The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 17

October 24th, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sorry about that. Real life schedule sort of held me back for a bit. But I’m getting back into the swing of things and we’re almost done with this. Just a reminder for the artist types reading this, I could use your help.


Issue: Volume 2, #57
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Mike Harris
Spider-Man death: No
Background: There’s no exact turning point here. Frank Castle has always been on the run of the law. Every once and a while, he gets caught. In this story, while in prison, Frank meets Nick Fury. Nick has kept an eye on Frank and wants him to lead a SHIELD strike force. No more going after the petty dealers. Now he’ll be going after the top drug lords with weaponry Frank’s never imagined using. With a choice between that or spending the rest of his life in prison, Frank makes the right decision.

Wouldn’t you know it, Frank Castle has never had so much fun. With his hand-picked troops behind him, Frank goes after high profile villains he never thought he’d ever get a chance to go up against. We see as he and his boys go after the Yellow Claw and bomb his drug crop into oblivion. He actually seems far less cynical now, feeling that he’s actually in a war he can win.

Nick Fury is not happy about this. As far as he’s concerned, Castle’s going over the line. They wanted the Yellow Claw alive. Frank is put on an assignment with Agent Clay Quartermain. They go after a drug shipment with distinct orders to bring these guys in for questioning. Frank understands that they’ll lead them to bigger fish, but he still doesn’t like it. If it was up to him, he’d just bomb the hideout to the ground. They succeed in taking in the smugglers and Frank decides that there’s still work to be done. Fury said that he’s not to kill the prisoners, but nothing about burning the place to the ground and getting rid of the drugs. At first it’s just an amusing and constructive way for Frank to spit in Fury’s face. Then he discovers that these guys are also smuggling slavers. He goes off on one of the smugglers, ready to go against orders and kill him on the spot, but one of his own men holds him back.

Quartermain tries to reprimand him with claims that this is about espionage and not cops-and-robbers, but Frank responds by putting one of the slaver girls in his arms and asking him to repeat that to the girl. Fury is furious and reads Frank the riot act. As punishment, he and Frank are going to team together and beat up a bunch of criminals while on their way to rid New York City of the Kingpin!

Okay, he didn’t say that. But it probably would’ve pushed the issue into the top ten if he did.

No, instead he tells Frank that he’s going to be doing some of the shittier jobs from now on. Under the orders of Dum Dum Dugan, Frank and some others wander through a swamp on the way to investigate some Hydra stuff. It all goes wrong and everyone dies. Everyone but Frank, who sneaks out of the swamp alive. As far as SHIELD knows, Frank Castle died on that mission. This gives Frank an advantage, especially since he’s sick of working for them.

He goes to Microchip and asks him to hack into SHIELD’s files and get him everything he can about Hydra’s base. Micro is reluctant, but Frank emphasizes how important this mission is and how it would be the ultimate challenge for Micro’s hacking skills. Micro gets him the information he wants and sends him on his way. Soon after, SHIELD catches Micro and interrogates him about Frank. He keeps his mouth shut and hopes to himself that Frank is right about this being “the big one”.

Using the SHIELD clearance that hasn’t been deactivated yet, Frank steals a plane and flies towards the Hydra base. He now knows the coordinates and the inner workings of the base. The only reasons SHIELD won’t touch the place are political, but that’s below Frank. He ejects from his plane and glides down to the base while fighting off airborne Hydra goons. He makes it into the base and starts picking off anyone who gets in his way. These guys are prepared for an all-out assault, but aren’t prepared for one highly skilled psycho who isn’t afraid to die. He messes with the reactor core and gets ready for the place to blow up.

“I have lived and died as I wanted. I have only one regret… that I will never see my wife and children again. But they’re together and that’s enough.”

The last page shows Frank, riddled with bullets and having lost the ability to stand. Yet there’s a determined smile on his face.

“It’s over now. It’s finally all—!“

The artist here sure had a funny way of drawing faces. Not as jarring as Steve Dillon, but it’s just as distracting. My write-up can’t do a lot of this issue justice. The Hydra base segment, for instance, was filled with tons of badass narration from our hero. And really, strong narration is what drives a good Punisher story. Giving Frank some SHIELD hardware is a lot like giving Spider-Man cosmic powers. We get to see our character go all out and do what he’s always wanted to do. The major fault of this story comes from Nick Fury, who seemed to have too much of a stick up his ass. It’s like he opposed Frank’s methods just because somebody had to.

The ending was tops and is way better than the delusional weirdness from Punisher: The End. As the Punisher, that’s the best ending you can really hope for. As Frank Castle… well, read the rest of the article.


Issue: Volume 1, #34
Writer: Way too many people to mention
Artist: Ditto
Spider-Man death: Galactus eats the planet at one point, so I guess yes
Background: This is the first, and easily best, humor issue for What If. There’s no story here whatsoever. While a couple jokes fall flat (more because they’re outdated than anything else), a lot of the stuff is pure classic. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

Other great gags include What If Everyone Who’d Ever Been an Avenger Remained an Avenger, where several dozen heroes band together to stop a candy store robbery. Sounds more like a preview of Jeph Loeb’s Ultimates Volume 3. Plus there’s an amusing two-page confrontation between Spider-Man and the Mad Thinker where they battle with philosophy instead of fists.


Issue: Volume 2, #51
Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Paris Cullins
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Relatively early in his present-day career, Captain America dealt with the Red Skull in an adventure that stacked the odds against Cap so hard that it’s a miracle he got out of it alive. He’s barely as lucky in this story. Sure, he is alive, but he’s in a bad, bad way. In critical condition, he begs Nick Fury. Steve Rogers is expendable, but there needs to be a Captain America.

Some government guys talk about who would be a good replacement. Frank Castle, a decorated Vietnam veteran, would be ideal here. Nick Fury isn’t sure, since a different war breeds a different kind of man. Despite his misgivings, they ask Castle anyway. He wants nothing to do with it. All he wants to do is spend time with his family. Yeah, good luck with that.

There are other attempts to replace Captain America. John Jameson is dropped from the mantle once he becomes Man-Wolf and goes on a rampage. Actor Robert Diamond gets killed by Count Nefaria. Doc Samson loses control of himself and causes high civilian casualties. And Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk) becomes an undead slave to Baron Blood. Unfortunately for Frank Castle and fortunately for the government, Frank’s family is killed by the mob. Shaking hands with General Thunderbolt Ross, we see Frank Castle then look at a flag as he vows to bring justice to the world that killed his family.

Frank as Captain America is interesting, to say the least. On the outside, he appears to the public in the same respects as his predecessor. He smiles, he waves and he wears the flag well. As leader of the Avengers, that’s another story. We see him track down Hammerhead at one point and viciously beat him half to death while screaming about how he needs to be punished. I don’t see how the others could disagree with that, considering Hammerhead is the worst villain design in the history of comics. Yes, even worse than the Kangaroo.

The Avengers talk among themselves about how they’re afraid of Captain America and what he’s capable of. Frank is in his room at the mansion, knowing that they’re talking about him, but not caring. These Avenger jokes treat good and evil like it’s a flashy game when it’s really a war. He decides to moonlight as the Punisher, killing criminals on their own terms. His first major act is to kill off some of the mobsters who were there the day his family died. Next on his to-kill is Bruno Costa, the man who pulled the trigger on his wife and kids.

Thunderbolt Ross and Henry Peter Gyrich know exactly what’s going on and get antsy. Once people realize that the Punisher and Captain America are the same, the two of them are through. Gyrich makes a brief allusion to a “back-up”, but we aren’t given any details other than that it’ll be ready in a couple days.

The Falcon visits Frank as our protagonist exercises. He mentions a couple rumors he’s heard, such as the obvious Punisher one and the one where the government wants Frank to step down as Cap. Falcon admits that he’s here because he’s worried. Not for Frank Castle, but for the costume.

The Punisher decides that Captain America brings too many limitations to the table. He’s going to kill off the Costa Brothers and then truly begin his war on crime. He kills his way into their hideout and goes after them, guns blazing. All of the sudden, a shield flies past, cutting apart his gun. He’s kicked and punched a couple times and hits the ground. Looking up, he sees Steve Rogers dressed as Captain America.

“This has to stop, Castle. You have to be stopped!”

Frank doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, but thinks that Rogers is there to take him in. He attempts to strangle Rogers, but Rogers punches him across the room. Frank’s more than surprised at how much that hurt. Rogers holds him down and explains.

“Just stay put and listen, son. I’m not here to sanction you… though that’s quite possibly what they had in mind! …I’m here to give you back this costume!”

“Whu… what?

“You’re a fool, Castle. When they dressed you in a flag, they made you an example to others. What you’ve become is the sort of example that breeds the very scum you’re trying to wipe out! Sure, Captain America fights supervillains, but he fights them as a man. Ordinary flesh and blood! The system’s not perfect. The country’s a mess – but that just means we have to be better than it, not succumb to it. Tomorrow’s generation looks to Captain America for hope! If just one kid turns his back on crime… then it’s all worth it! You must be Captain America!”

Frank points out the obvious. Why doesn’t Rogers do it? To answer, Rogers pulls up his sleeve and reveals a metal arm. Captain America needs to be flesh and blood. Steve Rogers is neither. The whole point of Captain America is that he’s just a guy. A human being relying on himself instead of guns or machines. Before Frank can really register a response, the Costa Brothers appear and spray bullets at the two. Rogers has no problem taking down one on his own. The Punisher goes after the other one and corners him in another room. Finally, revenge is his.

Steve Rogers continues to fight crime after this, but under the mantle of the Captain. Frank Castle is now and forever Captain America, leading the Avengers and protecting humanity with a sense of honor and dignity he may never know in any other reality.

First off, whoever did the color of that issue needs to learn not to saturate the holy hell out of his pages. With that out of the way, I have to admit that I had high hopes for this issue and even those were exceeded. Frank Castle doesn’t get happy endings too often. Not only does this story show hope for Frank in general, but it makes you appreciate the character of Captain America himself. I only wish the story was a couple pages longer for more breathing room.


Issue: Volume 2, #106
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Artist: Leo Fernandez
Spider-Man death: No
Background: The Mutant Massacre was years ago. During that time, the Marauders killed countless Morlocks and had Angel’s wings removed. Years later, it was revealed that Gambit had a role in the slaughter. The X-Men had Gambit excommunicated from the team and left him to fend for himself in the Antarctic. Time went by and things did indeed cool over enough that Gambit returned to the team. But in this issue, Archangel decides that exile isn’t good enough. He wants Gambit dead.

We begin with a bar in New Orleans. Archangel and Psylocke have just cleaned house and are left with Gambit’s father. He swears that he hasn’t talked to his son in forever, but lets it slip that he knows about him being in Antarctica. Plus he has a psychic standing next to him, so he never really had a chance. He lunges at Archangel, but gets smacked down. Wolverine comes out of the shadows to congratulate the two on successfully beating up an old, unarmed man. He tries to talk them out of what they’re planning, but the two won’t listen. Archangel merely goes over what Gambit’s done to piss him off.

In Paris, Gambit wakes up in a cold sweat. Ever since he’s come back from the Antarctic, he’s had a daily routine of constant depression and self-hatred. He gets a call from his father – the one man who knows where to reach him. Gambit finds out that the X-Men know where he is and are on their way. His father tells him to make a run for it and Gambit knows it’s good advice, but he’ll take his punishment head on. The main reason he doesn’t run, though, is that he needs to see Rogue one more time.

The X-Men, knowing that Archangel and Psylocke are after Gambit, discuss other ways to take his betrayal. Bishop wants him incarcerated. Joseph and Cannonball bring up the argument that Xavier’s betrayed them too and that with all the redemption in X-Men history, why should Gambit be any different? Iceman figures they should just leave Gambit alone. Marrow, a Morlock herself, thinks Gambit deserves to die for what he did to her kind. Either way, the team is off to Paris to pass judgment.

Gambit wanders the Paris streets until being surprised by Psylocke and Archangel. Psylocke herself is surprised that Gambit would stick around. He fends off against them, saying that he’s not ready to accept his punishment yet. The X-Men arrive to calm the situation. Marrow goes for Gambit, but Rogue holds her back. Gambit notices how dismissive Rogue is to him and loses any hope he’s been holding onto.

Everyone argues about what should be done with Gambit. Wolverine steps in with his own answer. Since this is a Morlock matter, it should be dealt with Morlock-style. Gambit has to take part in a trial-by-combat. Enough agree with the terms and it’s decided that Gambit and Archangel will fight to the death.

The two battle in an underground catacomb. As they fight on, Rogue looks on, wide-eyed and silent. Gambit talks through the fight, trying hard to get through to Angel. Gambit’s fine with dying, but he doesn’t want his death on Archangel’s conscience. Sure, he’s angry and rightfully so. And sure, Archangel has seen plenty of people die. But killing takes a certain kind of person and Archangel shouldn’t have to reduce himself to that.

Archangel thinks Gambit is full of shit. To him, avenging the Mutant Massacre is a black and white issue. Not only does Archangel need to kill Gambit, but he’s pretty certain that there won’t be any mental backlash like the Cajun claims. Archangel eventually wins the fight and has Gambit pinned down. He takes a spear and prepares to finish him. Others like Iceman and Marrow yell their own opinions at Archangel, but Wolverine tells them to cram it. This is Archangel’s call and he’s going to have to live with it.

Gambit’s finally had enough. He eggs Archangel on, since he no longer has anything to live for. Archangel lunges the spear down and Rogue lets out a concerned scream.

Iceman and Wolverine are both proud of their fellow X-Man. Gambit advances to Rogue about her concern, but she plays it off as nerves. Like with Archangel, she no longer wants to see him again. Everything looks to be wrapped up in a nice package to end the story with.

Until Marrow freaks out. She won’t allow this. Iceman tries to calm her down, but Marrow won’t hear it. She tosses a sharp bone into Gambit’s chest, mortally wounding him. Rogue comes to his aid, hoping she can get him to a hospital in time, but he tells her she won’t. It’s his time and he’s ready. He asks Rogue not to kiss him, since she’d just absorb his pain-laced memories. He doesn’t blame Marrow for what she did, since he did have it coming. Dying in Rogue’s arms, he begs the X-Men to just stop the hate. No more revenge. No more killing each other. Just draw back and let it die with him.

By the time this issue came out, the X-Men comics were certainly no picnic. I mean, the team had Joseph as a member, for Foom’s sake. So this issue was a pleasant surprise. I have to say, I really wish this was canon. What has Gambit really done since then that was reason enough to keep him around? Other than that time he saw the Blob naked, I mean. He’s just kind of coasted for the last decade and then turned evil and stupid-looking for the hell of it. Then again, no matter how well-done the death scene, nothing can stop the annoying fan backlash. But enough hindsight. This article needs more Frank Castle.

Okay, it really doesn’t. Sorry, folks. Blame my second-rate ranking.


Issue: Volume 2, #26
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Luke McDonnell
Spider-Man death: Yes
Background: The Punisher and Daredevil have never gotten along very well, but it was rare that either would try and outright kill the other (rare, but occasional). On a rooftop, Frank once shot Daredevil with a tranquilizer dart so he could continue beating a junky for information in peace. On Earth 616, Daredevil was lucky enough not to be right next to the ledge. In this world, he’s not so lucky. Hey, at least he was unconscious when he hit the pavement.

The Kingpin is among the first to find out. He starts scheming without delay. We get a quick scene of Foggy and the rest of Matt’s coworkers dealing with the news. Spider-Man pops in to verify that his buddy his dead. Spider-Man blames himself for Daredevil’s death much like he blames himself for Uncle Ben’s death. He always thought the Punisher did the necessary stuff that Spidey and Daredevil couldn’t do, which is why he laid off on him. But now it’s come back to bite them on the ass. The way he sees it, it’s just as much his own fault as it is the Punisher’s.

We see that the Punisher isn’t too regretful about what he’s done. Matt’s death was unfortunate, but war has casualties. He makes a couple attempts to get back to business, but every time he has a criminal cornered, Spider-Man shows up. The first time, Frank slips away. The second time, Spider-Man engages him in a fight. The two hold back, of course. Frank doesn’t want to kill a good guy and Spider-Man won’t kill period. Frank uses up all of his tranquilizer darts and misses every single one of them. Spider-Man realizes this and swings at him. Frank introduces his back-up plan.

Looks like somebody just shot web.

Spider-Man tries to get out of there ASAP. Frank thinks to himself that Spider-Man should be all right as long as he doesn’t exert himself. In other words, Spider-Man passes out after a block or two.

Things are looking good for Ben Urich, at least. Foggy Nelson gives him some information that exposes several officials as being corrupt. It gets him some street cred at the Bugle offices. The joy comes to a halt when he and Robbie are called into Jameson’s office. Jameson is in disbelief, writing the new front-page story about how Spider-Man’s been hospitalized and unmasked.

The next day, Aunt May gets her newspaper and walks into her house before reading the headline. She lets out a short, “Oh, my,” before the house explodes, courtesy of the Silvermane crime family.

The mayor tells the superheroes not to tear the city apart looking for the Punisher. He even has a direct order from the president himself. Captain America agrees the spread the word, but takes solace in the fact that some heroes they can’t contact. For instance, Cloak and Dagger also make an attempt to stop the Punisher. The Punisher escapes, but thinks about the situation. With all the shit going on between the mafia and the corruption and the fact that it refuses to settle, somebody has to be fueling the fire. Someone’s behind this all, but who would benefit?

Speaking of that, Ben Urich visits Peter at the hospital (he’s sedated, since everyone’s scared of him) and talks about how surprising it is that he and Spider-Man are the same person. He leaves with his bodyguard, thinking about how ridiculous it is to have one. All he does is report the news. Foggy Nelson is the one who needs protection. If someone were to kill Urich, it would just fan the flames of the corruption controversy and the media would make a bigger deal of it. Low and behold, Ben Urich and his bodyguard are both shot dead.

According to the mayor, Foggy dies too. The mayor feels he has no choice but to step down as a failure. Frank figures that to get answers, he’ll just visit a mobster who owns some of the recently exposed officials. Caesar Cicero, head of the Silvermane family, lays it all out for him. The crap with the superheroes and the exposed corruption is just a cover while a mob war goes on underground. Now all the crime families that are still standing are leaving town and letting the Kingpin keep it. To Frank, it all suddenly comes together.

The mayor just stepped down and the new one is in the Kingpin’s pocket. With all the other corrupt officials taken out of the picture, it gives the Kingpin a monopoly of power. Frank goes to a hotel where the new mayor is staying. The mayor gives an induction speech while Frank gets ready to kill him. What he doesn’t expect is to be attacked by Peter Parker in his hospital clothes.

Let me rephrase that to stress how fucked he is. This is Peter Parker in his hospital clothes, completely drugged up and given the news that Aunt May is dead. He doesn’t hold back this time. He goes to town on Frank and shatters several bones. He maims Frank, grabs him and then climbs up a nearby building. He prepares to toss him to his death, but Frank weakly tells him that there’s something about Aunt May he needs to know.

This causes the crazed Peter to hesitate. Frank isn’t sure if it’s sanity fighting through or confusion over what Frank’s saying. Either way, it’s an opening. Frank empties his gun into Peter Parker’s chest, killing him.

He’s battered and the only gun on him that isn’t broken is out of ammo. That doesn’t stop him from barging into the Kingpin’s hotel room during a meeting with the new mayor. Frank charges with a knife and gets smacked aside easily. The Kingpin handles him without effort. He admits how just about everything after Daredevil’s death was his doing. The media emphasis on the Punisher and the corruption, the information given to Foggy Nelson, the way he informed Peter Parker about Aunt May, and so on.

Dying with the Kingpin’s hands around his neck, Frank mentions a final back-up plan. He had a piece of luggage put in the room earlier. Before Frank dies, he sees the look on the Kingpin’s face when he finds that piece of luggage, opens it and finds the message.

“Kingpin – If you’re reading this, I didn’t make it back to disarm it. Good luck.”

The explosion kills all three. The media sees it as a criminal’s final brutal act, killing an innocent mayor and spice importer. But Frank actually saved New York City by destroying the head of crime and corruption. He died a hero and the only one who knows this is big, bald cosmic guy named the Watcher.

Granted, this story isn’t as fun and gimmicky as the SHIELD and Captain America ones, but it’s still totally solid. Busiek’s What Ifs have a talent of making every page count, especially considering how short most of the Volume 2 entries come off. This one’s no different. The atmosphere remains nice and gritty while accommodates the superheroes included into the story. Everybody dies here, but it’s done in a nicely paced manner. What I don’t like is… you know what, screw it. I’m sick and tired of talking about Frank Castle. This article’s over.

Next on the countdown: Peter Parker’s too much of a pussy to save us from Annihilus.

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2 comments to “The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 17”

  1. Mmmmm, female Luke Cage. >>c

    I really did like the Punisher-as-Cap one. Though, considering the other Punisher articles in here, perhaps you should have a Punisher Death stat to go along with the Spider-Man one.

  2. A bird-themed character threatens to drop on him like a ton of bricks. Good going, Frank. You don’t stand a chance against that kind of power.