The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 18

October 30th, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s a good time for a new What If article. Not only does What If: Avengers Disassembled come out this Wednesday, but Halloween’s right around the corner. What If and Halloween go together hand-in-hand. On Halloween, children dress up as their favorite superheroes. In What If, Frank Castle dresses up as Captain America. On Halloween, the theme is horror and gore. In What If, characters die by the dozen if you ask them politely. Halloween is represented by a bald kid with a big head, whining about how all he got from trick-or-treating was a rock. What If is represented by a bald guy with a big head, telling us about times when Ben Grimm didn’t get covered in rocks.

Okay, this is going too far. Let’s get to the article.


Issue: Volume 1, #15
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Simonson Wiacek, Infantino Springer, Andru Giacoi and Perez Palmer
Spider-Man death: Yes
Background: The Green Lant—I mean, Nova got his powers when the previous Nova Rhomann Dey was mortally wounded while around Earth’s atmosphere. He transferred his powers and spot in the Nova Corps to a human at random. That human turned out to be Richard Rider, who continues to fight as Nova to this very day as the main hero of Annihilation. So if he was randomly picked, that opens up a lot of possibilities.

The first story begins with a mugger killing a man and running off in a panic. The victim’s wife, Helen Taylor, screams a vow that she’s going to find this guy and kill him. Months pass and Helen stands at her husband’s grave, sad that the police are no use and there’s nothing she can really do to help him. Only a miracle can set things right.

You’d think based on this that she’d become some kind of hero. Not so much. She goes after criminals and demands to know where the killer of Frank Taylor is. Nobody has any clue what she’s talking about and gets killed for it. This goes on for a while to the point that she even kills the Kingpin for his ignorance. Whenever an innocent gets killed by accident, she just shrugs it off as a casualty of war.

The Fantastic Four are called in to put a stop to her killings. They attack her on the streets, with Thing knocking her around with a nice punch. PMS Nova wonders why the Fantastic Four would attack a fellow good guy like her, but then puts it together that they’re probably working for the mugger who made her a widow. Yeah, she’s lost it. Even with her speed and strength, she’s beaten by the Fantastic Four’s teamwork. Reed isn’t sure what to do with her, especially considering how powerful she is. He talks it over with the President and makes the call to send Helen into the Negative Zone for now. Reed feels crappy about it and wonders what could have made her so insane and driven.

Around that time, the police pull a car out of a river. The driver must have driven through a bridge’s guard rail. They find that the driver – the mugger Nova’s been after all this time – has been dead for months (looking a bit too well-preserved) and neither cop has an idea of who he is.

“Aw, he probably ain’t no one important, Sam. Probably no one even knew he was gone.”

In the next story, we’re introduced to Jesse, a homeless and kind-hearted black man who has been given the Nova mantle, but has never thought of using it for heroic purposes. On a snowy Christmas Eve, he and his cat get kicked out of a hotel. Jesse optimistically wanders through the cold night, deciding that it would be a good idea to have his ridiculous Nova threads on under his regular clothes to keep warm. What he doesn’t realize is that there’s a Skrull invasion on the horizon. The Skrulls sense the Nova power source and feel that this might need investigating.

Jesse comes to an orphanage and asks if he could spend the night in exchange for completing some odd jobs. The old woman at the door, Catherine, lets him in with a warning about how much of a handful those kids can be. Jesse gets along great with the kids, telling them interesting stories about his life.

The Skrulls break in and blast Jesse with a laser once he stands up to them. To their surprise, it has no effect.

The others get out of the room and leave it to Nova. It’s a surprisingly short fight, with one of the Skrulls knocking out Nova. They bring him aboard their ship and discuss their imminent takeover of Earth. Nova is only playing possum, just so he could get those Skrulls away from the nice people at the orphanage. Since he hears that they’re going to attack the Earth, he springs to his feet and starts laying waste to the shapeshifters. Nova finds that he’s on the mothership with the head commander of the invasion. Feeling there no other way, he smashes up some consoles and causes the ship to explode, killing them all.

On the ground below, the people at the orphanage see a bright explosion in the sky. One kid thinks it’s a star going nova. Catherine isn’t sure why, but she’s certain that it’s related to Jesse and it means something good. Something that gives them more of a reason to celebrate Christmas.

In our third story, things start to get a bit more familiar. It’s Peter Parker at a science exhibition, not noticing the radioactive spider crawling onto his hand. In this world, the bite has a negative effect on him. He passes out and is brought to the hospital. Due to the radiation poisoning, it’s hard to say whether or not he’ll survive. Aunt May hears this news and falls over from a heart attack. Time passes and Uncle Ben gets news on his loved ones. Peter will live, though may never walk again. May, sadly, is dead.

Peter becomes empty and feels cursed. His parents are dead and now Aunt May is dead because of him. He tells his girlfriend Betty Brant to leave him as it would only be a matter of time before she dies too. He dedicates himself to science and even Professor Warren (later the Jackal) feels bad for him. When he’s alone, doing some experiment, Peter is suddenly blasted by a green bolt and becomes Nova. He’s surprised to find that not only can he stand, but he can fly, break through brick walls and he’s totally ripped. He decides to go show Uncle Ben. On his way to the house, he sees a certain burglar breaking in.

Since this incarnation of Peter Parker is possibly the whiniest ever, he doesn’t see this as a good thing. He tries to turn himself in for murdering the guy, but the police just consider it to be self-defense. Peter doesn’t listen to Ben’s words of optimism about what he could do with his powers. Yet again, a dude just died because of him. Peter forsakes his powers and tosses the Nova costume into a trash can (giving us a nice “Nova No More!” homage panel). The Watcher wonders who’s going to be suffering more: a world without Spider-Man and Nova or the bitter Peter Parker.

Our final story shows the world a long while later, where the Fantastic Four have just been killed. They are the last of the heroes protecting the Earth as they and all others have fallen to the unstoppable villain team of Dr. Doom, Red Skull, The Sphinx and Nova. We never see Nova without his helmet on, nor do we know his name, but he’s corrupt. That’s all we need to know. That and his love for cigars.

A lot of the success came from Nova’s Computer Prime, which had a way of monitoring the heroes to know when to strike. Even though Doom claims he could have created something similar if he felt like it, Nova takes most of the credit for their victory.

Doom is the first to get his metallic panties in a bunch, angry that this cigar-chomping simpleton would dare talk down to Doom (in other news: Bah!). He enters Nova’s room and tries to have him killed. They battle a bit with Doom promising he’ll let Nova live if he swears allegiance to Doom. Nova whines about how this was all his idea, so he should be the leader. Suddenly, Doom grabs his head and screams before slumping over and dying from an attack from behind.

The Red Skull enters, saying that he’s going to rule the world. He and Nova argue until the Sphinx blasts down Nova and then turns Red Skull to dust. Nova makes a vain attempt to fight back, but Sphinx merely does to him what he had just done to the Skull. Now only the Sphinx is left and nobody can stop him from achieving his goals.

Now the thing about the Sphinx is that he’s been cursed with immortality for the last 5,000 years and he knows that only one random person on Earth has the knowledge implanted into their mind of how to kill him. Since the Sphinx is tired of living, he desperately wants that information. He feels the information is close, so he takes control of Computer Prime and uses it to help him. He focuses on each mind, one-by-one, telepathically, which turns them into dead husks by the time he’s through with them. What he fails to realize is that the knowledge of how to kill the Sphinx was one of the abilities Nova inherited from his predecessor. So while Richard Rider knew how to kill him in Earth 616, it’s the evil and deceased Nova who had that information in this story. The Sphinx will fail in his quest and will likely take down all of humanity while he’s at it.

And there you have it. Another round of “Only ____ can be ____.” I admit that the reason this issue ranked so high was because I read it and ranked the list around the time I was reading Nova’s Annihilation miniseries. So if it’s a mistake, it’s due to topicality. That being said, I like how they didn’t focus on more established characters than just Peter Parker. The real randomness added to the story. Especially since it didn’t follow the “I shall become a superhero!” path that happened in that similar Spider-Man issue. As much as I’ve enjoyed this issue, that Black Nova story was way too corny.


Issue: Volume 2, #62
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Ron Randall
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Before a gajillion retcons of Wolverine’s past, the idea was that these government guys found him outside a bar, knocked him out and took him in to be experimented on. This story suggests that if Logan handled himself better and made fools out of his would-be captors, they may have let him go. After all, he knows they’re after him now. It would be best to just cut ties and go with someone else for the Weapon X project. The new guinea pig is Guy Desjardins, a mountie who doesn’t look to have any healing abilities. This should be interesting…

The adamantium has been added to Guy’s skeleton, but an unknown screw-up has caused plenty of build-up in the forearm area. This causes jagged claws to appear out of his hands. More bad news follows. The guy is completely insane due to the constant, unspeakable pain he experiences. As Weapon X, Guy has two behaviors: either he’s going on a berserk freak-out or he’s unconscious due to being heavily drugged up. Department H figures that even if he is a failure, he can still be studied. Plus they can always pass the blame.

Enter Alpha Flight, a superhero team just starting out. The members are Dr. Hudson, St. Elmo, Smart Alec, Snowbird and Stitch. Hudson has been given Weapon X to deal with. He knows that he’s apparently dangerous, but orders are orders. Besides, he feels as if he could tame this beast.

Well, good going. That night, Weapon X is awakened and kills the people giving him his medication. He escapes and finds his way into populated areas with a jonesing for killing anything that moves. He also has a backpack that feeds him extra adrenaline. So he’s going around, killing hundreds of people.

Commander Logan finds a friend of his, Rose, crying over her dead husband Thomas. We don’t know much about these people except that Logan and Thomas were good friends. Logan doesn’t know what this monster is, but he wants to find out and make it pay.

Alpha Flight, who are barely even trained, go off to stop Weapon X. A lot of this issue is their failure. Weapon X impales Stitch. Then he tears apart Smart Alec. Then St. Elmo and Snowbird and finally Hudson himself. While dying, Hudson curses himself for allowing all of this to happen, but the dying Snowbird insists that it could have worked.

The first thing I think of is:

That’s when Logan shows up. Throughout the issue, he’s been playing detective and uncovered the whole government conspiracy with Department H, including how they were planning on using him originally. He gets the documentation that would damn them and goes off to stop Weapon X. After Alpha Flight is killed, Logan appears armed to the teeth with blades, guns and grenades. In the background, some government guys look on, knowing that both combatants need to be killed.

And here we have it. One half of Wolverine up against the other half. Logan, the wise and honorable soldier with the healing factor versus Weapon X, the berserk killer with the claws and metal skeleton. Logan fires at him, but either Weapon X is too fast or the bullets just aren’t hitting anything vital. He ends up cutting apart the guns and it becomes hand-to-hand. Or at least blade-to-blade. Weapon X wins the exchange and backs off for a second as the two of them catch their breath.

“This… ain’t workin’. You’re so far gone… you ain’t human any more. Just… an animal. And me, I’m doin’ what I always do. Lettin’ the animal in me fight you.” With Weapon X leaping at him, Logan goes to work on him and continues his speech. “But I don’t have to! I can fight like a man! Use my brain! Take your armor! Out-think you! Stay in control!”

He’s removed Weapon X’s gear and sees that Guy Desjardins is trying to fight for control of his sanity. Reaching for a katana handle, Logan admits that his heart wants to give Weapon X another chance.

The government guys from earlier run in to arrest Logan. Logan staggers off and falls into a river. Because of his injuries from the fight, the two believe Logan is dead. They underestimate the power of the healing factor. The next day the media is frantic about the documents that link the psycho mass murderer to the Canadian government. There is even talk of recalling the current government based on the scandal. In his home, Wolverine is bandaged up and holding a beer, toasting to the death he’s avenged.

It’s not the great character piece of the Cable Kills the X-Men two-parter, but it’s sure a nice read. I have nothing against Canada whatsoever, but it’s a difficult task to make me care about Alpha Flight. You would probably have to add a Captain America knockoff and a horse alien godling to the team before I’d give it a glance. The point is, seeing Alpha Flight running around like chickens with their heads cut off by a hockey stick is one of those things that makes me happy to be a comic fan. If this countdown has taught me anything, it’s that Kurt Busiek writes good shit. No wonder Aquaman doesn’t suck anymore.


Issue: Volume 2, #82
Writer: W.M. Messner-Loebs
Artist: Anthony Williams
Spider-Man death: No
Background: During one of Spider-Man’s early adventures, Peter Parker brought his Aunt May to see astronaut John Jameson launch into space. The Chameleon’s attempt to screw things up ended with Spider-Man saving the day, but being labeled a menace due to misunderstanding. Here, Chameleon messes up his mission big time and causes the ship to come back to Earth. The explosion kills him, of course, as it kills many others. Peter searches for Aunt May and finds her dead in the wreckage. His screams of sorrow bring forth the equally-horrified J. Jonah Jameson, who just lost his son. Jonah comforts the boy, knowing that they’re in the same boat.

Jameson adopts Peter and they help each other cope. Peter is a bit reluctant to be taken in at first, but begins to rethink things once Jameson gets him accepted into a more prestigious school. There is just one problem Peter has with his new foster father.

Peter realizes that even though he doesn’t have to worry about earning money, he can’t spend that extra time being Spider-Man. For one, Jonah’s mansion is in the middle of nowhere and it’s hard to sneak out of. Two, he just isn’t sure whether or not he should do it. He failed both his uncle and his aunt. Third – and this is key – his own guilt and lack of faith has caused his powers to fail on him. Yes, just like in the movie. So for now there’s no Spider-Man.

Jonah gives Peter a job as assistant editor at a new secondary newspaper he’s acquired, working alongside Betty Brant and editor Frederick Foswell. Peter is able to read the two better than Jonah and sees the major problems here. One, Betty obviously isn’t getting paid extra for this. Two, Foswell is Jonah’s best reporter but is being treated like dirt. He’s expected to mentor Peter enough that he can take over as editor. Peter doesn’t realize that Foswell is nursing the idea of getting some mob work due to being so fed up (as in regular continuity). Peter talks Jonah into giving the two some perks, such as raises and contracts. Both Betty and Foswell are happy and Foswell tosses away the phone number for his mob contact.

Jonah leaves the room, randomly yelling about how Spider-Man is even worse than the Vulture. Peter asks the other two how Jonah can say that when Vulture is a killer and a murderer. Foswell explains Jonah’s past as a reporter. He used to get deep into stories and uncover hidden evils in society. A lot of times, these evils wore masks, such as the KKK. Jonah’s always had a bias about that, which drives his hatred of guys like Spider-Man.

That night, Peter thinks about his time as Spider-Man and how he can’t do it again. He then hears screaming and crying from Jonah’s office. He barges in to find him drinking and blaming himself for John’s death. Peter tries to calm him down, but Jonah only wants to be alone. Somehow, seeing Jonah feeling so guilty strikes a chord in Peter and he gets his confidence back.

Peter decides that he’ll use Spider-Man to get Jonah some front-page stories. He beats up the Vulture, takes some pictures and shows it to Jonah with an explanation that he and Spider-Man are on good terms. This makes Jonah very unhappy, thinking that Peter needs to be protected. He goes all out on this. First he hires Flash Thompson to be Peter’s personal bodyguard. Then he gets Professor Smythe on the payroll to build a Spider-Slayer robot (then has it shut down once it goes after Peter). Finally, one of Smythe’s colleagues has built a suit of armor resembling a scorpion that could be beneficial.

The Chameleon’s remains are found in the rocket crash site, relieving Spider-Man of accusations from everyone but Jonah. Peter continues to be Spider-Man and uses his own newspaper to contrast Jonah’s smear campaign. Jonah isn’t angry about it, since he understands the marketing and enjoys the profits. Things begin to look up until a new Bugle headline: “BUGLE OFFERS $1,000,000 FOR SPIDER-MAN’S IDENTITY”

Spider-Man sneaks into Smythe’s lab and sabotages his Spider-Slayer. Once Jonah shows up for Smythe’s demonstration, Spider-Man antagonizes him a bit and webs up the Spider-Slayer to add insult. After he’s gone, Jonah demands that they use the Scorpion suit. Flash Thompson hears this and is afraid. He thinks Spider-Man’s pretty cool and if Jonah gets someone who hates Spider-Man in that costume, they might actually kill him. So Flash takes the Scorpion Serum and drinks it all.

Shortly later, Peter hears a crash and comes into the lab to find a large hole in the wall.

“Holy… Jonah! What’s happened here?”

“The Thompson kid… took the serum. He went nuts! I’ve never seen anyone so strong!”

“You idiot! Does he have to die now because of this stupid war between us?”

“Between us? No…”

“Yes! I didn’t want you to know! Didn’t want to disappoint you, I guess… But nothing is worth this!”

“No… No… It’s not possible… You can’t be him!”

Peter discards his mask and leaves through the hole. “Guess I win the million bucks, huh? And I won’t be needing this.”

Spider-Man searches for the new Scorpion and finds him about an hour later. Flash is pretty messed in the head from the serum. Even though he worships Spider-Man, seeing Peter’s unmasked face negates that. To make matters worse, Vulture, Sandman and Doc Ock show up to take the prize of getting Spider-Man.

All of the sudden, the Spider-Slayer arrives with Jonah’s face appearing on the monitor. Father and son put aside their differences and start wailing ass on the four villains. From then, the two became a hero team, using the top few floors of the Bugle building as their headquarters. Peter figures that if Johnny Storm can work a public identity, he can too.

That last page always puts a smile on my face. This story was a nice change of pace, compared to all the other times we see Peter and Jonah at each other’s throats. What I love is how the cover gives you an idea of how Jonah will eventually react upon finding out Peter’s secret, only they blindside you with that great reaction scene. Can’t say it could hurt to see more from this dynamic duo. Especially since Jameson is a far more amusing parental figure than May or Ben. That’s not up for debate.


Issue: Volume 2, #44
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Luke McDonnell
Spider-Man death: No
Background: So Spider-Man got rid of his pesky alien symbiote using a church bell. A bit later, Eddie Brock walked into the church to pray for forgiveness over the suicide he had been contemplating. The symbiote sensed Brock’s hatred of Spider-Man, joined him and they became Venom. This time, it’s different. Frank Castle walks into the church to light candles for Maria and the kids and maybe do a confession or two. He had just seen Spider-Man swinging away, so he thinks about all the times the wall-crawler has annoyed him. This attracts the symbiote, who slinks over and covers Frank with shadow. Frank is a bit confused over what just happened and leaves while bumping into Eddie Brock, who is on his way in.

In an alley, Frank has some understanding of what’s going on. He doesn’t really know what the symbiote is, but it responds to his thoughts. He remarks, “I’m in control.” He thinks it might be some kind of SHIELD project that got loose or stolen and has Microchip investigate. Meanwhile, he takes it out for a field test the next day. He uses the symbiote to disguise himself as a fat man in a suit, using it to get him close to some inside-trading crook. In the disguise, Frank tells the guy all he’s done wrong and then tears into him with the symbiote. He transitions into the black Spider-Man costume appearance and takes care of the goons.

There’s a cool story device they use with the symbiote that also appears in the Toxin stories and Spider-Girl. When the host is in control of the symbiote, he appears mouthless like Spider-Man. But once the symbiote gets more leverage, we start seeing teeth.

Frank continues his war on crime, not realizing or caring that he’s getting more and more brutal. If that’s possible. His exploits get the attention of Spider-Man and Daredevil, though neither are quite sure what’s going on. Spider-Man figures the symbiote’s involvement and Daredevil knows Frank’s heartbeat, but the two never compare notes. One night, Frank sits back and realizes how tired and hungry he always is. Maybe it’s the suit stealing from his body to make all those bullets, but that’s ridiculous. It’s just a piece of hardware. Frank goes to sleep and the symbiote takes over. Microchip barges in to tell him about a lead he has on the costume, but the Punisher shoves him into a wall and walks off snickering.

Spider-Man swings around at night, trying to unravel the mystery until Venom/Punisher attacks him. Spider-Man finds that his spider sense is worthless and that he’s probably fighting the Punisher based on the creature’s logo. It’s a long fight (a half hour, says the Watcher) and Spider-Man tries everything he can, but it ends with a brick wall being knocked over Spider-Man. Venom/Punisher picks up his enemy and prepares for the kill… then stops.

“NO! Spider-Man is not a target! Spider-Man is not a target! He’s a nuisance – not a criminal! He is not a target! I look at him and suddenly I know he’s really Peter Parker. I don’t know how I know that – any more than I know how I got here. But I didn’t kill him. I stopped myself. I’m still in control. In control.”

Spider-Man decides he needs some help on this. He goes to the Baxter Building, but finds a rather crappy incarnation of the Fantastic Four in the place of the classic roster. Reed isn’t there, but Thing lets Spider-Man have a sonic cannon. The team can’t help him, since they have to go fight Moleman, but Thing gives Spider-Man some advice on his black threads. With Castle killing people in a black Spider-Man costume, it would probably be for the best that Spider-Man go back to his classic red and blue.

The next day, Frank finds Microchip and his son waiting to give him an intervention. He’s been acting weird and taking off at night a lot, but last night was the first time he ever hit Micro. Frank has no memory of any of this and defensively yells at how he doesn’t need those two. He storms off, deciding that he has too much work to do. In broad daylight, he goes to the Kingpin’s building and figures that he’ll take care of Tombstone. He absolutely massacres everyone in the lobby until he finds Tombstone.

Venom/Punisher races up to the Kingpin’s office where both Typhoid Mary and Daredevil are waiting for him. Frank is offended that Daredevil would protect someone like Fisk and fights. A tendril sneaks off, grabs the Kingpin and suffocates him long-distance. Venom/Punisher breaks through the window and escapes. Typhoid Mary is heavily attracted to him in a grotesque way while Daredevil tries to figure out what the hell has happened to Frank Castle.

Venom/Punisher searches for Spider-Man, but since it can’t find him, he goes back to his usual tricks in a rather distorted way. He finds a guy trying to poison aspirin and kills him. The symbiote has all but taken over Frank, screaming, “BAD MAN!” at his victim. He gets tired and decides to go home. Not to Frank’s home, but to the only real home the symbiote knows.

The hybrid vigilante returns to the church rooftop, finding Spider-Man, Daredevil and Moonknight waiting for him. He fights off all three and then tries to kill Spider-Man with the church bell, thinking it would be poetic. Spider-Man pulls out the sonic gun and fires a direct hit. The physical bonding between the costume and Frank is complete, so the symbiote doesn’t leave Frank’s body. Frank stands there bare-chested with the symbiote as his pants, slowly constructing its way back up. He thanks Spider-Man and shoots up the sonic gun. Frank goes still, as if having a deep day dream.

In his mind, we see him in his Vietnam gear, searching through the jungle with the symbiote sneaking around. Let’s switch to some badass Frank Castle narration.

“I’m dreaming. Only I’m not. It’s like I’m back in the ‘Nam – and there’s something stalking me. It wants me for its own – wants me to be its body – its hands – its weapon. But it’s all right. I remember who I am now. I remember what I am. I’m the Punisher. I’m in control.”

Moonknight has some idea of what’s going on and tells his friends not to do anything. This is Frank’s fight. It’s all up to him. In Frank’s dream fight, he fires his weapons at a giant, toothy symbiote and does no damage. He figures out the creature’s wants and needs other than Spider-Man’s death, such as adventure and purpose. He stops fighting and starts talking. He wants the symbiote to do what he says when he says it. All the time. If the symbiote doesn’t comply, Frank will kill him, even if it means killing himself to do it. The symbiote buckles and agrees with his terms.

Spider-Man wants to stop him, but Daredevil decides it’s not a good idea. With Kingpin dead, there’s going to be a crazy mob war on the horizon. As much as it sucks, they’re going to need every ally they can get. That even means the Punisher. As he talks about this, the Watcher points out how funny it is that two of the most dangerous beings on the planet could join together and become an instrument of justice.

I remember, back in middle school, someone had some Marvel collectors cards with neat art on them. One of the pictures showed Venom/Punisher with a machine gun, looking like a complete badass. I didn’t know where it came from and eventually forgot all about it until reading this issue. This is the last Punisher-centric issue on the What If Countdown and it shouldn’t be any surprise why. I love Venom when he’s written right and Busiek does a great job here. Artistically, this is possibly my favorite issue. Every page looks great. Plus it’s ways better than the eventual team-up the two characters had in Venom’s comic.


Issue: Volume 2, #41
Writer: Jim Valentino
Artist: Sam DeLarosa
Spider-Man death: No
Background: When Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, tried to set up shop on Earth, he was sent on his way thanks to the Fantastic Four’s ingenuity. So what if there wasn’t a Fantastic Four? When the team’s rocket comes back to Earth after getting bombarded by cosmic rays, it crashes and all four of them die. There are a couple changes shown based on this. For one, without Doom’s thirst for revenge, Latveria becomes a trusted ally of the US and we even see Doom fighting alongside Nick Fury. Without Johnny Storm, Namor never regains his memory. And without the return of Namor, Captain America is never rediscovered. But what of Galactus?

At the time of the story, the Avengers roster is Iron Man, Goliath (Pym), Wasp, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They’re coming back from their fight with the Collector and see two suns in the sky. Then all of the sudden the sky is on fire! Iron Man investigates, but finds that there’s no heat given off. It’s just an illusion. Once the team finishes dealing with the public panic, Iron Man announces to the team that he’s taking a leave of absence. Great timing, ass.

Later on, Quicksilver barges into Pym’s lab to exclaim that giant boulders are flying through the sky. He and the others are taken aback to find Goliath discussing things with the Watcher. The Watcher tells them all about Galactus and his herald, the Silver Surfer. The Watcher tried those illusions as a way to protect Earth from the Surfer, but it’s failed. He’s still on his way.

Iron Man sees the Silver Surfer in his travels and figures that he’s probably behind the illusions. He tries to stop him, but the Surfer is too fast. The Surfer shines brightly and signals Galactus just as the Avengers show up. Since the signal flare weakened the Surfer a bit, he’s easily taken down when Iron Man punches him from behind and calls him a “refugee from a Brian Wilson nightmare”. My new favorite insult.

Watcher tells Iron Man not to keep pursuing the Silver Surfer, since he’s already done his job in calling Galactus over. Right on time, Galactus arrives in his ship. He and the Watcher bicker about the Earth’s fate while the Avengers feel like crap the way they’re ignored like insects. Hawkeye gets fed up and fires an explosive arrow at Galactus’ ankle. As you can guess, it doesn’t do shit. One little scuffle later and both Hawkeye and Iron Man are unconscious. Watcher begs Goliath to tend to the Avengers, as they aren’t enough to beat Galactus. The Avengers leave Galactus to construct his energy converter device.

Elsewhere, the Silver Surfer comes to and smacks aside some lesser punks. He feels conflicted. When he sees people in danger, he rescues them, but they’re as good as dead anyway. They’re lesser than him, but yet he feels a nobility in them much like the people on Zenn-La. Back to him later.

Goliath agrees that the Watcher was right in that they weren’t enough to beat Galactus, but he misunderstands the meaning. He calls forth everyone who was ever an Avenger to team up for this major battle. Thor arrives first with his new friend Hercules in tow. Take us home, Thor.

Thor tells him off and leads the team into battle. Watcher knows that they still aren’t going to win and mopes about how he can’t interfere. The Avengers jump to it, starting with Thor breaking apart the energy converter. Goliath does the Fastball Special, tossing Hercules into Galactus. Surprisingly, it actually causes him to stagger. Scarlet Witch tries to hex him into falling, but she’s worthless and it doesn’t work. As this goes on, Watcher pulls Iron Man aside and tells him about the Ultimate Nullifier. He sends Iron Man on a quest to retrieve it from Galactus’ ship. Unfortunately, there are intruder-detecting devices that sense Iron Man’s armor (which is why they didn’t attack Human Torch in regular continuity) and shoot him down.

Galactus has a robot drone attack the Avengers. It’s then crushed when the Hulk jumps in (the Watcher called upon him himself). The Silver Surfer realizes what’s going on and flies in to fight Thor. Hulk pounces at Galactus, announcing the big, purple one’s upcoming ass-kicking. Galactus blasts Hulk with cosmic eye stuff, which reverts him to Banner and knocks him out. He blasts other members of the Avengers, causing them all to go limp. With Thor tangling with the Surfer, that only leaves Hercules and Watcher.

“Come, Watcher, to my side! The mortals have fallen… The noble Thunder God be on the very brink of consciousness… Join thee with the Prince of Power and let thy loyalties be known! Or be thee afraid to test thine mettle?”

“You do not understands, young godling. I have sworn an oath of non-interference… I cannot – I must not – break that vow – even if it means your friends’ lives!”

Then we get the most unexpected entrance of them all. The Swordsman arrives. He was a villain who briefly joined the Avengers in order to destroy them from within. In this moment of truth, it matters not that he was a turncoat. He was an Avenger and he’s going to take on the unbeatable Galactus with his Power Sword. It’s all for naught, as you can guess, since Galactus just blasts him down.

Hercules, you are fucking awesome. I don’t care what the Satellite of Love says.

So anyway, Thor tosses Mjolnir at Silver Surfer, but Surfer uses his cosmic juju to hold it away from Thor, since it’s more than likely the source of his powers. Plus an admittedly pissed Galactus pins down Hercules with one hand while preparing to react violently with the other. Watcher watches, noting that all the Avengers have failed him. There’s only one course of action. He grabs Galactus by the wrist and pulls him back. He may be a Watcher, but he cannot allow this world to die. Galactus must be stopped!

It begins. Uatu the Watcher vs. Galactus. A cosmic Toho brawl like none other. We even get a sweet two-page spread out of it. Watcher fights hard, but he lacks the battle experience of his enemy. Galactus defeats the Watcher and prepares his energy converter. Meanwhile, Thor is back to being Donald Blake, begging Silver Surfer to let him have his hammer back so he can save the Watcher and all the people. The Silver Surfer can understand where Thor’s coming from on this, but he is loyal to Galactus. Still, if someone like the Watcher can go against his oath for these people…

The Surfer gives Blake the hammer, reverting him to the Mighty Thor. Sadly it’s too late as Galactus has devoured the Watcher’s life energies. Galactus is no longer hungry and Earth is no longer in danger. But at what cost?

Meh. I can live with it if you can. Galactus picks up the body and prepares to return it to whence it came, but the Silver Surfer asks him for a release. He wishes to know what makes the people of this planet so special that a Watcher would turn against his oath to protect them. Galactus is also curious and allows it, since Surfer’s always been loyal. Galactus leaves and the Surfer revives the downed Avengers. Thor stops them from attacking, proclaiming the Surfer to be an ally who didn’t realize it until it was too late. The Silver Surfer joins the Avengers and learns from them. As well, Iron Man and even the Swordsman rejoin the team.

Galactus brings Uatu’s corpse to the planet of his brethren, hoping that maybe they could understand why he betrayed his oath of non-interference. Uatu is burned on a pyre and his people mourn him for a millennia. As our story ends, the narrator – our universe’s version of the Watcher – admits that he was always reluctant to tell us about this story, of the reality where he defies himself and pays the ultimate price.

Hey look! It’s a Silver Age throwback story that doesn’t beat us over the head with the fact that it’s supposed to be Silver Age! This issue was all around entertaining. The first thing I compare it to is that one about Galactus killing the Avengers and then eating the planet, but this issue is far higher on the list for a reason. Galactus vs. the Avengers may be over before it begins, but that doesn’t mean you should get straight to the point when you can take your time and have fun with it.

Next on the countdown: Three years of crap? Nah! How about one good one-shot that does it better?

…On Halloween, we hear Monster Mash. In What If, we hear “HULK SMASH!”

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

8 comments to “The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 18”

  1. Man, the Nova one was good. Unlike a lot of “bunch of different takes on the same concept” What Ifs, this one had stories that were all different and all good.

    One thing that annoyed me about the Venom/Punisher one was a letter, several issues later, asking why Frank had done okay with the symbiote on, while in the earlier one where Spidey was too slow getting it off, it devoured him, Hulk, and Thor. The reply basically said that the Punisher was stronger and had more willpower than those feebs. Just another case of mid-90s antihero worship, but it bugged me. But that’s not this issue’s fault.

  2. Yeah, you think they could have just said “Those other guys didn’t have some kind of inner-mind showdown that ends with the host threatening suicide.”

  3. Love these things, I remember an ad with that venom/punisher card and thought it was the coolest thing ever.

    So was the villian Nova actually suppose to be anybody in particular, or just some random evil guy who smoked?

  4. Just some random evil guy who smoked. I can somehow see Quesada being behind that.

    “Nah, we don’t need to give him a name. Have him smoking. That will make sure everyone knows he’s a bad person.”

  5. ^ Unless he’s really Nick Fury.

  6. The Nova issue always struck me as somehow quaint.

    Power-wise, in the modern MU, the standard-issue Nova isn’t much to speak of. He flies fast and he’s got comparatively mild superstrength. Then I read that What If? and they’re acting like he’s the goddamn Beyonder.

    …I’m going to go watch football, drink beer, and paw girls.

  7. Hercules is INDEED awesome

    I got nothing else to say but that…

  8. My initial thought was that the cigar-smoking Nova was Wolverine, sans adamantium skeleton.