Daredevil is setting the world on fire. The Netflix series, long the center of the Marvel Netflix universe is enjoying its most acclaimed season ever with the recent release of season three. It was only fitting that he was chosen as leader of The Defenders, since Daredevil is sort of like the king of Marvel’s street level characters.
Sure, Spider-Man is more popular, but Matt Murdock is known for his rough life and being fate’s punching bag even more than Peter Parker. Unfortunately for him, it’s not just the universe that rarely cuts him any slack, but the multiverse as well. Daredevil has starred in a handful of stories in Marvel’s What If? series and they aren’t always sunshine and lollypops. They’re still some interesting storylines with some cool ideas, though.
WHAT IF THE WORLD KNEW DARDEVIL WAS BLIND?
WHAT IF? V.1 #8, 1978
Don Glut, Alan Kupperberg, and Jim Mooney
The Original Story: Back in his yellow costume days, Daredevil took on Spider-Man villain Electro. Electro caught Daredevil off-guard at one point with a bolt to the back, but Daredevil eventually recovered and defeated him.
But What If… Spider-Man entered the fray? Having problems of his own, Spider-Man took a break from his personal adventures once he noticed Electro sneaking around a nearby building. Spider-Man breaking through a window alerted Electro and prevented his sneak attack on Daredevil. Instead of zapping Daredevil in the back, he went at him head-on and missed. Electro was confused as even if it didn’t hit him, it still should have at least blinded Daredevil, yet he didn’t even react. After getting his ass handed to him by the team of Daredevil and Spider-Man, Electro smiled. He may have lost, but he knew Daredevil’s secret and that would certainly have an effect on history.
One of the things that’s great about this issue is an early moment where Daredevil and Spider-Man discuss Daredevil’s lack of sight. Despite being from the 70s, the issue is still self-aware enough for Spider-Man to outright make fun of the old yellow costume as being an eye-sore that only a blind man would wear.
Most of the issue feels like a regular Daredevil vs. Owl story with the change that the Owl knows how to use Daredevil’s weakness against him by playing a really loud alarm of owls hooting along with filling the room with contrasting smells. In this reality, Karen Page figures out the secret identity thing really early on (Daredevil happens to sound a lot like the other blind guy she knows and accidentally called her by name) and is able to give him someone to confide in and help him overcome the Owl’s obstacles.
WHAT IF DAREDEVIL BECAME AN AGENT OF SHIELD?
WHAT IF? V.1 #28, 1981
Mike W. Barr and Frank Miller
The Original Story: A car crash took away Matt Murdock’s sight when toxic chemicals splashed into his eyes. It took years of training and heartbreak for him to step up and become something more than human, allowing him to fight against evil as Daredevil.
But What If… somebody knew what this meant for Matt’s future? The chemical truck belonged to Tony Stark, who decided to keep an eye on the situation after telling the driver that driving through the city would be way too dangerous. His instincts were correct when he found a boy doused in the eyes with the chemicals. He took the boy to Nick Fury on the SHIELD Helicarrier, figuring he’d know what to do.
Much like the previous entry, this one ends up being kind of upbeat, mainly because Daredevil wasn’t as much of a tragic character in mainstream Marvel just yet. Instead of Stick figuring Matt could make the best ninja, we have Fury figuring that he could make for the best secret agent. Hydra gets wind of this and immediately kidnaps Jack Murdock, leading to a pretty sweet action sequence where Matt goes to get him back.
The weird thing about this comic is that it doesn’t use the title as a springboard into a story, but uses it as an endpoint. Matt Murdock joining SHIELD is the very last panel and the story is merely about his origin.
WHAT IF ELEKTRA HAD LIVED?
What If? v.1 #35, 1982
The Original Story: After escaping prison, Bullseye was tasked with eliminating Elektra. In a rather nasty fight, he took her apart and impaled her with her own sai. The love of Daredevil’s life was snuffed out.
But What If… Bullseye was done in by someone else’s true aim? As Bullseye tried to escape, he was shot right in the head by a prison guard. That meant that Kingpin would have to rely on lesser assassins to punish Elektra for her failure to kill Foggy Nelson.
This one always confuses me because it tends to be on people’s lists of favorite What If? issues and I really don’t understand why. I’ve never gotten a straight answer other than, “It’s Miller.” I mean, is it just the novelty that Frank Miller wrote and drew it? Yes, the Elektra fight scene is beautiful, albeit short, but there’s honestly nothing to this story. It’s just there and it just ends.
Then there’s the framing sequence where Uatu the Watcher proceeds to be the biggest asshole in the Marvel Universe, which Ed Brubaker liked enough to do an homage in What If? Civil War many years later.
WHAT IF? V.1 #38 (1983)
David Michelenie, Alan Kupperberg
The Original Story: We tend to read our comics about Matt Murdock as being a fairly young adult. Characters don’t really age all that much in the mainstream, so we aren’t going to be seeing him depicted as a middle-aged man in the near future.
But What If… we got to look at the future? This issue of What If? is made up of three stories based on jumping decades into the future. One is based on an older Captain America and his wife Sharon. One is a rather touching story about Vision coming to terms with Scarlet Witch dying of old age while his android body remains the same. Then there’s this one, taking place 30 years in the future, where Russian President Natasha Romanoff comes to America to meet with Vice President Foggy Nelson. Matt works for Foggy and is just a big curmudgeon about everything because his unnamed wife has recently died.
It’s a very, very strange comic. Terrorists attack the UN and our two heroes turn out to both have their costumes on underneath their outfits. It makes some sense for Natasha, despite being a bit too old to be wearing skintight spandex, but Matt hasn’t worn his tights in decades, so his decision to have them on just in case is ridiculous. Then his life lesson about not letting tragedy destroy him is so ham-fisted that it’s rather hilarious.
WHAT IF DAREDEVIL HAD KILLED THE KINGPIN?
WHAT IF? V.2 #2, 1989
Danny Fingeroth and Greg Capullo
The Original Story: During “Born Again,” Matt Murdock was brought to his breaking point and chose to visit Wilson Fisk, the man responsible for his troubles. He wanted to kill him. Physically, he wasn’t up to the task and got absolutely destroyed. Only in his defeat was he able to build himself back up and come out stronger than ever.
But What If… on the way to meet Fisk, Matt bumped into one of the bodyguards and smuggled away his gun? Matt then confronted Fisk and shot him. He stayed around long enough to make sure his heart wasn’t beating, then walked out with nobody knowing about it for another fifteen minutes.
Matt’s greatest antagonist in this story isn’t the underworld or the superheroes, but himself. As a justice-loving Catholic, he’s distraught over what he’s done. He becomes delusional, hallucinating homeless people as judges and begging for them to find him guilty. He pleads with the Punisher to shoot him dead as punishment, since he’s no better than all the other criminals he preys on. Meanwhile, Richard Fisk admits that he doesn’t know how to feel about his father’s passing and when Matt goes to him to receive judgment, Richard is unsure of how to react.
This one’s one of the better What If? issues out there. Not only does it have some strong character moments, but it has an ending so cool that I almost wish it was canon.
WHAT IF THE PUNISHER HAD KILLED DAREDEVIL?
WHAT IF? V.2 #26, 1991
Kurt Busiek and Luke McDonnell
The Original Story: As the Punisher beat up a junkie on a rooftop, Daredevil got in his way to stop him. The Punisher fired a tranquilizer dart and knocked him out, allowing him an easy escape, all while Daredevil got a nap out of it.
But What If… Daredevil was just a little too close to the edge? To Frank Castle’s horror, Daredevil fell to his death. Well. That would change a lot, wouldn’t it?
As you can guess, this one is less of a Daredevil story and more of a Punisher one. Foggy appears early on and Ben Urich gets a pretty major role, but it mostly comes down to Punisher vs. Kingpin. It’s still a really good issue and the subplot about Spider-Man is kind of heartbreaking. As Daredevil’s superhero BFF, Spider-Man blames himself for what happened, since he always let Punisher kind of do his own thing as long as he wasn’t nearby. Now he dedicates himself to bringing him in and it all goes very, very wrong.
The same creative team would come back to do another Punisher/Daredevil story soon after.
WHAT IF VENOM HAD POSSESSED THE PUNISHER?
WHAT IF? V.2 #44, 1992
Kurt Busiek and Luke McDonnell
The Original Story: Spider-Man had gotten rid of his black alien costume on the rooftop of a church. Moments later, a disgraced reporter Eddie Brock entered the church to pray for forgiveness for his impending suicide and was greeted by the symbiotic creature. He then became Venom and was obsessed with getting revenge on Spider-Man.
But What If… the Punisher entered the church a couple minutes before Brock? He noticed Spider-Man swinging away and started thinking about him for a second, which was like catnip to the symbiote. It attached itself to him and at first he figured it was some kind of SHIELD tech, not even entertaining the thought that it could be something more sinister.
This is one of the few What If? issues where Daredevil has some kind of supporting role. Usually, unless he’s the star, he just gets a couple panels where he dies. Here, he sees Castle swinging by and can tell that something’s up. Then he even has to team up with Typhoid Mary to protect the Kingpin from this new, deadlier Punisher, who appears to be more violent than ever and on some kind of permanent adrenaline high. In the end, Daredevil teams up with Spider-Man and Moon Knight to put an end to the Punisher’s reign of terror.
This is a definite must-read issue, mainly for how badass Frank is with the costume and when he’s against the costume.
WHAT IF DAREDEVIL HAD SAVED NUKE?
WHAT IF V.2 #48, 1993
Ron Marz and Kevin Kobasic
The Original Story: The psychotic super soldier Nuke was sent to raze Hell’s Kitchen to the ground to draw out Daredevil. During the adventure, he took a bullet to the chest. Daredevil tried to get him to a hospital and save him, but he was too late. Daredevil ended up dumping the dead body onto Ben Urich’s desk.
But What If… he was able to get Nuke to the hospital in time? The doctors were able to stabilize him enough that when Kingpin’s armed goons made a go at them, Daredevil was able to escape with Nuke still breathing. He then kept him in a hiding spot, hoping his enhanced biology would heal itself and if things turned out right enough, he’d be able to use him to help destroy the Kingpin through testimony.
This is a fast-paced issue that doesn’t waste much time, but it’s a lot of fun. To make sure Nuke is taken out of the equation as fast as possible, Kingpin brings Bullseye back into the fold. Even though a good chunk of the comic is dedicated to Daredevil having to rescue Karen from Bullseye and Kingpin, the issue is ultimately about Nuke – despite minimal dialogue – coming into his own and redeeming himself. The ending isn’t too radically different from what happened in main continuity, but Nuke still comes out a winner in this reality. He doesn’t fight for what he’s told is right but for what he knows is right.
WHAT IF THE KINGPIN OWNED DAREDEVIL?
WHAT IF V.2 #73, 1995
DG Chichester and Tom Grindberg
The Original Story: Matt Murdock’s father was taken from him. The blind boy continued his training with the hardened martial arts master Stick, hoping to one day achieve justice. He rose up as both a vigilante and a talented lawyer, becoming the guardian of Hell’s Kitchen.
But What If… Wilson Fisk investigated the murder? It didn’t sit well with him that the Fixer overstepped his boundaries and had Jack Murdock killed, even if it should have been below his notice. Fisk discovered that young Matt had been in regular contact with Stick and Fisk had enough knowledge of that man to know that there must have been something special about this boy. Fisk told Matt that he could try and get revenge himself and likely perish or let Fisk take care of it and have it all wrapped up overnight. Matt understandably chose the easy way.
Matt grows up as Wilson Fisk’s second son, continuing his work to become a top-notch lawyer, though he has an excess of tutors who will teach him everything from genuine law to knowing how to use his own blindness for sympathy. The question arises of whether this situation will lead to Matt becoming corrupt or if he might actually get through to his adopted father.
If you watched through the Daredevil series and it made you want to read a Daredevil comic, this is a fantastic one-shot that builds on what you’ve learned about the main characters. Not only do we get to see a fascinating look at a world where Fisk and Matt are close, but it goes out of its way to show us what becomes of the would-be supporting people in Matt’s life. What would have become of Foggy, Karen, Elektra, and so on? Would they be better off or worse off?
WHAT IF DAREDEVIL WAS THE DISCIPLE OF DOCTOR STRANGE?
WHAT IF V.2 #83, 1996
Ian Edgington and Mike Baron
The Original Story: Having lost use of his hands in a car accident, egotistical surgeon Stephen Strange searched for a cure, which led to him finding out about the Ancient One. He found answers, but not what he was initially expecting. Rather than return to his life as a doctor, he found enlightenment as Sorcerer Supreme.
But What If… Stick was there to squash the rumors of the Ancient One? As Doctor Strange searched for information on the Ancient One, Stick convinced him that the real solution was searching for the Chaste. Doctor Strange’s journey led to him not becoming a top-of-the-line wizard, but a highly-skilled ninja master. Stick then sent him to be the one to train a young Matt Murdock, but Strange wasn’t able to quell the boy’s rage.
This one’s concept is higher than Tommy Chong, but it’s so weird that it kind of works. Dr. Strange had lost Matt to the Hand and moved on to mentoring Elektra. This gives us a completely badass Hand Daredevil outfit that they would introduce into regular continuity during the whole Shadowland storyline. It also gives us a Romeo and Juliet story, only with lots of well-drawn ninja action. Really, is there any better selling point than that?
WHAT IF… STARRING DAREDEVIL
WHAT IF V.2 #102, 1997
Bill Rosemann and Hector Collazo
The Original Story: Jack Murdock knew that if he didn’t take a dive against Crusher Creel, his life was over. In the end, he chose pride and the belief that he needed to be a role model for his son, so he knocked out Creel. Jack was killed by the mob for his audacity and Matt would go on to become Daredevil.
But What If… the mobsters warned Jack that they would go after Matt? Jack realized he had no choice. There would be no defiance and mortal sacrifice. The only sacrifice would be his dignity as he faked defeat for the sake of the criminal underworld.
There isn’t much to Jack Murdock’s story. His luster is gone and he never sniffs the top of the ladder ever again. Instead, he takes in-ring beatings until he’s just left in a coma.
Matt, on the other hand, lives his life as he normally would, only to be pulled away by his father’s massive hospital bills. He’s still too young to be a lawyer, so he earns money by following in Jack’s footsteps and becoming a boxer. He’s able to fake having sight and Wilson Fisk ends up buying him. Time starts over again as Matt Murdock is given a title shot and is instructed to stay down. Of course, Matt has too much pride to do something like that…
WHAT IF KAREN PAGE HAD LIVED? (2005)
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Lark
The Original Story: When facing Bullseye, Daredevil was saved by his longtime friend and occasional lover Karen Page. As Bullseye left, he threw Daredevil’s billy club right at the hero. Karen dove in front of it and sacrificed herself, taking the club to the chest and dying in Matt’s arms. It was later discovered that this was all a plot by a dying Mysterio, who had bought information on Daredevil’s identity from the Kingpin.
But What If… the club didn’t hit Karen in the heart and only put her in critical condition? Nearly losing Karen instead of actually losing her would have driven Matt into a rage and Daredevil would have made a more lethal visit to Wilson Fisk’s home. In a fit of anger, Matt threw his club right into Fisk’s throat, killing him. Too bad Fisk had a failsafe that if anything were to happen to him, proof of Daredevil’s identity would flood the media.
This issue is not very good. I don’t fully blame Bendis for it, since it was originally supposed to be written by Kevin Smith, the guy who killed off Karen originally. It was instead given to Bendis, who is the worst fit for a What If? comic. The guy simply can’t write a normal-sized one-shot where a healthy amount of exposition is part of the narrative. Much like that year’s What If Jessica Jones Joined the Avengers?, Bendis literally spent the first half of the comic retelling the original story. The scene of Daredevil in Karen’s hospital room that starts this reality tangent is the 11th page out of 23 and that’s including double-page spreads.
Plus the story is just mean. It’s not so much a story as it’s a series of burials and feel-bad moments. It isn’t all that much different than how Bendis’ Daredevil run would finally end, only with more finality due to being non-canon and not having to deal with the status quo. Don’t read it unless you’re a Bendis completist or you just want to be thoroughly depressed.
WHAT IF? FEATURING DAREDEVIL (2006)
Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards
The Original Story: Daredevil is Matt Murdock, a swashbuckling vigilante and also lawyer who fights crime on two levels, mostly against a big, fat criminal mastermind. He also has an assassins ex-girlfriend and a nemesis who has really good aim. He does all of this in the present day in New York City.
But What If… it took place in Feudal Japan? This came out during a really weird year of What If? releases where instead of just being one thing that changed the course of history, the issues took place in one alternate Earth where everything was different. On Earth-616, a hacker calling himself the Watcher was able to hack into another reality and, through reading its internet, realize the many differences between worlds. This included stuff like Wolverine being the Punisher of the 1930s, Thor being the Herald of Galactus, the Fantastic Four being Soviets, and Daredevil being a samurai.
It maps out the usual Daredevil origin tropes with a samurai bend. Japan is run by the Emperor, but he is in the pocket of the large-and-in-charge Shogun (who practices sumo because he’s fat and it’s Japan). A ronin called the Old Devil runs afoul of one of the Shogun’s men named the Owl and his son Masahiro is mystically blinded. To save his son’s sight, Old Devil is tasked with destroying a boat of visiting Americans so that he can steal their rifles for the Shogun. He ends up destroying the rifles, gets killed for his betrayal, and his buddy Stick secretly raises and trains Masahiro into being a warrior known as the Devil Who Dares. Elektra’s tossed in there as the daughter of slain Greek ambassadors turned into a vengeful concubine and you have a pretty basic story.
What’s interesting in it is that on that destroyed American boat is Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. Murdock survives the attack and becomes a rifle-using marksman calling himself Bullseye. Yes, this story features both a guy who is Daredevil and a guy who is Matt Murdock. It ends up coming together very nicely and the art is a treat as well.
WHAT IF? DAREDEVIL VS. ELEKTRA (2010)
Karl Bollers and Rafael Kayanan
The Original Story: Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios were college lovers. As terrorists attempted to kidnap Elektra’s father, Matt donned a mask and helped take them down. The authorities got a little overzealous and opened fire at the window when Elektra’s father had his back to it. He was gunned down and died. It broke Elektra and she went on to become a cold, high-ranking assassin. Eventually, she was killed and brought back to life by the Hand.
But What If… it was Matt who got shot up? His attempts to stop the terrorists led to him struggling with one of them in front of the window, causing him to get filled with a couple sniper rounds. A week later, Nick Fury found Matt’s grave to be empty. A blind man fighting off several armed men seemed impossible and the Hand was interested in investigating that.
Years later, Elektra is not an assassin, but an agent of SHIELD. The “Born Again” Matt Murdock has overtaken the Hand and now calls himself the Advocate, a clever name it took me a while to get. SHIELD is after him after the slaughter of the Kingpin and his employees. Let me tell you, if any part of this issue is fun to read, it’s Fisk sending Bullseye after the Advocate and watching him get taken apart like he was nothing. Especially with the sweet Kayanan art.
Elektra’s world is torn down piece by piece and ultimately she’s trained by Stick and put in charge of creating a reborn Caste. Together, she and her team go after the Hand while she holds out hope that she can get through to Matt Murdock or at least put an end to his reign of terror.
In the past few years, they’ve relaxed on doing What If? comics a bit and considering New Avengers and Secret Wars has been vaporizing all the different alternate universes, who knows if we’ll see another take on Daredevil like this in the future. Are there any cool What If? ideas you’d like to see Daredevil star in? Sound off in the comments!
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