What If is one of my all-time favorite Marvel series. Every single issue is a grab bag of creative teams and creative decisions where you can find gold or garbage or something in-between. But even when it’s bad, you’re going to find something interesting. The rules are out the window and for better or worse, you’re probably going to get something creative. Continuity is only a building block and is not a goal. Heroes and villains can die, succeed, and fail in ways that would be unlikely in the mainstream.
It all began in 1977, where we got to see What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four? That run went on for 47 issues, only for the concept to reprise with a one-shot What If Iron Man Had Been a Traitor? in 1988 and a new ongoing starting with What If the Avengers Lost the Evolutionary War? the year following. That series went on for 114 issues, plus a -1 issue because that was a thing Marvel was doing at the time. Seven years later, What If would return in 2005 as an annual batch of comics where 5-7 issues would be released in a cluster. Some of them would be based on a gimmick or specific event.
Overall, there have been over 200 issues of What If. I’ve read every single one of them. Rather than list the best issues, I’d rather talk about the best moments from the series. The awesome moments in a series where nothing is sacred.
I’m going to limit myself to one entry per issue, EXCEPT if there are multiple stories in one issue. For instance, What If? Featuring Planet Hulk has two separate storylines in there and both will be included here.
Also, I’m only doing books with the What If title. Earth X, The Last Avengers Story, Bullet Points, Marvel Zombies, and so on don’t count.
100. THE MONSTROUS FOUR
What If the Fantastic Four All Had the Same Power? (1990)
This issue tells four different tales based on the Fantastic Four’s initial space adventure giving them all the same power set. They became invisible agents of SHIELD, irresponsible fire-wielding superheroes, and straight-up went their separate ways because four stretchy superheroes sounds dumb as hell.
In one world, they all became monsters. While Ben became the iconic, rocky version of the Thing, Johnny became the original, mushy version and Reed transformed into a purple version of the Hulk, including the bullying personality. But what was truly shocking to the four of them was the state of Sue, who had become Man-Thing. Or Invisible Woman-Thing.
Like regular Man-Thing, Sue didn’t speak or even gesture. Instead, she just stood around with tears forming around her eyes. Johnny’s completely broken reaction to seeing her like that is heartbreaking and led to Reed’s decision to have them all live on Monster Isle for the rest of their days.
99. SCAR OF THE DOG
What If? Featuring Wolverine (2005) Daniel Way and Jon Proctor
One story came up with the high concept of Wolverine becoming the Punisher in the 1920s. It wasn’t much because, really, there aren’t enough differences between the characters to make it compelling. The one nice touch (outside of his skull shirt being the flag of a pirate-themed bar that got burned down) is the use of the villain. The bar, which had Logan’s baby and baby’s momma in there, was destroyed by Scarface, the infamous gangster from Chicago.
We later discover that this isn’t Al Capone. No, this Scarface gets his name from the three claw marks decorating his face. This universe’s Scarface is none other than Logan’s brother Dog from Wolverine: Origins.
98. THE FANTASTIC BLUNDER
What If the Fantastic Four Had Lost the Trial of Galactus? (1990)
Roy Thomas, RJM Lofficier, and Greg Capullo
This is from a mostly dull issue, but I always laughed at the, “Well, that escalated quickly!” factor of it all.
Once upon a time, Reed Richards could have killed Galactus but decided not to for reasons. The Shi’ar put Reed on trial for letting Galactus live. Nova convinced Galactus to defend Reed and explain why Galactus’ survival is important to the universe. In this What If reality, Galactus decided not to and Reed is executed.
The remaining Fantastic Three chose to target Lilandra, but since they were without the resident genius, they went at her a little too hard. They entered Shi’ar airspace in a stolen Skrull spacecraft and the moment they got opposed by their forces, they scrambled for a weapon. They found Annihilus’ Cosmic Rod and figured that not only would that make for a good projectile, but the Skrull technology would make it many times more powerful than it already was!
This is like bringing a nuke to a knife fight.
Our heroes accidentally blew up the whole Shi’ar throne world and, well, didn’t make things any better for anyone.
97. MINDS OVER GALACTUS
What If the Age of Apocalypse Had Not Ended? (1996)
Mariano Nicieza and Kevin Hopgood
Marvel has made several attempts to follow-up on the Age of Apocalypse reality and the first one wasn’t very good. Taking place two years after the events of the initial story, it has to do with the human and mutant survivors finding out about the coming of Silver Surfer and Galactus to devour their world.
There’s some general strangeness to it all like Hulk being called “Thing,” Quicksilver getting together with Gwen Stacy, and the really, really stupid scene where Silver Surfer tries to sneak up on Wolverine, only to get stabbed in the stomach and die.
Galactus’ death, on the other hand, was a bit better. Night Thrasher, of all people, fiddled around with some Watcher tech to turn himself into some powerful being made of awful mid-90s comic book CGI. In an act that would be reused in the Ultimate universe, Night Thrasher joined with the minds of everyone on Earth in order to overwhelm Galactus. Though many died from the strain, the divided world of humans and mutants stood together and pumped their fists in the air in solidarity until Galactus finally had a big, galactic aneurism and went down for the count.
96. THE BEST FOUR HORSEMEN EVER
What If? Featuring X-Men: Age of Apocalypse (2007)
Rick Remender and Dave Wilkins
Hey, speaking of Age of Apocalypse!
In this reality, Legion’s plan to go back in time and kill Magneto screwed up and he took out Magneto and Xavier. What followed was Rick Remender throwing a bunch of crazy ideas against the wall, including Brother Voodoo as Sorcerer Supreme, which he’d be writing in main continuity a few years later.
While Nathan Summers and Molecule Man took on Apocalypse himself (who only appeared in a whopping two pages of this story), the other heroes fought Apocalypse’s absolutely stacked Four Horsemen. They included Storm, Namor, Hulk, and Juggernaut. Goddamn!
By the time the dust settled, the only good guys left standing were Wolverine and a Mjolnir-wielding Captain America.
95. MEPHISTO’S FRIGHTFUL FOUR
What If This Was the Fantastic Four? (2008)
Jeff Parker, Mike Wieringo, and various others
There have been four different What If issues dedicated to the New Fantastic Four, the makeshift replacement team created as a marketing stunt/parody of marketing stunts from the 90s. Two issues were specifically made about the original team dying and Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk, and Ghost Rider remaining a permanent team. The What If issue from the 90s played up how in-over-their-heads this team of loners would be against the sum of Fantastic Four threats and their solo adversaries like Abomination and Lady Deathstrike.
This issue – a tribute to Mike Wieringo, who tragically passed away during the making of it – went even further. Yeah, having to fight Super-Skrull and Sandman sucks, but don’t forget that the New Fantastic Four had Ghost Rider on the team! He takes on biblical threats!
This culminated in a new Frightful Four made up of Sandman, Abomination, Sabretooth, and Venom. Each one with horns and pentagrams on their heads along with a little extra power. They were controlled by Dr. Doom possessed by Mephisto himself, but luckily Spider-Man’s quick-thinking and Doom’s self-sacrifice in the name of ego were enough to put an end to that threat.
94. THE PUNISHER’S PUBLICITY
What If the Punisher’s Family Hadn’t Been Killed? (1990)
Doug Murray and Rik Levins
This issue is one of those that people make fun of because, in the end, Frank Castle’s family dies and he becomes the Punisher to avenge them anyway. Well…yeah. One of the points of the Punisher is that the world fucking sucks and is overrun with violent corruption.
Since the Castles weren’t shot up by the mob, Frank went on to become a police officer. This timeline caused him to respect superheroes more, not just from being on their side of the law, but because his son idolized them. Then he became aware of corruption in the police department and after gathering enough evidence to expose it, his family got wasted. He was assumed to be among the dead.
The Punisher went on the expected killing spree, but with a difference. He actually cared about how people thought of him. He focused on taking out the corrupt and he wanted the public to know that’s why those people were dying. Pulling the trigger was no longer enough and he instead started sending evidence to newspapers to explain his actions.
He was more or less the same vigilante, but the public saw him in a different light as a violent conscience existing to offset the crooked.
93. WITH YOUR POWERS COMBINED…
What If the Hulk Had the Brain of Bruce Banner? (1977)
Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
It only took two issues for What If to get really weird. Rather than being a huge jerk or a simple-minded monster, Hulk retained Banner’s personality and intellect. This alteration led to the end of the three major Marvel teams. Hulk wasn’t so easily tricked by Loki, meaning the Avengers never came to be. He helped Reed Richards cure the Thing, meaning the Fantastic Four broke up. Then Charles Xavier decided that he’d rather hang out and do science stuff with Hulk and Reed instead of having the X-Men exist.
Galactus showed up and the shit hit the fan. The three men were overwhelmed individually, so they instead merged their minds together to create X-Man – a big, gold man in his underwear. After smacking Ben Grimm aside and re-radiating him, X-Man went off to have a big staring contest with the G-Man.
Galactus flew off to space because he really didn’t have time for this crap.
92. THE SINISTER JAMESON
What If Spider-Man Had Never Become a Crimefighter? (1980)
Peter Gillis and Pat Broderick
J. Jonah Jameson has always been an antagonist to Spider-Man, but we’ve never seen him as an outright bad guy. He’s just a well-meaning loud mouth with an axe to grind and a very vocal opinion.
This issue tackled one of the easiest What If concepts: what would have happened had Spider-Man stopped that burglar when he had the opportunity? On one hand, Uncle Ben would have been fine, but on the other hand, Peter wouldn’t have learned a thing.
Spider-Man became sort of an asshole version of El Santo. A guy who’d keep his identity a secret while starring in superhero movies as himself. Parker became a huge name in the entertainment industry and it led to a big, heated rivalry with Jameson. The fact that Jameson’s astronaut hero son died (because there was no webbed superhero to save him), didn’t help matters.
In the media war between the two, Spider-Man won out. Jameson lost everything. So when Spider-Man and Daredevil (his client/bodyguard) were faced with the Sinister Six, it wasn’t that much of a surprise who their cloaked leader was. Only after defeating and unmasking the desperate and crying villain did Spider-Man realize what his lack of responsibility had created.
91. THE DEATH OF GAMBIT
What If? Starring Gambit (1998)
Tom DeFalco and Leo Fernandez
At one point, it was discovered that back in the day, Gambit sold out some Morlocks to the Marauders. The punishment was excommunication for however long that lasted.
The What If decided that maybe Archangel would feel more than a little raw over the whole ordeal. Rather than letting Gambit be, he decided to hunt him down himself. This led to a Morlock-style trial by combat where Gambit attempted to warn Archangel about how damaging killing someone can be. Archangel won, but chose to spare Gambit, saying he never wanted to see him again. With Wolverine off to the side as the sage mentor who expected all of this to happen, it felt like they should have just went with this in the canon comics proper.
Then Marrow, a Morlock herself, decided this wasn’t good enough and tossed a piece of bone into Gambit’s chest, killing him. Gambit’s final moments in Rogue’s arms were him condoning Marrow’s actions while pleading with the team to resolidify and allow the circle of hate to end with him.
90. FALL OF THE CARNAGE COSMIC
What If? Starring the Avengers (1998)
Tom DeFalco and Sergio Cariello
There was a brief Spider-Man story where the Carnage symbiote attached itself to the Silver Surfer, creating the Carnage Cosmic. It went back to Cletus Kasady before anything much could happen and that was that.
Naturally, there was an issue about the symbiote staying with Surfer. Instead of just Spider-Man, it was opposed by the Avengers. Although there were no superhero casualties, Carnage Cosmic defeated Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor with little issue. Spider-Man made it apparent that only one hero had a shot at taking him down. Firestar wasn’t much on killing, but considering her microwave powers were kryptonite to the symbiote, she figured Spider-Man was talking about her.
He wasn’t. Her microwave blasts certainly helped, but only by weakening the symbiote so that the Silver Surfer could temporarily take control. It was all he needed as he flew off into space and went right into the sun, killing himself along with the murderous parasite.
89. THE SIEGE MASSACRE
What If? #200 (2010)
Marc Guggenheim and Dave Wilkins
The 200th issue of What If went with the idea of Ares getting torn in half the night before the Siege on Asgard instead of during it. This acted as a thin excuse for Guggenheim to write the Sentry/Void, as well as the other Dark Avengers, viciously annihilating nearly all the heroes. It made little sense, but at least it was well-drawn murder porn.
The only real development in the story had the Cabal try to turn the Sentry on Norman Osborn by having Emma Frost mentally show him that Osborn had Hawkeye kill the Sentry’s wife. Instead of a big game saver, all it did was allow the Sentry to fully hand over the keys to the Void, who wiped out Bullseye, the Cabal, Osborn, the US military, whatever heroes and villains were left on Earth to oppose him (the hopeless and blood-splattered faces of Wrecker and Valkyrie are utterly haunting), and later tore the whole planet to pieces.
But at least Dr. Doom, faced with utter oblivion, made it clear that screwed or not, he was not going to bend his knee to the Void for any reason.
88. SOMETHING MOVES THE BLOB
What If the Hulk Killed Wolverine? (1993)
John Arcudi and Armando Gil
This issue is yet another instance of a character murdering a dozen known heroes for the sake of not being in continuity. In this case, the executioner was Gray Hulk, who went on a bit of a rampage after successfully killing off Wolverine. He was challenged by the combined might of the X-Men and Freedom Force and continued to end lives with his mindless rage.
Most of the deaths were pretty by the books, but Hulk at least got to look godly upon taking out the Blob. Pyro blasted flames at Hulk, hoping to be able to burn into his hide. Hulk defended himself by grabbing the Blob, picking him up off the ground, using him as a shield from the flames, and then dropped Blob’s carcass onto Pyro.
Immovable object? Not when Hulk’s around.
87. SPIDER-MAN’S SPECIAL TRIGGER
What If? Spider-Man Versus Wolverine (2007)
Jeff Parker, Paul Tobin, and Clayton Henry
Once upon a time, there was a crossover one-shot where Spider-Man and Wolverine fought it out, ending with a female spy tricking Spider-Man into punching her at full force because dying was better than being caught by the Russians. The What If version of it had Wolverine offer Peter redemption by saving her sister, Alex.
Trained by the legendary spy known as The Rook, Spider-Man saved Alex and became a black ops specialist. Spider-Man, Alex, and Wolverine became a tight-knit trio of mercenaries who gave their money to various charities. Over time, we got to see Spider-Man get over his iconic hatred of killing, leading up to a sweet moment where he took on an assassin brandishing two katanas.
Spider-Man attempted to web him, but he chopped through the webs and laughed it off. Spider-Man then shrugged, made a handgun gesture, and shot him in the head.
Clayton Henry using the unused Spider-Man movie costume for this issue was inspired.
86. THE MAD CAPTAIN
What If? Infinity: Thanos (2015)
Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson
One of those things that makes comic fans all tingly is when you mix and match characters and weapons. Remember that time Superman wielded Cap’s shield and Mjolnir? That was the stuff.
Joshua Williamson wrote a handful of Infinity-based issues of What If and one of them had Thanos join the Avengers in their big space war rather than invade Earth. While he was able to start a fun bromance with Thor, he proved Cap’s paranoia right by revealing that at one point he knocked up a Builder and since “kill all my kids” is Thanos’ deal these days, he used the Avengers as a means to an end on that.
Thanos ended up killing Cap and convinced everyone that he died alongside him on the battlefield. Yes, it was a dark ending, and even ended with Thanos inserting himself into the Illuminati, but seeing Thanos kicking alien ass with Captain America’s mighty shield and declaring, “AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!” is some damn fine alternate universe shit.
85. THE LAST DAYS OF WILSON FISK
What If the Kingpin Owned Daredevil? (1995)
DG Chichester and Tom Grindberg
Wilson Fisk became aware of the murder of Jack Murdock and wasn’t happy. The Fixer overstepped his boundaries. At the same time, he was intrigued to discover that young Matt Murdock was an associate of one Stick…and also had interest in a future in law. The Kingpin adopted Matt and won him over via eliminating anyone who had anything to do with Jack’s death.
Matt grew up to be the Fisk personal lawyer and worked to get his father saved from all charges against his name. For the most part, his own supporting cast moved on to have better lives without him. Yet despite Matt being used for corrupted purposes, his adopted father was inspired to become a better person and intended to truly go legitimate.
This angered Richard Fisk, who already felt jealous over how much his father loved Matt. Richard shot up his father and within minutes, Matt murdered Richard in revenge.
Matt remained at Wilson’s side for the remainder of his life, showing us how close the two truly were in this timeline. Matt was basically given the keys to the criminal underworld after Wilson passed and with it only came a feeling of emptiness.
84. VISION OF THE DARK FUTURE
What If Vision of the Avengers Conquered the World? (1990)
Roy Thomas, RJM Lofficier, and Ron Wilson
There was a time when Vision took over all computers on Earth and became a red-faced SkyNet. One issue of What If embraced this in two separate ways. One had Vision aid all the heroes in turning Earth – and later the universe – into a utopia. It was kind of boring.
The second story had those heroes nuked by a nervous foreign government trying to wipe out Vision. Vision survived, as you could guess, but the world fell to chaos. And so, Vision reached out to the likes of Kingpin, Dr. Doom, Hydra, and the Mad Thinker. Together, they conquered Earth.
Centuries later, Vision’s forces continued to conquer the universe. He was represented by a clone of Dr. Doom, an android with the mind of the Mad Thinker, and an ever-changing ruler of Hydra. Sorry, Kingpin, but history forgot about your ass.
The story revolved around the conflict between Vision’s villains and the alliance between the Skrulls, Kree, and Badoon. Watching assholes kill assholes makes this an interesting story to read, even if Vision’s side had to remind us a couple times that the Nazis totally had it going on.
83. DEVIL WITH A RIFLE
What If? Featuring Daredevil (2006)
Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards
Rather than alter a moment in Marvel history, one issue decided to just straight up do “Daredevil, but in Feudal Japan.” Honestly, the mapping of the concept is so easy that most with a basic understanding of Daredevil could write it in their sleep.
Rich Veitch threw in a nice curveball. Yes, he had a young, blind samurai fighting alongside a geisha-turned-assassin as they opposed a large Shogun who did sumo wrestling on the side, but he decided that Masahiro – the Devil Who Dares – and Matthew Murdock were two completely separate people. Murdock, driven by the death of his friend Foggy Nelson, served in the Civil War, survived, and became a rifle-wielding mercenary in Japan.
Known as Bullseye, Murdock seemed to shoot down Elektra at first, but then revealed that he had switched sides. The Shogun unknowingly revealed that he was behind Foggy’s death, making him Bullseye’s true target.
After the adventure, Masahiro and Elektra were married with Murdock as the best man. Murdock went on to become the first ambassador to Japan.
82. BADASS OF THE SEA
What If Invisible Girl of the Fantastic Four Married the Sub-Mariner? (1980)
Bill Mantlo and Gene Colan
The very first What If issue, What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?, ended with Sue Storm leaving the team and shacking up with Namor. Two years later, they did a sequel where Spider-Man immediately left the team, Thing left shortly after, and Reed and Johnny went mad with rage over Namor stealing Sue away.
Reed’s attempt at an international incident involved enhancing Johnny’s Human Torch powers to the point that he could Flame On underwater. When confronted with this, Namor tossed a net over him, put him in a bearhug, and dropped him with a headbutt. TO A MAN ON FIRE!
Then Namor found out that Sue was in labor with his kid and decided that he didn’t have time to have his manly chest and arm burns treated. Reed should have just bowed out of his little war from there because holy shit!
81. DR. STRANGE, MARTIAL ARTIST SUPREME
What If Daredevil Was the Disciple of Doctor Strange? (1996)
Ian Edgington, Mike Baron, and Rafael Kayanan
Few issues had a better high concept than Dr. Strange joining the Chaste instead of seeking out the Ancient One. More specifically, when Strange was wallowing about his broken hands, Stick showed up to tell him, “Those legends about the Ancient One are fake. Now, if you really want answers, I know a place that can help you.”
Strange was made spiritually whole as a ninja trainee in this reality the same way he was as a sorcerer in regular continuity. Unfortunately, he botched it when he tried to mentor Matt Murdock, who went on to join the Hand.
Then lots of cool fight scenes happened. It’s a good issue.
80. NATASHA’S VALKYRIES
What If? Age of Ultron #3 (2014)
Joe Keatinge, Mico Suayan, and Raffaele Ienco
The forgettable Marvel event Age of Ultron had a bit where Wolverine kept messing around with the timestream. Doing so caused havoc across the multiverse and random figures started simply dying of aneurisms. In one world, Tony Stark keeled over before the Armor Wars could end. In another world, Steve Rogers had an aneurism right before falling into the ocean during World War II. But for the issue in question, Thor died while fighting the serpent Jormungand.
Asgardian monsters started to tear the world apart and the last stand came from Nick Fury’s Defenders, made up of Black Widow, Silver Sable, Falcon, Shang-Chi, and Microchip. The neurotic, middle-aged computer nerd seemed to stick out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else and spent the story being verbally thrashed by Fury, who insisted on calling him by his codename despite Micro’s wish to be called Lieberman.
Their ultimate plan to stop Jormungand was to have cause a distraction and get Black Widow to Mjolnir. All the while, Microchip gained the respect of the group by hijacking an army of Doombots to be their first wave. While the ending of the battle was not shown, a flash-forward forty years showed a surviving Nick Fury surveying the statues in honor of those who gave their lives to save mankind.
And he called him “Lieberman.”
79. WE ARE POISON
What If? Spider-Man: The Other (2007)
Peter David and Khoi Pham
In The Other, Spider-Man died, was reborn in a cocoon, talked to a spider god, and came back with more powers that people quickly forgot about. Here, Peter decided that dead meant dead and he wasn’t going to put Mary Jane through the same anguish twice. Arguably noble, but a very, very bad idea.
See, the Venom symbiote could sense something was up and as far as it was concerned, this was like finding a swank hot rod with the keys in the ignition. It left Mac Gargan and found the cocooned body of Peter.
Rather than letting us see the symbiote overwhelm its host, Peter David’s Uatu chose to let us know that going into the details of the months-long battle of wills between Peter Parker and the symbiote would only bring depression and nightmares to the reader. After Peter’s rebirth as “Poison,” Aunt May summed it up by crying, “No…no, it… It can’t be… No… God couldn’t be that cruel…”
78. JANE FOSTER JOINS THE AVENGERS
What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor? (1978)
Don Glut and Rick Hoberg
This is one of many examples of What If introducing an idea that eventually came to be in Marvel continuity. In this instance, it’s Jane Foster becoming Thor…er, Thordis, from picking up the walking stick from Thor’s Marvel origin.
The one panel of Thordis joining the Avengers always got a laugh out of me. 60s super teams in Marvel each had a token female member who was one-dimensional at best. Sue Storm moped about being worthless because she’s a woman, Jean Grey…um…was there, and Wasp wanted to jump the bones of any guy who was halfway decent looking.
So of course with a female version of Thor on the team, the shoe was on the other foot as not only was Hank Pym drooling, but I presume Cap and Iron Man were too.
77. CAPTAIN AMERICA’S WEIRDO AVENGERS
What If Captain America Had Formed the Avengers? (1991)
George Caragonne and Ron Wilson
This issue is a sequel to one that involved the US fighting World War II with an army of super soldiers. Long story short, Captain America got frozen, Red Skull took his identity, took over the country, and turned America into a Nazi wonderland. Cap would be revived, but in a very, very different world. With this different world, he would create a very different Avengers roster.
– Namor, still looking like a jacked Alan Moore from his hobo days.
– The Hulk, otherwise known as Logan, who has gained the power to turn himself into a Wendigo at will.
– Iron Man, worn by the super soldier turncoat Frank Castle (still hella racist).
– Giant Man, real name Sam Wilson (the colorist screwed up in that above image).
– Thor, who is just Thor.
The team ended Red Skull’s hold over the country and died heroically against hundreds of super soldier henchmen. As America gradually began to heal, a statue of the Avengers’ last stand was built in their honor.
76. LOKI’S OUT OF TIME
What If the X-Men Had Stayed in Asgard? (1990)
There was a time when the X-Men and New Mutants went to Asgard and after the adventure, they voted to go back home. In this timeline, nine remained while eight returned to Earth. A lot of fun was had in this issue in a story featuring Frog Thor, Loki, Hela, and more. The X-Men that stayed were all worked into Asgard in interesting ways. For instance, Fandrall the Dashing settled down with Rogue, allowing Nightcrawler to take his spot in the Warriors Three.
Although Loki’s plan didn’t go the way he intended, he still went to the Ones That Sit Above in Shadow and said, “Guys, I brought peace to Asgard. Can’t I rule it now?”
And so, they agreed to his terms. Except, they tossed him into the far future. Loki would rule the empty remains of Asgard at the end of time. Owned.
75. THE OSBORN GENOCIDE
What If? Secret Invasion (2010)
Kevin Grevioux, Karl Bollers, and Pow Rodrix
The take on Secret Invasion is more interesting than expected because the heroes’ failure isn’t the most hellish of possibilities. The Skrulls did indeed make the world a better place and even allowed humans the ability to become biological Skrull converts. Granted, that came with some subtle psychological control, but I’ve seen worse alternate worlds.
Wakanda was the last bastion for superheroes who oppose the Skrulls. On one hand, they had a Skrull-killing virus (a Chekov’s gun from the X-Men tie-in), but on the other hand, they needed to alter the strain so it wouldn’t kill the humans who turned themselves into Skrull hybrids. Especially Aunt May. Behind everyone’s back, Spider-Man contacted Skrull convert and queen’s consort Norman Osborn to help make that strain work. After all, he was smart enough to pull it off and its success would be out of self-preservation.
Sad to say, Osborn went full dickhead on the offer. He disguised himself as Tony Stark, created a vaccine for himself, and then had Thor release the virus across the world, killing billions. He laughed in the faces of the heroes, claiming that he alone ended the Skrull invasion, and was paid back with Bucky-Cap decapitating him with the shield.
74. LOGAN THE FAILED FATHER
What If? Wolverine: Father (2011)
Rob Williams and Greg Tocchini
One thing that’s always stung Wolverine and Daken is the idea that they would each be so much happier if they spent years as father and son. If only Logan was there for Daken growing up. This issue of What If showed that, actually, not really.
Wolverine’s the gruff father figure of the X-Men and Marvel superheroes in general, but it took years of team-building and personal development for him to reach that level. In a world where Logan raised Daken – otherwise known as John in this reality – he utterly failed the boy due to his intent to repress everything that made them them.
A life of repression and lies about his true nature led to John leaving his farmer home and rising up the ranks of the yakuza as Daken. He became the leader of the Japanese underworld at age 22. Logan appeared to beg him to stop all the senseless killing, but Daken instead lashed out, angrily declaring them as nothing but monsters.
With a heavy heart, Logan impaled his son with the Muramasa Blade and then used it on himself, swearing that this path wasn’t the boy’s fault.
73. ROGUE BECOMES WORTHY
What If Rogue Possessed the Power of Thor? (1994)
Simon Furman and John Royle
When Rogue made her debut as an Avengers villain, she famously stole the powers of Ms. Marvel. But what if she tried the same trick on Thor? In this reality, she did just that and not only absorbed his essence, but ability to lift Mjolnir. Unfortunately, while she was able to shrug off the Avengers, she accidentally killed off Mystique and the rest of their mutant criminal faction.
Loki courted the distraught Rogue as an ally and convinced her that Odin was totally deserving of a bruising. Rogue and Loki’s forces fought through various heroes and Asgardians before finding a grief-stricken Odin, broken over the death of his son. Rogue broke down herself, guilt-ridden over ruining the lives of so many, but the essence of Thor himself spoke to her, telling her to truly take up the mantle and prove Mjolnir right.
Rogue turned on Loki and brought great joy to Odin, as Thor’s legend would continue in a different form.
72. CABLE AND STRYFE VS. APOCALYPSE
What If Stryfe Killed the X-Men? (1995)
Mariano Nicieza and JR Justiniano
In the X-Cutioner’s Song storyline, Apocalypse was needed to save Xavier from a techno-organic disease. Here, not only did he fail, but Xavier’s death caused a loud psychic scream that accidentally caused Stryfe to kill Cyclops and Jean Grey. That was only the beginning, as Apocalypse and Stryfe took out a whole lot of X-Men.
Cable became Stryfe’s prisoner and tried his hardest to get through to him about how Apocalypse was the real villain. When the remnants of the X-Men attacked the base and Apocalypse easily shut them down, he offered Stryfe the opportunity to help him kill Cable. Stryfe, shaken up over accidentally killing his “parents” earlier, refused to kill his brother and instead sacrificed himself to stop Apocalypse.
Cable would go on to lead the X-Men, deciding to mesh Xavier’s ideals with his own.
71. BLINK UNLEASHES HELL
What If Blink of Generation X Had Not Died? (1995)
Stefan Petrucha and Greg Luzniak
In this story, when Generation X died in a big boat explosion or whatever, it sent Blink to the realm of the In-Betweener, a cosmic being dedicated to balance. Blink overpowered the god and took over his domain, allowing her to alter history as she saw fit. Like she treated reality as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book and kept pushing towards the happier endings.
Blink couldn’t understand that sometimes tragedy builds towards good and went too far with her powers. Namely, she decided to save Generation X…even though that was the reason she was in power to begin with. Doing so not only broke reality, but caused all the repressed evil and tragedy in the world to pour out like a waterfall. Sentinels, zombies, Red Skull with the Cosmic Cube and Captain America’s corpse, cavemen showing up via time rift, TWO GALACTUSES FIGHTING ON TOP OF A SKYSCRAPER!
Blink was able to set things back the way they were supposed to be and went on to become the In-Betweener’s protégé, as this was all a big learning experience that he allowed her to go through. Kind of wish this was just part of continuity, to be honest.
70. SPIDER-MAN VS. RED SKULL
What If Captain America Were Revived Today? (1994)
Chuck Dixon and Dario Carrasco Jr.
The second volume of What If tried to redo an older story about Captain America being thawed out at a later date. This version had Cap wake up in a world where Red Skull and Dr. Doom each ruled half of the Earth and were constantly at war with each other. All the while, there remained a small resistance out to defeat both factions.
One of the heroes in that team was Spider-Man, who still cracked jokes, but in a more cynical and angry tone. He had plenty to be angry about, as Red Skull’s goons killed Aunt May and then had Peter shipped off to a concentration camp.
During the climactic battle against Red Skull’s army, Spider-Man snuck off to do his own thing. Captain America broke into Red Skull’s lair, ready for the final battle, only to discover Red Skull dead. His eyes bulged from his head as webbing covered his mouth. On the other side of the room, Spider-Man weakly said he wondered if that trick would work. Then he revealed that before Red Skull went down, he caught Spider-Man with a fatal gunshot wound.
69. DR. DOOM DIES SO FRANKLIN CAN BE BORN
What If the Fantastic Five Fought Doctor Doom & Annihilus? (1992)
Roy Thomas, RJM Lofficier, and Joe Phillips
There was a time when Marvel tried to do a five-issue storyline in What If about Uatu the Watcher saving the multiverse. It was a confusing mess and this is the only issue you’ll see on the list. This issue took the original What If issue, What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?, and gave it another sequel. This time, Sue Storm returned to the team instead of marrying known underwater headbutter Namor. The team remained at five and they did the whole storyline where they had to invade the Negative Zone in order to prevent Sue from dying from her pregnancy.
This story had some outside forces interfering because of the dumb Time Quake story arc, but the gist is that Dr. Doom was told about Annihilus’ Comic Rod and thought it would benefit him to steal it before Reed and the others. He succeeded, but then another being showed him that if Reed were to go back empty-handed, Sue would die and Reed’s grief would lead to nuclear annihilation.
Doom then took on Annihilus himself and passed Reed the Cosmic Rod for the safety of his son. The battle seemingly killed them both. The Fantastic 4/5 escaped to save the Fantastic 1/5 and Reed wondered aloud how Doom knew that he’d specifically have a son.
68. SILVER SURFER VS. CAPTAIN MARVEL
What If Captain Marvel Had Not Died? (1990)
SC Ringgenberg and MJ Jorgensen
The good news: in this reality, the team of Reed Richards, Donald Blake, and Stephen Strange were able to cure Mar-Vell of his cancer. The bad news: doing so created a special strain of space cancer that’s very contagious.
Silver Surfer figured this out and flew off to stop Mar-Vell’s inadvertent reign of terror. This led to a pretty rad knock-out-drag-out fight between the two. Kind of like the fight from They Live, only with a chrome space godling yelling at a superhero for being a walking disease. Mar-Vell finally checked out his cosmic awareness and realized, oh shit, he was responsible for so many deaths.
Things worked out for the most part regardless. Although Thing died, Reed came up with a cure and Mar-Vell was able to quarantine himself. The Skrulls and the Kree didn’t get in on that cure action and suffered the consequences, but at least it meant their diminished numbers made galactic war impossible.
67. NUKE VS. KINGPIN
What If Daredevil Had Saved Nuke? (1993)
Ron Marz and Kevin Kobasic
In a tangent of Born Again, Daredevil was able to save Nuke’s life. This made him a bigger target to the Kingpin, who was quick to bring in Bullseye. Bullseye kidnapped Karen Page so that Daredevil could get her back in exchange for Nuke.
Daredevil attempted to talk Nuke down and went after Kingpin alone. Able to make enough sense of what was going on, Nuke followed regardless. He snapped Bullseye’s neck, punched Daredevil aside, and made a go at Kingpin. Kingpin was able to shoot Nuke out the window with a handgun, but that created such a mess of red tape that it caused his own ruination.
66. THE LIVING LASER BANISHES HIMSELF
What If War Machine Had Not Destroyed the Living Laser? (1994)
Dan Slott and Manny Galan
As I said earlier, I’m using one moment per story. This one’s a little different. This What If issue featured a crossroads point where the story branched off into three possible endings. All three possible endings are on this list because it’s a damn good issue.
In canon, Tony Stark, stricken with a horrible illness, faked his own death. Jim Rhodes took over Stark Industries and became Iron Man, not knowing that his friend was still alive. Then the Living Laser showed up to kill Stark and Rhodes said, “He’s already dead. While you’re here with nothing left on your agenda, want a job?” But then he just shot him out of a satellite and blasted him to the other side of the universe.
In this story, Rhodes would be sincere about his offer, especially since Laser used to be a scientist. Everyone had a hard time adjusting, especially with Laser making everyone else antsy. But then the two of them discovered that Stark was alive and that’s when the endings diverged.
In one ending, Laser attacked Stark’s body and then had a big fight with Rhodes. During the battle, Laser realized that despite all the bullshit, Rhodes still took a chance on him and he went and dropped the ball. Laser used the satellite to blast himself across space, making things similar to how they actually played out.
65. GRIMM CLOBBER DOOM!
What If Dr. Doom Had Become the Thing? (2005)
Karl Kesel and Paul Smith
When a young Reed Richards told a young Victor Von Doom that his calculations were incorrect back in college, Doom told him to get bent, but then noticed, hoo boy, that guy was right! Doom befriended Reed, which led to less room for Ben Grimm in Reed’s life. Ben dropped out of college and went into the military while Doom would go on to become the pilot for Reed, Sue, and Johnny’s important space flight.
When in space, Doom attempted to betray his so-called friends and absorbed a bit too much cosmic radiation. The four crashed to Earth, each with their special powers. Doom, meanwhile, was a big rock creature.
The fight led to the site of another big science experiment, overseen by Sgt. Ben Grimm (Doom scheduled it that way to overshadow it). Grimm prevented a trespasser from interfering with Bruce Banner’s gamma bomb test earlier, but the Reed vs. Doom ruckus caused him to run out and he ended up getting nailed by the bomb’s blast. Seeing Doom try to kill his old friend transformed him into a green, hulking monster and he wiped the floor with the rocky Doom until Reed was able to talk sense into him.
64. PUNISHER VS. DRUGGED-UP PETER PARKER
What If the Punisher Killed Daredevil? (1991)
Kurt Busiek and Luke McDonnell
Punisher tends to deal with his well-meaning superhero distractions with non-lethal means. For instance, shooting Daredevil with a tranquilizer dart. So what if he did that while Daredevil was too close to the edge of a building? Well, then you get this gritty Punisher story.
As Kingpin planned his next move around this news, Spider-Man went to go bring Frank to justice once and for all. The Punisher shot and wounded Spider-Man with something he could have walked away from if he didn’t overexert himself, but…he overexerted himself out of panic and passed out. Then everyone found out his secret identity and the Silvermane family blew up Aunt May’s house.
On his way to go after the Kingpin, Punisher was attacked by Peter Parker. Not Spider-Man. Peter. Still dressed in his hospital gown, pumped full of drugs, and recently made aware that Aunt May was dead. A vengeful, mindless Peter that wasn’t holding back. He easily overpowered Punisher and prepared to throw him off a rooftop. Frank then pleaded with him and said he had some info on Aunt May. It was enough to distract the raging vigilante and by letting his guard down, Punisher capitalized by emptying a clip into his skull.
But hey, at least the Punisher didn’t eat his face.
63. SPIDER-MAN’S DELICIOUS FACE
What If Kraven the Hunter Had Killed Spider-Man? (1990)
When Kraven the Hunter caught Spider-Man, he didn’t simply bury him alive. He shot and killed him, removing all hope. Kraven went on to bathe in spiders while eating them by the handful – as one does – and started dressing as a beefier Spider-Man, beating up randos on the street.
Mary Jane convinced Human Torch, Daredevil, and Captain America to look into this. On their own, they couldn’t put a stop to him, but together, they could wear him down. Feeling that he wasn’t strong enough, Kraven ran off to a cemetery, dug up Spider-Man’s grave, and powered up by…well…eating his face. This was 1990, way before you’d see something so gory in a Marvel comic, so they don’t outright say it, but the language and Johnny Storm’s horrified reactions told the story.
Honorable mention goes to Mary Jane getting confirmation of Peter’s death. One of the more heartwrenching moments in any What If comic.
62. HULK VS. THOR TO THE DEATH
What If the Hulk Went Berserk? (1984)
Peter Gillis and Ron Wilson
Haha, the title is about the Hulk going berserk when all he ever does is rage. That sure is an alternate universe, right? Nah, man. In this story, we’re talking about a Hulk who is murderously angry in how furious he is. A Hulk with a psychic connection to Rick Jones, who was tortured to death. A Hulk whose every waking moment is experiencing the echoes of Rick’s painful death on repeat. A Hulk capable of killing Thing, Human Torch, and Iron Man with zero remorse.
This culminated in Hulk and Thor duking it out while not holding back. Hulk was able to knock Mjolnir out of Thor’s hands, meaning Thor had only a minute to either grab his hammer or transform into his human form. With no other choice, he grabbed Hulk by the head and snapped his big, green neck. An instant later, Thor turned into Donald Blake and acted saddened by the dead Bruce Banner before him.
61. A FACEFUL OF KITTY
What If? Wolverine: Enemy of the State (2007)
Jimmie Robinson and Carmine Di Giandomenico
Hydra never lost their hold over Wolverine and it resulted in a genuinely frightening slasher villain amongst the superhero community. Think of all of Wolverine’s advantages mixed with Hydra’s ability to teleport him at will. Having Spider-Man web him up or Magneto hold him in place meant nothing because he could vanish for a while to recuperate or simply appear behind them and dish out a killing blow.
Nobody could stop the wild mutant and he ended up swiping at an intangible Kitty Pryde. She tried to get through to him by talking up their past, but he’d just point out that she’d have to solidify herself at some point, whether it was to eat or sleep. Realizing there was nothing left of her mentor, Kitty phased her forearm into Wolverine’s head right as he slashed at her. Wolverine had Kitty’s mangled, solid hand sticking through his face and it was enough to take him out for good.
60. NORMAN OSBORN’S COSMIC SELF OWN
What If? Infinity: Dark Reign (2015)
Joshua Williamson and Goran Sudzuka
Even though it had absolutely nothing to do with Infinity, there was a neat little issue dedicated to Norman Osborn wielding the Infinity Gauntlet and ruling the world. Much like that Blink story from earlier on the list, his power went to his head and ruined everything.
Osborn pulled his abusive father out into the present to show him all that he had done. His father, despite being an abusive prick, was at least able to identify Norman as a tyrant and a monster. Annoyed, Norman snapped his finger and made his father love him. Thanos arrived shortly after to point out that that’s not exactly how that works. Thanos never made Death love him because that kind of “love” is pointless and meaningless.
After wasting Thanos, Norman confronted his dad and asked him why he loved him. Not pleased with, “You’re my son,” Norman used the Gauntlet’s power to completely wipe Ambrose Osborn from history itself.
By the time he realized that he just negated his very existence, it was too late and the Infinity Gauntlet floated through empty space.
59. THE COMFORT OF THE PHOENIX
What If? Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire (2008)
Christopher Yost and Larry Stroman
Despite some questionable art, I’ve always had a soft spot for this tale of Vulcan being possessed by the power of the Phoenix. Vulcan wasn’t the most popular character in X-Men comics and the final moments of this comic comes off as a rant about why: Vulcan as a villain concept is beyond fucked up and mean-spirited.
The story had the Phoenix-powered Vulcan kill Xavier and Corsair, cut through the galaxy and inadvertently annihilate some cosmic heroes, then go to Earth to take on every Summers-related hero to the point that even Cable showed up. The Phoenix powers started to go a bit wonky and reverted Vulcan to his true form: that of a child. Then he sacrificed himself somehow to prevent the Phoenix Force from going nuts and wiping out reality.
The final pages showed Phoenix talking about how Gabriel Summers’ backstory is sort of gross. So you have a child whose mother was killed spending his childhood as a tortured slave and was only a teenager because of artificial aging. After all that, he was used and betrayed by his new father figure and so-called hero, who made sure nobody remembered he even existed as he spent years in a coma. All the while, despite his chiseled features, he’s still just a little boy. That’s not a supervillain origin! That’s just pure sadism!
Young Gabriel cried, apologized profusely, and said that he should have tried harder. The Phoenix hushed him and gave him a maternal comfort.
58. SLAUGHTER IN THE NAME OF SET
What If the Marvel Super Heroes Lost Atlantis Attacks? (1991)
Jim Valentino and Rik Levins
I love this stupid issue because it cheats so hard. Rather than alter a Marvel event with one moment, it stacked on three separate failures in order to give us a massive “watch all your favorite heroes die!” issue. But man, of all those types of What Ifs, this is arguably the craziest.
Not only had the god Set come to Earth and annihilated nearly all of the Avengers and Fantastic Four, but his followers had polluted the world’s water supply so that it would turn everyone into mindless lizard people. This included a quick appearance by Lizard Jameson and his tiny Hitler mustache. Set had brainwashed several key Marvel women and turned them into his brides.
The remaining heroes and villains, unaffected by the tainted water, included Thor, Dr. Doom, Rachel Summers, Wolverine, Sabretooth, Hulk, Cloak, and Aquarius. One group would go after Set himself while the others would fight the lizard goons and the brainwashed brides.
They had absolutely no trouble taking out all the lizard types, but once the Brides appeared, the heroes had no chance. Scarlet Witch turned Wolverine into antimatter and had him thrown into Aquarius, killing them both. She also hexed Hulk into turning back into Banner just in time to get his head punched into goo.
The others didn’t fare much better. Doom and Thor got roasted while Set feasted on the Phoenix and depowered Rachel. She was flying at the time.
57. THE SKELETAL NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN
What If? Starring Secret Wars, 25 Years Later (1998)
Gregg Schigiel and Jose Marzan Jr
The second volume of What If ended with a story about the original Secret Wars never ending. Galactus and the Beyonder killed each other, taking out Reed Richards in the process. 25 years have passed and the surviving heroes and villains have mostly settled down. Considering this is only one issue, there’s only so much time to dedicate to the cast, which includes classic heroes, classic villains, their power hybrid children, Xavier walking around in Iron Man armor, and black costume Spider-Man.
So what would Spider-Man be like two and a half decades later, knowing what we know of his hungry pants? His little panel time showed him as rather creepy and threatening while referring to himself as “we.”
During the final battle against Vincent Von Doom’s forces, Klaw blasted Spider-Man with his sound ray and revealed that Spider-Man was nothing more than the symbiote covering Peter Parker’s bones. Human Torch seemed in no way surprised about this and the whole situation raises more questions than it answers.
56. RICK REMENDER GETS SOMETHING OFF HIS CHEST
What If Venom Possessed Deadpool? (2011)
Rick Remender and Shawn Moll
Back in the 80s, Deadpool was hired to kill the Beyonder and it led to four decades of humorous weirdness, especially because Deadpool became the new host for Spider-Man’s symbiote costume. The whole thing focused on Venompool’s desire to be seen as a big deal. At one point, that led him down the path of getting involved with the latest comic crossover event Secret Wars Extreme XIII.
While watching a bunch of heroes fight each other, Venompool was visited by 1990s Sentry, complete with leather jacket, sunglasses, and ponytail. Sentry started to go on a rant about bad costumes and bad character redesigns. The outrage was very similar to the backlash to Rick Remender’s Punisher run where Frank Castle was transformed into a Frankenstein monster.
As Remender’s mouthpiece, Venompool pointed out that there’s little difference between a nearby Spider-Man pastiche and a nearby Frankencastle pastiche, but that only proceeded to piss off 90s Sentry more.
But for real, Frankencastle was the best and I would read the hell out of Mummy Moon Knight.
What If The Man-Thing Had Regained Ted Sallis’ Brain? (1981)
Steven Grant and Herb Trimpe
This one is the backup story for What If Captain America Had Been Elected President? A decent issue in its own right.
Dr. Oheimer was able to run some experiments on Man-Thing and ultimately help him regain his old intellect. Usually, that would be cause for celebration. Kind of like having Hulk with Banner’s mind because Banner is a good person. Unfortunately, Ted Sallis…not so good a person.
Man-Thing decided to use his powers and navigation of the Nexus to take over the Everglades and eventually the world. He horribly killed Oheimer and burned down his lab. But due to fate and maybe some nudging from nature itself, an alligator got hit with a dart full of Man-Thing goop during the chaos and it started to transform.
The swampy reptilian confronted the corrupted Man-Thing and they started grappling. The grappling didn’t last long because while Gator-Thing was a mindless beast, Man-Thing had the mind of Ted Sallis. Ted Sallis knew fear. Man-Thing fried at Gator-Thing’s touch and the Nexus had a new champion.
54. THE SUICIDE THING
What If the Hulk Had Evolved into the Maestro? (1995)
James Felder, Kerry Gammill, and Ed Benes
Doc Samson and the Ringmaster had a plan to try and merge all of Hulk’s personalities, but it went very wrong and Hulk became murderous and ready to kill anyone who knew about his history of being abused as a child. This included Betty.
Thing and Mr. Fantastic chased him around a zoo and the Hulk started to war with himself. Various personalities clashed and argued, but it was apparent that soon this new, pure version of the Hulk that we recognize as the Maestro would take over completely. Bruce told Betty he loved her and ran behind Thing (who was extra-mutated due to extra radiation).
With a scream of, “HULK SMASH!” Banner convinced Thing that Hulk was right behind him. Thing let loose with a punch strong enough for the Hulk and hit a fragile, puny man instead. The future would be imperfect, but it wouldn’t be Future Imperfect.
53. AFTERMATH OF A DEAD SPIDER
What If the Punisher Had Killed Spider-Man? (1994)
Chuck Dixon and Gordon Purcell
In an earlier entry, the Punisher killed Daredevil by accident and had Spider-Man, Cloak, and Dagger hunt him down. This time, Punisher killed Spider-Man on purpose, thinking him to be part of the criminal underworld.
Frank immediately found out he was wrong and it was a setup by the Jackal. He also found out that Spider-Man had a ton of friends in the city as a two-page spread showed him being sought out by the likes of Daredevil, Human Torch, Thing, Captain America, Hellcat, Luke Cage, and Hawkeye.
He evaded every one of them, but was discovered by the Vulture in a bar. Vulture introduced him to a collection of Spider-Man villains, all toasting him. Frank turned lemons into lemonade by opening fire on all of them.
52. THE OMNIPOTENT SURFER
What If the Silver Surfer Possessed the Infinity Gauntlet? (1993)
Ron Marz and Scott Clark
Adam Warlock’s plan to snatch the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’ hand actually worked and Silver Surfer got the spoils. Being that he’s one of the most pure-hearted in the universe, Surfer chose himself to wield the ultimate power. It immediately started to seem like a bad idea when Galactus suggested so and Surfer was all, “Yeah, you would think that, but you’re beneath me.”
Surfer did make some attempts to make the universe a better place by ending hunger, destroying diseases, and even turning Death into an alluring figure that people would no longer fear. But then he vaporized Mephisto, turned himself into a giant, and decided that maybe the universe could do without free will.
Dr. Strange brought over Shalla-Bal to help out. At first, Surfer shared some of the power with her and she lashed back. Though that didn’t work out, she was at least able to talk Surfer down and bring back his sanity. Surfer decided that the best course of action would be to use the Gauntlet to destroy itself…along with himself and Shalla-Bal.
In actuality, he created a paradise planet for the two of them to live out the rest of their days.
51. DOOM’S DECISION
What If Dr. Doom Had Become a Hero? (1980)
Don Glut and Fred Kida
In a world where Victor Von Doom listened to Reed Richards’ advice, he became a very different man. No longer bound by petty revenge and vanity, Doom went on a mission to rescue his mother from Hell, liberate Latveria, and reconnect with the love of his life Valeria. Things were pretty great…except Mephisto was not happy about losing Cynthia Von Doom’s soul.
On Doom’s wedding day, Mephisto appeared to him and made him an offer: to replace Cynthia’s soul, Mephisto would have to take either the souls of Latveria, Valeria, or Doom himself. Unfortunately, while a nicer guy in this reality, there was only so far Doom could change from the man we know. He needed his kingdom and his kingdom needed him. He allowed Mephisto to take Valeria.
For every year that followed, Doom would make a failed attempt to rescue her, much like the mainstream Doom did with his mother.
50. STAR-LORD LAYS DOWN THE LAW
What If? Infinity: Guardians of the Galaxy (2015)
Joshua Williamson and Jason Copland
If you ever wanted to see the Illuminati get called out on their shit and have it stick, then here’s the comic for you. Rocket Raccoon decided to hack into Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor to spy on him for entertainment reasons. That’s when he and the rest of the Guardians discovered that the Illuminati were secretly keeping Thanos locked up on Earth.
The Guardians fought the Illuminati and Rocket was able to free Thanos. Why? So that the Guardians, Beta Ray Bill, Annihilus, Gladiator, and other cosmic types could dogpile and kill the Mad Titan. Good times!
When the Avengers showed up in the aftermath, the floating hologram head of Star-Lord appeared to chew out Captain America for allowing this to happen. The Illuminati dropped the ball for the rest of Earth and because of their actions, Earth would be grounded. Nobody was allowed off the big, blue ball. The Guardians were going to guard the galaxy from Earth itself.
49. CONAN THE BARBARIAN KILLS US ALL
What If Wolverine Battled Conan the Barbarian? (1990)
Glenn Herdling and Gary Kwapisz
During the climactic end of The Dark Phoenix Saga, Wolverine wandered into Uatu the Watcher’s domain and got sent through a ride through history as a way of being told to GTFO. In a move that Uatu would pay for moments later, he sent Wolverine back to the age of Cimmeria.
Wolverine fell backwards into a Conan the Barbarian story. He fought and defeated Red Sonja, though he wasn’t keen on the whole, “He who defeats me may lay with me,” rape prize. Clear-headed Wolverine lost against Conan, but then he went all berserker rage and won the rematch.
The sorcerer villain-of-the-week was defeated, but before that, his attempt to send Wolverine back to his era screwed up and Conan time-traveled instead. Wolverine and Sonja went on to have long, adventurous lives together, culminating in them becoming king and queen. Good for them.
Conan, meanwhile, saw the X-Men trying to calm down Phoenix. To him, it looked like demons attacking Sonja. So he beaned Cyclops in the back of the head with a rock. That just set Phoenix off and the last thought before the universe died was, “CROM!”
48. THE AGENTS OF ATLAS TOTALLY HAPPENED
What If the Avengers Had Fought Evil in the 1950s? (1978)
Don Glut, Alan Kupperberg, and Bill Black
Iron Man thought it would be cool to show the Avengers a window into an alternate reality where the heroes of the 1950s were put together by the government. These Avengers were made up of James Woo, 3D Man, Marvel Boy, Gorilla Man, the Human Robot, and Venus, with a little assist by Namora.
After their first adventure, the president asked them to disband because the public wouldn’t be ready to know that they existed. They went their separate ways and so ended the story. The modern Avengers spent a couple pages pointing out the similarities in teams.
But Uatu the Watcher brought up an interesting question. Were they simply looking at an alternate universe or their own history? Who is to say that there were no secret Avengers in the 1950s? It took decades, but we finally got to see that Avengers team live on in the short-lived comic series Agents of Atlas.
47. TASTES LIKE ASGARD
What If? Featuring Thor (2006)
Robert Kirkman and Michael Avon Oeming
In this reality, Galactus decided to feed on Asgard. Thor and company could put up a fight, but they were rightly screwed. That is, until Thor took down Galactus’ nameless herald (a Silver Surfer/Nova hybrid). Galactus offered to spare Asgard if Thor took over as his herald. Thor reluctantly accepted and dropped his hammer, no longer feeling worthy to carry it.
While Thor was off in space, trying to have Galactus only devour evil planets, Loki killed Odin and took over Asgard. Thor went against his job and left Galactus, only to be warned that Asgard was back on the menu. That…did not bode well for Loki’s rule. Thor freed all the prisoners, told them to get everyone they could to Midgard, and rejoined Galactus’ side.
The story was relayed by Balder, who went on to become Chicago’s top superhero.
46. REED’S REVENGE
What If Invisible Girl Had Died? (1983)
Peter B. Gillis and Ron Frenz
In this timeline, Reed and the rest were unable to save Sue from her labor complications. The issue spent time showing the emotional aftermath of the surviving three, though Namor was disturbed by how Reed was taking it. His grief was special and dangerous.
Reed ultimately decided that his life was pointless without Sue. All he had left was his vengeance. The dead-eyed, unshaven scientist went into the Negative Zone to hunt down Annihilus and kill him for his involvement in Sue’s death. Despite Annihilus’ villainous role in Marvel, he came off as sympathetic. Not just in the way that he’d run away in terror or offer to mutilate himself to appease Reed, but the fact that he didn’t really do anything to Sue. Three dudes showed up intent on stealing his property and he defended himself. Now one of them wants to kill him.
Despite Thing, Torch, and Namor trying to save him, Reed chose to die in a murder-suicide. The story kind of just ended right there, but Frenz’s depictions of the desperate and grieving Reed are powerful as hell in nearly every panel.
45. WOLVERINE: DIRECTOR OF SHIELD
What If Wolverine was an Agent of SHIELD? (1989)
Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld
After the Hulk/Wendigo incident that introduced readers to Wolverine, the mutant found himself being loaned to SHIELD. SHIELD had been infiltrated with Hydra LMDs and Nick Fury knew that Wolverine and his senses would be the best counter. Regularly teaming up with Black Widow, Wolverine proved his worth quickly and helped Fury kill Von Strucker.
Fury cleared it with the Canadian government to have Wolverine work for SHIELD for good. When Charles Xavier stopped by to recruit help in saving the original X-Men, Wolverine turned him down, but promised to keep an eye out for those who want to mess with mutantkind. Shortly after, a Von Strucker LMD attacked Nick Fury. Fury destroyed the robot, but died in the process.
Dum Dum was too heartbroken by Fury’s death to stay around. Instead, he told Logan that he wanted him to become Director of SHIELD. Logan was skeptical that it would fly, but Fury already cut through the red tape in advance. And so, Wolverine stepped up and used his government shadiness to counter the anti-mutant government shadiness. Sentinels were nixed, meaning Jean Grey never became possessed by the Phoenix. Senator Kelley was discredited, meaning no Mutant Registration Act and no Days of Future Past.
In the end, the once-savage anti-authority brute brought peace to humans and mutants by using his authority wisely.
44. REED THREATENS GALACTUS
What If the Silver Surfer Had Not Betrayed Galactus? (1995)
Chuck Dixon, Joe Barney, and Don Hudson
Reed Richards held the Ultimate Nullifier in Galactus’ face and had the day won…until Silver Surfer decided to intervene and bail out his boss. Earth was doomed and not even the Avengers had a chance. Galactus left Earth a husk with the only survivors being the Fantastic Four, Alicia Masters, Dr. Doom, and Wasp. Surfer was wounded in battle against Thor, but finished off by Doom, in an act that turned them both into cosmic dust.
Once again, Reed came across the Ultimate Nullifier, but this time he wasn’t gambling. This time he was going to end Galactus no matter what the cost!
…but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Despite the forfeit, Galactus couldn’t help but notice that he was put into checkmate twice by the same being he considered beneath his notice. The Fantastic Four became his new heralds, but made sure to search for uninhabited planets. In return, they would help Galactus relearn the humanity he buried away.
43. UNCLE BEN SILENCES PETER
What If Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben Had Lived? (1984)
Peter B. Gillis and Ron Frenz
Aunt May went down the stairs instead of Uncle Ben and got shot by the burglar that Spider-Man chose not to stop. In trying to understand Peter’s grief, Ben pieced it together that he was Spider-Man. Then he sat him down and confronted him about it. Peter explained his guilt over not stopping May’s death.
In one of the most cathartic moments, Ben ranted about how worthless he was in saving May, blaming himself for her death. When Peter told him that the self-guilt trip was unnecessary, Ben smiled and told him to follow that same advice. In that one moment, we were saved years of Spider-Man moping about his mistake.
Another advantage of Ben being alive instead was that he completely tore into Flash Thompson for being a dick to Peter. The last time I saw a Ben so savage, he starred in Boy Meets World.
42. THE INVINCIBLE LIVING LASER
What If War Machine Had Not Destroyed the Living Laser? (1994)
Dan Slott and Manny Galan
So to recap: Tony Stark pretended to be dead. Jim Rhodes took over Stark Industries and hired the Living Laser, who was having issues with acceptance in light of his redemption. Laser and Rhodes found out that Stark was alive, albeit in a weak state, and there were three possible endings.
In this ending, Stark revealed that while in a coma, his mind was able to travel into cyberspace. He noticed that Living Laser was on the payroll and was doing a fantastic job. And so, he asked Laser to continue on as an employee. Laser gladly accepted and a disgusted Rhodes stormed out.
Stark’s enemies saw Iron Man leave and never come back, so they knew that it was the perfect time to strike. Stark was still paralyzed and even if he wasn’t, his newest armor wouldn’t be done in time to protect himself. Luckily, he had a powerful being on his workforce who could change his form to look like Iron Man while kicking ass in his name. As Living Laser took to the battlefield as the new Iron Man, Stark told him he was getting a raise.
41. POPUP RETURNS
What If? Starring Silver Surfer (1998)
Thomas Virkaitis and Gregg Schigiel
Various characters have wielded the Infinity Gauntlet in What If. We’ve seen Thanos, Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and Norman Osborn show how much they love their Power Glove. So how about an annoying comedy character for a change of pace? We got to see Impossible Man wear the Infinity Gauntlet and he started off trying to help out the Silver Surfer. All well and good.
Then he realized that he could get revenge on Galactus for eating his planet Poppup. Surfer convinced him that he could just use the Gauntlet’s power to bring the planet and its people back. He did just that. Galactus pointed out that this new Poppup wasn’t the true planet, but someone like Impossible Man could exist without realizing the lie.
Surfer then realized the true horror: the planet’s population was made up of annoying aliens constantly transforming into Marvel superheroes and villains with green and purple color schemes. I do like how Heroes Reborn Bucky got a cameo despite this taking place years earlier.
40. RICHARD FISK: DAREDEVIL
What If Daredevil Killed the Kingpin? (1989)
Danny Fingeroth and Greg Capullo
Matt Murdock’s confrontation with the Kingpin during Born Again went a lot differently when he was able to smuggle in a handgun. The act of murdering his longtime enemy caused Matt to go insane with guilt.
Another man affected was Richard Fisk, otherwise known as The Rose. He had a love/hate relationship with his father and didn’t know how he felt about his untimely death. Matt came to him to accept punishment, but Richard had a hard time bringing himself to pull the trigger. Before he could decide one way or another, the Hobgoblin appeared to cause some trouble. Matt’s final moments were to sacrifice himself by blowing up Hobgoblin.
Richard chose to forgive Matt’s actions and felt inspired by his selflessness. Finally, Richard knew where he sided. Weeks after, a new Daredevil hit the scene, using technology inside the mask to copy Murdock’s radar abilities. The passing of the torch was so slick that part of me will always wish that this was how things actually turned out.
39. VENOM VS. HOBGOBLIN
What If Spider-Man Had Kept His Cosmic Powers? (1991)
Glenn Herdling and Scott McDaniel
In the storyline Acts of Vengeance, Spider-Man became the host of the Uni-Power, turning him into Captain Universe. Normally, such a thing is temporary, but not for this iteration of Spider-Man. Permanently cosmic-level, Peter had to understand how the whole great power/great responsibility thing works out when you’re all-powerful.
Before he became corrupted, he rubbed elbows with his usual villains. He tried to fix the Hobgoblin’s face, but did it wrong and gave him the face of Peter Parker. Then he easily overpowered Venom and put an end to their rivalry, but offered him a spot as the resident street level webslinging vigilante while Spider-Man ascended into godhood.
That led to a brand new rivalry of the violent superhero with a resemblance to Spider-Man duking it out with a supervillain resembling Peter Parker.
38. SURFER’S ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
What If the Silver Surfer Had Not Escaped Earth? (1991)
Ron Marz and Ron Lim
In a reality where Silver Surfer was never able to figure out how to break through Galactus’ cosmic exile that bound him to Earth, he ended up joining the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Five easily became the God Mode of superhero teams because what the hell is Mole Man going to do against the Power Cosmic?
Mephisto eventually caught the team and had this plan to keep Surfer as his prisoner in Hell. As part of the agreement, he’d call back all of his demons stationed throughout Earth and leave humanity alone for a while. At first, Surfer refused to sign his contract because his word was enough, but Mephisto was a dick about it and killed Human Torch. Therefore, Surfer signed his stupid contract that stated that his soul would be bound to Hell for eternity.
In the decade that followed, Earth became peaceful without Mephisto’s influence. Both Captain America and the Punisher hung up their weapons, realizing that they were no longer needed. Then again, being the human race, it was only a matter of time before evil started to reappear. Mephisto watched this from Hell, taunting Surfer and saying that humanity’s actions would make him even more powerful.
Surfer razzed Mephisto enough that Old Scratch decided he was bored with his shiny toy and killed him. He paid for that because Surfer’s pure soul was still bound to Hell and just standing in the vicinity of Mephisto caused the devil pure agony. Mephisto was forever stuck in a Hell of his own creation.
37. STILL JUST A MAN, NO DIFFERENT FROM YOU
What If Captain America Had Led an Army of Super Soldiers in World War II? (1991)
George Caragonne and Ron Wilson
Steve Rogers saved the life of Dr. Erksine, meaning that there was nothing stopping the creation of more super soldiers. Because of that, the US absolutely shredded through the Germans in World War II like a chainsaw. Hitler was easily caught, the Japanese quickly surrendered, and the bombs were never dropped.
Captain America led his soldiers into liberating Auschwitz. Cap and Nick Fury were horrified at the sights, but then came across a curious boy who could speak English named Magnus. This boy seemed to look up to Cap for his power, but the way Cap calmly played up his own humanity rather than his abilities spoke to the young Magnus. He would grow up to become Magneto, but not the anti-human monster we know.
Unfortunately, this issue was part one of a two-part story and he’d become a human hating zealot later on regardless. Negating that development sucks, but this scene on its own is rather great.
36. LOGAN’S MIRROR MATCH
What If Wolverine Battled Weapon X? (1994)
Kurt Busiek and Ron Randall
On the subject of whether it’s the man or his powers, we got a really sweet issue based on the idea that Logan bested his Weapon X captors when they tried to kidnap him. Knowing that they were made, Weapon X went with another test subject in the form of random officer Guy Desjardins. He lacked the healing factor, but the adamantium did cause jagged knife-like protrusions in his knuckles. Seeing as how he was rage personified (the jagged adamantium skeleton tearing through his skin and constantly being fed adrenaline will do that), Weapon X just handed him over to Alpha Flight and told them to do something with it.
Desjardins then escaped, went on a killing rampage, and gradually took out all of Alpha Flight. It was the fucking best.
One of his many victims was also a friend of Logan’s and he investigated the whole thing. Not only did he bring down Weapon X for their actions, but he also weaponed up and took on Desjardins. Logan with his healing factor vs. Desjardins with his adamantium. After a bit of a standstill, Logan decided to fight like a human instead of an animal and took apart Desjardin’s armor. Then he decapitated the psychotic monster with a swing of a katana.
35. NEW FANTASTIC FOUR VS. SINISTER SIX
What If the New Fantastic Four Had Remained a Team? (1995)
Chuck Dixon and Enrique Alcatena
The first What If based on the New Fantastic Four was a beautiful-looking piece, although it was the most cynical take. The short of it is that the New Fantastic Four kicked a ton of ass, lost a single fight, then decided that that was enough reason for them to quit. The end.
During the ass-kicking period, Spider-Man got cornered by the Sinister Six, who were so jazzed about the six-on-one advantage. Well, the good news was that they still had the numbers on their side. The bad news was that it was six against four.
Ghost Rider advanced on Vulture with his fire chain, Spider-Man socked Electro with his webbed boxing gloves, Wolverine chopped up Doc Ock’s arms, and Hulk casually threw Mysterio into Sandman and Hobgoblin. Mary Jane narrated how happy she was that Peter was able to find a new family with interests like his.
34. ACTUALLY, THIS IS HOW A GOD DIES
What If? Infinity: Inhumans (2015)
Joshua Williamson and Riley Rossmo
It’s almost like this issue was created for no reason other than Williamson came up with this cool idea and wanted to write a story around it. When Thanos shrugged off Black Bolt’s vocal attacks during Infinity, he decided he had use of the Inhuman king. Black Bolt would work for him, including killing off the Illuminati, and in return, Thanos would defend Earth.
Not that Earth would be in the best shape under Thanos’ rule. Luckily, Black Bolt’s people were able to smuggle what they considered the ultimate weapon. Once it came time to unveil, Dazzler revealed herself under a cloak. Her deal is that she can turn sound into energy attacks. In other words, Black Bolt’s voice plus Dazzler’s mutant power meant Thanos’ charred skeleton.
33. IRON MAN VS. NAMOR AND THE HULK
What If the Avengers Had Never Been? (1977)
Jim Shooter and Gil Kane
Fun fact: three issues into the series, Iron Man is the first confirmed major death in What If. He certainly made it count.
After Hulk left the Avengers, the rest of the team decided that maybe the Neanderthal was right. They all went their separate ways while Iron Man pointed out that, hey, Hulk being on the loose is sort of a big deal! Especially when he teamed up with fellow human-hater Namor.
At first, Stark tried making Iron Man armor for Rick Jones, Giant Man, and Wasp. Between Stark not sleeping in well over a day and the general inexperience of the other three, he quickly blew up at them and told them to GTFO. Still realizing that Namor and Hulk had to be dealt with, Iron Man pumped up his armor more than it could take, fully prepared to go kamikaze on the two powerhouses.
The seven-page fight is a damn fine read as Iron Man would fight at his absolute best to try and take down two men who could regularly beat him solo. He’d take out one and focus on the other, but the numbers eventually caught up with him. The other armored heroes showed up to bail him out, but Iron Man was still too weak. He gave the last of his power to amp up Giant Iron Man, who pounded the hell out of Hulk’s face.
32. THE SPECTRE OF MARVEL
What If? Starring Wolverine: Horseman of War (1998)
Tom DeFalco and Adam DeKraker
DC’s Spectre is a fascinating character who is held back by narrative bullshit more than anyone else in order to keep DC’s world with a workable status quo. For a being whose identity is “press button to kill all bad guys,” they need to constantly come up with reasons to hold him back. Why doesn’t he just kill all of Batman’s villains? Superman’s villains? Any and all villains? What would that world be like?
The closest answer came from a What If issue where Apocalypse was able to re-add metal to Wolverine’s bones and turn him into the Horseman of War. Wolverine’s rage overwhelmed his loyalty and he turned on Apocalypse, killing him. While his Horsemen powers were never explained, he appeared to have some level of omnipresence. He killed all of the X-Men’s villains, killed other costumed villains, then regular criminals, and so on. He was Frank Castle’s wet dream.
Nobody could stop his reign of terror.
That led to the world taking a stand and banding together out of fear. No more war or ruining the environment. There was a boogeyman and nobody was safe. Wolverine stopped appearing for a while, but society remained ever vigilant to keep the peace else War, otherwise known as The Great Enemy, would reappear.
And that’s just exposition! The issue itself is about a cop from 100 years later questioning his purpose and becoming good friends with shaggy, down-to-earth monk calling himself “Brother Xavier.”
31. THE VOICE OF A SLAVE
What If? Featuring Planet Hulk (2007)
Greg Pak and Leonard Kirk
When Hulk’s ship exploded on Sakaar, he saved his queen Caiera and died instead (along with Miek, who caused all this). Absorbing the power of Sakaar into herself, she chose to go to Earth and wage war. Hulk may have been vengeful, but he was still soft and caring compared to Caiera’s intentions.
Iron Man and Sentry noticed a huge chunk of the moon had shattered. Namely, the area where the Inhumans lived. As Sentry and Dr. Strange – two of the biggest heavy hitters – flew to Caiera’s ship to investigate, they found a beaten Black Bolt waiting for them, wearing a slave disc. Under Caiera’s orders, Black Bolt was forced to speak, vaporizing Sentry and Strange.
Caiera conquered the planet within minutes.
30. CIVIL PEACE
What If? Civil War (2008)
Ed Brubaker, Marko Djurdjevic, and various others
One What If issue that I’ve seen people love on is What If Elektra Had Lived? by Frank Miller. I’ve seen it as #1 on lists or when certain Marvel names were asked and I really haven’t been able to figure out WHY people like it so much other than, “Frank Miller did it.” It’s not a bad issue, but nothing about it stands out.
Well, except the framing device. Matt Murdock visited the grave of Elektra and the Watcher appeared, carrying an umbrella, and told the story of what things would be like if she lived. The issue boiled down to, “If Elektra survived, you two would be together and you would be happy. Oh well. Have fun with your shitty life.” It was pointless and, when you get down to it, needlessly mean.
Marvel did an issue about Civil War and they used the same type of framing device. Uatu, obscured by an umbrella, checked up on Tony Stark at Steve Rogers’ grave. He then told him of two different alternate realities. One was where Iron Man died months before Civil War, meaning Captain America was unopposed in the superhero community. Things ended up very badly for him there.
Stark figured that the story vindicated him, but then Uatu showed a world where Stark was able to get through to Cap and come up with a true solution, all because he showed fragile honesty in his plea to cease fighting. In this world, both sides put their differences aside, the Avengers existed as a single unit, and everything worked out for a better tomorrow. Not only did Steve Rogers live, but so did their friendship.
Suddenly, unlike the Daredevil/Elektra issue, this Uatu appearance had meaning behind it. Yeah, Tony Stark may have been correct in terms of logic, but if he wasn’t such a jerk about everything and showed more compassion and honesty, he might have brought forth a winning future.
29. JUGGERNAUT! IN! SPAAAAACE!
What If Professor X of the X-Men Had Become the Juggernaut? (1990)
Kurt Busiek and Vince Mielcarek
Instead of Cain Marko, it was Charles Xavier who grabbed the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak and became an unstoppable wrecking machine. Too bad for him, the cave he was in crumbled and buried him under lots and lots of mountain. All he could do was slowly burrow his way out while get psychic updates on what the world is like without him. Mainly a world where Magneto was the leader of all mutants and they were too worthless with their powers to matter because nobody ever trained them.
Xaviernaut did finally get out and took over the world. Being indestructibly strong and being a psychic made him unbeatable to all heroes as well as Dr. Doom and Magneto. While well-meaning at first, he was a tyrant who allowed mutants to push around humans and turned a blind eye to their suffering. Guys like Cyclops decided that this world wasn’t what they wanted and joined forces with Magneto, who at least was able to find a way to block Xavier’s telepathy.
Xavier and Cyclops had a confrontation on Asteroid M, where a mad Xavier was ready to murder Cyclops and all Cyclops could do was appeal to the dreamer he used to be. He pointed out how Xavier once wanted a world where humans and mutants could coexist, but he strayed from it. Before we could see Xavier’s true reaction, the floor beneath him detonated and sent him spiraling through space.
Deserving or not, the very idea of a man being flung through space forever without the possibility of death’s release is horrifying.
28. THE PROTO-EVENT COMIC
What If the Avengers Fought the Kree-Skrull War Without Rick Jones? (1980)
Tom DeFalco and Alan Kupperberg
The Kree-Skrull War was a big deal for the Avengers back in the day, but it never felt as explosive as it could have been. It just petered out at the end when Rick Jones used mental projections of Golden Age heroes to save the day. It was a bit anticlimactic, at least compared to today’s standards.
By taking Rick out of the equation, the story suddenly became amazing. Despite clocking in at less than 40 pages, this issue of What If feels like a full-on six-issue event story. Not only are there various, exciting subplots going on, but they even take it from being an Avengers story to a full-on Marvel Universe story.
Giant Man got help from SHIELD. Thor brought in his Asgardian brethren. Silver Surfer chose to blast incoming ships out of the sky. But most importantly, Charles Xavier reached out and recruited everyone from Daredevil and Black Widow to Dr. Doom and the Inhumans. Outside of maybe the Fantastic Four wedding, this was the first massive hero team-up on this scale.
27. DOOM FOREVER SUPREME
What If Doom Became Sorcerer Supreme? (1993)
Dan Slott and Manny Galan
In Doom’s early, wandering days when he’d study the black arts, he came across the Ancient One. Although the old sorcerer was turned off by Doom’s attitude, he could see the nobility within and offered to make him his pupil. It was a decision that worked well in some ways and turned dark in others.
For instance, when Mordo challenged Doom, Doom not only bested him via science and trickery, but he implanted a bomb into Mordo’s skull that would go off if Doom died or if he simply chose to detonate it. While the Ancient One found that funny, he wasn’t so pleased when Dr. Stephen Strange showed up, looking for answers and Doom’s plan of action was to just chop off his broken hands and replace them with cybernetics. Sure, it helped Strange’s situation, but Strange didn’t learn anything.
Oh, and Mordo became Doom’s version of Wong. Like Wong mixed with Suicide Squad.
The Ancient One died as they saved Doom’s mother from Hell and while Doom came out of that with a win over Mephisto, it was his big battle in NYC with Dormammu where Doom finally went down. Although he sealed away Dormammu, he was still fatally wounded. The still-so-egotistical Dr. Strange tried to operate on him, but nothing could be done.
Strange then found out how critical Doom’s death truly was. Doom saw Strange’s magic potential and had him kidnapped by robots. Strange was brought to Doom’s home, horrified to see Mordo’s smoldering head in the corner. Doom was dead, but his mind would just be implanted into Strange’s body, allowing him to continue on as Sorcerer Surpeme.
As Uatu put it, Doom would have both the shortest and longest tenure in that position.
26. THE BEATER OF BALLS
What If the Avengers Had Fought Galactus? (1992)
Jim Valentino and Sam DeLarosa
If the Fantastic Four died in their origin, it would change quite a bit. Namor wouldn’t have regained his memory and that means Captain America would have stayed frozen. Dr. Doom would have become a close ally of Nick Fury. Biggest of all, if the Fantastic Four didn’t exist, who would have stopped Galactus from eating Earth?
Uatu would have asked the Avengers for help. While they didn’t have Cap in their ranks, they did put out a call for everyone who had ever been an Avenger and Thor brought in new friend and future Avenger Hercules to help out. Iron Man went to go get the Ultimate Nullifier and failed his mission, all while the other Avengers fought Galactus with force. In fact, the only dent they put in Galactus was when Giant Man did a Fastball Special with Hercules.
Galactus knocked out all of the heroes until the only ones left were Hercules and Thor (himself busy fighting Silver Surfer). Hercules demanded Uatu help him out, but Watchers can’t interfere, so nope on that front. Out of nowhere, street-level villain the Swordsman ran out because technically he was an Avenger and he had the guts to stand up to Galactus one-on-one. He too was zapped into unconsciousness.
Pissed off, Hercules then punched Galactus RIGHT IN THE DICK! He punched him in the dick and talked up how Swordsman had more fight in him that Uatu. Getting punched under Orion’s Belt made Galactus mad enough to start using physical force and Uatu finally decided to step up and physically defend the humans he had grown to love.
25. SPIDER-GIRL VS. THE GREEN GOBLIN
What If? Starring Spider-Man? (1998)
Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz
In the aftermath of the Clone Saga came a What If so successful that it spun-off into a series that hit triple digits, as well as a handful of spinoffs like “The Adventures of Juggernaut’s Dork of a Son.” Had the editors not written off Peter and MJ’s baby by kidnapping her and politely asking us to just forget that development ever happened, we would have had a future where May “Mayday” Parker would have realized her spider powers while playing basketball.
Kind of like Teen Wolf, but with less background penis.
Peter Parker lost his leg years ago and retired from being Spider-Man. That didn’t stop Normie Osborn from taking up the Green Goblin mantle with intent on getting revenge for the deaths of his father and grandfather. May suited up as Spider-Girl and came to her father’s rescue.
The battle between Spider-Girl and the Green Goblin was fantastic, not only because May was able to follow in her father’s style, but because Peter and Mary Jane were looking on. Mary Jane acted worried throughout, but you could see Peter quietly cheering her on and noting how good she was doing. Right as Spider-Girl hit checkmate and fully outsmarted Normie, Peter pumped his fist and gave a priceless, “Yesss!”
24. THE SPIDER-PRESTIGE
What If Spider-Man’s Clone Lived? (1981)
Bill Flanagan, Rich Buckler, Jim Mooney, and Pablo Marcos
Another clone aftermath story, only this one’s about the original Spider-clone arc. The Spider-Man clone never got shot and instead sucker-punched the original. He put the original in stasis and decided to go back to his normal life. Only…it wasn’t so normal. After all, the clone was made from the DNA of a younger Peter Parker. A lot had changed in that time.
This Peter clone, believing himself to be the real deal, couldn’t remember why Aunt May lived in a different place or why Betty Brant was married or why Flash Thompson was being so nice or why there was a big, fat, bald man in a white suit trying to kill him. The whole “I dated Gwen Stacy and then she died” thing really ran him for a loop. Then he realized that his last real memory was giving a blood sample to Dr. Miles Warren and—oh. OH! SON OF A BITCH!
Realizing he couldn’t let his original self die, no matter how much he wanted to be the one, true Spider-Man, the clone released him from captivity. As Spider-Man and Peter Parker, the two made short work of Kingpin and his goons. That night, when trying to figure out what’s next, the Peters decided to be two men sharing the same double-identity. One could be on a date with Mary Jane while the other would be wearing the webs and stopping a crime.
A rich idea that we’d never see mined (closest is DC Comics C-lister Crimson Fox), but having the two Peter Parkers end the comic shaking hands and embracing their new life as brothers always put a smile on my face.
23. JAMESON THE VILLAIN-SLAYER
What If J. Jonah Jameson Adopted Spider-Man? (1996)
WM Messner-Loebs and Anthony Williams
This issue is easily one of the best Spider-Man-centric What Ifs by a mile. In one of the early Spider-Man adventures, when John Jameson was meant to rocket to Mars, the Chameleon’s sabotage plan worked a little too well. The rocket crashed and exploded, killing Chameleon, John Jameson, Aunt May, and many others. A crying J. Jonah Jameson discovered Peter Parker in the wreckage, cradling the dead body of May.
Jameson adopted Parker and the two helped each other with their grief and survivor’s guilt. Jameson genuinely loved his son, but hated Spider-Man just as much. Fearing for Peter’s safety, he got him a bodyguard in Flash Thompson, put a bounty on Spider-Man’s head, funded the Spider-Slayer’s creation, and had the Scorpion armor made. Flash, wanting to use the Scorpion identity to help Spider-Man, wore the armor and drank the serum…which made him crazy and violent.
Hearing about Flash freaking out, Peter finally snapped and let Jameson know that, yes, he was Spider-Man before storming off. Against expectations, Jameson’s reaction was not anger but sadness. Not because Peter was Spider-Man but because Peter hated him and his own obsession turned Flash into a frothing psychopath.
On the rooftops of New York, Spider-Man got his ass kicked by the grouping of Scorpion, Doc Ock, Vulture, and Sandman. It would have been over had the Spider-Slayer, piloted by Jameson, not shown up to clean house and drop so many quips you’d think his hands were covered in grease. Spider-Man took pride in his father’s style and they went on to become a Heroes for Hire type outfit.
22. LOOK AT ME. I’M THE CAPTAIN NOW.
What If the Punisher Became Captain America? (1993)
Simon Furman and Paris Cullins
Captain America defeated one of the Red Skull’s schemes by the skin of his teeth. He was badly injured and his health was very much in jeopardy. There needed to be a new Captain America. The government wanted prime soldier Frank Castle to take over, but he only wanted to be with his family. Several took up the mantle and they all failed. It was only after Castle’s family was killed by the mob that he finally agreed to be Captain America.
While he’d wear the red, white, and blue in the daytime, he’d spend his nights wearing the skull and black tights. He’d moonlight as the Punisher, raising huge alarms for both the government and his fellow Avengers.
With Frank hunting down the Costa Brothers – the ones behind his family’s bloodshed – he was confronted by none other than Steve Rogers. Rogers had become a cyborg and refused to become Captain America again, as he felt it needed to be a man of flesh and blood. He tried to get through to Frank that by becoming Captain America, it meant he had to be a moral role model. Some gunfire split the two up, leaving Rogers to knock out one Costa and Frank to corner another.
In a rare moment of self-reflection, Frank realized the repercussions of his actions. He also asked himself about what his slain family would think of what he had become. Accepting that his Punisher persona was nothing more than a childish act of selfishness, he took Costa into custody. Then he turned around to see Rogers standing there, having watched the whole incident unfold. Rogers handed over the shield and from that day on, Frank Castle remained Captain America.
21. SYMBIOTE THOR MEETS HIS MATCH
What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man? (1989)
Danny Fingeroth and Mark Bagley
Had the symbiote spent enough time with Spider-Man, it would have taken over completely and run off, making it increasingly hard for Reed Richards to track them down. Over time, it would leave Peter Parker an elderly husk and trade up onto the Hulk. Then it would leave a powerless Bruce Banner behind and latch onto Thor.
Symbiote Thor hid out inside Mount Rushmore and after exhausting various options, Reed decided to try one last play. The symbiote continued to take over Thor’s mind and body and smiled at yet another challenger coming to get crushed. Only on further review, it realized the grave danger it was in. Reed brought in none other than Black Bolt, whose voice not only destroyed Mount Rushmore, but took down the alien/god hybrid with one word.
20. HARRY STANDS UP FOR NORMAN
What If Spider-Man Had Rescued Gwen Stacy? (1980)
Tony Isabella, Gil Kane, and Frank Giacoia
The world where Spider-Man rescued Gwen Stacy would have had a downer of an ending, but it wasn’t all bad for our hero. The Green Goblin escaped his death as well and his next step was to try and get Harry to join him in fighting Spider-Man. Harry kept a good head on his shoulders and told his father to stop being the Goblin and get help. Even if Peter Parker was Spider-Man, he was still their friend.
Norman swatted his son back and called him spineless just in time for Spider-Man to arrive and throw down. Spider-Man won out and threatened to end things once and for all, but Harry wouldn’t allow it. Harry got ready to fight Spider-Man because crazy criminal or not, Norman was his father. All the while, Norman prepared to wipe them all out with a bomb until realizing that Harry was seriously preparing to trade punches with Spider-Man just to save him.
Seeing his son stand up for him snapped Norman out of his madness. It was agreed that he’d turn himself in, but only after he and Harry got to be alone and talk out their issues. Even during the Peter/Gwen wedding, Harry and Mary Jane couldn’t make it because they were busy helping Norman conquer his mental illness.
19. HULK DOESN’T DIG BUG-MAN
What If Rick Jones Had Become the Hulk? (1978)
Don Glut and Sal Buscema
The story of Rick Jones becoming the Hulk deserves to be in a museum. Not only did it make for a great story and look at Marvel alternate history on its own right, ending with a wonderful final fight, but Rick’s jeans-wearing Hulk form had the most amazing dialogue ever. It was Hulk’s angry caveman speak mixed with a 70s comic book writer’s idea of teenage lingo.
“Soldiers… Uncool! Soldiers don’t fight fair! Use shivs… Heaters! So I am called ‘Hulk,’ huh? Well, Hulk won’t rumble with soldiers…but will cut out instead!”
Hulk’s regular history and Rick’s regular history intertwined, including his brief role in the Avengers, his friendship with Captain America, and his kinship with Captain Marvel. This culminated in a trip to the Negative Zone, where Hulk went one-on-one with Annihilus. Bruce Banner was able to split Mar-Vell, Rick, and Hulk into separate entities, leaving Hulk to trade blows with Annihilus as the residents of the Negative Zone cheered him on.
In the end, everyone was happy. Rick, Banner, and Mar-Vell got to move on with their lives and Hulk found joy and endless freedom in the Negative Zone, where he was regarded as its champion and liberator.
18. WOLVERINE’S X-MEN
What If Magneto Took Over the USA? (1993)
Kurt Busiek and Tod Smith
This issue is the second part to What If Cable Had Destroyed the X-Men? by the same creative team, wherein Cable chose to assassinate Charles Xavier, Cyclops, and Jean Grey over some loud disagreements. That caused some major ripples because the remaining X-Men split into two sides: those who wanted to do regular X-Men stuff and those who wanted to get revenge on Cable and X-Force. The latter group was led by Wolverine and he did indeed kill Cable. Dying, Cable told him that unlike Xavier, Wolverine had no conviction and his actions were dooming the X-Men.
The divided X-Men with no figurehead not only led to the team being easier pickings for their enemies, but their enemies also started branching out, such as Apocalypse fighting the Avengers. Sentinels came into power to keep the mutant threat in check and wiped out much of the world’s superheroes. All the while, Magneto took over the White House, but even then, he was taken out by a Sentinel with a nuclear warhead hidden within.
Wolverine’s bloodlust got the best of him. At first, others left his revenge squad, but it got worse when Sentinels terminated or apprehended the rest of his crew. Having lost everything, he started to use his brains and figured out that Sebastian Shaw – one of the men behind the Sentinels – would have a mutant cloaking device. How else would he get by?
As the world became a Days of Future Past reality, Wolverine used the cloaking technology to free a handful of mutants. And boy, did he get a random set of mutants: Iceman, La Bandera, Sunder of the Morlocks, Siryn, and Amphibius of the Mutates. Together, these six became the new X-Men and the hot-headed Wolverine found himself having to be the wise leader, completing his arc.
17. NAIL HYDRA
What If the Punisher Became an Agent of SHIELD? (1994)
Chuck Dixon and Mike Harris
Nick Fury caught Frank Castle and made him an offer: join SHIELD, lead his own team, and actually make a difference. Frank was wary at first, but grew to consider it the best thing to happen to him in years. No longer was he wasting petty drug dealers. Now he was burning the crops and taking out the men in charge.
Frank ultimately turned out to be too much of a maverick for Fury’s taste and it led to a mission where Frank seemingly died. Not only did he survive, but he decided to use the belief in his death to his advantage. He had Microchip hack into SHIELD’s files and get him all the info they had on Hydra Island. From there, Frank stole an aircraft and dove down into the base.
It was a place ready for an all-out assault, but not ready for one man on a suicide mission. Frank went to town on the many Hydra goons and set up the base’s reactor core to meltdown. Riddled with bullets as he riddled others, Frank narrated about how this was the bestest death ever and was the perfect way to go out. As he choked on his own blood, his only regret was knowing that he and his family would be on different sides of the afterlife.
16. JUGGERNAUT RUINS EVERYTHING
What If? Starring the Juggernaut (1997)
Jorge Gonzalez and James Calafiore
While this is one of the bleakest issues of What If, it’s also cheating because the characters become aware that they’re living in a What If. It’s about an Earth where the Sentinels not only wiped out all mutants and superheroes, but filled the atmosphere with a toxic gas that would kill all life. All that remained was the Juggernaut, who soon ran out of Sentinels to smash.
Juggernaut spent decades alone, finding that being a destructive force and being immortal made for a horrific combination. As he stopped by the X-Mansion, it became apparent that in this world, he killed Xavier and the original X-Men in their first meeting. Then one day, he came across Magneto. Magneto was off-planet during the genocide, a captive of the Stranger. The good news was that he was able to escape and find survivors. The bad news was that he was able to use Stranger’s technology to look into other worlds and the Sentinels never would have succeeded had the X-Men lived, meaning that this world was all Juggernaut’s fault.
Magneto died from exposure and Juggernaut’s tantrum caused him to fall through the ground. There, he found the entrance to where the survivors were living. He broke through the huge, metal door and rushed in to find dozens of humans and mutants, including old versions of Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Toad. Juggernaut was so pepped up on the possibility of having someone to talk to that he didn’t realize that HE LET ALL THE TOXIC AIR IN!
Spiritually broken over knowing that he just killed everyone again, Juggernaut walked off to endure his eternity alone.
15. THE TOUCH OF DEATH
What If: Newer Fantastic Four (2009)
Paul Tobin and Patrick Scherberger
This is a direct sequel to that Mike Weiringo tribute issue where the New Fantastic Four remained a team and continued to remain a team. Only here, we get to see what it would have been like had this concept extended into the Infinity Gauntlet storyline. Apologies to Ghost Rider fans, as he was one of the billions of lives wiped out in the opening. Iron Man quickly took his spot, which made sense in a meta way. The original New Fantastic Four was about the popular characters taking over the team despite how contrived it came off and this was 2009 when Iron Man was king.
The Newer Fantastic Four refused Adam Warlock’s master plan of, “Get horribly murdered by Thanos and maybe we’ll take advantage of that distraction.” They fought Thanos anyway, but lost as badly as can be expected. The difference was that Wolverine was able to notice how Thanos played off of Mephisto and Death. All the power in the universe, and Thanos was still being molded by their actions.
Wolverine sweet-talked himself into taking Mephisto’s place by making it seem like Mephisto was trying to horn in on Death. Then he tried giving Thanos some advice on women, saying that if he wanted Death to be into him, he at least had to touch her. Thanos hesitated to do so, but soon reached out his gauntlet hand…
Wolverine chopped off Thanos’ arm while yelling, “SUCKER!”
14. CONAN THE BARBARIAN VS. CAPTAIN AMERICA
What If Conan the Barbarian Were Stranded in the 20th Century? (1984)
Peter B. Gillis and Bob Hall
First, they did a What If story about Conan magically ending up in the present and while it was good, it didn’t do enough to lean into the culture shock, instead focusing on Conan’s romance with a modern woman. A few years later, they did an alternate version where Conan didn’t return to his era. Instead, he was imprisoned, escaped, and learned to adapt to the new surroundings.
This gave us the fondly-remembered page where Conan dressed like a pimp and kept a leopard on a leash as a failed attempt to impress his love interest from the first issue.
Conan soon started his own street gang and a museum robbery got him in some hot water with one Captain America. With Conan’s gang hanging back, the two had a snazzy swashbuckling showdown that lasted for several pages until Conan was able to chop his sword right into Cap’s shoulder, hitting the bone. While Conan didn’t think it was that big a deal, all of his followers couldn’t even follow his directions. They were too blown away by the realization that Conan, cool as he was, BEAT CAPTAIN AMERICA!
Sometime later, the two met again and Cap offered him membership into the Avengers. The issue ended with Conan’s gang falling apart and him considering that offer.
13. FURMAN AND SENIOR’S REVENGE
What If Death’s Head I Had Lived? (1993)
Simon Furman and Geoff Senior
Before we had Deadpool as Marvel’s lovable, oddball, amoral mercenary antihero, we had Death’s Head as Marvel’s lovable, oddball freelance peacekeeping agent antihero. A robot bounty hunter from the future, Simon Furman and Geoff Senior’s Death’s Head was a staple in Marvel UK until they decided to tear him down and rebuild him from scratch. Death’s Head was killed and replaced with Death’s Head II, who turned the amoral and charming robot into something less interesting and more 90s EXTREME. His co-creators had nothing to do with it.
So instead of the story of an assimilating robot killing Death’s Head and having its personality replaced with Death’s Head, creating a radical new antihero, they had Death’s Head escape so the assimilating robot killed and absorbed Reed Richards followed by Baron Von Strucker.
Furman then wrote a story where Death’s Head I went back in time to recruit the remaining members of the Fantastic Four and their friends to bring down the evil cyborg Charnal. As Death’s Head I hung back, the heroes got horribly murdered by Charnal. Even for a 90s comic, it was rather graphic. Namor got his head cut off, Thing and Cage got exploded, and War Machine had blades shoved through his eye-holes.
When it came time, Death’s Head I stepped in and fought the alternate version of Death’s Head II to the death, coming to an end with a decapitation. Death’s Head I stood victorious while his would-be replacement and lots of Marvel heroes died horrible deaths.
Maybe they shouldn’t have screwed with Furman and Senior’s brainchild, yes?
12. VULCAN VS. DARWIN
What If? Featuring X-Men: Deadly Genesis (2006)
David Hine and David Yardin
Vulcan’s deal was that when the original X-Men were stuck on Krakoa, Charles Xavier decided to send a mentally-unstable child in a young adult’s body to rescue them alongside three mutants with barely any experience. They failed, Xavier made everyone forget about them, and sent a second, more memorable team of mutants to save the day.
In this story, the team of Vulcan, Sway, Petra, and Darwin survived Krakoa, though the original team outside of Cyclops died. Vulcan went on to become the leader of the X-Men and the world’s most popular superhero, bringing acceptance to mutantkind.
Buuuut it wasn’t all sunshine. Turns out that on Krakoa, Vulcan accidentally killed Jean Grey and Havok before purposely killing the rest of the X-Men to keep everything quiet. Then he secretly killed others over the years to hide any of his mistakes. Xavier and the rest of the living team found out about this and confronted him. Vulcan prepared to slaughter them all to protect his name, but Sway slowed him down to a standstill.
Darwin’s powers protect him from all attacks, but that wasn’t going to be enough. He needed to protect others from Vulcan and that meant using his powers offensively. Controlling his own evolution, Darwin found the part of Vulcan’s brain that regulates his powers and turned it into a pile of dead cells. Vulcan remained a mutant, but had no access to his abilities, putting him at the mercy of a very disappointed Charles Xavier.
11. THE LIVING LASER’S FINAL EXILE
What If War Machine Had Not Destroyed the Living Laser? (1994)
Dan Slott and Manny Galan
The third ending in the comic about Tony Stark and Jim Rhodes being scummy good guys while a villain tried to right his life had Rhodey run into the room to find a weakened Stark and confused Living Laser. Stark told Rhodes to save him, but Rhodes cursed out his so-called friend and backed up Laser as a hard-worker. Stark reluctantly kept Laser on the payroll, but told Rhodes to keep an eye on him.
In the days that followed, Laser came to realize that Rhodes didn’t truly trust him. Like how he wore a special type of armor to protect him from Laser and had a gun on him at all times specifically made to take Living Laser out. Or how he’d attack Laser without taking a second to realize that he was trying to save Stark’s life.
A Stark Enterprises satellite was taken over and Living Laser volunteered to investigate. Horrified by the loss of life up there, he was confronted by a being called the Technovore. Living Laser’s unique biology made it an easy fight, but he took the incident as an opportunity. Rather than having to interact with people who feared and distrusted him, he opted to remain on the satellite and do his work from there. Alone.
Stark and Rhodes looked on in silence, realizing that their own natures led to this.
10. YOU WOULDN’T LIKE ME WHEN HE’S HUNGRY
What If? World War Hulk (2010)
Mike Raicht and Lucia Parrillo
World War Hulk could have ended a lot more tragically. Instead of depowering Hulk and Sentry, Tony Stark’s satellite could have caused a massive, radioactive explosion. Many would have died. Not only the heroes, Warbound, and civilians, but also the Skrull Queen disguised as Spider-Woman. With her out of the picture, a Skrull bishop took control of their plan to conquer Earth.
Months later, a surviving Bruce Banner worked to dig graves for all the victims of his epic tantrum. Vision appeared to him to explain the big Skrull invasion and how the remaining heroes were no match for it. Hulk and the last pockets of resistance worked together and went to war with the Skrulls. Hulk would be able to find redemption.
Unfortunately, a Skrull Wasp impersonator infiltrated the group and wiped out everyone but the Hulk. He was alone on a planet infested with Skrulls who considered him a prophet to their cause.
Now, in the original story, Hulk got so mad at one point that his stomps almost destroyed the planet. Here, his rage took a more creative route. He summoned the Silver Surfer and demanded he send Galactus to feast on Earth. Reluctantly, Surfer gave in and the Skrull bishop died realizing that, “He loves us,” was a big pile of bunk. Galactus made sure Hulk survived the aftermath so that he could erase his memories and make him his new herald: Worldbreaker.
9. FRANK CASTLE, VAMPIRE HUNTER
What If Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires? (1991)
Roy Thomas, RJM Lofficier and Tom Morgan
Dracula defeated the X-Men and turned them into vampires, but because Wolverine’s got a healing factor and is popular, he fought back and usurped the iconic vampire. He and the X-Men turned some villains to their side and moved on to whatever heroes and villains they could sink their teeth into. It became a prototype version of Marvel Zombies, only localized to New York City.
Since this was before the world remembered that Blade was a thing thanks to Wesley Snipes, the only real threat to Wolverine’s rule was Dr. Strange reading a special spell from the Darkhold. Wolverine took care of that by turning Juggernaut and having him crush Strange.
Strange’s ghost found a partnership with Frank Castle, who had figured out the whole vampire hunter thing within several days. Powered up by Strange’s cape and the Eye of Agamotto, Castle went through Wolverine’s inner-circle via silver bullets, garlic grenades, silver-lined gloves, a squirt gun full of holy water, using the Eye of Agamotto like an Iron Man Unibeam attack, and cutting people with a silver knife.
Castle would have won the day had he not been distracted from chopping off Vamprie Kitty Pryde’s head. Wolverine killed Castle, but came to his senses and used the Darkhold to wipe out his vampire kind.
8. APOCALYPSE’S RUDE AWAKENING
What If? Starring Archangel (1997)
Johnny Green, Bill Rosemann, and Fred Haynes
For the most part, this issue was pretty dumb. Archangel left Apocalypse’s side to rejoin X-Factor, much like in canon. Then in this continuity, soon after, there was a serial killer going around killing mutants. The X-Factor decided to capture mutant factions for their own protection while they tried to figure out who the killer was. Shockers of shockers, it was Archangel behind the killings, still working for Apocalypse.
The final four pages kicked so much ass that it redeemed the issue. Apocalypse woke up from months of rest, at first in a good mood, but then angry upon seeing some monitors surrounding Archangel. Over the pages, we’d see the dead bodies of Freedom Force, Juggernaut, X-Factor, the regular X-Men team, and even the other three Horsemen on those monitors. Archangel turned his chair around and his new appearance even took Apocalypse aback. He wore nothing but Wolverine’s tights fashioned into a loincloth while the red designs from his usual costume were recreated with the blood of his enemies. Also, his wings appeared to be reshaped bones.
Apocalypse’s deal was always that he was like an extreme version of Magneto that went too far and targeted the weak mutants. Now Apocalypse found himself the comparatively sane one, up against a madman who felt that anyone who died against him was weak and deserved it. With his bladed wings out and his golden skull mask on, Archangel got ready to test whether or not Apocalypse was strong enough to survive.
7. PUNISHER VS. VENOM
What If Venom Had Possessed the Punisher? (1992)
Kurt Busiek and Luke McDonnell
Written in a time before Marvel realized Venom would make for a decent vigilante and before Frank Castle was an Ennis-level sadist, they did a What If where the Punisher visited the fateful church moments before Eddie Brock. Frank figured his new costume was some kind of SHIELD tech and made the most of it, including having it fire bullets instead of webbing.
Frank’s methods became increasingly vicious and impulsive. He bit a chunk off of Tombstone’s head and murdered the Kingpin in broad daylight. The symbiote took over his body and almost made him kill Spider-Man. Frank tried to rein in the beast, but it appeared to be a conflict he couldn’t win.
During a confrontation with Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Moon Knight, Frank was shot with a sonic blast and went into a comatose state. In his mind, the Punisher and the symbiote fought for control. Frank came to realize what made the alien tick and gave it an ultimatum: it would get the life of violence and adventure it wanted, but it had to listen to Frank’s orders. If not, he’d have no issue taking them both out because, damn it, it’s HIS war and if he can’t fight it on his terms, why go on?
Frank woke up and assured the others, “It’s over. It works for me now.” Then he jumped off the rooftop and flew off, using the symbiote to create gliders.
6. THE OVERLOAD ARMOR
What If Iron Man Sold Out? (1994)
Simon Furman and Geoff Senior
After coming back from his origin story, Tony Stark wondered about the future. Should he fight crime as a flying superhero in armor using technology kept to himself or should he just go public with that technology and try to make the world a better place that way? In this version, he went with the latter.
The results were a bit mixed. The world was nearly crime-free, but Sentinels were nigh-unstoppable. Frank Castle never had reason to become the Punisher, but Captain America was never found, and an advanced Dr. Doom killed the Fantastic Four. Tony Stark, always bent on being at the front of the line, became a recluse, constantly building the most cutting-edge armor.
Magneto arrived to cause a ruckus and the law couldn’t stop him because he was their kryptonite. He fought off the X-Men and then took on whatever retired heroes Spider-Man could scrounge up on short notice. Tony Stark heard about this and jumped for joy, as it fit into his own master plan. Because he had become such a desperate futurist, his current Iron Man armor was the Overload, a gargantuan mech that looked like the Death Star with limbs.
His plan was to turn the thing invisible, siphon Magneto’s energies, fire it into a satellite, and cause an EMP so huge it would destroy all technology on Earth. War Machine desperately talked some sense into him by pointing out the good that Stark Enterprises and its copycats have done. If he wasn’t constructive instead of destructive, so many people would die.
Stark took this to heart and stomped over to Magneto. If you’ve ever considered Magneto’s powers to be cheap, then this is the perfect comeuppance. Not only was the Overload armor immune to his powers, but it was able to grab his force field and pop it like a balloon. Thor told him to show mercy and convinced him that maybe it was time Iron Man took up superheroics.
5. CALL ME VICTOR
What If? Secret Wars (2009)
Karl Bollers and Jorge Molina
Dr. Doom always sees himself as far above man and it took standing on top of the mountain of godhood to make him appreciate what the human race has to offer. Had Doom not been deceived by the Beyonder, he would have kept his powers and won the Secret Wars. Then he would have conquered Earth and turned it into a utopia.
It was not enough. He conquered more civilizations. Crushed those that wouldn’t bow to him. Garnered the Infinity Gauntlet to amplify his strength. This culminated in his final challenge: fighting the Celestials to become the top of the cosmic food chain. It took well over a century, but he destroyed them all. It came at the cost of the Infinity Gauntlet, most of his Beyonder powers, and potentially Earth itself.
During the battle, the shockwaves knocked Earth away from the sun. Mankind was doomed. Fearing the loss of conflict, Doom gave up the last of his power to correct Earth’s rotation and placement. Mortal once again, he proudly walked the world unmasked and admitted his own admiration for what the human race is capable of, while planning to ascend yet again.
4. THE CORRECT PLANET HULK
What If? Featuring Planet Hulk (2007)
Greg Pak and Rafa Sandoval
Despite the many failings of their plan, the Illuminati did mean well when they sent the Hulk into space. In one story, we got to see what would have happened if the ship made it to the intended planet. Hulk’s initial anger was soothed by a world with no intelligent life, but beautiful nature. Banner, on the other hand, tried to figure out a way to call for help and escape. It was later decided that each personality was allowed one side of the planet.
Hulk found a kinship with these tiny cat-lizards and regularly protected them from predators, so he really didn’t dig it when Banner would try and kill them for food. The war between Hulk and Banner escalated to the point that Banner invaded Hulk’s land, only to be chased by some dragon-like creatures. The dragons were then scared away by a structure and flew off. Banner then noticed that Hulk had created a sanctuary for the cat-lizards, bordered by Hulk statues and a throne. Wide-eyed, he sat on the throne while one of the cat-lizards purred next to him.
Untold years later, those cat-lizards had evolved into intelligent beings. A father explained the legend of the abandoned god to his son and how he supposedly still watches over them. The father showed disbelief in the legends, but he also didn’t notice a giant snake almost snatch him from behind. The son looked over his shoulder to see a slimmer and more Banner-looking incarnation of the Hulk with the beaten snake over his shoulder, gesturing not to say anything.
3. KING CREOLACTUS
What If No One Was Watching the Watcher? (1992)
Scott Gimple and Tom Morgan
Even though this story is part of a humor issue and is indeed supposed to be goofy, there’s an earnest fairy tale vibe in there that makes it one of my all-time favorite comic book stories. Not bad for only seven pages, written by the guy who gave us the “Ghost Rider pees fire” movie.
In an alternate take of Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos decided to punish Galactus by turning him human and sending him to Earth, feeling that it was a fate worse than death. Galactus, in his human form, landed near a trailer park with no memory of who he was. Due to cosmic coincidence, he looked and sounded exactly like Elvis Aaron Presley. Again, humor issue.
A waitress named Gertrude took him in, thinking he was the real deal. She gave Galactus a full history lesson on Elvis to help him remember and, again, total coincidence, he had his same vocal talent. Galactus spent his days bonding with Gertrude and her son while living the simple life. He wanted to return to the world of music, but without the mistakes that ruined Elvis the first time around. He tried singing under an assumed name, but it didn’t take long for the public to take notice that the King wasn’t dead.
As his career was right about to take off, Adam Warlock appeared, victoriously brandishing the Infinity Gauntlet. He willed Galactus his memory back and offered him a chance to return to godhood. Galactus refused, choosing to remain mortal so he could be with his new family and live as the second coming of Elvis.
The story has some hilarious moments, but the ending is just as sweet as it is strange.
2. GET UP SO I CAN KNOCK YOU DOWN!
What If Captain America Were Revived Today? (1984)
Peter B. Gillis and Sal Buscema
Marvel’s first big retcon was that Captain America was frozen at the end of World War II, because that negated the short run of comics in the 50s where Captain America and Bucky fought communists. Marvel one day explained that away by saying that those were well-meaning imposters who went insane from not taking the super soldier serum correctly and believed commies were everywhere. The government put them on ice and they thawed out long after the real Captain America had returned.
In this story, the Avengers never found Captain America, so the imposters were unearthed first. The public thought they were legit. Fake Cap and Fake Bucky became unwilling puppets to the Secret Empire and Sons of the Serpent. America became molded into something closely resembling Nazi Germany and kept getting worse as time went on, all while Fake Cap patted himself on the back for making America great again by getting rid of the “Jewish bankers” and “black radicals.”
The real Cap was found by a submarine of dissenters and they came to realize he was the one, true Steve Rogers. Seeing the state of the country drove Cap to bitterness, especially since his own image and emblem were used to peddle it. He was able to be reintroduced to Nick Fury, head of the resistance alongside Sam Wilson and Spider-Man.
At a convention for America’s First Party, Cap led the resistance into action against Fake Cap and his Freedom Five. Fake Cap repeatedly called his rival a commie traitor while the real Cap called his doppelganger a dirty Nazi. In one of the most cathartic beat-downs, the original absolutely thrashed the phony and told him that the only way America needs him is as a reminder.
Then he followed it up with a rocking speech about how America is nothing without its ideals, which still holds a lot of relevance over 30 years later. What a wonderful issue.
What If Annihilation Reached Earth? (2007)
David Hine, Mico Suayan, and Rafael Kayanan
In the mid-00s, Captain America and Iron Man traded hands over political differences while the space heroes were busy saving all life in the universe from alien locusts. Because the space heroes failed to stop the Annihilation Wave, Nova had to stop by Earth to warn them that Annihilus was coming and this stupid war over the Superhero Registration Act had to be tabled indefinitely.
Pro-Registration, Anti-Registration, supervillains, Inhumans, and so on fought side-by-side against the first wave. The planet was decimated and there were untold casualties, but Earth won. Uatu the Watcher saw that Annihilus was leading a much more massive wave and chose to help. He introduced the Terminus Device, which would open up a black hole on the moon and suck up all of the Annihilation Wave.
It worked too well. Sure, it did away with the entire Annihilation Wave, but it also destroyed the moon itself. That was the end of the story. The bad guys lost, but mankind lost so much that you couldn’t call it a win.
In most stories, Uatu would only go against his oath to aid humanity in its darkest hour. When it’s life or death. In this story, Uatu broke his code to instead give hope to the world. He made sure to make everyone on Earth see the final moments on the moon for the sake of inspiration.
Despite the Terminus Device’s power, Annihilus could have easily shut it off if unopposed. Nova volunteered to stick around and protect the device. Knowing he wouldn’t be enough alone, Captain America and Iron Man agreed to fight by his side. Cap and Iron Man rekindled their friendship at the last moment and the three ran heroically towards the endless swarm of evil, selflessly saving Earth.
In a world that needed to rebuild, Uatu the Watcher wanted everyone to know that at the end of the day, the human race is pretty goddamn awesome.
And that’s the list. Any moments you felt should have made the cut? Sound off in the comments!
Gavin Jasper feels bad for not including any entries for the very first issue, but it is what it is. Follow him on Twitter!