Chicago, Day 2: C.B. Cebulski talks the return of "What If?"

Yesterday you read about "What If?" making a triumphant return to the Marvel Universe during the Cup O' Joe panel at Wizard World Chicago and of Brian Bendis' love for the series and what he plans to do with it. Today, CBR News presents part two of that discussion, this time with Marvel Editor C.B. Cebulski, who shares Bendis' enthusiasm for the project.

"'What If?' is being brought back because it was a great idea that's been away too long," Cebulski told CBR News earlier this week. "I always loved the old 'What If?' stories and wanted to bring the same kind of alternate stories to old fans as well as new readers today.

"I think the most important thing that I want to make clear is that we are going back to the original concept of 'What If?' We are not making things up whole cloth or doing Elseworlds type stories. We are going back to basics. These stories are based on classic Marvel tales we have already told, but they are about a divergence from those past stories. We are going to zig where the others zagged. I think that was where the second 'What If?' series failed, when it started making up scenarios we had never seen before. This time around, we are paying our respects to the original series and the stories that are providing a basis for these 'What If?' tales. I remember when John Byrne or Frank Miller did X-Men or DD stories and they were actually retelling tales they had originally done! How cool was that?! So. whenever possible, we are trying to get the creators who wrote the original stories or who have a strong connection to the characters involved. All we expect is for them to have fun writing the stories, let the artists have fun illustrating them and hope the fans really get a kick out of these alternate 'What If?' takes on the Marvel characters."

The stories and creative teams for the first seven issues of the series were revealed yesterday. As a refresher, here's the line-up in no particular order.

Cebulski told CBR News that "What If" will be a playground for both established creators, as the list above indicates, as well as emerging talent, with the odds in favor of established creators. As for the stories, Marvel has a clear idea of what they're looking for from this series.

"We came up with a list of characters we wanted to see stories about internally. No concepts though," said Cebulski. "Then we started making calls to writers to gauge their interest and tell them the field was wide open for whatever stories they wanted to tell with the characters. As soon as the words 'What If?' left my lips, Bendis cut me off and said 'I want DD, the Avengers and a humor issue.' So, half the job was already done. Everyone else soon jumped at the chance as well and started proposing all kinds of ideas."

As for "alternate reality" stories, "What If?" dates back to the '70s with the original series. When DC began publishing their Elseworld stories in the late '80s, natural comparisons between the two were made. With "What If?" making its return next year after almost seven years of non-publication, inevitably fans will now compare "What If?" to the Elseworlds stories. This doesn't bother Cebulski as the difference in approach is immediately noticeable.

"As I mentioned earlier, I see Elseworlds stories as character driven tales. They twist their characters origins or situations. They take Batman and make him a pirate or a knight. They have Superman born in England or Russia or Japan. Then the story grows from there. But Elseworlds have no real ties to DC continuity or other DC stories. Our 'What If?' comics will all be story driven, based on popular Marvel stories that we are twisting. They will be original takes on familiar tales. We are going right when the original story went left. We are not making up new directions."

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