Last week, DC did a great job at introducing a couple of alternate universe Marvel comics. This week, I’d like to explore what makes Marvel great in terms of how they explore alternate universes. Instead of rewriting origins or reboot an entire franchise, Marvel Comics has elected to make a specific series out of what would happen if a hero took a different road. This series, starting in 1977, is called What If…?
The idea behind it is looking at the road not traveled in key events of Marvel heroes’ history. But, being a grand storytelling house, Marvel does a stand up job at conveying what would transpire and how the Marvel universe would be shaped by a different decision. And all in one issue. The host is usually Uatu, the Watcher. He begins the story filling in what originally occurred, and then proceeds to tell the reader an alternate version of what happened.
Now, there are times where ideas in these issues turns into reality later on. The character Spider-Girl was introduced in the series, and eventually had her own. It was never main Marvel canon, but the popularity of the one What If issue caused a whole series and comic line to be born. Another popular spider what could have happened story is that of Spider-Man joining the Fantastic Four. Although that team is now reconstructed as the FF, Spider-Man is a member of this team (search for Wizard Victor’s Watcher Wednesday article about this). Another spider happenstance in the pages of the series (they really like to pick on the webhead) is looking at what would transpire if Peter Parker never married Mary Jane. Currently in the series this has become reality.
Probably the most recurring What If scenario revolves around Galactus visiting earth to devour it. In the original story, the Fantastic Four, with the aid of Uatu, defeats Galactus with a weapon constructed by Mr. Fantastic. In the What If pages there are scenarios such as the Avengers coming to the rescue, or Uatu breaking his vow of direct intervention and killed Galactus.
It seems like the title of the story would give away what would happen, but there is always a twist to reality for the characters…or a twist to us. For example, what happens to the Avengers if they went against Galactus was surprising. They, of course, defeat the great cosmic giant, but at what cost? Another story involving Phoenix/Jean Grey not dying for the first time…or was it the second? Anyway, it was her not dying in one of her Phoenix incarnations, and things are not quite a happy ending.
Much of the comics have been collected in graphic novels, or can be found in back issue boxes of local comic bookstores. It’s a great issue to trace the history of the Marvel universe, but to get a glimpse at the depth of the characters. Without that depth there would not be these enjoyable stories of what could have been.