The Marvel Universe is home to aliens, gods, monsters, and heroes with super human abilities. As such it’s a place of infinite possibilities, so it’s intriguing to imagine what might have happened if its characters made different choices or if events in the Marvel Universe unfolded differently. Marvel first began imagining and exploring these alternate earths in 1977 with the series “What If?,” which saw rotating teams of creators taking Marvel characters down the “road not traveled” on a regular basis
The first “What If?” series ran till 1984, and in 1989 it was revived for another ongoing series that ran till 1998. In recent years “What If?” has lived on, not as an ongoing series, but as a yearly mini-event of one-shots. CBR News spoke with Editors Justin Gabrie and Chris Allo about what fans can expect from this December’s batch of “What If?” stories, which were announced today at the Marvel Cup ‘O Joe panel at the Fan Expo Canada in Toronto.
CBR: The yearly “What If?” specials seemed to have become a regular event at Marvel. What is it about these specials that keeps people coming back each year? And why do you think the once a year format seems to be working for these stories?
Justin Gabrie: I think the reason “What If?” as a title and annual series event remains popular is that it’s a question that we can’t help but to ask. Not only as readers enjoying a story, “What if the actions and consequences that followed went this way instead of that?,” but also as people who live our lives and can’t help but to wonder of the path not taken, a decision made differently. I mean, who has not asked of themselves, “Well, what if…?” about something that has happened in their lives, from the mundane to the profoundly life-changing. It ends up becoming a fundamental human question.
We just focus that question to our favorite stories and the characters that are weaved through alternate scenarios. Keeping it annual keeps it fresh. When “What If?” was a monthly back in the 90’s, what was once special became commonplace. It’s become special once again.
Chris Allo: I also think keeping it as a little mini-event once a year makes it a bit special. And like JG, said who hasn’t asked a “What if?!” question about their own lives? And aside from getting their own personal what if, seeing a “What If?” situation of their favorite heroes/characters is the next best thing.”
With one exception, this year’s batch of stories seem to involve different takes on recent Marvel Events. How did you guys decide on these stories? Did you come up with the ideas, or did the creators involved bring them to you?
JG: There’s no secret formula like the Colonel’s recipe; we just listened to our readers who preferred the recent story/event over another take at an origin story. But if you need details–we put together a list of possible “What Ifs” that cover the spectrum of the Marvel U, then approach writers who have the right voice for that story and see if they’re interested. Once the question is posed to them, a writer will take that baton and run the rest of the marathon — injecting their own story ideas to answer the question.
Let’s talk about those stories. The majority of this year’s “What If?” specials feature both a main story and a back up tale. What can you tell me about the plots of these stories?
JG: There’s a lot to cover but let’s go for it:
“What If? Secret Invasion” – The first story opens after the Skrulls win and we see exactly how they force Earth to “Embrace Change.” Brian Michael Bendis was the one who actually came up with the pivotal point of divergence, which is that Reed Richards, kidnapped aboard the Skrull ship, doesn’t survive and his knowledge of figuring out a way to detect the Skrulls dies with him. A bunch of heroes gather to form a resistance led by Cap and Panther.
The second story is more of a Twilight Zone kind of setting in which the Skrulls keep the invasion secret all the way through. Don’t want to give too much up here, except to say that it focuses on Norman Osborn.
“What If? World War Hulk” – In the first story, the pivotal point occurs during the last chapter of “World War Hulk.” The battle between the Hulk and the Sentry is at its zenith. In our universe, Tony Stark hesitates to shoot his satellite laser at them. In this story, he doesn’t which leads to a rather apocalyptic moment, clearing the way for something Skrully to occur way sooner.
In the second story, Thor becomes aware of the three-day siege that was “World War Hulk.” No longer on the other side of the world playing a doctor without borders as Don Blake, he intervenes before the Sentry does.
“What If? Daredevil vs. Elektra” – One story: “What If Daredevil was a bad guy and Elektra was a good guy?” The pivotal moment kills two birds with one stone, almost literally. In the hostage situation to save Elektra and her father the Greek Ambassador, Matt Murdock is the one that accidentally gets shot by the police outside, not Elektra’s father. It keeps Elektra from the dark path and eventually she becomes an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., while Matt is resurrected and corrupted by The Hand. When their paths meet, it leads for some dramatic moments.
“What If? Spider-Man: House of M” – In the House of M event, we all saw Peter Parker’s secret wish: that Gwen didn’t die, but instead they were married and had a child together. What if that wish transferred over to 616 as soon as the “HoM” world went away? In the first story, Gwen is not mind-wiped by Emma Frost, which sets up a series of events that brings her to the epicenter of Scarlet Witch’s “no more mutants” decree and the resetting of the world to its proper state – except she’s the monkey wrench which could affect reality itself.
In the second story, Gwen being in 616 is not accidental but on purpose, when Spidey saves the Scarlet Witch’s life at the climax of “HoM.” As a reward, Gwen Stacy and his son Richie cross over to 616 with Peter. But what should be a blessing quickly becomes a curse. Now Peter finds himself not only married to MJ, but torn between her and his responsibility for Gwen and his son. That’s when things really get interesting. Can we say – Green Goblin?
“What If? Astonishing X-Men” – When Joss Whedon & John Cassaday started their seminal run, the promos hinted that a dead character was going to return. Most zeroed in on The Phoenix rather than Colossus. So the first story asks, what if it Jean Grey were resurrected by Ord instead of Colossus? All the events that were supposed to follow are touched upon, especially the one manipulating everything.
The second story concentrates on the pivotal moment when Wolverine and the X-Men successfully destroy the Command Core of the Danger Room, severing its comm-link and preventing Danger from using the Blackbird against them. When this happens, her signal is broadcast and intercepted by Ultron during his altercation with the Runaways. Ultron abandons his plans to follow a new one: make Danger his bride – and no X-Man will stand in his way.
What can readers expect from these stories in terms of art? From what I hear they’re going to be digitally painted?
JG: They can expect it all. The main stories are penciled by one artist and painted by another (except for Lucio Parrillo who handles both, and DD with pencil and ink wash art by Rafael Kayanan). The back-ups are done in traditional pencils, inks and colors.
CA: In terms of the covers we did the digital painting over pencils last year, and it worked so well we figured we’d continue the tradition, It’s really exciting to see some of the top artists in our field collaborate on a piece. It brings a whole new element and energy into the mix. We have Klaus Janson penciling the “What If? DD” cover painted by Dean White. And it is stunning. Leinil Yu is being painted by Gabrielle Dell’Otto on the “What if? Secret Invasion” cover. You know it’s going to be a monumental piece of work. We have Johnny Romita Jr. doing the “World War Hulk” cover being painted by Marko Djurdjevic — I’m really looking forward to this one! Plus one cover by J. Scott Campbell and one by Terry Dodson to be painted by some talented newcomers.
JG: Here’s the complete run down:
“What If? Secret Invasion”: Story A – Written by Kevin Grevioux & Karl Bollers, Penciled by Pow Rodrix w/ paints by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic; Story B – Written by Chris Acosta, Art by Larry Stroman and Carl Potts; Cover by Leinil Francis Yu w/ paints by Gabrielle Dell’Otto
“What If? World War Hulk”: Story A – Written by Mike Raicht, Painted by Lucio Parrillo; Story B – Written by Michael Gallagher, Art by Patrick ‘Spaz!’ Spaziante; Cover by John Romita Jr. w/ paints by Marko Djurdjevic
“What If? Daredevil vs. Elektra”: Written by Karl Bollers, Art by Rafael Kayanan; Cover by Klaus Janson w/ paints by Dean White
“What If? Spider-Man: House of M”: Story A – Written by Sean McKeever, Penciled by Dave Ross w/ paints by Jorge Molina; Story B – Written by Frank Tieri, Art by Brian Haberlin; Cover by Terry Dodson w/ Kai Spannuth or TBD
“What If? Astonishing X-Men”: Story A – Written by Jim McCann, Penciled by David Yardin w/ paints by Kai Spannuth ; Story B – Written by Matteo Casali, Art by Mike Getty; Cover by J. Scott Campbell w/ Kai Spannuth or TBD
In addition to the main and back up stories each of this year’s “What If?” specials feature a four page “Say What?” strip as well. From the information I received, it sounds like these are humor strips?
JG: That’s right. I’ve worked with Mike Gallagher and Dave Manak for years on the “Sonic” comic book and along with their body of work on “Mad Magazine,” one of the things they excelled at were the “Off-Panel” comic strips they did for me. I figured the last two year’s worth of “What If?” stories I’ve edited have been really serious, and though this year’s are as well, I wanted to instill a little comic relief at the end in the style of “What If?” # 34 (Vol.1) so you walk away satisfied on many levels. This time they are calling their strips, “Say What?!” It’s zany and will be sure to tickle a funny bone or two.
You’ve packed quite a bit of content into each of these specials. In the end what do you hope readers take away from this year’s batch of “What If?” one-shots?
JG: All parties involved are as passionate about writing, penciling, painting, inking, coloring and lettering these books as I am editing them. These books are complete stories, with compelling characters in alternate situations, along with some humor strips to boot. We want to make sure our readers feel we are delivering the best quality stories when they pick up a “What If?” and are satisfied enough to want to reread it again as opposed to putting it down. That’s what we all strive for.
CA: I think the fans are going to really enjoy the whole package this year, from the stories, to the talent, to the artwork. I’m pretty proud of this group of “What If’s” and hope we get to do them again next year!