As one of the world’s biggest fans of Marvel’s What If series, I have to admit I’m a bit bummed out. In a couple of months, Marvel’s next big event, Original Sin, comes out and it centers around the death of What If host Uatu the Watcher. Then there’s going to be a What If miniseries based on Age of Ultron, which I don’t have high hopes for, especially after last year’s What If: AvX. For those who missed it, rather than tell an actual story worth reading, Jimmy Palmiotti decided to spend four issues (at $3.99 a pop) killing off everyone except Wolverine until hitting an ending that didn’t even make sense. His defense to the criticism was to shrug and basically say, “Hey, it’s a What If comic.”
That bugged me because there have been over 200 issues of that series and there’s more to it than just writing a comic where everybody dies because continuity is no longer an issue. Oh, sure, it happens a lot of the time. I’ve seen Earth get wiped out by Set, the Kree, the Void, Galactus, Sentinels, Korvac, Sphinx, and Phoenix. Yet there are plenty of stories that go beyond that. Ones where there’s a big enough tragedy, but everything turns out better in the end. Then there are the stories – few that there are – where everything seems to simply be better. Maybe one person dies, but at the end of the day, everyone worth rooting for is better off.
Here are twenty of those stories.
WHAT IF JANE FOSTER HAD FOUND THE HAMMER OF THOR?What If (volume 1) #10 (1978)Don Glut and Rick Hoberg
Don Blake and his nurse Jane Foster were off doing a thing when rock aliens invaded, the two ran off, got separated, Blake discovered a walking stick laying around, hit it against a rock, and became Thor. Shockingly, they decided to go with something completely different and less contrived for the movie. Odin left that walking stick for Blake to find, but what if it was Jane who discovered it instead? Determined to save the man she loved, Jane was either deemed worthy enough to lift the hammer or it was simply allowed to be held by whoever did the walking stick routine first.
Either way, Thordis took care of the rock guys, thwarted Loki, beat up Radioactive Man, and even joined the Avengers. That led to a funny panel where it was Giant Man eyeing her up and down in the way Wasp was always checking out Thor. Not happy about this turn of events, Lady Sif came to Midgard to hook up with Blake, who didn’t recognize her, but certainly didn’t object. In the finale, Blake proved himself truly worthy by standing up to Loki as but a man, while Thordis took out the vicious Mangog.
Odin made Jane surrender Mjonlir to Blake, transforming him to Thor. As a reward for all she had done, Odin empowered Jane as a goddess. At first, Jane was heartbroken because she could see that Thor was pretty attached to Sif. Odin took her mind off that by proposing to her. Thor and Sif would live on Midgard and defend it together while Odin and Jane Foster would rule Asgard for the rest of eternity.
All hail Odin, All-Powerful God of the Rebound!
WHAT IF RICK JONES HAD BECOME THE HULK?What If (volume 1) #12 (1978)Don Glut and Sal Buscema
When Rick Jones realized that Bruce Banner was going to selflessly throw him into the ditch to save him from the impending gamma explosion, Rick refused to let it happen and threw Banner into the pit instead. Rick became irradiated and we got the best Hulk in Marvel Comics history. Instead of simply speaking like an angry caveman, Rick Jones Hulk would speak like an angry caveman mixed with a 1970’s comic writer’s idea of what a teenager talks like.
“DON’T JIVE HULK WITH FANCY LINGO, BUG-MAN! HULK DOESN’T DIG IT!”
Banner would dedicate his life to curing the Hulk, purely out of guilt. Rick-Hulk’s story would become an amalgam of the Hulk’s early history and Rick Jones’ early history, briefly joining the Avengers, becoming Captain America’s protégé, bonding with Captain Marvel, and so on. It all came to a head when Hulk ended up in the Negative Zone to fight Annihilus, taking him out with both pure strength and Captain America’s training. With some Bruce Banner/Reed Richards super science, they were not only able to separate Rick from Captain Marvel, but they were able to separate Rick from the Hulk, left stranded in the Negative Zone.
Everyone was able to move on with their lives. Rick had his life back and was ready to spend it with Lou Ann. Banner and Mar-Vell were no longer bound to having to deal with Rick’s situation. As for the hip Hulk? He killed Annihilus and found peace in the Negative Zone. It was a world where he was free to explore boundless terrain with no opposition while everyone there loved him for taking Annihilus out of the picture.
WHAT IF HULK HAD BECOME A BARBARIAN?What If (volume 1) #23 (1980)Peter Gilis and Herb Trimpe
In one of the stranger eras of Hulk’s existence, he had a fling with Jarella, an emerald-skinned queen from another world. When Hulk was in her reality, he retained the mind of Banner. The two ended up stranded back on Earth, where Jarella died sacrificing herself to save a child. In this story, she survived, but had a hard time adjusting to Hulk’s inability to think straight. Finally, the military figured out a way to send them back and General Ross couldn’t have been happier.
Hulk and Jarella were wed and ruled as king and queen. Unfortunately, evil sorcery was in their midst and Hulk had to go up against some dark gods. Jarella called to arms her world’s greatest champions with the Hulk labeling them the Defenders. The villain in question was a traitor to Jarella’s court named Lord Visis. He sent an evil version of savage Hulk to face King Hulk in a rematch from an earlier issue. In the original fight, the real Hulk lost because of Banner’s coherent mind not giving him the rage needed to match strength. This time, he knew that too much was on the line and was able to add his Hulk rage to his Banner persona, conquering his foe. His Defenders defeated the villain’s army and Hulk stood victorious as a leader of a world that loved him, amidst allies who gave him nothing but loyalty.
WHAT IF DAREDEVIL HAD BECOME AN AGENT OF SHIELD?What If (volume 1) #28 (1981)Mike W. Barr and Frank Miller
In a bit of an interesting retcon, it turns out that the radioactive liquid that splashed into Matt Murdock’s face was a Stark-owned property. In this reality, Stark decided to keep an eye on the transportation of it because he warned them that driving it through the city was a bad idea. His hunch was right and he felt completely responsible for what happened to young Matt. Stark got in touch with Nick Fury, who was able to figure out that the incident gave Matt super senses to compensate for his blindness. Fury realized what kind of potential operative he had on his hands and made it his mission to sway Matt to join him.
Unfortunately, Hydra knew about him and kidnapped his aging boxer father Jack Murdock. At first, Matt wanted to leave SHIELD and go at it on his own, but Fury convinced him to stay with them by pointing out that they were already on their way to save his father. In a pretty badass scene, Matt infiltrated Hydra’s base and rescued his father with a little help from SHIELD. Jack even got to knock out an armed Hydra goon for good measure. As Fury explained it, he had his perfect agent and the Murdocks were financially set for life. Matt accepted his spot in SHIELD under the codename Daredevil.
Really, it was more of “how” Daredevil became an agent of SHIELD than “what if.” This one’s notable for being the only reality I know of where Jack Murdock was able to avoid tragedy.
WHAT IF SPIDER-MAN’S CLONE LIVED?What If (volume 1) #30 (1981)Bill Flanagan and Rich Buckler
Back before the Clone Saga happened, the story was that the Spider-Man clone created by the Jackal died from a bullet wound and his corpse was thrown into a smokestack. In this telling, the clone suckerpunched the real Spider-Man – thinking him the clone – and proceeded to defeat Jackal himself. The clone put Peter’s body back in the stasis chamber and returned to his normal life.
Except…Dr. Warren created that clone out of old DNA. This Peter Parker had missed out on three years and couldn’t understand it. Aunt May had moved, Flash Thompson was his buddy, Betty Brant didn’t care for him romantically, there was some fat dude named the Kingpin out for his blood, and to top it all off, he not only was dating Gwen Stacy at some point, but she died! He investigated it further, thinking that maybe Jackal messed with his memories in some way. He uncovered the truth about himself and after much deliberation, decided that it was the right thing to do to free his counterpart.
The two Spider-Men made up and worked together to stop the Kingpin. The clone thought about coming up with his own identity and finding his own path, but Peter came up with the idea of doing their own Prestige deal. He was already burning the candle at both ends, but together they could really cover a lot of ground. The clone happily accepted, although bemused that he’d get stuck sleeping on the couch.
WHAT IF THE THING HAD CONTINUED TO MUTATE?What If (volume 1) #37 (1983)Tom DeFalco and Arvell Jones
There was a story where the Thing was infected with a radioactive virus that was tearing his body apart and killing him. Bill Foster – then known as Giant Man – convinced him to join Captain America and himself as they raided an AIM facility to find the antidote. Thing was cured, but it came at a cost. Foster was secretly dying of radiation poisoning at the time and could have used the antidote to save himself. Unfortunately, he used it all on Thing.
This time, Thing refused to join Foster and went off to hide so he could die alone and in peace. Foster and Cap still raided AIM and Foster was less hesitant to use the antidote on himself, since he left enough to potentially save Thing. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four tracked down Thing and found him all green, melty, and reeking of radiation. Alicia Masters still wanted to be with him during his final moments, only something unexpected happened. Ben Grimm’s body went critical from the mix of the virus and the cosmic rays in his body. He exploded and once the smoke was cleared, he was a depowered human. Alicia was facing the blast, which succeeded in curing her blindness.
Ben and Alicia got engaged while a fully healthy Bill Foster was brought in to be his replacement, giving him a status as a top-level superhero instead of a forgotten rookie. Though as Reed told Ben, nobody would ever be able to say, “It’s clobberin’ time!” with a straight face.
WHAT IF SPIDER-MAN’S UNCLE BEN HAD LIVED?What If (volume 1) #47 (1984)Peter B. Gillis and Ron Frenz
In a reverse of regular continuity, Aunt May heard a noise downstairs and investigated while Uncle Ben remained asleep. May was shot by a burglar and Ben was left to discover the body. While losing one parental figure for another may seem like a wash in this situation, it does have some notable ramifications. Uncle Ben was a bit savvier about figuring out his nephew than May ever was, so it didn’t take him too long to realize that Peter was Spider-Man. Not to mention, he’s a fountain of good advice while Aunt May is a social obstacle with legs.
There is a good story in there, mainly about Ben making Peter reveal his secret to Jameson to make him shut up and Jameson using Spider-Man as his ace in the hole (fighting crime and then calling up the Bugle so they get first crack at the story), but the truly uplifting aspect comes from Ben’s ability to soothe Peter’s guilt. Regularly, Peter would have held onto May’s death as his own responsibility and reason for why he had to be Spider-Man. Ben showed him how wrong he was by loudly blaming himself for sleeping through his own wife’s death until Peter told him it wasn’t his fault. Ben snapped back to normal with a smirk and told Peter to take his own advice. Being Spider-Man isn’t about guilt, but about doing the right thing.
WHAT IF WOLVERINE WAS AN AGENT OF SHIELD?What If (volume 2) #7 (1989)Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld
Shortly after his battle with the Hulk and Wendigo, Wolverine was picked up by James Hudson. Hudson had Nick Fury with him, asking for Wolverine’s help. The Canadian government had agreed to loan Wolverine to SHIELD, which Wolverine wasn’t too keen on in the sense that he wasn’t property. SHIELD had a serious problem with Hydra using LMDs to infiltrate their ranks and they had no way of detecting them. That’s where Wolverine came in. His senses would make him perfect at sniffing them out.
Wolverine was instrumental in taking out Hydra and helping kill Von Strucker. He decided to stick around as a SHIELD agent and quickly earned a high spot in the chain of command. Charles Xavier sought him out for help in rescuing his X-Men, much like in regular continuity. Wolverine was too busy, but wished him well and told him that SHIELD would keep an eye on them as an ally. While Von Strucker was dead, an LMD copy made a final strike against Nick Fury, who sacrificed himself to save innocent lives.
At the funeral, Dum Dum told Wolverine that he turned down the spot as Director because it wasn’t the same without Fury. He suggested Wolverine for the spot. While he was both the newest recruit and a mutant at that, Fury cleared through all the red tape prior to his death. Wolverine found purpose as the Director of SHIELD and his tactics led to a promising future for mutantkind. The Sentinel program was shut down, which ultimately prevented Jean Grey from ever becoming the Dark Phoenix. Wolverine was able to discredit Senator Kelly, preventing the Mutant Registration Act from ever happening.
WHAT IF VISION OF THE AVENGERS CONQUERED THE WORLD?What If (volume 2) #19 (1990)Roy Thomas, RJM Lofficier, and Ron Wilson
Once upon a time Vision merged with a super computer from Titan and became powerful enough to insert himself into every single Earth computer. Vision intended to eradicate all of the world’s problems, but the Avengers talked him down. This issue dealt with two possible scenarios. One led to events where Vision joined forces with the likes of Doom, Kingpin, and Hydra to create a total dystopia. We’ll skip on that one for now and instead talk about Vision convincing all of Earth’s superheroes to give his ideas a shot and give him advice. Though reluctant, they shrugged and went with it.
It turned out to be a huge success. Vision knew where all the WMDs in the world were hidden, so they got rid of all nuclear armaments. X-Factor went around feeding the homeless until the governments were able to make homelessness obsolete. Space stations were built and after a decade or two, Wolverine led the grown-up New Mutants in being the first settlers on Mars. Yep, world peace was finally a reality.
In the year 2136, the Cosmic Avengers policed the galaxy. Led by Thor, the team was mainly knockoffs of existing heroes like She-Hulk’s clone and Commander America. Their main rivals were the Skrulls and the Kree, who joined together out of desperation. The Cosmic Avengers took down their empires (at the cost of Irondroid’s life). The Skrull and Kree citizens were pleased as punch to be liberated and joined in with Earth as a big galactic family.
WHAT IF THE SILVER SURFER HAD NOT ESCAPED EARTH?What If (volume 2) #22 (1991)Ron Marz and Ron Lim
The Champion of the Universe was originally used as a plot device to free Silver Surfer from being bound to Earth. Here, he never visited Earth. Surfer still couldn’t break through the atmosphere and instead took solace in hanging out with the Fantastic Four. As their fifth member, he certainly made things a hell of a lot easier.
Then they got wrapped up in a Mephisto plot. Mephisto captured the Fantastic Four and decided that he wanted Silver Surfer as his prisoner. Unfortunately, Surfer’s a bit too pure and powerful to hold down there and could only be bound to Hell if Surfer agreed to it. Mephisto came up with an offer that he’d not only let the Fantastic Four go, but he’d remove all of his demons from Earth. To show he meant business, Mephisto killed Johnny. Surfer signed his stupid contract and remained in Hell, covered in tiny demons while showing no real discomfort because he’s the goddamn Silver Surfer.
For a time, Earth was peaceful. Even the Punisher felt the need to retire. Mephisto boasted about how it was only temporary. Mankind is corrupt and his demons would be summoned by their evil soon enough. Surfer bitched him out a bit, making Mephisto decide that he was done toying with the hero. He snuffed him out and laughed about it. Only then Surfer reappeared, glowing more than before and burning Mephisto by being in his mere presence. His soul was so pure that it tortured Mephisto and due to Mephisto’s plotting, Surfer was unable to leave his domain. In the end, the Devil found himself in his own Hell.
WHAT IF NAMOR JOINED THE FANTASTIC FOUR?What If (volume 2) #27 (1991)Ron Marz and Gavin Curtis
Rather than just Johnny Storm, the entire Fantastic Four was there when Namor regained his memories and swore to get revenge on humanity. Sue calmed him down and offered him a spot on the team. Namor was taken in by their offer in the face of his rage and swore loyalty. Having him on the team made things a whole lot easier. He and Thing were able to punch out the Hulk, Super-Skrull was a piece of cake, Namor saw eye-to-eye with Mole Man, and so on. The only negative aspect was that Reed lost any romantic chance he had with Sue, as Namor ended up marrying her.
That piece of the puzzle was taken care of when Reed left the team to start his own technology company. He hired an attractive, female assistant named Lissette Orlova, who fell in love with him, but also turned out to be a Latverian spy blackmailed by Dr. Doom to betray him. In the end, everything worked out and Reed realized that he loved her as well. The two were married and years later we’d see Sue and Namor’s son working together with Reed and Lissette’s daughter.
WHAT IF SPIDER-MAN HAD KEPT HIS COSMIC POWERS?What If (volume 2) #31 (1991)Glenn Alan Herdling and Scott Alan McDaniel
During the big Acts of Vengeance storyline, Spider-Man became host to the Uni-Power, making him Captain Universe. In this issue, the wandering force chose to stay within Peter Parker’s body. That made for an intriguing story that showed how Spider-Man’s, “With great power comes great responsibility,” mantra worked when he had much more power than he was used to. The truth was, it had a pretty bad effect on him. He became less about his loved ones and more about seeing himself as a god. At least it made it really easy when fighting the likes of Hobgoblin, Venom, and the entire Iraqi army.
Spider-Man got in a confrontation with Dr. Doom, who had former Captain Universe Ray Coffin as a hostage. Spider-Man refused to give in, causing Doom to snap Coffin’s neck. That led to some massive in-fighting within Peter’s soul, leaving him open for Doom to shoot an energy-siphoning ray with intent on stealing the power for himself. Since this was a Doombot, his body rejected it and it returned to Spider-Man. He destroyed the Doombot and then used the ray on himself, causing the Captain Universe energy to momentarily bathe the entire human race before dissipating.
In that moment, all of humanity joined at the soul and grew a deeper understanding, causing a bigger step towards world peace than punching giant robots ever would. It came at the cost of Peter’s spider powers, but that was fine with him. He got to go back to living with Mary Jane as they welcomed their new daughter into the world. Of course, their daughter was born with glowing, white eyes…
WHAT IF THANOS CHANGED GALACTUS INTO A HUMAN BEING?What If (volume 2) #34 (1992)Scott Gimple and Tom Morgan
Without hyperbole, this is literally my favorite story in comic book history. It’s only seven pages long, but I love it to death and it always puts me in a good mood.
During the Infinity Gauntlet fiasco, this version of Thanos decided to transform Galactus into a human and send him to Earth. Total coincidence, the amnesiac Galactus looked and sounded just like Elvis Presley. He stumbled into the trailer home of a woman named Gertrude, who recognized him as Elvis and tried to jog his memory. Galactus still couldn’t remember who he was, but he found a home with Gertrude and her son Toby. He decided that he’d get back into the game and make up for all of the terrible mistakes in Elvis’ first go around, like drugs and bad movies.
The world became aware of Elvis’ return and right before he could make good on his comeback, Adam Warlock appeared and willed him his memory back. Galactus realized who he truly was, but stepped away from godhood in order to live on Earth as Elvis Presley. With a wink to the reader, Adam Warlock knew that this was meant to be. As the King took the stage, we could see his shadow in the form of a dancing Galactus. Our host the Watcher plucked on his suspenders and said that for once, he’d like to be known as the Listener.
WHAT IF SPIDER-MAN HAD KEPT HIS SIX ARMS?What If (volume 2) #42 (1992)Michael Gallagher and Kevin West
Spider-Man had a bunch of extra arms for a bit until Morbius the Living Vampire fixed it. So what if Morbius was eaten by a bunch of sharks? We would have been spared his last solo series, so I like this reality already. Spider-Man sought out the likes of Dr. Connors, Charles Xavier, and Reed Richards, but they all had the same bad news: it was permanent and there was nothing to be done. I mean, they could have just cut the extra arms off, but that probably would look really weird when Peter would wear tight shirts.
Spider-Man ended up accepting his fate and with some gadgets from Reed, he was able to make his extra arms invisible when visiting Aunt May. He snuck away from his human life for good once Aunt May succumbed to an illness and dedicated himself to being Spider-Man 24/7. With his added resolve, added limbs, and extra strength, he became a greater force of good. Villains were easier to deal with, he was able to save Gwen Stacy’s life, and even the public seemed to understand what he was going through and sympathized with him. Spider-Man went on to become a spokesman for the physically challenged, as his ability to stand tall in light of his disfigurement was found inspiring.
WHAT IF THE PUNISHER BECAME CAPTAIN AMERICA?What If (volume 2) #51 (1993)Simon Furman and Paris Cullins
Frank Castle is a lost cause of a human being, but perhaps there was another way. A battle between Captain America and the Red Skull didn’t go so well for Cap and he was put in critical condition. Weakly, he said that there needed to be another to wield the shield. Frank Castle was at the top of the list, but he turned it down because he wanted to spend time with his family. Others tried to be the new Cap, but failed for different reasons. Then the Castle family was wiped out by the Costa Family and Frank agreed to the government’s terms.
Being a superhero wasn’t enough and Frank’s bloodlust grew out of control. He started moonlighting as the Punisher to hunt down the Costas and make them pay. This made the government nervous about the impending scandal and they sent the one man capable of stopping him: Steve Rogers. Though still dressed as Cap, Rogers showed that he was more machine than man due to what happened to him and Captain America needed to be a man made of flesh and blood.
Soon after, Frank had one of the Costa brothers cornered. He was ready to pull the trigger, but Rogers’ words stung in his head. Before it was too late, he reflected on his actions and realized the example he would have been setting for his son. Understanding that his revenge was nothing but self-serving, he took Costa into custody. He then noticed that Rogers was in the room the entire time and allowed him to make the choice. Rogers handed him the shield as if passing a torch. While Rogers fought against evil as the Captain, Frank Castle retired the Punisher persona for good and inspired many as Captain America.
WHAT IF J. JONAH JAMESON ADOPTED SPIDER-MAN?What If (volume 2) #82 (1996)WM Messner-Loebs and Anthony Williams
This one started with a great tragedy as the Chameleon’s original caper literally blew up in his face when he caused the rocket piloted by John Jameson to crash back to Earth. A distressed Jonah found Peter Parker crying over the body of Aunt May, a victim of the explosion, and tried to comfort him. Together they spent the next few weeks united in their grief, which translated into Jonah adopting Peter as his son.
Peter was given a fairly cushy life, eventually getting to run his own separate newspaper. The problem was that Jonah’s hatred for Spider-Man was greater than ever due to his belief that he was the one behind John’s death. His obsession led to the creations of the Spider-Slayer, the Scorpion suit, and offering a million dollar bounty for Spider-Man’s identity. When the well-meaning Flash Thompson took the Scorpion serum and went insane, Peter had had enough. He revealed himself to Jameson, bitched him out, and swung off to go stop Flash.
Jameson’s reaction was unexpected. He was horrified that Peter hated him and when Betty Brant happily told him that the city was swarming with villains out for the reward, Jameson stood alone and realized how self-destructive and hollow his vendetta truly was. With Spider-Man overwhelmed by his rogues’ gallery, Jameson came to the rescue in the form of the Spider-Slayer, helping turn the tide. After that, the two became a Heroes for Hire outfit known as Jameson and Son. Peter wasn’t so keen on Jonah’s idea of franchising it, though.
WHAT IF STARRING WOLVERINE: HORSEMAN OF WARWhat If #111 (1998)Tom DeFalco and Adam DeKraker
Back when Wolverine had the bone claws, Apocalypse henchman Genesis tried to recoat his skeleton with adamantium as part of the process of turning him into the Horseman of War. Had he succeeded, it would have worked in a way Apocalypse could not have forseen. In a fit of mindless rage, the powered-up Wolverine turned on Apocalypse and slaughtered him, as well as all the other followers. Then he went after the other X-Men villains. Then other supervillains in general. Then murderers, terrorists, child abusers, drug traffickers, corrupt politicians, etc. He became an omnipresent boogeyman who simply could not be stopped. Governments desperately changed their ways out of fear in hopes that War would not come for them. And for over a hundred years, there was no sign of him.
Officer Kraal was a member of War Watch, a police force charged with keeping the peace, usually challenged by no more than the occasional anarchist gang. Kraal began to question his role in War Watch, which led to him going to a retreat run by monks. One monk, the founder of the retreat, was an old man named Brother Xavier. Kraal bonded with him, got some advice, and was told that Brother Xavier knew War a long time ago. If it isn’t obvious enough, Brother Xavier is Wolverine with a hood obscuring his face.
Kraal eventually—actually, forget it. The story isn’t all that interesting and the cool parts about Wolverine slaughtering evil to bring about a better world is glossed over via exposition. Short version is that Wolverine brought about world peace by slicing and dicing so many bad guys.
WHAT IF JESSICA JONES HAD JOINED THE AVENGERS?2005Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
Bendis wrote two What If issues and they’re both pretty funny because “Mr. Decompressed Storytelling” is forced to write 22-page one-shots filled with exposition. With Bendis’ style, the actual divergent reality aspect is only covered for about half of the comic. Anyway, as part of the Alias series, Jessica Jones was mind-controlled to fight the Avengers and got curb-stomped. The team felt sorry about it and offered her a spot on the roster as a SHIELD liaison. Normally, she refused, but here, Captain America helped her reconsider.
Jessica tried not to have a physical role on the team, but she repeatedly found herself putting herself on the line to save her teammates. Most importantly, her role as an outside pair of eyes made her realize that Scarlet Witch was going through some serious mental issues at the time and brought it to Captain America’s attention. Avengers Disassembled and House of M were completely nipped in the bud. All that, and Captain America fell for her, leading to their marriage.
WHAT IF: FEATURING PLANET HULK2007Greg Pak and Gary Erskine
Planet Hulk came from a failed attempt to send the Hulk to a peaceful planet with no intelligent life to annoy him. The reason the Illuminati tricked him was because they felt that Banner would accept the offer, but Hulk wouldn’t. In this reality where they succeeded in getting Hulk to the correct planet, it was really Hulk who loved mingling with nature and Banner who hated it and wanted to find his way home. The two personalities went to war with each other, partially over the treatment of a weird cat/lizard hybrid species that had taken a shining to the Hulk. Hulk wanted them protected while Banner wanted to hunt them down and eat them.
The two finally found an understanding when Banner realized that Hulk had become like a god to those little creatures and their home was surrounded by giant Hulk statues to scare away would-be predators. Many, many years later, we would see the legend being told by an evolved, humanoid version of one of the cat/lizard creatures to his son. The father claimed it was merely a story, just as legit as the claims that there were giant snakes in the forest, not noticing the one creeping up on them. The snake was pulled away at the last second and the son looked behind him to see the Hulk… sort of.
It was really a more slender incarnation of the Hulk with a thinner, more human-like face. He held the knocked out snake over his shoulder and playfully gestured for the kid not to say anything. It seemed that in this world, Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk were able to finally find true peace and merge into one.
WHAT IF: CIVIL WAR2008Christos Gage and Harvey Tolibao
As far as I’m concerned, this issue did the best job of cutting Civil War to its core instead of getting muddied up by writers trying to depict Iron Man as Hitler and all that other crap that made the event insufferable. With an Ed Brubaker-penned framing sequence, Uatu the Watcher appeared before Tony Stark at Captain America’s grave (a reference to Frank Miller’s What If Elektra Had Lived?) to show him two divergent realities. One was about all of the superheroes rallying behind Cap because Iron Man had died during the Extremis story. That turned out bad for everyone involved and proved Stark’s point that his actions were sound.
Then Uatu showed him another world where in the middle of the war, Stark showed a little more tact and told Cap that he believed in pro-registration but needed Cap’s help to keep him honest and make sure he was doing it right. Cap didn’t electrocute him as he did in the regular continuity and while the cyborg Thor clone did show up, both sides of the Civil War teamed up to wipe him out, ultimately preventing the death of Bill Foster.
Tony and Steve talked out their differences, coming to an agreement that Cap would be the perfect figurehead for the registration process instead of leaving it in government hands. While neither was 100% sure of it, they convinced the public that it was a good idea, thereby forcing the government to give in. What we got was essentially the Heroic Age, only with Sentry and Bill Foster still around. It ended with a rather ho-hum scene of the two hanging back and going over meeting notes while drinking coffee, glad that things worked out. Cut back to the cemetery in regular continuity, where Tony Stark came to realize that had he been less of a dick about his stance, things would have been a whole lot better for everyone involved.