What if I just got straight to the article itself for once?
70) WHAT IF DEATH’S HEAD I HAD LIVED?
Issue: Volume 2, #54
Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Geoff Senior
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Oh, boy. Where to begin?
There’s a good chance you’re scratching your head, wondering who the hell Death’s Head I is and why he would deserve his own What If issue. First off, stop scratching your head. It’s a disgusting habit. Death’s Head I was a character from the 80’s created by Simon Furman and integrated into the Marvel UK Transformer comics. Death’s Head I was a charismatic and likeable bounty hunter, striking some of the same chords that Deadpool would years later. A robot from the future, Death’s Head I spoke through a voice box on his face, usually turning his statements into questions, like a French guy trying to speak English. Like for instance, he’d likely tell you, “Refer to me a freelance peacekeeping agent, yes?” He was weird like that. It was neat.
Death’s Head I mainly hung out in the year 2020, but had a tendency to time travel, usually leading to crossovers with guys like the Fantastic Four and She-Hulk. During the 90’s, Marvel decided to reboot his image. AIM had created Minion, a powerful robot with the ability to absorb the instincts, skills and knowledge of whoever he destroyed. He’s like an evil Megaman, except he looks like a blatant Predator rip-off. Minion was mainly created to destroy a mysterious threat named Charnal. I’m not savvy on the details here, but Minion ended up going up against Death’s Head I and Mr. Fantastic in our present. He killed Death’s Head I and absorbed his mental workings. It was too much for Minion to handle and parts of Death’s Head I’s personality caused Minion to override into something new. Now calling himself Death’s Head II, he and Marvel’s heroes fought the merging of villain Baron Strucker’s soul and the remains of Death’s Head I’s body. In other words, Charnal. Death’s Head II was victorious and went on to have some extreme 90’s adventures. Yay?
The thing to note here is that Simon Furman had nothing to do with this Death’s Head II garbage. I don’t know the guy, but I don’t think he really appreciated what they did to his baby. So Marvel, with their great wisdom, lets him write a What If in retaliation. Now I think you’re beginning to see why this is on the list.
In this story, after Minion beats the crap out of Death’s Head I, he goes for the kill, but accidentally presses a teleporter button on Death’s Head I’s shoulder. Death’s Head I vanishes and Minion instead kills and absorbs Reed Richards. Minion returns to the future, but ends up being merged with the soul of Baron Strucker to create this reality’s version of Charnal. The irony is made apparent: Minion ends up being the very threat he was created to destroy.
Now AIM agent Doctor Necker hires Death’s Head I and his human partner Spratt to fix their problem. Death’s Head I wants to tear the good doctor’s Jean Grey-looking head off, but there’s no profit in revenge. He agrees to take her up on the offer, even if Minion did come so close to killing him the first time around.
Death’s Head I goes back in time and confronts the remaining Fantastic Four, who are still getting over Reed’s death. Not only does he convince them to follow him into the future, but he also gets Captain America, Iron Man (Jim Rhodes), Namor and Luke Cage. When Spratt asks how Death’s Head I could get all this muscle for free, his partner just points to his head and tells him, “Just have to understand the superhero mentality, yes?”
The heroes take the fight to Charnal as Death’s Head I, Spratt and Necker watch from afar. At first, the battle goes pretty well with the heroes getting the best of Charnal for the most part. Soon, Charnal begins to adapt to their abilities and turns the tide. When Captain America tosses his shield, Charnal catches and throws it in one motion, sending the shield through Namor’s neck. Iron Man gets stabbed through the eye-holes, Human Torch’s fire powers are turned against him and burn him to ash, Thing and Cage are blown up and Sue is simply shot down. As Charnal beats Captain America to death, Death’s Head I pulls out a very, very big gun and fires a rocket at Charnal. Doctor Necker is shocked by Death Head I’s tactic of using the heroes as a way to soften Charnal. She then smirks and says that she really has to hire him again if he survives.
The two Death Heads go into battle. Possibly a jab at Death’s Head II’s series, Death’s Head I says during the fight, “Not bad, but this is your 21th century wake-up call, Charnal. Fists and a bad attitude alone don’t cut it anymore, right?”
The thing to remember here is that Minion was already more powerful than Death’s Head I and as Charnal, he is even more amped up. In a straight-up fight, this shouldn’t even be close. Still, Death’s Head I eggs him on. He taunts Charnal and tells him that he has all this skill and knowledge available and he refuses to use it. Charnal takes his advice and begins to build towards his potential, dominating in the fight even more. Charnal is ready for the kill and thanks Death’s Head I for helping him realize how powerful he really is. All of the sudden, he starts to hesitate with no explanation. Death’s Head I uses the opening and decapitates his enemy.
Reed Richards’ essence was inside Minion’s programming. When Charnal finally tapped into Reed’s knowledge, Reed was finally able to gain some semblance of control, hence the hesitation. Death’s Head I reflects on what just happened.
“It’s strange, this hero thing. Whole lives devoted completely to helping others. For no financial reward whatsoever. Struggling ceaselessly against impossible odds, risking almost certain death to help those in trouble. I…” he turns his head to us and cocks a metal eyebrow, “I just hope it’s not catching, yes?”
Yes, the heroes vs. Charnal bit reeked of Infinity Gauntlet and there was nothing much of a story here, but that was never the point. It’s just a good amount of set-up for an action sequence that lasts 15 pages with little actual conclusion. Sure, not knowing who Death’s Head I was will render you incredibly lost, but with all I’ve explained, you have to smile at Marvel for giving us this issue. Simon Furman looks at the bastardization and the company that allowed it to happen and gives it one big “FUCK YOU!” I love it.
69) WHAT IF SPIDER-MAN HAD KEPT HIS SIX ARMS?
Issue: Volume 2, #42
Writer: Michael Gallagher
Artist: Kevin West
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Peter Parker, sick of his spider powers, tried to do some experiments and get rid of them for good. It backfired and he ended up being more spidery, gaining four more arms. Spider-Man hits many dead ends until meeting unique blood expert Morbius the Living Vampire, who helped him out and eventually cured him. So what if something completely awesome happened to Morbius, preventing him from ever running into Spider-Man?
Now, these What Ifs usually titled in a way that gives you an idea of what’s inside, but while coming across as dynamic. They didn’t call that one issue What If Dr. Doom Took Mr. Fantastic’s Advice. No, they used What If Dr. Doom Had Become a Hero. It sounds far more exciting. That’s the main flaw of this issue. They called it What If Spider-Man Had Kept His Six Arms, while I know the true title…
WHAT IF MORBIUS THE LIVING VAMPIRE HAD RANDOMLY BEEN EATEN BY SHARKS?
It has a nice ring to it, yes? …Oh great, now I’m going to be doing that all day.
Spider-Man first gets help from Doctor Connors, who is so talented at curing unwanted mutations that he’s turned back into the Lizard about 314 times. Beggers can’t be choosers, I guess. Wait, no! Because after Connors becomes the Lizard and gets cured yet again, Spider-Man realizes he knows way smarter guys who could help him. He goes to Xavier’s mansion, where the original X-Men lineup attacks him for absolutely no reason. I guess they weren’t all buddies yet. Xavier takes Spider-Man in and finds that his situation is irreversible. Spider-Man freaks out over how he’s an outcast and even uses the word “cripple” while standing next to Xavier.
Spidey apologizes profusely and Xavier notices that Peter’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Xavier offers some sage advice, pointing out that with an optimistic attitude, Spider-Man could become a role model to the physically challenged. Spider-Man blows off some more steam and leaves, promising he’ll think about it. Next stop: the Baxter Building.
Reed, much like Xavier, sees no cure for Spider-Man’s affliction. Thing steps in to tell Spider-Man something, but Spider-Man snaps.
Oh no you didn’t! A brawl erupts and Reed holds them back. They each apologize for their actions and Thing remembers why he walked in in the first place. Doc Ock has several hostages and wants a piece of Spider-Man. Spidey puts his responsibility ahead of his disfigurement and swings off.
The fight is pretty one-sided, as Octavius’ mind is blown by the extra arms. Not only that, but Spider-Man’s failed experiment gave him more than extra arms. He also has amplified strength, speed and agility. He brings down Ock and hands him over to the confused police. Jameson watches this and is excited as finally, the public will turn on Spider-Man completely.
As it turns out, the opposite happens. The public learns to truly trust him. People see the way Spider-Man carries his physical defects with a smile and admire him for it. While Spider-Man has a hard time getting used to his new life, the support pushes him through it. He spends several months hiding from friends and family until Mr. Fantastic makes him some devices that make his extra arms invisible. Peter uses them to regularly visit Aunt May until the day she dies of natural causes. He loves Gwen Stacy, but knows he can’t be with her like this.
Instead, he devotes himself to being Spider-Man. With his dedication and enhanced abilities, the sky is the limit for the wall-crawler. While he does fight a lot of the same villains – from the familiar Electro to the newcomer Venom – there are positive differences in his career. Not only does he successfully rescue Gwen Stacy from the Green Goblin, but he apparently has a huge role in defeating Thanos during the Infinity Gauntlet storyline. Actually, let’s let Uatu finish this one off.
“But, most important of all, Spider-Man fulfills Charles Xavier’s wish. He comes to terms with the situation he brought upon himself and becomes a universally respected spokesman for the physically challenged of the world. By accepting the consequences of his own actions and making the most of his personal circumstance, Peter Parker comes to personify that most noble of human tributes – the ability to rise above imposed obstacles to reach ones full potential! And in doing so, Spider-Man vindicates himself and validates his credo that ‘With great powers comes great responsibility!’”
A nice, wholesome ending. Sometimes rare in these stories. I think it’s silly that they would use the word “cripple” to explain the six-arm situation just because Xavier’s in the same room, but I get what they were going for. Sure, on paper, having six arms doesn’t exactly make you physically challenged, but that last paragraph pretty much lays in the point. It’s a good issue on its own, but it jumped up about ten spots from where it would usually be just because it has a vampire being eaten by sharks. There should be more issues where the turning point involves a character being eaten by sharks.
“Hm, so how exactly did I end up in the ocean again? A shark! Bah, this nautical predator is nothing compared to the armaments of Doom! But, what is this?! More come to devour me! I cannot fight them off! Curse you, Richards! This is your doing, I know it! Blast! I knew I should have invented the Doom Shark Repellent last weekend! I’ll get you for this, Richards! …oh, I really hope I’m just a Doombot.”
68) WHAT IF LEGION HAD KILLED MAGNETO?
Issue: Volume 2, #77
Writer: Benny Powell and Warren Ellis
Artist: Hector Gomez
Spider-Man death: No
Background: We all remember the big Age of Apocalypse story. Xavier’s son Legion went back in time to kill Magneto so Xavier’s dream could be realized. He accidentally killed Xavier, thus terminating his own existence and changing reality as we know it. Without Xavier, Apocalypse screwed up the world and the only ones able to stop him were Magneto and his X-Men. The short of it is that Legion fucked up big-time. So what if he did a better job?
Legion goes back ten years farther and kills Magneto. Since Magneto would’ve gone on to save the life of Legion’s mother, she has to die and Legion ceases to exist. Fast forward to the present, where Xavier watches Beast on a talk show, hamming it up. Mutants aren’t feared, but they aren’t exactly the most proud of people. I remember first reading this issue when X2: X-Men United came out. A funny coincidence is on Xavier’s table:
They got the casting right.
From the history gathered throughout the issue, the X-Men did originally act like they did in regular continuity, even to the point that the Phoenix stuff happened. The only real rival to the X-Men is the Hellfire Club, which is based on business rather than image. The Hellfire Club eventually got Iceman and Angel to defect, while Cyclops and Jean decided to leave for personal reasons. Chaos in the ranks led to Forge taking over the team, where the X-Men are now used mainly for publicity. For instance, Forge is planning a publicity stunt involving a choreographed fight between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club that’s to end in the announcement that the two teams are on good terms now.
Xavier feels that something big and bad is on the horizon, since Cerebro has been malfunctioning. Forge doesn’t give a rat’s ass. Xavier’s right to be afraid, since at the same time, the Hellfire Club is attacked and mercilessly killed by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Even Black Tom’s bodyguard Juggernaut is taken down by the hand of Death.
Xavier goes to find Cyclops and Jean, who are living together with their two children Nathan and Rachel. Xavier tries to get them to help him out, but the two want to distance themselves from mutantkind and their past as much as possible. That, plus the previous Phoenix adventure causes them to decline. Xavier leaves in a huff.
At the memorial service for the Hellfire Club in Washington DC, Apocalypse and his forces attack. It’s an absolute slaughter, as the X-Men are complete pussies from lack of training. Xavier tries to stop the madness with his mind powers, but it can’t stop Apocalypse, who has the technology to dampen Xavier’s power. He taunts Xavier over how his way is a joke and Xavier tearfully agrees.
Cyclops and Jean show up to attack Apocalypse’s goons. Jean uses her Phoenix powers against Apocalypse, which gives Xavier the opening he needs. Using all of his energy, Xavier breaks through Apocalypse’s mental shielding and destroys his mind. Both of them die from this. Sabertooth, one of the evil lackeys, says that the rest of them will continue the cause despite their master’s death. Jean is too afraid of this and uses the Phoenix Force to vaporize all of the evil mutants in the area. She also kills a bunch of innocent people and destroys a big chunk of Washington DC to do it, but to make an omelet, I guess.
Here comes the mutant hate. Nobody really understands what happened in Washington, but there are arguments all over the place. Cyclops and Jean take over the school and have young students like Jubilee and others I can’t recognize. There are also a bunch of protesters outside, yelling obscenities. Cyclops look a the new students and welcomes them with a speech about Xavier’s dream and how it lives on with them. What he doesn’t know is that they’re being watched…
Sorry, Jean, but your successful mass homicide is in another castle.
Doing What Ifs about the X-Men’s origins is pretty hard. Unlike Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom and Daredevil, the X-Men’s beginnings aren’t so based much on key moments. There are just so many players in the story that shifting one aspect can only change so much. That’s the main reason why Chris Claremont’s What If Professor X and Magneto Formed the X-Men Together didn’t take. Here, there are enough events and action to keep it interesting, while showing the importance of Magneto in history. It would’ve been stupid had Legion been right and this story been about a utopia where mutants are beloved. Killing young Magnus is only a good idea at first glance and this story gives a good rendition of why.
67) WHAT IF CAPTAIN AMERICA REVIVED TODAY? (1994)
Issue: Volume 2, #67
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Darrio Carrasco Jr.
Spider-Man death: Yes
Background: During their early days, the Avengers took on Namor, the Sub-Mariner. After fighting them off, Namor escaped and swam into the ocean to find his lost kingdom. In the arctic, he came across some worshippers of a mysterious man stuck in a block of ice. Not able to see who was inside and not caring, Namor struck out and damaged the block of ice. The block fell into the waters, where it was discovered by the Avengers. The ice was thawed away and underneath was none other than Captain America. Here, a toss of Mjolnir takes Namor out of the fight before he can run off.
In the present arctic, Captain America is discovered by a mysterious party. He is taken in with great caution and soon awakens in a chamber, completely thawed out. A voice tells him of what he missed. Years ago, the Red Skull and his Third Reich had struck against America. With no Cap there to stop him, he and his forces successfully destroyed all opposition and soon took over the world. Any and all metahumans were either killed or put in camps to be experimented on. Cap is in disbelief. He then meets his narrator and the man who uncovered him in the first place: Dr. Doom. Doom claims to be the last line against Red Skull and fights for the same ideals of freedom as Cap.
Cap believes him and is chosen to lead Doom’s soldiers to destroy one of Red Skull’s bases in Canada. Considering Doom’s soldiers include Juggernaut, Abomination, Vulture, Titanium Man, Klaw and so on, it isn’t hard to realize that something’s fishy here. Even though Cap and his team are victorious, he finds out through them that Doom is just as bad as Red Skull. The two of them own half of the world and are in a constant stalemate against each other. The only reason they work for Doom in the first place is because Doom pays better. Since Cap knows too much, the villains get ready to kill him.
A wall suddenly collapses and the X-Patriots arrive to kick all sorts of ass, thus ending the first issue. The team includes Wolverine (no adamantium), his love interest Jean Grey, Namor, Spider-Man and Human Torch. A big brawl ensues with Namor refusing to believe Captain America is who he says he is until he brings up the events of one of their Defenders team-ups. There’s a fun melee here, that just about ends when Cap cuts loose.
The team eludes some Nazis and gets to their secret base. There, Cap meets the rest of the X-Patriots, like his old friend Nick Fury, Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp and Black Widow. He’s brought up to speed and is given a room to share with Spider-Man. We see that while Peter has something of a sense of humor, he’s incredibly bitter and cynical. He flashbacks to how the Third Reich killed Aunt May when they captured him and then horribly tortured him and used him for experiments. We see that a big section of his hair is white and he has a barcode going down his side. He’s not in this for freedom, but for revenge.
Fury believes that the best course of plan would be a direct assault on Red Skull’s base. If they can take that down, then perhaps they can liberate the rest of the Red Skull’s territory and move onto fending off against Doom. Ant Man and Wasp screw around with Skull’s security and monitors, allowing a delayed reaction as the X-Patriots go at them. Spider-Man runs off during the battle, causing a snide remark from Wolverine.
Red Skull sends the Hulk after the heroes. He nearly tears Iron Man to pieces and smacks Namor around. It seems he’s wearing a control device on his head that keeps him in perpetual rage and makes him unstoppable. A weakened Iron Man tears away at the device while Hulk is distracted with Human Torch. Hulk immediately goes after a helicopter with Baron Strucker in it.
There’s plenty of fun Jerry Bruckheimer action here, from Captain America punching out Baron Zemo while screaming, “This is for Bucky!” to Wolverine protecting Fury from a missile explosion and nearly dying from the injuries. Soon we get Captain America in the quarters of the Red Skull, ready to finish things.
What If or not, that last panel hits me every time for some reason.
This is only the first step to the birth of a new United States of America. It’s suggested that Captain America, the Living Legend of World War III, will indeed succeed in once again making the world worth living in.
The title here is copied from an infinitely better issue from volume 1 that I’ll get to down the line. Even as a pale comparison, it still works in its own way. A more similar story came in What If the Gamma Bomb Created a Thousand Hulks, where Bruce Banner was the main character and it was the Japanese that ruled the world. This one was done far better, working the joy of epic crossovers with neat action sequences; things that the Gamma Bomb issue was lacking. I can’t hate a comic that has Namor knocking out Juggernaut by throwing Abomination at him.
Could’ve used a scene of Baron Zemo being eaten by sharks. Just saying.
66) WHAT IF… STARRING SPIDER-MAN?
Issue: Volume 2, #105
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Artist: Ron Frenz
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Ah, the Clone Saga. Forever etched in our memories. One of the subplots of the story was Mary Jane’s pregnancy. Secret mastermind Norman Osborn orchestrated Mary Jane would give birth prematurely and would lose the kid under the cover of a miscarriage. There was some stuff where Kaine went after Osborne for the baby and… well, it’s a clusterfuck that I don’t care to remember or look up. Fact is, the baby isn’t around anymore. Still, there are other worlds that show the possibility of Peter and Mary Jane succeeding in parenthood.
We start off with a teenage Mayday Parker ending a basketball game by jumping higher than anyone normal should and slam-dunking for a victory. Peter (rocking a goatee) and Mary Jane are a bit reluctant to believe what they saw, since that would mean May would have powers. As it turns out, not only is she realizing her spider-powers, but she couldn’t have picked a better time.
Meet Normie Osborn, son of Harry, grandson of Norman. His mother had remarried to Foggy Nelson years ago and the guy’s finally gone off the deep end. With an awful mix of the famous Osborn cornrows and dread locks, Normie prepares to finally get revenge on Spider-Man for what happened to his father and grandfather. Here he looks like something out of Cape Fear.
Peter Parker is in no condition to be Spider-Man, not since years ago when he lost his leg during his final battle with Norman. Normie as the Green Goblin stalks May and tells her to tell her father that he wants to face him. Soon after relaying the message, May overhears the truth about who her father used to be and what she is becoming.
Peter tries to get help, but even for someone who used to be the sweetheart of the superhero fraternity, he’s having trouble finding someone to get his back. The Fantastic Five (Cyborg Thing, Human Torch, Reed Richard’s brain in Herbie’s body, Johnny’s Skrull wife Lyja and Franklin Richards) are out in space on a mission while the current Avengers (including Jubilee, Speedball and Juggernaut’s son J2) are considered by Peter to be too young ask for help.
May confronts her mother about her legacy and is led to the attic, where Peter keeps his old Spider-Man outfit. May notices another costume, which is said to belong to her late Uncle Ben. May admits she understands why her parents would try to keep her in the dark about everything, but it was only a matter of time before her powers would’ve made it a dead giveaway.
Peter confronts the Green Goblin, who is livid about Peter not wearing his “play clothes”. Goblin yells at him to fight him as Spider-Man, but Peter refuses. Goblin threatens both May and Mary Jane, the latter of whom came to reason with him. All of the sudden, Mayday Parker arrives in the Ben Reilly Spider-Man costume, calling herself Spider-Girl.
“You want a Spider-Person, Normie? Face it tiger… you just hit the jackpot!”
The two fight and jabber on for several pages, with Spider-Girl getting in some quips like her father used to in his heyday. The fight isn’t empty action, as Spider-Girl scouts out the Goblin’s weapons. Once he pulls out another pumpkin bomb, she knows it’s time to finish him off.
After the explosion, the Green Goblin is too dazed to escape an oncoming truck. Luckily, Spider-Girl webs him, reels him in and punches his lights out. Later on, a crazed and unmasked Normie is taken away as he sings his own rendition of a Spider-Girl theme song. His step-father Foggy is confused and a bit depressed (also mentioning that in this future, Daredevil’s been dead for years). The Parkers, closely knit, decide to bury the past by burning the Ben Reilly Spider-Man outfit. Little do Peter and Mary Jane know that Mayday’s been making sketches for her own spandex design, planning to keep the spider legacy going for years to come.
This issue is one of the more important What If issues, as it gave way to 100 issues of Spider-Girl, plus spin-offs and the upcoming series restart. The series included a lot of the better aspects from the Clone Saga era that may never show up again in 616, such as Kaine, Phil Urich as the Green Goblin and Venom as a hero. The issue still holds up, with some pretty art, decent dialogue and good incorporation of Marvel present into the possible future. It’s just unfortunate that in the future, they still haven’t found a cure for Osborn Hair. Thank God it’s not contagious.
Next on the countdown: powering up a little too much.