Marvel’s “What If” comics are always a bit of a guilty pleasure. Everyone might have their favorites, but no-one’s ever going to say “yeah, that issue of ‘What If’ is essential reading for the character!” The stories are all about twisted, freaked-out version of the Marvel Universe where things went slightly wrong, usually with devastating consequences, and that’s the fun of it.
Even with that in mind, there’s no excuse to turn in a comic this resolutely disappointing. The idea of what would’ve happened if Iron Man died instead of Captain America is, on the surface, quite intriguing — after all, the ideological differences between Steve and Tony were at the heart of Civil War. How would Steve have reacted if, when the dust settled, he was the one left alive?
Bizarrely, this comic doesn’t remotely attempt to answer that. Rogers spends most of the issue banged up in jail, turning up towards the end to salute at Stark’s funeral. The story instead places the emphasis on how the wider hero community reacts to Stark’s death — which is simply by getting pretty upset with one another. The Initiative still exists, the New Avengers are still outlaws, and according to the closing pages, the Secret Invasion is much worse because Stark isn’t around to stop it. Except, Stark’s role in anticipating the Skrull invasion was minimal at best, so the ending doesn’t really make any sense.
The attempt to mimic the structure of the “Fallen Son” miniseries, touching on the 5 stages of grief, falls ridiculously flat. The structure denies readers a complete story, instead leaving them with a hollow set of vignettes which largely fawn over Stark, rather than examining the more realistic effects of his death. In the “real” universe, the stories dealing with the death of Captain America rightly focussed on Stark’s reaction to it, and whether he blamed himself. Something similar would’ve been the smart way to go with this series.
Ultimately, we’re left with amateurish writing, poor artwork and a story that barely fulfills its premise. Not everything has to be Shakespeare, but surely readers deserve better than this?