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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 10

September 11th, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Before we hit the halfway point, things are about to get pretty freaking dark. Insert your own Luke Cage/Falcon/War Machine joke here.

55) WHAT IF THE SILVER SURFER HAD NOT ESCAPED EARTH?

Issue: Volume 2, #22
Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Ron Lim
Spider-Man death: No
Background: After turning on Galactus, Silver Surfer was punished by being forced to stay within Earth’s atmosphere. Whenever he tried to fly off, an invisible barrier would bounce him back in. Eventually, a powerful being named the Champion came to Earth and helped destroy the barrier, permitting the Surfer to travel the universe and experience more adventures. In this reality, the Champion never does come to Earth.

Surfer rams into the force field again and again, still annoyed. The Fantastic Four show up, explaining that they haven’t figured out an answer to what’s holding him back, scientifically. They ask the Surfer to join their team, since it’ll give him a home, something to do and having him around would help Reed’s research into how he could break through the barrier. The Surfer thinks about it and takes them up on the offer.

I don’t have to tell you that they dominated. We get a two-page spread that shows the Surfer aiding the other four in punking out Annihilus, Dr. Doom, the Frightful Four, and others. It’s like God Mode in comic book form. Plus we get this amusing image:

Sadly, this does nothing for the Surfer. While he appreciates his teammates, victory and the family setting just isn’t enough for him. He would spend his nights staring upwards into the stars, thinking about Shalla-Bal and how he’ll probably never see her again.

Then one day, Reed Richards gets a call from a priest, whose church is infested with supernatural evil. Reed suggests that he call Dr. Strange, but the priest says that his relationship to the occult makes the church a bit nervous. Reed gets the rest of the Fantastic Five and they go visit the place. The church appears haunted and soon the priest becomes host to a demon. The team bunches together, back-to-back, but with a flash, they all vanish.

They awake in Hell. Reed, Sue, Thing and Torch are all bonded to slabs while the Surfer is free to stand. Mephisto comes out and taunts the five. He gives the original Fantastic Four a taste of what to expect in Hell by making them experience their worst fears. He tries the same on Surfer, but he easily sees through the lie and attacks Mephisto. They fight for a few pages and it rocks ass. Surfer’s reflective skin met with fiery surroundings looks great here. Having tired of the useless fighting, Mephisto explains why he brought the Fantastic Five to his den. Bringing humans to Hell is child’s play. It’s not challenging and means nothing after all these years. But the Silver Surfer? One of Mephisto’s greatest and most powerful enemies? Well, that would be something, would it not?

Mephisto makes a deal. The rest of the Fantastic Five can go free and all of Mephisto’s demons will return to Hell, but Silver Surfer has to agree to willfully remain in Hell. Despite the pleas from the others to refuse, the Surfer agrees with Mephisto’s terms. He feels that his word is his bond, but it’s not good enough. To show he means business, Mephisto needlessly fries Johnny Storm to death. Surfer folds and signs the stupid contract.

“I have no choice other than to comply. But your victory will be a hollow one, Mephisto. You may have me, but you shall never break me.”

True to his word, Mephisto pulls back all of his demons. As the years pass, humanity mends its ways and becomes peaceful. Enough time passes that we see Franklin Richards graduating from college. Soon, superheroes are no longer needed and even Frank Castle is shown hanging up his guns for good. Mephisto boasts, as humanity can’t stay like this for long. Soon its own pettiness and selfishness will lead to enough hatred and violence to build back to normal, thereby giving Mephisto back his rule.

Silver Surfer tells him off, calling him a second-rate demon and an insect that scampers away from the light. Mephisto threatens to kill him out of symbolism, but the Surfer goads him with the threat, “Kill me and be destroyed yourself…” Mephisto destroys the Silver Surfer and brags about his great power. He laughs about how the Surfer will trouble him no more. With a simple, “No,” the Surfer appears next to him, glowing so bright that we no longer see flames reflect off his body.

Remember how in the last article, something like that happened to the Ancient One? Well, this is like that, only with one major difference.

“You died at my hand! You cannot live!”

“My spirit is everlasting. You could never douse the light of such purity. Even in Hades I burn brightly.”

“Begone! You have no place in my realm!”

“Our bargain required my presence here for eternity, and so I remain.”

“The light! It burns me!”

“Evil must ever be balanced by good, foul one. Your darkness shall never cast its shadow without my light. So be it until time’s end.”

Mephisto is shown on his knees, screaming in horrible pain at the pure light emanating from his prisoner. Mephisto may rule Hell, but now he’s going to spend his days experiencing it as well.

What Odin did to Mephisto in that one Thor issue was pretty badass, but that doesn’t even compare to the Surfer here. It’s very reminiscent of the Hero Doom story, only with our protagonist making the heroic decision. The art definitely got my attention here, though there was a splash page of Silver Surfer vs. Mephisto that seemed just a tad too blatant. I guess the main flaw of this story is that the Fantastic Four really had no role other than background characters. We never see the Thing comment on having an anti-social cosmic powerhouse on the team or anything like that. Even Johnny’s death is a bit of a throwaway. Still, the issue kicks ass.

I tell you, if you’re ever going to write an article about the Silver Surfer, it’s a good idea to play the NES Silver Surfer soundtrack in the background. That gets you downright pumped.

54) WHAT IF… STARRING IRON MAN: TONY STARK – SORCERER SUPREME?

Issue: Volume 2, #113
Writer: Chris Duffy
Artist: Gregg Schigiel
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Stephen Strange used to be a talented, yet greedy and self-centered surgeon. He lost all that after getting into a car accident and forever ruining his precious hands. Having nobody to blame but himself, he one day got over it and became one of Earth’s greatest heroes. Here, at a party for rich folks with mustaches, he meets millionaire armor guy Tony Stark, who has had a couple tee many martoonis. Strange is talked into driving around in Stark’s Lamborghini and due to the alcohol level in Stark’s blood, Stark’s the one to blame for what happens to Strange’s hands.

As shown in Strange’s bitter flashback, he first reacts by strangling Stark and then breaking down. The two endup sticking together, due to Stark’s promise of one day finding a cure. He even tries sweetening the deal by hooking Strange up with some models and actresses, but it doesn’t cheer Strange up. It is an unfortunate pairing of a self-pitying has-been and a guilt-ridden alcoholic. Stark’s search for a cure leads them to the Ancient One, who says he can’t fix Strange’s hands, but invites them to stay and learn his ways. They plan to leave, but Stark discovers Mordo’s plans to usurp the Ancient One. Stark and Strange stay at the temple for months, where Stark studies the mystic arts up to the point where he could defeat Mordo and drive him away.

Now Strange is more or less Tony Stark’s man-servant, only increasingly bitter. Stark continues to study magic in hopes of finding a way to heal Strange’s hands, and at the same time, protects Earth from dark forces. Doing this keeps him away from running his business. After Stark defends their home from one of Dormammu’s demons, Strange decides that it’s time he stopped waiting for Stark to help him and instead helps himself by sneaking around and stealing important artifacts and the like.

Stark goes into Dormammu’s dimension, since he knows the demon is planning on assaulting Earth soon. He reveals a new set of armor, forged from science and magic. He enters the Dark Dimension and meets several of Dormammu’s demon minions. Here we see how damn pimp Stark is, mixing spells and technology.

He then makes it to Dormammu. Stark’s full armor builds over himself and he warns Dormammu about how fast and powerful he truly is thanks to his merging of science and sorcery. Dormammu feels Stark is overestimating himself, but after a brief battle, Dormammu finds himself defeated. No matter, since with a slight gesture, Stark’s armor disassembles and leaves Tony defenseless. Dormammu admits that he would need an image of the armor to pull that off, so he introduces the minion who allowed it to happen: Stephen Strange.

Dormammu leaves to begin his attack after healing Strange’s hands, as part of their agreement. Strange is totally cool with Dormammu taking over Earth, since he can’t be much worse than the douches running things now. Clea steps out and gets on his case for betraying his planet. She shows him that using the Mindless Ones, Dormammu doesn’t intend to rule Earth, but to destroy it. Strange is convinced and with some trickery, the two come across Stark’s armor. Strange puts it on, finds Stark and frees him.

Using the Eye of Agamotto, Stark shows Strange that Dormammu’s “cure” is just several parasites that are both giving strength to his hands and sucking his life-forces dry. Stark smites them and goes after Dormammu.

Stark’s armor separates from his body, grabs Dormammu’s physical self and teleports to various dimensions at random. Stark warns Dormammu that even he can’t exist outside his physical form for too long, causing Dormammu to fly away in defeat. Stark figures that he’ll be out of his hair for hopefully months or even years.

Stark and Strange decide to part ways, both too bitter at each other. Strange stays in the Dark Dimension, living with Clea. Tony Stark, meanwhile, is finally free to go back to running his business. Of course, he has his armor propped in his office, in case his talents are needed again.

That was a cool one. Sure, it lacked the character piece that came with the Doom issue, but they did a good job of not only integrating Iron Man into Dr. Strange’s world, but they did a far better job of mixing the technology and sorcery. Sure, Doom did that thing with the nannite bomb, but other than mess with Mordo and capture Strange, he mainly played it with spells. While cunning and talented, it still gave you the idea that Doom was still tiered below 616’s Dr. Strange. Here, Tony Stark comes across as possibly the most powerful being on Earth. He kicked Dormammu’s ass both physically and tactically. Plus, while Doom as the Master of Mystic Arts feels almost natural and makes sense, Stark in the role is just one of those far-out concepts that strangely works. No pun intended. Unless you thought it was funny.

53) WHAT IF… STARRING ARCHANGEL: DEATH AND DISOBEDIENCE

Issue: Volume 2, #101
Writer: Johnny Green and Bill Rosemann
Artist: Fred Haynes
Spider-Man death: I think so
Background: Apocalypse rebuilt the fallen X-Man Angel from the ground up, making him Archangel, his Horseman of Death. When he fought X-Factor, he ended up killing Iceman. Shocked at what he had just done, Archangel was brought back to sanity when he found that it was just a decoy that Iceman created to get through to him. Archangel turned against Apocalypse and rejoined his friends. Perhaps, in other worlds, looks can be deceiving.

This story is a bit short, mainly because several pages are dedicated to replaying the initial X-Factor fight. We find out that there are murders going around in the mutant community. Cyclops decides that it would be best to gather the usual suspects and take them in. Not only in case they’re guilty, but also for their protection. Throughout the issue, the Freedom Force, Juggernaut, Black Tom and the Hellfire Club are forcibly taken in through various action sequences.

Against the Hellfire Club, there’s a part where Cyclops is being strangled by Sebastian Shaw. Archangel hesitates for a second and then stops Shaw… by tossing his razor-sharp angel feathers into him and killing him. At the mansion, Cyclops confronts Archangel about his behavior, inducing a rant from Archangel about all the suffering he’s been through. Cyclops admits that they failed him, but promises that they’re here for him now. Archangel shakes his hand and hugs his friend. He begins to cry, but not because of the things that have already happened…

The Marauders are the last on the list. Led by Sabertooth, they escape X-Factor, but find themselves face-to-face with the three other Horsemen of Apocalypse. They get killed off one-by-one until only Sabertooth is left. He figures out what’s going on, but before he can attack them, he’s repeatedly stabbed through the chest with two swords. He collapses and dies in front of Archangel, who is holding the two blood-soaked swords.

“Aw, jeez. I knew it… They… w-won’t know… what… h-hit ‘em…”

I figure you’re thinking that this issue stinks. It’s pretty straightforward and the big reveal isn’t even close to surprising. So why is it on the list? It’s because of the final four pages. Behold!

Sweet Christmas… Issue saved.

52) WHAT IF… STARRING GHOST RIDER: BURN, BABY, BURN!

Issue: Volume 2, #95
Writer: Ivan Velez, Jr.
Artist: Eric Battle
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Years ago, Johnny Blaze’s involvement with Mephisto led to him becoming Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance. Some time later, Blaze’s long-lost brother Daniel Ketch stumbled upon the mantle. In this story, Mephisto seemingly ignores Blaze and gets himself involved with Ketch. At least, I think. I’m not much when it comes to Ghost Rider knowledge. Or muscle tone.

Ghost Rider himself is floating in a dark void, waiting to be freed for his mission of vengeance. Mephisto wants to tear him apart, but can’t touch him due to his holiness. Still, there are other ways to skin a cat. Since only a certain lineage can join with Ghost Rider, he finds Daniel Ketch and starts corrupting him at a young age. Taking the form of Daniel’s teddy bear Mr. M, the devil convinces him to burn down his house and kill his parents. Daniel and his sister survive.

Years later, the 17-year-old Daniel is getting ready to join the police academy with his girlfriend Stacy. For a little while, he seems like a decent guy with a pleasant personality, but that ends when Mr. M’s voice rings in his head. When Stacy’s father cock-blocks him, he gets a little angry and decides to pick up a hitchhiker.

I’m feeling optimistic about where this is going!

Back at home, his sister Barbara finds out that they were adopted and that they have a long-lost brother. She keeps this from her brother, but notices that he’s wearing a different shirt from the one he went out with. As for stunt rider and family man Johnny Blaze, he’s shown as having nightmares about a fiery, boney demon attacking him and his family. When he gets a letter from Barbara, he tears it up. He wants no part of it.

Mr. M has been trying to convince Daniel that Barbara deserves to die, but Daniel is reluctant. They visit their parents’ grave and Barbara tells him about their other brother. Daniel gets defensive and freaks out at her for thinking he isn’t enough for her. He reveals that not only did he kill their adopted parents, but he’s been killing for years because it’s fun and his bear tells him to. Barbara, in tears, begs Daniel to get psychiatric help. He apologizes and strangles her to death in front of their parent’s gravestone. He immediately feels guilty about it and runs off, tripping and stumbling upon the Ghost Rider bike. With Mephisto’s insistence, he touches the bike and trades places with Ghost Rider.

Ghost Rider looks different than how we know him. More demonic. He’s confused as to what’s going on. He sees Barbara’s body and feels bad, though claiming that he’ll punish whoever killed her. That’s when he’s spotted by some guards and their dogs. Ghost Rider reacts by killing the dogs, though he’s immediately taken aback. This isn’t right. He’s being tainted somehow. After escaping, he goes back to the void and switches with Daniel.

Not only does Ghost Rider get the blame for Barbara’s death, but all of Daniel’s other previous murders get pinned on him too. Daniel makes a habit out of murdering someone innocent, trading places with the Rider, letting him take the blame and then turning back when he thinks things are probably safe.

“And the Ghost Rider, once the fierce and noble Spirit of Vengeance… was now more like the Spirit of Scapegoats… forced to wait alone in the void with nothing but his own tortured thoughts… until the cycle began again. And as the Ghost Rider slipped deeper and deeper into his own horrors… Daniel Ketch’s life got better and better.”

Daniel graduates at the top of his class at the academy and marries Stacy. He basks in his life until Mr. M gives him one last mission: find his long-lost brother and kill him.

In his trailer in Arizona, Johnny Blaze is woken up by a ghost.

Johnny smells that the gas is on and gets his family out of the trailer before it explodes. Outside he finds Daniel stalking him with a knife. The two tangle for a bit, Johnny takes a bullet to the shoulder and Daniel gets stabbed through the hand. Johnny yells at his wife to call the cops, which makes Daniel smile. He calls upon Ghost Rider while promising he’ll come back to kill every one of them.

Johnny goes pale, recognizing Ghost Rider from his dreams. Ghost Rider gets a hold of himself and explains how afraid he is of what he’s becoming. He begs Johnny to kill him. Using Daniel’s knife, Johnny reluctantly does so. He then hugs his wife as finally the nightmare is over.

Mephisto narrates the rest in his hard-to-read font.

“Hah hah hah hah! And thus the Ghost Rider is destroyed. Pathetic fool! Was he taking the path of cowardice unable to face his own powerlessness… or did he indeed show great courage and nobility all the way to the end? Ah… a question we will have eternity to ponder…

“And speaking of eternity… what of our friend, Daniel? He floats in the void, confused and unaware that without the Ghost Rider to trade places with him, he is unable to return to the normal world. Poor dear. He’s become so aware of the passing of time… And wait he will… for eternity, with nothing but his own thoughts for company. Not even Mephisto will help him now. Heeheeeheeeheeeheee!”

Creepy.

That was not a bad horror story, in my eyes. It had all the right elements. Grizzly murder, a cool monster, a hero that makes it out alive, a villain who gets punished and the feeling of overall dread when the good is compared with the bad. Even if Johnny Blaze can move on with his family, it doesn’t erase all the dead bodies and the fact that this was merely entertainment for Satan. The art was hard to look at, since characters kept looking like the Mask and I saw a couple bits where Daniel’s hair color would change between panels.

Even though Mephisto won in the end, I should point out that five minutes after the story ended, Odin and Silver Surfer showed up to give him an atomic wedgie.

51) A WHAT IF X-MEN WEDDING ALBUM

Issue: Volume 2, #60
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Ron Randall
Spider-Man death: Yes
Background: Finally, after years of build-up, Scott Summers and Jean Grey got married. At the ceremony, different X-Men regard their history and ask their own hypothetical questions. The Watcher, looking on, decides to humor them and shows us just what would have happened. What if Scott and Jean got married earlier in their lives? What if Jean was more attracted to Angel in the early days? And what if Jean did choose Wolverine over Cyclops?

At the wedding, Polaris brings up how the two of them should have gotten married a long time ago. The Watcher begins our first story, where we see Beast as he’s about to become the first member of the X-Men to graduate and leave. Jean stops him and makes the big announcement about how she and Scott are going to get married. Everyone is proud and the wedding is a success. Scott becomes a radio show host, pushing the rights of mutants and releases a book. Jean plays mother to their son, who they name Charles.

After the wedding, the remaining members of the X-Men decide to tell Xavier that they want to leave too. They want to leave the mansion behind and go into the real world, like they were trained to do. Xavier is a bit broken up about it, but let’s them do what they want. Besides, there are still many mutants out there ripe for becoming X-Men. We see a team made up of Colossus, Storm, Catseye, Northstar and Aurora training in the Danger Room.

Things are cool until the Krakoa incident. Xavier comes along with the team and they get hit hard. There is no second team sent in for the save. Xavier and the rest are devoured and drained of their energies. Soon we see Krakoa in Japan with Sunfire and the Avengers opposing it. The combined might of Scarlet Witch, Thor and Moondragon renders Krakoa into dead mush. The team then sees the corpses fall out of the creature and gasp in horror. At Xavier’s funeral, Scott, Jean and Warren discuss how it’s their fault for leaving the team. Even though it’s decided that Xavier wouldn’t have wanted them to stay on the team in fear, Scott still wonders whether or not things would’ve been better.

Back in 616, Archangel admits that he used to be head-over-heels with Jean back in the old days, but he thinks she’s better suited for Scott. The second story begins. In regular continuity, Jean was initially attracted to Scott’s shy demeanor. Here, she goes with Angel’s outgoing style. Cyclops introverts more and dedicates himself to the team, since it’s now the only thing that matters to him. If you thought he was a pain in the ass before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. He takes things too seriously and when Xavier lies in order to test his mettle, Cyclops screams at him for treating this like a game.

He becomes bitter and more of a loner until the day when Xavier announces he’s going on leave. He makes Beast the team leader, which causes Cyclops to quit the team in a huff. He goes to New York City, where he soon encounters Quicksilver and the smoking fine Scarlet Witch. They sympathize and reach out to him.

Whether or not Magneto feels the need to betray him doesn’t matter. It’s too late for Cyclops. He’s too far gone.

To introduce our final story, Wolverine stays away from the wedding, smoking a cigar and thinking about what could have been. We go to the Phoenix Saga, where the Phoenix took the form of Jean Grey. Everyone, including the Phoenix herself, believed her to be the real deal. That probably makes it harder for Cyclops when he finds Phoenix making out with Wolverine. She apologizes, but feels that she needs to be free. She needs a wild spirit like Logan to jump her bones. Wolverine, meanwhile, isn’t apologetic at all.

“Looks like the better man won, One-Eye.”

Phoenix is more fierce with her offense. Her relationship with Wolverine is a double-edged sword. On one hand, she is faster in undoing the Hellfire Club’s trickery against her. On the other hand, she’s so intense that she is also quicker in becoming the Dark Phoenix. The usual rampages and genocides occur and the X-Men do indeed keep her under control for a time. They later battle with the Shi’arr Elite over her right to live and Phoenix begins to freak out.

“—and Wolverine is anything but a calming influence.”

Phoenix weakly apologizes before exploding in power, instantly killing everyone in the area. She spreads her wings and soon expands to the point that the entire universe gets swallowed up. Have a nice day!

Man. This article is such a downer. Death, betrayal, corruption, evil winning over good, the end of the universe. I’m kind of feeling a bit depressed. I don’t even think Galactelvis or Morbius being eaten by sharks can help me out. If only there was something that could put me in a good mood. Something like…

Strong Guy dancing?! Okay! :D

I don’t mind Cyclops. I think he’s a pretty cool guy in small doses. Maybe that’s why I enjoy this issue. We get to see three stories about him, each good enough to affect X-Men history (I already discussed how difficult that can be) and none of them drag. It’s pretty funny when you consider this issue insisting that Scott and Jean have to be together in order for everything to be just right, yet right now Jean’s hanging out in Heaven and Scott’s hanging out in Emma Frost’s cleavage.

Some religions would consider those to be the same exact thing.

Next on the countdown: Frank’s too smart for his own good.

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One comment to “The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 10”

  1. Man, I remember that Ghost Rider issue. All sorts of awesome. It was definitely dark.

    Loved it.