Saturday, May 03, 2008

Once upon a time there was a guarantee each month that you could expect a glimpse into another world. Our guide through the omniverse - Uatu - a member of an ancient race pledged to watch the events of multiple Earths, but never to act. Sure, Uatu's butted in on events in our universe, but put into perspective, you can see that it's not such a big deal...

Alternate realities weren't a big priority at the turn of the century.
In 2000, unimaginative writers and editors saw an end to the series that, at it's best, managed to far surpass the simple notion of it's premise - what if...?

As these things frustratingly tend to do; someone realised five years after the series cancellation that a very simple and effective property was being wasted. In an effort to reintroduce the What If? concept without over extending themselves, Marvel [re]launched the series as a group of fifth-week specials! This month's fifth wednesday was all about giant-size specials, but it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look back at some of the classic tales from worlds that might have been!

What If? #41 (October 1983)
"What If... Destiny had not Destroyed Atlantis?" Zelentez/Silvestri/Candido

The first volume of What If has a special reverance, but I've got to admit, I was a much bigger fan of the first few years of the second series. These early issues don't necessarily betray the format of branching out from a specific event - this issue is a prime example of that - but somehow these stories manage to feel more insular. They seem to reference in a much less thorough manner, and I suppose that's partly emphasized by the extra page count.

I'm a sucker for the Sub-Mariner, but I've got to admit, Atlantis has never been a big draw card for me. Namor clashes with his arch-nemesis, Attuma, in a really solid fight sequence, but there's a lot to get through before you get to the trident impaling...

What if...? #4 (October 1989)
"What If the Alien Costume had Possessed Spider-man?" Fingeroth/Bagley

Sometimes the best What If stories answer very simple questions. The kids love those symbiotes, but before the concept could be hammered into the ground through over exposure, we saw exactly what would've happened had the symbiote taken a new host!

When it leaves him for dead; Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange and the heroes of the Marvel Universe join Peter Parker in the search for a way to destroy the alien costume. As would be the case in our world, the Symbiote seeks out a suitable vehicle for it's machinations, but if you thought Mac Gargan and Eddie Brock were frightening -- wait until you see what happens when the Symbiote bonds with gods and monsters -- and what it takes to stop it!

What if...? #24 (April 1991)
"What if... Wolverine had become the Lord of Vampires?" Thomas/Lofficier/Morgan

The Punisher factors in to some of the most classic wacky scenarios of the imaginary Marvel Universes. Take the world where the X-Men lose their battle to Dracula, only to see one of their own rise again to succeed the ancient vampire as Lord of all vampires!

Long before Marvel Zombies there was Wolverine: Lord of Vampire, and when he and his hordes selectively murder and poach heroes and villains, New York City becomes a ghost town. With the Avengers unable to breach a quarantine line; Frank Castle becomes humanity's last line of defense. I don't know where Blade was at the time, but if the fate suffered by Dr. Strange is any indication, then he probably met a nasty end. Too bad he isn't a master of the mystic arts capable of projecting his astral image from the afterlife. Game on!

What if...? #51 (July 1993)
"What if the Punisher had become Captain America?" Furman/Cullins

It was one of the biggest stories of the decade: the assassination of Captain America! While the void left by the embodiment of the American dream made for compelling tales across the Marvel Universe; the inevitable search for a successor gripped fans equally.

Among the potential candidates was Frank Castle; and while the mass murdering vigilante proved an unfavourable choice in our world, there are countless other universes where events unfold very differently. When Captain America is mortally wounded in battle with the Red Skull; the US government goes in search of a replacement. Frank Castle turns down their offers intitially, but eventually no one is left as circumstances see the loss of several recruits. The flag proves a heavy burden on Castle's shoulders, and while he wears it by day, a dark other persona emerges at night, to punish the wicked.

What if...? #66 (October 1994)
"What if Rogue possessed the power of Thor?" Furman/Royle

It was the famous Avengers Annual that introduced the X-Man Rogue. At the time a villainous pawn of her mother, Mystique, Rogue used her powers to march against the Avengers, ultimately leading to the famous defeat of Ms. Marvel. However, there are other worlds where events transpired with considerable difference.

Rogue's initiation into the world of superpowered crime comes hard when she recklessly absorbs the powers of the Norse god, Thor. Possessing the strength of a god and a touch deemed worthy of lifting Mjolnir; Rogue sees her family and allies die around her as she comes to terms with this new power. While the Avengers pursue the futile goal of defeating the femme fatale; Rogue becomes the object of Loki's attentions, and so begins a new dawn in the era of Asgard!

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