decide to give it to him.
That’s harsh. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Like the previous story, this is an enjoyable mixing of worlds within the Marvel Universe. There was a similar story during the first volume based on Thor and the Avengers waging war on Odin, which didn’t quite have the charm of this issue. Even if it did have a fun scene of Hawkeye and Fandral exchanging banter and admiration.
Next time on the countdown: Snakes on our Plane.