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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 16

October 10th, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The What If issue where Storm became the Phoenix was a piece of crap, but I still respect it for one reason. It’s the only What If appearance I can recall of this guy:

Though considering his series started around the same time What If ended, it’s not so surprising.

25) WHAT IF THE NEW FANTASTIC FOUR HAD REMAINED A TEAM?

Issue: Volume 2, #78
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Enrique Alcatena
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Early in the 90’s, a fake Invisible Woman convinced Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk and Ghost Rider that the Fantastic Four had died and that they needed to fill in for a bit. This led to a story involving Skrulls, monsters and Moleman that ended with the revelation that the real Fantastic Four were really alive. The fake Invisible Woman, a Skrull with limited psychic powers, tried to blast the Fantastic Four with some kind of power ring, but nothing happened. Reed had stolen the ring before she could use it. In this reality, the Skrull lady fires a second before Reed can successfully make the steal.

We begin with Wolverine, Spider-Man and Hulk mourning at the funeral and discussing how badly they screwed up. Ghost Rider appears (which Logan appreciates, since he needs to light his cigar) and says that the loss of the Fantastic Four creates a void. They should stay a team and try and fill that void in order to redeem their failure.

And it’s agreed. The New Fantastic Four move into the Baxter Building. Spider-Man wonders if he can get used to the idea of having a public identity, but stops thinking about that when he sees Mary Jane walking around in Sue’s old spandex. To make ends meet, they leave some room for rent and Hulk spends his Banner time figuring out what Reed’s various machines do.

When it comes to fighting, the four are surprisingly pretty effective. We see them taking on various threats and succeeding each time. Even Dr. Doom takes notice of these pretenders. Mary Jane continues to narrate as we get to one of my all-time favorite comic moments.

Mary Jane goes to find Herbie the Robot (who Peter and Bruce discovered and repaired) for help on something, but she’s discovered by a couple intruders, who knock her out.

The New Fantastic Four discuss some business stuff and ways to cut costs, but eventually Hulk gets restless. He and Wolverine are bored out of their minds with this meeting. The discussion changes to Peter’s insistence that the Fantastic Four worked as a team because they sweated out the details and acted like a family. This makes Hulk laugh, but Wolverine’s a bit offended, as that family description sums up the X-Men. Before the argument can get anymore heated, the building is suddenly invaded by Lady Deathstrike and the Abomination.

The two agree to trade partners, with Deathstrike shredding up the Hulk’s shirt and Abomination grabbing Wolverine. Spider-Man tells Danny Ketch to get out of there so he can summon Ghost Rider. Danny runs into Power Skrull and Devos the Devistator, who have Mary Jane’s unconscious body. They don’t recognize him, but consider him a friend to the Fantastic Four, so they blast him out of the room. Hurt badly, Danny crawls to the mystical bike and begins to transform.

Hulk just can’t get his hands on Deathstrike and Spider-Man and Wolverine can barely dent Abomination. While Hulk is handling Deathstrike, Abomination runs over and haymakers him out of the building. Hulk falls many, many stories down and crashes into the street. He immediately gets back up and seethes over how much that hurt. He climbs up, preparing to get revenge on that “walking wastedump”.

Ghost Rider attacks Power Skrull and Devos, but once they get over the surprise, Devos blasts him down. Wolverine stands in front of a beaten Spider-Man while preparing to fight off Deathstrike and Abomination himself. Ghost Rider flies through the wall and Power Skrull walks in, amused that he and Devos aren’t the only duo out to kill the Four. Wolverine tells Spider-Man that their only chance is to stick together, but with Mary Jane in the Skrull’s arms, Spidey goes into Gwen Rage(tm) and foolishly lays into him. Power Skrull easily knocks him out and Devos zaps Wolverine.

Hulk finally crawls back up through the hole in the wall and talks tough until seeing what he’s up against. An instant after he realizes how deep in shit he is, he gets blasted back out of the building. Mary Jane cradles her husband in her arms and calls the villains murderers. Power Skrull doesn’t dispute it and says that the Fantastic Four are only the beginning. From off-panel, a lone voice tells them, “No.”

Deus Von Machina.

Spider-Man regains consciousness and talks with Wolverine about how crappy they are as a team. Wolverine figures that there can only be one Fantastic Four and it isn’t them. He then asks if anyone’s seen Banner. We cut to a rather large crater surrounded by crowd control. Inside the crater, Hulk notes, “Whoa… that hurt.”

It ends with a piece of Mary Jane’s diary.

“So that was the end of the coolest apartment I’d ever lived in. Four Freedoms Plaza was demolished a year later. They put up a hotel in its place. And everyone went their separate ways. Peter says that maybe they weren’t cut out to save the world, at least as a team. Well, he’s the big hero in my story. And he always will be.”

As I’ve mentioned before, this was both the first What If I’ve ever read and one of the first comics I’ve ever owned. So if you don’t think it deserves to be this high up, there’s your answer. This is most definitely a fun team with some fun interactions, mainly between Hulk and Wolverine. One could make the argument that these guys are really just the second coming of the Defenders, with the same gimmick of loners having to deal together, but that doesn’t pull down the enjoyment level. I seem to recall this as being the first time I realized how much Dr. Doom rules. Thumbs up on the art, too.

24) WHAT IF PHOENIX HAD NOT DIED?/WHAT IF PHOENIX ROSE AGAIN?

Issue: Volume 2, #33-34
Writer: George Caragonne
Artist: Rod Ramos (whose name is awesome)
Spider-Man death: Yes
Background: The X-Men battled the Shi’arr Elite over the life of Jean Grey, who as the Dark Phoenix, killed billions of lives. During all the hoopla, Jean lost control of her Phoenix powers and became a universal threat. She pleaded for her friends to kill her and she did indeed die. Sort of. In this story, the Elite defeat the X-Men and knock out Jean before she can even get so emotionally worked up. Rather than kill her, they merely give her a lobotomy that cut off her powers. She may have the x-gene in her body, but for all intents and purposes, she’s just a human.

They did do this story back in volume 1 and while I can understand why people would like it (it was in Wizard’s top ten), I lean towards this version far more. If you’re curious, the story involved Jean regaining her powers when fighting Galactus to a stalemate. She continued on the team for a while until growing madder and madder with her increasing power. By the end she had killed the X-Men and the grief caused her to devour the universe. The big difference in storytelling is that at that time we didn’t know the truth about the Phoenix. The truth being that throughout the story the real Jean Grey was really in an energy cocoon beneath the sea. The Jean we saw during this time was the Phoenix having cloned herself into Jean to the point that she believed she was the real thing.

In this updated story, Cyclops and Jean leave the X-Men. They’re married and Angel buys them a beautiful home in the middle of nowhere. Scott gets a job as an airline pilot, but Jean is a wreck. For one, her mental abilities weren’t so much a power, but part of her being. To lose a sense like that is crippling. Plus she can barely sleep, since she continually has nightmares about all the people she killed as the Dark Phoenix. Not just that, but the fact that she enjoyed it. The Shi’arr made sure that she continues to remember her crime against the universe. She goes into a crying fit over how hard it is to live like this, which is when Scott notices Jean’s sleeping pills. Since he knows she doesn’t want to sleep, he gets the idea of what they’re really for. He pleads with her and promises that they’ll get through this together. Calming down, Jean tells Scott she loves him and the two embrace out on the patio in the pouring rain.

That’s when Magneto appears, claiming unfinished business. Cyclops goes all out with an optic blast, but it still isn’t enough to get through Magneto’s force field. Magneto pins Scott down with metal and asks Jean to come with him in return for Scott’s life. Jean agrees.

Here’s where I see one of the more noticeable aspects of this issue. The title should have been What If the Phoenix Refused to Wear Pants? See, when she stormed off and got in her heated rant earlier, she was only wearing a tight, pink tanktop and a pair of panties. She proceeds to wear this for almost the entire issue, to the point that even Magneto thinks it’s absurd. He offers her some clothes, but Jean won’t let this bigot put an end to her cheesecake.

See what I mean? Magneto’s been keeping tabs on the X-Men and knows what happened to the Phoenix. Magneto has sympathy for Jean and shows her to a machine that could undo what the Shi’arr had done to her mind. She could become the Phoenix again. While Magneto is likely using this as a power play, he also feels that what was done to the Phoenix was wrong and that her personal rights trump doing the right thing. Hm… this sounds an awful lot like a movie I saw fairly recently.

The X-Men (with Cyclops) bust in and rush Magneto. As he fends them off, Jean is in a room, prepared to regain her power. It’s not even about the Phoenix and all the good she can potentially do. It’s about regaining her identity and being whole again. The temptation is so great that she reaches towards the device, preparing to return to godhood. But all the horrors she’s caused. All the horrors she could still cause. Is her experience enough to stop her from killing the innocent? Is it worth the risk?

Jean pulls back and declares that there will be no more blood on her hands. She tears the machinery apart in protest. Magneto senses this and pulls away from the thrashing he’s experiencing to confront Jean.

“Grey! You miserable, ungrateful wench! I offered to help you… You refused… Now you will pay!”

“Go ahead, then! KILL ME! But remember this! I could have had your power, Magneto! I could have been a god! But the thought of becoming a power mad monster like you sickens me!”

“I… I became what I am when I saw everyone I ever loved destroyed by the hatred humans feel for us. You and I could have stopped that forever.”

“If we are hated and feared, it’s largely because of actions of men like you! It’s not too late, Magneto!”

“You made your choice, Jean. My path was decided long ago. Leave my home, X-Men.”

Jean stops the others from pursuing a fight with Magneto. Having won the greatest victory of her life, Jean is inspired to get over herself and move on. She goes back to college and gets her degree. She becomes a teacher at Xavier’s school, giving advice to the New Mutants about the dangers of being powerful. She gives birth to Rachel Summers. And at some point she also puts on clothes.

There’s a time when the X-Men and the New Mutants are missing, which I’m guessing is that story where they ended up in Asgard. Jean is alone with Rachel, wondering if her daughter will be a psychic when she matures. What appears to be Scott Summers comes in and kisses his relieved wife. He then transforms into his true form, Mastermind. He’s out for revenge for what the Dark Phoenix did to him years earlier. Using his illusion powers, he tortures Jean and makes her experience things like Hell and being eaten alive by bugs. There’s one seriously disturbing panel where she sees the X-Men and baby Rachel impaled and melting.

Jean strikes Mastermind, only to find out that Mastermind isn’t even himself. He’s being controlled by the Shadow King. The Shadow King makes Mastermind pull out a gun and shoot Jean dead. He steals Rachel and leaves. Jean’s body lays there for hours, much like any dead body would. But in reality, she isn’t Jean. She’s the Phoenix, a universal force of nature. The façade is taken away and she remembers everything. Everything is a lie.

To see the truth for herself, she goes to where she put Jean’s body. Jean remains in stasis and the Phoenix feels her entire life fall apart. Scott – the man she loves – will despise her. It’s all ruined and Phoenix can only blame herself. She briefly thinks of how better it would be if the real Jean never survived the crash and the errant thought causes Jean to dissipate into nothing. Phoenix, realizing what she’s done, is horrified. Killing billions was horrible in itself, but for once, the Phoenix just deliberately took a human life.

Intermission!

End Intermission!

Once she gets her bearings, Phoenix puts her thoughts on her identity on the backburner. She may have killed Jean, but she won’t let anything happen to Rachel. She finds the Shadow King, who has turned Rachel into an adult and uses her to attack her own mother. Phoenix overcomes the villain’s illusions and destroys him. She turns Rachel back to a baby and returns to the mansion, where the X-Men have also returned. She wants to tell Cyclops the truth, but knows it would be better to just pretend to be Jean Grey.

The X-Men continue to do their thing for a while and a mutant-hating president, David Russel, is one day elected. He tries to have the Mutant Registration Act passed, but the Supreme Court shuts him down. Phoenix argues with herself over what she should do, but tries to hold back. Wolverine, meanwhile, hears Rachel having a nightmare. She keeps remembering her experience with the Shadow King and how her mother attacked her. It comes to her in her dreams every night. Wolverine comforts her and gets a bit suspicious.

Phoenix can’t take it anymore. If she doesn’t do something, who will? She sneaks into the White House and wakes up the President. She attacks him psychically so that the very next day he publicly renounces his hatred of mutants. Hey, good for him! Oh, wait… He gets assassinated in record time. Plus his replacement is even worse than him. The newer President lets loose the Sentinels. They go Skynet in mere hours. Over time, all the other superheroes get taken out.

The X-Men still have some success eluding the Sentinels. There’s even a little bit where Kitty has to tell Franklin Richards that his parents can’t be with him anymore. Wolverine storms out of the infirmary and confronts Phoenix alone. He’s figured out that she’s become the Phoenix again. All the evidence is there. Phoenix says he’s wrong, to which Wolverine reluctantly starts slapping her repeatedly. She reaches her limit and explodes in bird-shaped flame. It looks like her strike was a little too strong, with Wolverine now lying on the floor, barely moving.

Phoenix cradles Wolverine in her arms and tells him everything. She promises that she can control the power now and that she’ll never go nuts again. As she kisses Wolverine, she receives a claw to the stomach. Wolverine knows that she’s a killer and will one day destroy all existence. Even though he loves her, he has to kill her. Phoenix stops him in his tracks and removes his memories of the last few minutes.

And that’s why Wolverine created the Brother Eye satel… wait, I’m getting my stories mixed up again.

It’s all for naught, anyway. Jean finds that Cyclops and Xavier heard every word of it. Scott says nothing and his visor does a good job keeping his emotions a secret. Before hearing their input, Phoenix leaves. She walks away from the mansion, shortly before an assemblage of Sentinels appear to demolish it.

The remains of the X-Men come up with a counter-plan. The Sentinel Master Mold is currently living inside the Baxter Building. The Sentinels won’t expect an immediate counter-attack. Magneto pops in to offer his assistance. Since his good friend Xavier apparently died in the previous attack, he figures it would be a good idea to team up. Cyclops goes for it.

They sneak through Morlock tunnels underneath the Baxter Building. Magneto mentions how he’s using his magnetic powers to mask their presence, but a bunch of Sentinels appear, explaining that they’ve calibrated themselves to recognize his powers. The only reason they let Magneto survive a previous encounter was so he would bring them more victims. They also have changed their lasers so they can counter Magneto’s force field and hit him regardless. Magneto gets hit through the back, but doesn’t die. Instead, he weakly mentions that he can’t feel his legs.

The Phoenix flies out of nowhere and destroys the Sentinels. Since it’s been so long since she’s fed her power, she’s a bit dazed. She goes after legions of Sentinels and does pretty well for herself until they turn on a sonic scrambler (much like what Iron Man does in Civil War #4) and bring her to her knees. The X-Men come to the rescue, fight off some Sentinels and destroy Master Mold. During the course of these actions, Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde both sacrifice themselves.

The sonic scrambler is depowered and Phoenix can finally get to business. She isn’t afraid anymore. She embraces her power and who she is, reducing the many Sentinels to scrap.

The war has ended and it’s time to move on. Phoenix comes to Cyclops, afraid of how he might act towards her.

Awww…

Destiny, the soothsaying mutant, comes to Phoenix, having foreseen that Phoenix would want to speak with her. She asks for her future. Destiny has seen every possibility and it always ends the same: Phoenix will lose control and kill everything. Maybe today or tomorrow or in another hundred years. As much as she loves her human life, it isn’t for her. Phoenix belongs to the universe and the universe belongs to her. The only way out is for Phoenix to leave Earth. She’s reluctant, but knows she has to do what she has to do.

She leaves her home, where we see Cyclops and Rachel crying. Behind them is Magneto, now in Xavier’s old wheelchair. Perhaps Phoenix’s experiences have taught him something about his own flawed way of living. Phoenix turns into her cosmic form and soars the universe, knowing that life will go on without her. She faces an eternity away from the life she desires, but at the same time, she will have her humanity. No lack of flesh and blood can change that. She thinks years back to that battle with the Shi’arr and wonders if things would have worked out better if she died. What if?

Holy crap, that was a long write-up. Kudos if you got through it all. The volume 1 version of this story isn’t horrible, but it’s a bit lazy. Phoenix lives and goes on to kill everyone? Anyone could write that. But to do a story like this? That took talent.

There’s a reason I really love this story. It is the only Phoenix story I can think of that actually has to do with the X-Men. It’s always bothered me that somehow “mutant struggle” had transitioned into “fiery bird from space fights mohawked Superman”. In this story, Phoenix is the mutant among mutants; an outcast among outcasts. She’s more powerful than them, which causes some to fear the consequences. She herself is afraid of her powers and who she is. She has to choose between overpowering those lesser than herself or fighting alongside them and working towards a peaceful coexistence. Phoenix becomes relevant and I find myself giving half a crap.

23) WHAT IF DAREDEVIL WAS THE DISCIPLE OF DOCTOR STRANGE?

Issue: Volume 2, #83
Writer: Ian Edgington and Mike Baron
Artist: Rafael Kayanan
Spider-Man death: No
Background: When vain surgeon Dr. Strange screwed up his hands in an auto accident, he became a bottom-of-the-barrel drunk until hearing rumors of the Ancient One. He went on to become the Ancient One’s disciple, trading his medical skills for that of sorcery. In this alternate reality, his hopes are dashed when a stranger insists that the Ancient One is just an old wives’ tale. This stranger tells our hero of another outlet of direction. Not too long after, Stephen Strange climbs up a snowy mountain and finds the Chaste ninja clan waiting for him. Not only that, but the stranger, Stick, is with them.

The issue begins with Dr. Strange on a rooftop, fighting off a dozen Hand ninjas who have kidnapped an innocent woman and are prepared to kill her just to get Strange to show up. It’s not that they want Strange, but they want his current student Elektra. Strange goes through the gaggle of ninjas with the precision you’d expect from a surgeon.

“I used to be the most celebrated brain surgeon in America. You may have seen me on Sixty Minutes. But that was another life, another Dr. Stephen Strange. Since then, my hands have been broken and reset, broken and reset. So I use them to break this Hand… to atone for a sin I can never outlive… as long as he lives. The Daredevil, my greatest… my only… disciple.”

Daredevil, dressed out in a seriously rocking hybrid of his regular costume and a Hand outfit, shows up and threatens Strange. The woman prisoner is suspended over the streets by a rope. Daredevil tosses a shuriken through the rope, causing the woman to fall. Strange immediately dives down in hopes of saving her life. Though Daredevil and the Hand get away, Strange still catches the woman and prevents her death. She’s still a bit cut up from broken glass, but it’s better than nothing.

In street clothes, Strange watches the woman being taken away in an ambulance. With her injuries and with Matt showing up, Strange feels tonight to be his biggest failure in a long time. He looks at a bottle in a liquor store and nurses the idea of buying it. Stick comes out to give him some wisdom. He thinks that anything Strange deems a failure this night comes from his desire to control those other than him. Stick tells his protégé not to become too proud or morbid. Elektra’s counting on him.

Strange thinks back to how this all happened. I covered a lot of it above. Strange took to the Chaste’s training with the same enthusiasm as his regular self did with sorcery. He always had a feeling that Stick was holding back with him, as if he didn’t trust him. Then came the story of Matthew Murdock. When the boy’s father died, Stick was going to take care of him and teach him the way of the Chaste. Strange, feeling the need to prove himself, went in his place. He failed horribly. Matt was too filled with rage and revenge to be tamed by Strange.

When Stick found out, he had Strange’s hands broken a second time. A long while later, Strange met Elektra at a party. Matt was also there and had an eye for Elektra. Strange could sense the potential in Elektra and how Matt could do the same. Matt threatened Strange, but the ninja doctor made Elektra his new student anyway. There’s a father/daughter bond between the two, but Strange can tell that Elektra’s keeping something from him. He knows she’s been leaving some nights for hours at a time. She tells him it’s none of his business. The two argue back and forth about Elektra’s role in the Chaste/Hand war.

Then… Strange gets very still. They’re here.

Daredevil and a whole lot of Hand ninjas break through the ceiling, sending shards of glass all over the place. Daredevil gives the orders to kill Strange, but to let Elektra live. Daredevil is told by his higher-up to go kill Strange to show his loyalty. He runs in and has a one-on-one duel with his former mentor, filled with back-and-forth bickering and well-drawn ninja fighting action. Daredevil wins and gets ready to snap Strange’s neck with a half-hearted apology. Elektra pleads with him to stop, promising she’ll join the Hand if he lets Strange go.

Daredevil and Elektra profess their love for each other and go after the Hand. Before passing out, Strange comes to realize how the obvious totally passed him by. He comes to and finds that Daredevil and Elektra are the only ones there. They killed most of the ninjas, but let some leave so they could spread the word. Matt and Stephen, now no longer enemies, embrace as friends.

Matt tells him the truth. He and Elektra are in love and have been in love since they first met. They have been meeting in secret for a while, trying to convert each other. It was decided that neither want a part of this war. Daredevil betrayed the Hand, not for the Chaste, but for himself and Elektra. As for the woman from the beginning of the story, Matt trusted Strange’s skills enough to know that he’d successfully rescue her. Now Matt and Elektra can go on their own and find their own happiness. Strange gives them his blessing.

Watching his two students soar the rooftops together, Strange doesn’t feel lonely or like a failure. Instead, he feels optimistic and knows that with those two out there together, something big is going to happen.

This is another one of those weird What If concepts that works. Then again, it really isn’t that weird. How different is it from Dr. Strange’s usual origin? At least a secret ninja war is more down to earth than having to save reality from a purple guy with a fiery head. The art is the real star of this issue, with some nice choreography with the fighting and great depictions of Stick, Hand Daredevil and Ninja Strange. What’s missing is an epilogue to reveal that Foggy Nelson has become the Master of Mystic Arts. I’m not sure if that mental image makes me happy or sad.

22) WHAT IF THE HULK WENT BERSERK?

Issue: Volume 1, #45
Writer: Peter Gillis
Artist: Ron Wilson
Spider-Man death: No
Background: I know what you’re thinking. What kind of title is that? Isn’t that like naming a comic What If Spider-Man Stuck to a Wall or What If Namor Caused Gavok to Question his Heterosexuality? Sure, we’ve seen the Hulk go nuts from time to time, but he usually has some form of self-control, even at his worst. He even refused to kill the Abomination, despite the fact that Emil killed his wife. So in this retelling of the Hulk origin, Bruce Banner doesn’t have time to shove Rick Jones into a trench. All he can do is use his own body to shield Rick from the blast.

The two survive and are brought in for examination. In their hospital beds, Rick thinks to himself and Bruce responds as if he heard him speak. Before either can realize the nuttiness of that exchange, their radioactive levels start rising. Bruce freaks out and becomes the Hulk. While Rick stays his normal human self, he feels the strain on his body and the pain that comes with the transformation. Hulk breaks through the wall and escapes. When the soldiers arrive, Rick can’t bring himself to say that the man who saved him is a monster, so he lies and mentions that the Hulk showed up and kidnapped Dr. Banner.

At first Rick wants the Hulk to come back and speaks to him telepathically. Hulk refuses, but ends up getting in a fight with the army. With so many guys going at him, Rick changes his mind.

“Doc?”

“I’m the Hulk!!”

“All right, then, Hulk, listen: You’ve got to get out of here! You’ve got the whole army after you! Lay low – find some place to cool out!”

“Don’t like that – but Rick cares for the Hulk – Rick feels for the Hulk. So Hulk will do it.”

In this world, the Hulk knows he can trust his little buddy because they’re connected at the mind. They read each other’s thoughts and feel each other’s pain.

Hulk does leave for several hours, until it’s time for Rick to receive a shot for his radiation sickness. Since the doctor isn’t around, Thunderbolt Ross has a private with butterfingers do it. He screws up and Hulk feels the sting. He goes back towards the base in order to make sure that nobody hurts Rick ever again. He smashes up some army toys, but Rick pleads with him to stay away. On one hand, Hulk can feel how sick Rick is, but on the other hand, Rick’s worrying makes Hulk feel bad too, so he gives in and tries to leave again.

Ross figures out that there’s some kind of mental connection between the two. He tries to exploit it by giving Rick electric shocks. It works, with Hulk fed up and coming to destroy the army for good. Rick begs him to stay away, promising he can take it, but his radiation sickness is starting to take effect. Even once the shocks are done with, his health continues to deteriorate. Until…

I’m noticing a pattern in What Ifs where Rick Jones dying means someone’s going to go on an ass-kicking spree. The Hulk may have been illogical and simple, but now he was something altogether different. Hulk, while alive, feels Rick’s death. He’s stuck with the experience of a painful, horrible death and he’s exploding because of it. He’s no longer talking about “smashing”. He doesn’t want to “smash” General Ross. He wants to straight out kill him. That’s all he can yell about.

Nothing the army tries can slow him down. Ross escapes on a helicopter, even with Hulk throwing missiles in his direction. With the army worthless, Ross calls the Fantastic Four for help. Reed tries to restrain him, but Hulk grabs him and almost stretches him to the point that he’d tear in half. Thing puts an end to that and we get our usual monster vs. monster fight. Well… scratch that. A double-fisted uppercut knocks Thing away real quick. Human Torch tries to stop him, but Hulk blows him out like a candle. Invisible Woman turns herself invisible in defense. Thing gets his second wind and tackles Hulk. Hulk figures that this is pointless, since Ross isn’t around and jumps off with Thing still attached. They end up on a missile silo with a nuclear missile nearby. Thing warns Hulk not to touch the bomb and tries his hardest to reason with him. With a scream of “HULK WANTS DEATH!!”, the jade giant pounds down on the missile and creates a mushroom cloud.

In the distance, Ross says that it was only the delivery system rocket exploding, not the warhead. I have no idea what that means, other than that it isn’t as bad as it could’ve been. The heroes and the army stand and watch for hours until one figure walks from the smoke. It’s Benjamin Grimm, human being, carrying an unconscious Bruce Banner over his shoulder.

Bruce wakes up and immediately feels the horrible pain that comes from Rick’s death. He turns into the Hulk and snaps Ben’s neck. Human Torch flies at him, but Hulk swats him away like a fly. Johnny looks to have died there. On television, Walter Cronkite announces the deaths and makes the call for the other superheroes to help out. Dr. Don Blake sees the message and transforms into his alter-ego, the Mighty Thor. On his way towards the site, he flies alongside Iron Man in his golden armor. Hulk attacks through the air and brings down Iron Man first.

The two brawl evenly, but Thor knows Iron Man needs all the help he can get. He comes up with a plan where he’ll summon lightning to power up Iron Man’s suit to maximum levels and amplify his repulsor blasts. They give it a shot and the blasts nail the Hulk. Does it work?

It’s all down to Thor. The two mighty ones brawl. Hulk removes Mjolnir from the fight and they start to grapple. Thor assesses the situation. With their equal strength, they’re in the middle of a stalemate, but without Mjolnir in his hands, he only has moments before he reverts to the frail and doomed Donald Blake. He hates having to do it, but Thor has no choice. He musters up all his strength, grabs Hulk by the head and snaps his neck. The Hulk falls limp and Thor becomes Donald Blake. He feels horrible as he sees the Hulk revert to but a man too. Blake, a surgeon, is horrified at his failure to save a life. Becoming Thor again, he makes amends by sending the Hulk to Valhalla where he may find peace.

“Did you see, General Ross?! Bruce Banner! Who would’ve believed such evil was lurking in such a gentle man?!!”

“Lord help us, Major— The evil wasn’t all in him. No, not by a long shot. And now I think there are some authorities you and I must speak with, Major. Right away. We have much to atone for.”

I’m not bold enough to claim Ultimate Hulk is in any way based on this story, but this is definitely the first to show just how vicious he could be without a conscience. Being in the normal Silver Age setting makes him even scarier than in the Ultimate Universe or the Zombieverse, where his bloodlust fits in with the crowd. I love how this issue gives us the fights we want and doesn’t hold back. This isn’t like Captain America vs. Batman where they pussy out on the answer, but they make it kill or be killed between Marvel’s top two powerhouses. I’d like to see a reissue of this story with a one-page scene of the Sentry flying in to calm the Hulk down, only for the Hulk to snap and explode his golden head.

21) WHAT IF SOMEONE ELSE BESIDES SPIDER-MAN HAD BEEN BITTEN BY THE RADIOACTIVE SPIDER?

Issue: Volume 1, #7
Writer: Don Glut
Artist: Rick Hoberg
Spider-Man death: Yes and no
Background: A spider jumped onto Peter Parker’s hand, bit him and gave him superpowers. Everyone knows that. But with all the supporting characters in Peter Parker’s life, what if one of them was there for the science exhibition? Maybe Peter wouldn’t have been the victim of the bite.

In the first story, Flash Thompson walks into the lab with two dates at his side. He figures that the exhibition might be worth a couple of laughs. The spider lands on Flash’s hand and bites him. He plays it straight and acts all tough, though he’s actually feeling a bit woozy. He goes to get some fresh air with his ladies when a drunk driver speeds forward. Flash pushes the girls out of the way and shoves the car into the side of a building. The driver, toasted and scared, runs off. Flash convinces the girls that it was just adrenaline, but he knows it was much more.

He finds out about Crusher Hogan’s challenge for all comers to wrestle him. Since Flash could use the money, he tosses his hat into the fray. Flash realizes just how strong he is, manhandling the wrestler, but goes too far. He’s so high on his own ego that he ends up killing Crusher. The police bring him in, but Flash has no problem escaping with his new powers. He wants to do something with his powers, but he knows the police will be on the lookout for him. He decides that since he’s always been an athletic hero, he’ll use his abilities to become a superhero. He buys some threads at the costume shop and makes a couple alterations.

Captain Spider does fairly well for himself, such as defeating the Chameleon. Sadly, his career is cut short early on when he fights the Vulture. The two scuffle and the Vulture brings the fight into the air. High above the city, the Vulture pounds on Captain Spider until he loses his grip and falls to his death. Peter Parker looks on and finds the body. Unmasking it, he’s horrified to find out that it was Flash. Even if he was a dick to him on a regular basis, he still admired the hero he tried to be.

In our second story, J. Jonah Jameson comes in to cover the science exhibition, since he and the scientist heading it go way back. With him is his secretary Betty Brant, who Peter immediately finds himself attracted to. The spider lands on Betty and bites her hand. She almost passes out, but Peter catches her. Peter asks Jameson to let her take off early, since she’s obviously shaken up. Since Jameson is surrounded by potential subscribers, he plays it nice and allows it, as long as she comes in an hour early the next day. Peter and Betty leave to go get some coffee.

At the coffee shop, the two connect. Peter jokes about Jameson and causes Betty to go into an angry rant about how much of a slave driver he is. In her anger, she breaks the table with her fist. Shocked, she and Peter leave while telling the people at the diner to bill Jameson for the table. Peter has an idea about Betty’s new strength and goes back to her apartment to run a couple tests that involve her running around in pink tights. Man, for a nerd, that guy works fast.

As he suspected, the radioactive spider gave Betty new spider-based abilities. He thinks she should become a superhero. She is against the idea, since she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but he promises it won’t have to come to that. He’s smart and he has a lab, so he could whip up some stuff to keep her from having to punch criminals. He admits one of his main reasons for this is that they could get a crapload of money by having Peter take pictures of her in action.

Peter creates the web-fluid while Betty makes her own costume. She thinks Peter’s name idea “Spider-Lady” sounds like some kind of crazy middle-aged woman. Calling herself Spider-Girl, Betty wears a costume that allows her to be a bit more risqué than she’s used to.

Their agreement works great, and the two share a lot of laughs over how they’ve pulled the wool over Jameson’s eyes. After a little break of Spider-Girl sightings in the news, Jameson pressures Peter into getting him something or his job’s in jeopardy. Spider-Girl and Peter have a photo session in an alley in hopes of shutting their boss up.

Later that night, the two stop by Peter’s house to find police cars. They’re told about how a burglar shot Uncle Ben. Peter’s horrified and upon hearing where the burglar is held up, Betty restocks on web-fluid and heads to the old warehouse. She stalks the killer, rants at him and then punches him out. She removes the mask to find that it’s the same guy she could’ve stopped earlier.

She returns to Peter and tearfully removes her mask. She can’t do this anymore. It’s her fault that Uncle Ben died and the responsibility that comes with her power is just too much to bear. They toss the costume in a garbage can and walk off together. Still, Peter looks back at the costume with a curious look on his face.

In our last story, astronaut John Jameson walks into the science expedition to visit an old scientist friend who helped him at NASA. The spider bites his hand and while it hurts, he’s fit enough to shake it off. Some time later, we see him exercising at NASA, lifting hundreds of pounds with ease followed by amazing acrobatics. He shows his father, who is completely stoked. John wants to use his abilities to help NASA, but Jonah pushes the idea that he should be a hero and help people (which would sell Bugle issues better). John is reluctant, but accepts.

He becomes Spider Jameson and wears a more armor-based outfit. He doesn’t have web-shooters, but he does have a jetpack that NASA made for him. In the first two stories, we saw two teens who each had their hearts in the right place, but neither could hold Spider-Man’s spot. One relied purely on brawn and the other didn’t have the guts for it. Finally, this issue brings us someone who has the heart, gadgets and courage needed to do the job right.

Spider Jameson is a hit and his father becomes a fan of the whole superhero concept. One day, Peter Parker asks for work as a photographer, only for Jonah to chew him out. They get a message that there’s a space capsule out of control that’s going to crash. In regular continuity, Spider-Man was there to save John Jameson. Here, John Jameson knows that it’s up to him to save the man who took his place. Spider Jameson flies off on his jetpack with his father and Peter following.

Spider Jameson catches onto the space capsule and uses his own jetpack to redirect it. The thing is, this is far more than he’s used to and soon the jetpack runs out of fuel. He knows his life is going to end, but it’s not too late to save the astronaut. He does a stunt that involves cushioning the fall with his own body. The capsule is saved, but by that same token, Jonah and Peter come over to find John being crushed.

Jonah creates a bronze statue in dedication to his son. He feels that showing support for all the new superheroes showing up in town is all he can do to make amends. Peter gives him his condolences, but Jonah tells him to take a look at the statue. It’s not just a memorial, but an inspiration to average Joes like Parker.

As an epilogue, all three of these stories end in the same way. Whether Peter is inspired by Captain Spider and Spider Jameson or whether he feels that he needs to pick up where Spider-Girl left off, each reality shows him keeping the radioactive spider for his own examination. He runs some tests and extracts the venom into a formula. He drinks the formula and he himself is given the powers of his predecessors. Captain Spider, Spider-Girl and Spider Jameson may not have lasted long, but each world will still have its own Spider-Man.

This style of issue was done with the Fantastic Four issue I discussed last article, but the stories are far better. Even though they only had a limited amount of Spider-Man history to work with, I found each one worth reading and unique enough from the others to remain interesting. I will admit that I liked the other story about Flash getting spider powers better than the segment here. I also like how they didn’t go too cliché by saying that Spider Jameson was missing something key that kept him from being great. He may have died, but it’s not due to one of his own personal flaws. In fact, one could say that the world is better off in that reality. The Spider-Girl story is something I wouldn’t mind seeing revisited. Now that Peter has his girlfriend’s powers, what will become of them? And just because Betty doesn’t want to use her powers anymore doesn’t mean she won’t have them.

I’m just glad that version of Spider-Girl didn’t work out. Seeing Spider-Man’s head on a scantily clad chick’s body is creepy as hell.

Next on the countdown: A whole lot of punishment.

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8 comments to “The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 16”

  1. “I’m just glad that version of Spider-Girl didn’t work out. Seeing Spider-Man’s head on a scantily clad chick’s body is creepy as hell.”
    I’m in total agreement with you there. Even the alternative future Spider-Girl who’s Peter’s daughter makes my brain itch when I see her. I think it’s that the proportions of the she-spider’s heads aren’t often drawn as immediately distinguishable from Spider-Man’s so your mind interprets it as Spider-man’s head on a woman’s body.

    “Daredevil, dressed out in a seriously rocking hybrid of his regular costume and a Hand outfit”
    I’ve got to agree with this too, that outfit looks fantastic.

    What I like about the New Fantastic Four team is that they seem to be a fairly random assortment of characters who don’t really fit together. There’s something appealing about how jarring it is too look at them all together.
    There was actually an in-continuity story by Erik Larsen where Spider-Man teamed up with Ghost Rider and the Hulk to fight the Sinister Six. No Wolverine, I’m afraid, but they had a rather obscure character called Sleepwalker along for help, and the Fantastic Four and possibly the Avengers turned up later to lend a hand. The story was called ‘Slugfest’ and it was probably the first Spider-Man comic I read.

    Incidentally, I think there’s something potentially ghoulish about Mary-Jane helping herself to a dead woman’s clothes to give her husband a boner.


  2. Yeah, I remember seeing a letter in one of the later issues where someone was offended by that, saying MJ wearing Sue’s outfit was in poor taste.


  3. “Phoenix lives and goes on to kill everyone? Anyone could write that. But to do a story like this? That took talent.” I agree; I never liked the v1 version.

    I liked this Flash-becomes-Spidey one better than the other. This version at least tried to do good, rather than being a one-dimensional dick. Spider-Girl’s costume… I know it was supposed to be pink tights, but it looked stripperish.


  4. LOL! Spider-Betty’s shoulders are far stronger looking than parkers ever were! (Even post spider bite!)


  5. LOLing at Strange as Docter McNinja.

    Your write up was a bit confusing on that issue though, ‘Vok. I had to read it over twice before I found out when Dr. Strange taught Daredevil. It almost seemed to be a passing footnote to the story.

    And that Spider-Betty costume.. Jesus H. Christ. Holy Silver Age Strippers BAtman!


  6. […] about the New Fantastic Four sticking together as a team, which has been done before. While that wasn’t a bad issue, this one goes in different directions. Not just the optimism […]


  7. “The title should have been What If the Phoenix Refused to Wear Pants? See, when she stormed off and got in her heated rant earlier, she was only wearing a tight, pink tanktop and a pair of panties. She proceeds to wear this for almost the entire issue, to the point that even Magneto thinks it’s absurd. He offers her some clothes, but Jean won’t let this bigot put an end to her cheesecake.”

    Well, this was written by George Caragonne, who went on to create Penthouse Comix before spiraling out of control and killing himself in a particularly disturbing way–see http://www.newsfromme.com/archives/2005_07_20.html#010097


  8. :mad: i read daredavil disiciple dr strange:why would dr strange wanna be pals with stick after the bully broke his hands on purpose? and sticks group are the good guys i dont think so!