Comics for Your Quarantine, Pt. 2
Have you ever taken a look at the way the world is and wondered, what if it was different?
Stupid question nowadays. I’m sure I’m not the only one pining for mundane stuff I would have been complaining about a month-and-a-half ago.
Even in escapist fare like comics, people often imagine a different version of events.
DC coined the phrase “imaginary story” when they wanted to take their characters in unusual directions without upending continuity. Later, that evolved into “Elseworlds,” where creators imagined what would happen if Superman had been raised by Thomas and Martha Wayne or crashed in the Soviet Union. Or how the Justice League would have looked as cowboys.
Dark Horse published a series of “Star Wars” stories called “Infinities,” which presented alternate versions of the original movies. IDW did a couple of similar events under the banner “Deviations” with licensed properties including Transformers, the X-Files, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and My Little Pony.
Perhaps the best known is Marvel’s “What If?” which ran for two volumes and has been revived various times over the years. An animated series presenting alternate versions of each of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films is gearing up for Disney+.
That’s a lot of movies for a single franchise, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the seemingly endless host of Marvel comics. So it should come as little surprise that, as stories continue for 50, 60, 70-plus years, several of Marvel’s “What Ifs” have come true.
The first issue, in 1977, asked “What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” That eventually happened twice in continuity – first in a three-issue arc of “Fantastic Four” in 1990 alongside Wolverine, the Hulk and Ghost Rider, then in 2011, after the death of the Human Torch. He got better and Spidey vacated his spot on the team.
“What If” #10 showed Jane Foster wielding the hammer of Thor, rather than his original alter ego, Donald Blake. Foster took up the mantle for “real” in 2014, just going by Thor instead of her “What If” moniker Thordis.
Two issues later, “What If” placed Rick Jones in the blast of a gamma bomb test instead of Bruce Banner, transforming the perennial sidekick into the Hulk. Jones became a Hulk of his own for a while in the ongoing “Incredible Hulk” series in the mid-80s.
In 2004, a series of one-shot tales included “What If General Ross had Become the Hulk?” featuring Bruce Banner’s longtime nemesis/sometimes father-in-law. A few years later, the mysterious new Red Hulk was revealed to be none other than Thunderbolt Ross.
That series also featured “What If Jessica Jones Joined the Avengers.” While it focused on an early chapter of her career where she turned down an offer of membership, the character would later join the team alongside her husband, Luke Cage, in the canon pages of “New Avengers.”
Alternate Hulks weren’t the only revisited concepts. Issues 13 and 43 of the first volume asked “What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?” and “What If Conan the Barbarian were Stranded in the 20th Century,” respectively. Volume 2 pitted him against Wolverine.
When Marvel got the rights to Conan back, they brought him into the modern comics universe, teaming him up with the erstwhile X-Man and several other characters in “Savage Avengers.”
“What If” #30’s lead story was “What If Spider-Man’s Clone Lived.” In the ’90s, Marvel revealed he had, leading to the infamous “Clone Saga.”
Other “What Ifs” followed events if characters like Phoenix and Elektra hadn’t died. Not surprisingly, both those characters later returned to the land of the living in the main continuity.
Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”