Long term fans of Marvel Comics fondly remember the classic series “What If..,” a comic book that asked the question what if things turned out slightly different for our favorite Marvel characters and what would it mean for them. The hypotheticals always got fans wondering with questions like the classic “What if Captain America had been elected President?” Or “What if Phoenix had not died?” Or even “What if Elektra had lived?” All questions which captured the imagination of fans. That feeling will be captured again next year when Marvel launches an all new version of “What If…,” as announced during Wizard World Chicago. Writer Brian Bendis starts the series with a bang by writing the first three issues. CBR News caught up with Bendis Wednesday night as he walked the streets of Manhattan following a business dinner.
“It’s called research! My books take place in New York, I have to feel New York. I’m scouting locations,” Bendis joked.
“I have wanted Marvel to bring back ‘What If…’ in any capacity for so long. So, I jumped all over it when it was finally approved. In the first issue I’m doing a Daredevil story, ‘What if Karen Page had lived?’ In the great ‘What If…’ tradition we’re taking Daredevil down a path that only could only be imagined in the regular title. It’s Alex Maleev and me with a cover by Joe Quesada. I believe Kevin Smith will be contributing on some level. He’s supposed to co-write it with me, but if he doesn’t I’ll just write it. I wanted to drag his ass back to comics, whether he liked it or not! We’ll see if he can squeeze it in.”
That’s right, writer/director Kevin Smith will be making a return to comics after an extended absence.
“I thought it was one of those things that would be great to do together,” continued Bendis. “Basically, I want to mesh our two ‘Daredevil’ arcs. In other words, where I took Daredevil versus where he had Daredevil. I thought it would be interesting and we’ll see what happens. If not, I’ll just do it. I’m not making any promises, see what I’m doing here?”
Bendis will be around for the first three issues and he has big plans for the second and third issues of “What If…”
“The next one I’m doing is ‘What if Jessica Jones had joined the Avengers?’ Those who read the ‘Purple’ arc of ‘Alias’ know that her life could have easily gone that direction had she chosen to follow it. Both her life and the Avengers lives would have taken drastic turns had it happened. The good news for fans of ‘Alias’ is that Michael Gaydos will draw this. It’s the return of Gaydos to Jessica Jones, in the great ‘What If…’ tradition which sees the actual artist and writers of the book doing the ‘What If…’
“My third issue, I’m very excited, just got it approved today. It was a hard sell, but I got it sold. It’s an all humor issue called ‘Wha’ huh?’ It will have all the stupidest What If’s you could possibly imagine. It’ll be me as the basic ringmaster with editor C.B. Cebulski. We’ve invited Mark Millar, Garth Ennis and a host of other people.”
Joining Bendis as artist on the third issue is Jim Mahfood (“Grrl Scouts,” “40 Oz Comics”).
“Remember years ago they did an all humor issue of ‘What If…’ with situations like ‘What if the Black Panther fought the Shroud in a black-out’ with an all-black panel or ‘What if Moon Knight fought White Tiger in a snow storm.’ It was just dumb, silly Marvel fun. We’re going to go a little further with it than those type of jokes, but it’s going to be old school Marvel fun.”
At times comic fans can be a little too serious about their hobby and we asked Bendis if the motivation for this all-humor issue of “What If…” was related to the fact that sometimes comic fans have a hard time laughing at themselves.
“Absolutely! One of the things that I’ve been pushing Marvel to do is to kind of go back to the idea of make fun of our selves before anyone else does. I’m very excited about this.”
Clearly Bendis is a huge fan of the format, but what is it about this series that makes it so exciting for the writer?
“The original ‘What If…’ was great, before it kind of derailed. There really is a finite amount of What If’s you can do per generation. It’s been a while since the book’s been up and going, so there are all sorts of new What If’s to be mined from A-List material. I remember when Frank Miller, John Byrne and Bill Sienkiewicz were doing ‘What If’ and they were all awesome. It was really exciting to read for me when I was a kid.”
It’s been about six years since we saw a regular “What If…” series from Marvel. Bendis says the timing was just right to bring back the series now.
“Sometimes it’s more a matter where the timing isn’t right or the creators aren’t right. Other times you feel like things are meshing well and it just feels right. This is one of those times where it just feels good,” said Bendis. “When [Editor C.B. Cebulski] called with the good news and said, ‘Guess what just got approved,’ I responded ‘Yeahhhhhhh!’ That’s what you want creators to do. You want them to yell ‘Yeahhhhhh’ when their books get approved. I’m very, very excited to do these.
“I picked my stories very carefully to make sure that I picked the best ones I could do because it might be the only chance I get. For some reason Daredevil is great for what if’s. Miller did an amazing one in ‘What if Elektra had lived?’ It was just fantastic.
“When this started cooking I went back to the comic shop and started flipping through the back issues and you see how great they were, and how quickly they ran out of good what if’s when it became stuff like, ‘What if Matt Murdock had become the Hulk?'”
Marvel’s distinguished competition has also posed the “what if” question at times with a series of books published under the Elseworlds banner. Bendis finds there to be a distinct difference between what Marvel’s done in “What If…” and what DC’s done with Elseworlds.
“In my opinion, they seem to have an inherent difference,” said Bendis. “With Elseworlds it was a what if based on a fantastical idea, like what if Batman took place during the Planet of the Apes or something. The what ifs at Marvel were always based on a very specific life changing moment in the lead character’s life and what if the character went the other way. The writer in me gets to explore the unexplored within the character and you get to take it as far as it can go. You get to kill the character if you want to, you can take it to its most tragic ending or even its happiest ending. There’s quite a lot of dramatic fun to be had.”
In conclusion, Bendis had one final thing to say about the return of “What If…”
“This just represents everything that’s good about Marvel Comics.”
Look for more on the return of “What If…” in an interview with editor C.B. Cebulski Saturday here at CBR.