Since there have been so many variations on comic books throughout the years, a series like What If... was bound to happen. It all started in 1977 when Roy Thomas pitched a series that would create parallel universes where Marvel Comics creative teams would be able to look at key moments in a hero or villain's journey and wonder what would have happened if they made different decisions. Marvel utilized their fan-base, often using ideas that were suggested by fans who wrote in. These were later fleshed out to create full issues of the best (and worst) ideas in the comic book series known as What If...
Marvel Comics fans will no doubt have their favorite storyline, whether it was about if a certain character who had been killed off lived or having one character end up with a different power set. For Marvel, it was a way to gauge the interests of their readers, and for the readers, it was a nice way to explore other versions of their favorite characters. Surprisingly, several stories that were featured in What If... were more popular that the real story it was based on. CBR takes a look at some of the storylines that turned out better than the original.
15 WHAT IF SPIDER-MAN HAD KEPT HIS COSMIC POWERS?
In issue 31, Spider-Man becomes corrupted by power when the Captain Universe energies decide to stay with him following the events of the "Acts of Vengeance" storyline. He ends up fighting the Avengers when they don't agree with his new aggressive methods. Following a confrontation with a rogue Doombot, an innocent hostage is killed. Peter manages to give up all of his powers, including his spider-ones. We later see that Peter's child manifests a combination of both Captain Universe and Spider-Man powers.
While in the original storyline, the Captain Universe energies leave Spider-Man after Loki is defeated in battle. Since we saw what the whole "absolute power corrupts absolutely" adage played out in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, it would've been nice to see how Peter would've dealt with the newfound power on an ongoing basis and how this change would in turn affect his relationships with other heroes.
14 WHAT IF WOLVERINE KILLED THE HULK?
In issue 31 of the first volume, we explore a universe where Wolverine has given into his darker side and ends up killing the Hulk when they first encounter each other. Logan eventually becomes a pawn of Magneto, who wants him to infiltrate the X-Men. As in every reality, Logan meets Jean Grey and falls in love with her, which inspires him to fight back against Magneto. This decision would ultimately end with both men dead, as Magneto forces Wolverine to stab his own neck with his claws during his last breath.
There is a lot of death in this issue, but it is also a pretty good tragedy. In the original storyline, Wolverine and the Hulk got into it after teaming up against Wendigo, but Hulk knocked Wolverine out when all was said and done. This is a solid story with familiar themes that rewards fans of Wolverine.
13 WHAT IF GWEN STACY HAD LIVED?
The death to Gwen Stacy is one of the most tragic stories in Marvel history, so in this issue we explore a world in which Spider-Man saved Gwen. Peter would later reveal his identity and propose to her, which she accepts. Harry and Norman Osborn grow closer after Norman gives up his Goblin persona. The only downside is that Norman had outed Peter's identity to the Daily Bugle, causing a manhunt in the middle of their wedding. Peter escapes but is forced into hiding to protect the people he loves.
In original continuity, Gwen fell from the Brooklyn Bridge and Spider-Man tried to rescue her by shooting a webline to her, but she ended up breaking her neck upon impact once it caught her, a scene immortalized onscreen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. While we've gotten a version of the character back, it still would've been cool to see Spider-Man pull an "I am Iron Man."
12 WHAT IF THE AVENGERS DEFEATED EVERYBODY?
In an alternate version of events that took place in Avengers Annual #2, Scarlet Centurion tricks the original Avengers into taking out the rest of Earth's superheroes, but a group of future Avengers from another reality don't arrive in time to foil the Centurion's plan. Eventually, the Hulk turns on the team, but is defeated by them and added to the Centurion's collection. The remaining Avengers voluntarily go into retirement and the Scarlet Centurion seizes the chance to attempt to take over the world. Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man and Wasp come together again to defeat him, but stay retired afterwards.
While the original storyline had the future Avengers arriving just in the nick of time. Still, it would have been fascinating to experience a world where the Avengers are the only superhero team and how that one change affects all of the events in Marvel history.
11 WHAT IF DAZZLER HAD BECOME THE HERALD OF GALACTUS?
In issue #33, a divergent from Dazzler #11 is shown, as Galactus decides against sparing the rebellious Terrax and banishes him to a black hole. Galactus chooses Dazzler as his next herald against her will, although she would go on to deliberately steer her master to uninhabited worlds for him. These acts eventually return a senses of sentimentality to him until a group of renegade aliens attack Dazzler. Galactus retaliates and reverts to his old ways much to Dazzler's protest, he then grants her freedom from her bond.
There are a few things about this story that are endearing to this day. A well-deserved spotlight is shown on Dazzler and what she is capable of, showing that Galactus isn't immune to mortal emotions and finding one's place in the universe are all important events in this issue. Here's hoping Dazzler will once again get some of the glory she deserves.
10 WHAT IF DAREDEVIL KILLED THE KINGPIN?
In just the second issue of the series, What If... explores what would have happened if the Kingpin drove Daredevil so insane that Daredevil killed him. After a drug-addicted Karen Page sold Matt Murdock out by revealing his true identity, which was later learned by Kingpin, Daredevil shows up on Fisk's doorstep for payback. Daredevil's belief in justice was overshadowed by his grief of learning that Fisk had hired a hitman to kill Karen Page, leading Daredevil to kill Kingpin.
In the original storyline, we saw Matt restrain himself from killing Kingpin and sending him to prison. While the What If... version seems a bit extremely, one couldn't hold it against Kingpin if he had killed him for all the wrongs he had committed in his life, especially if one of them was orchestrating the murder of Daredevil's lover.
9 WHAT IF PROFESSOR X HAD BECOME THE JUGGERNAUT?
In this reality, Professor Xavier becomes Juggernaut and then is buried alive, causing him to never form the X-Men, leaving the Fantastic Four to defeat Magneto instead. Xavier eventually digs his way out and quickly ushers in a new era in which anti-mutant laws are turned into anti-human. The struggle would later lead to a nuclear World War II, forcing Cyclops, Jean Grey, Colossus, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to turn against Xavier and attempt to get the world back on its feet.
In the original storyline, we know that Cain Marko would go on to become the Juggernaut and Professor Xavier would go on to form the X-Men. However, it would have been refreshing to see the oppression that mutants face turned against humans for once.
8 WHAT IF BARBARA KETCH HAD BECOME GHOST RIDER?
In this variation of the origin story of Dan Ketch becoming Ghost Rider, it is Dan's sister, Barbara, who ends up being the Spirit of Vengeance instead after Dan is killed by gangsters. Barbara touches the motorcycle with the glowing gas cap, becoming Ghost Rider with a deep thirst for blood and vengeance. The story details the struggles of Barbara and Ghost Rider's fight for control over the same body.
In the end, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man work together to separate the two entities, a process that frees the Ghost Rider presence but, unfortunately, kills Barbara. Although in the original storyline, Dan went on to be Ghost Rider and Barbara would be murdered by Ghost Rider's arch-nemesis, Blackout, but this is one genderswap hero we wouldn't have minded seeing. Having a woman assume the Ghost Rider identity would've brought a new perspective to possessing the Medallion of Power.
7 WHAT IF LEGION HAD KILLED MAGNETO?
In this version, Legion has traveled back in time before Magneto and Xavier meet to kill Eric Lensherr. Time re-aligns making the new present-day X-Men celebrities instead of heroes. Agents of Apocalypse, including Sabretooth and Pyro, kill the X-Men in a sneak attack, bringing Cyclops and Jean Grey (still imbued with the Phoenix Force) out of retirement to defeat Apocalypse for good. With Apocalypse defeated, Gideon plots to replace him, recruiting Psylocke and Wolverine to join his cause.
A clever spin on the storyline that led up to one of the most controversial crossovers of the '90s, "Age of Apocalypse", it's interesting to see how the world would change if Legion had succeeded in his mission to kill Magneto instead of Xavier. It's also a somber future for members of the X-Men, although we do get to see that Scott and Jean have had two children, Nathan and Rachel.
6 WHAT IF THE FANTASTIC FOUR'S SECOND CHILD HAD LIVED?
While this issue had an unusual double-story, we like the second one in which Sue Richards successfully carries her second child full-term and Mary Richards is born. A mutant with the ability to physically heal and and emotionally heal people, she eventually became an activist for all minorities, mutants, etc. The government sees her as a threat, so much so that they hire Henry Peter Gyrich to come up with a plan to take her down.
Gyrich attempts to kill Mary by stabbing her, which causes a riot and with her last bit of energy calms the crowd with her powers. Mary would survive the attack and live a happy life with her family. In the most recent Fantastic Four continuity, the Richards do have a second child, a daughter named Valeria, but at the time this was of the most heartfelt What If... stories ever told.
5 WHAT IF WOLVERINE LED ALPHA FLIGHT?
In this reality, Wolverine didn't escape Alpha Flight and return to the X-Men, instead he remained after the X-Men were struck down and killed by the Canadian government. He would eventually assume a leadership role with the team, and would later come to the aid of the remaining X-Men in their fight against Dark Phoenix, who revealed the truth about what happened to the deceased X-Men. This is the first instance in which Wolverine kills Jean Grey in order to defeat Dark Phoenix.
In the original storyline, Wolverine would return to the X-Men and none of them were killed by the Canadian government. It would have been cool to see Wolverine become a leader the Canadian superhero team and working with the X-Men from the other side. This story would also foreshadow Wolverine killing Jean Grey in both 616 continuity as well as in X-Men: The Last Stand.
4 WHAT IF ROGUE POSSESSED THE POWER OF THOR?
In a battle with the Avengers in an attempt to free the Freedom Force from jail, a pre-reformed Rogue absorbs all of Thor's powers which leaves him fatally wounded. Rogue uses her new powers to devastate the Avengers, killing Vision and Iron Man. Feeling lost with her newfound powers, Loki tries to take advantage of her vulnerability in an effort to take over Earth and kill Odin. After a meeting with Thor on the astral plane, Rogue realizes her true identity as the Goddess of Thunder and sets out to redeem herself by becoming a hero like Thor was.
This is a revolutionary storyline in which a still evil Rogue absorbs the powers of a god, kills major superheroes and then ultimately seeks redemption. Long before Jane Foster picked up Thor's hammer, we were given this story of what a female Thor would look like to the Marvel Universe.
3 WHAT IF BLINK FROM GENERATION X HAD NOT DIED?
In this issue, Banshee succeeded in saving Blink's life during the "Phalanx Covenant" storyline that planted the roots for Generation X. Blink is saved at the expense of the lives of her friends and also is sent to a higher plane of existence where she can manipulate Earth. Blink tries to build the perfect Utopia on Earth, but Banshee eventually figures out what she is doing and tries to help her before she attempts to resurrect her friends who had died instead of her, an event she was warned would cause an irreparable paradox.
While Blink ultimately survived and became a benign goddess in this story, back in 616 time she would reappear in the "Age of Apocalypse" crossover and was regular featured in the Exiles series before the original Blink was resurrected by Selene in the original timeline. She would go on to become a member of the New Mutants and X-Men.
2 WHAT IF PROFESSOR X AND MAGNETO FORMED THE X-MEN TOGETHER?
In an alternate story written by famed X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, readers discover a world where an impassioned speech by Gabrielle Haller convinces Magneto and Xavier to work together after first meeting. After doing much to help global politics, the two turn their attention towards mutant rights and form a team of mutants, including Sage, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Colossus and Beast, to combat threats. At the end, we also see that Sabretooth, Havok and Cyclops have become agents of Mr. Sinister, who is intrigued by Jean Grey's Phoenix powers.
This is basically X-Men: First Class, only with actual original members of the X-Men team in our continuity. On one hand, it's nice to have seen what it would be like if Magneto and Xavier found a way to work together for a common goal, but also sad to see the fates of favorites like Cyclops and Havok.
1 WHAT IF JESSICA JONES HAD JOINED THE AVENGERS?
In this issue, Jessica Jones accepts Captain America's offer join the Avengers from years ago and, surprisingly, makes the Marvel Universe a better, safer place but erases the bitter, drunk, self-destructive Jessica that we all know and love. Her presence on the team actually diverts the tragic events of "Avengers: Disassembled" and even leads to her and Captain America getting married. It's bittersweet to see the positive changes altered by one yes or no response, which lends an even heavier tragedy as opposed to the way things really went.
What would the world be like with a shiny and happy Jessica Jones? Despite our love for the sassy character, this issue was a delight to see how wonderful and tragedy-free her life could have been by joining the Avengers and avoiding her run-in with the Purple Man. Happy or sardonic, we love Jessica either way.
Which of these stories do you think is better than the original? Let us know in the comments!