This week in my series of reviews on the “Marvel Classics" series we have more Bronze Age nostalgia to offer as I take a look at one of the more interesting concepts offered by Marvel in the 70s. Marvel Classics “What If” Volume One, reprinting issues 1 thru 6. This was an entertaining series when it first came out and reading it again almost 3 decades later; I can honestly say that most of the stories have aged nicely.
What If was narrated by The Watcher, the mysterious figure who appeared when something universally catastrophic was about to happen in the Marvel Universe. In “What If”, the Watcher would travel through time to revisit pivotal points in Marvel Universe history and posed questions that asked what might have been regarding the fate of our favorite Marvel heroes. Issue one asked "What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?" In this story, we are transported back in time to events in Amazing Spider-Man #1 when Spider-Man aka Peter Parker applied for a job with the Fantastic Four. But instead of leaving in a huff, this time he is hired. This decision has profound repercussions on comics First Family and the story has a surprisingly melancholy ending as we see that the Fantastic Four are destined to be a quartet. This story has the original editorial page “Why Not?” included which has Roy Thomas explaining how he came up with “What If?”. The story has art by Jim Craig and Pablo Marcos.
Issue 2 asked "What if the Hulk had always had Bruce Banners brain?" Well, for one thing it clears up a whole lot of misunderstandings. For another it leads to Banner finally earning the respect of Thunderbolt Ross. But it also has ripple effects that lead to the Avengers never being formed and the disbanding of the Fantastic Four!
Issue 4 asks "What if the Invaders had stayed together after WW2?" This was the Roy Thomas story that launched the Invaders series from the 70s with art by Invaders artist Frank Robbins. In this story we see a new Cap and Bucky replacing the apparently dead originals, teaming up with Namor, Torch, Toro, Spitfire, Union Jack, Whizzer and Miss America. The story takes us from Hitlers death at the hands of the Human Torch at the end of WW2 up to the Kennedy era. This story also includes the original editorial page “Why Not?” that talks about the inception of the idea to do an Invaders ongoing series.
Issue 5 asks "What if Captain America and Bucky had both survived WW2?" Well, it would be a lot like what we've been reading in the current Marvel universe apparently. Steve Rogers would be director of Shield and Bucky would take over as Captain America. Sound familiar? Some attractive art by George Tuska.
Issue 6 asks "What if the Fantastic Four had different superpowers?" This is probably the least entertaining entry out of the 6. In this story, its Sue Storm who gets the power to stretch, Johnny Storm gets powers similar to that of the X-Mens "Colossus", Reed Richards becomes a disembodied brain (that ultimately finds a rather familiar metal housing) and Ben Grimm gets...dragon wings? Oh well, they can't all be winners. Over all, though, this is a fun collection of stories that are both of their time and, in some cases, timeless. The premise of "What If?" is an inherently entertaining one. I mean, what comic book reader hasn’t had a conversation with their peers about their favorite heroes and stories? Conversations that almost always began with “what if”.