Years and years and years ago Marvel Comics asked that very question and from that question were born dozens of universes that filled what they consider the ‘multi-verse’, or basically a series of worlds with alternate histories to the one which Marvel has laid forth in their comics. What If allowed Marvel and its writers the opportunity to pursue story ideas that didn’t necessarily need a whole series to explore, but which was just sort a notion someone had, or a question. You know…What If?
I remember seeing issues of this series ages ago at an old job of mine and had vowed that those were comics I wanted to have. The idea of one-off stories were what drew me. That’s why I like graphic novels and self-contained stories – because you get the characters you know with a definitive beginning, middle, and ending. None of the soap-opera cliff-hanger crap that makes you follow it indefinitely. I have neither the money, nor interest in following most comics issue to issue. Sorry, can’t do it. I always wanted these books though, and when I got a chance to pick up a whole heap of them at once, I leaped at the chance.
I love these books…generally. The first series that came out is easily the strongest with some great ideas – Spider-man joining the Fantastic 4, Daredevil killing the Kingpin, Punisher joining S.H.I.E.L.D, and so many others that it’s hard to keep them in mind. Not every story is great but man, they are compelling. The stories, by nature many times, are very dark, too dark for your average Marvel title, and I love them for that. I love that beloved heroes die, and pay for choices they make or which are made for them and which change everything they ever knew. These are fascinating stories because the rules are out the door and you see how much really would change if one thing didn’t happen as we knew. It’s a butterfly effect comic series, and they are great for that. Alas, the first run was canceled and that was it for a while. The powers that be brought the series back in the mid to late eighties but, alas, it wasn’t the same. Some of the stories are decent but you start to get into re-tread stories that cover very familiar ground. These issues just felt tired many times, and didn’t show the vivid imagination or artwork. Once again the series was retired, only to re-appear in the late nineties. These, again, were revisionist and many times just sloppy but there are some interesting one-off stories that focus on one character and one story, showing how that character’s story arc can change the entire fabric of that universe.
I adore What If… For me these comics are what make comic books so much fun. They show what you can do with a simple idea and some talent. They take tired characters and tired story lines and re-imagine them. And for me, they make me believe in a world where masked avengers and caped heroes can change the world…for the better or the worse.