Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of "What If...?": #21

Volume 2 #26 (1991)
What if the Punisher killed Daredevil?

CoverWritten by Kurt Busiek
Drawn by Luke McDonnell

Unthinkable but true: Daredevil has just been killed by the Punisher. The hero of Hell’s Kitchen has been murdered by New York City’s most infamous vigilante.

“The Kingpin is the first to hear. But then, he would be.”

While Daredevil’s greatest enemy turns to scheming, his friends begin to mourn. Among them is Peter Parker, known to the world as Spider-Man.

As the first superhero ever to have battled the Punisher, Peter considers himself responsible for Daredevil’s death. Consumed by thoughts of vengeance, he sets out to end the bloody career of this foe he first fought years ago.

Having tangled with Spider-Man in the past, the Punisher knows how to free himself from the wallcrawler’s webs. But Peter is now out for blood, using his fists rather than his webbing. Thus, when the Punisher is beaten into a corner, he sees no other option than to draw his pistol, take aim at Peter, and fire…

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Best of "What If...?": #22

One-Shot (2008)
The spider who went into the cold

CoverWritten by Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin
Drawn by Clayton Henry

Few know it, but Peter Parker, the spectacular Spider-Man, once carried out a black ops mission in Russia with Logan, the bloodthirsty Wolverine. Afterwards, Peter returned to New York and resumed his usual red-and-blue-clad heroics.

But what if Logan had asked Peter to first tie up just one loose end? And what if Peter had weighed his power to say no against his responsibility to say yes?

The forest ahead is blanketed with snow and mercenaries. Logan eviscerates the men who fire upon him while Peter merely binds them with his webs.

Logan warns Peter against pulling his punches just seconds before the sudden arrival of two of Russia’s own superhumans: the Crimson Dynamo and a woman whose powers resemble those of Logan’s fellow mutant Storm.

“Figures that Russian mutants would be crappy knockoffs of ours.”

But these agents are no pushovers. Peter receives several savage blows from the Dynamo before Logan manages to power down his heavy armor. Unaware of this development, Peter kills the Dynamo with a single punch…

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Best of "What If...?": #23

Volume 1 #40 (1983)
What if Dr Strange had never become Master of the Mystic Arts?

CoverWritten by Peter Gillis
Drawn by Butch Guice

Prior to the debut of modern superheroes, our planet had but one great protector: the legendary Ancient One. For years, this wizened mage groomed a man named Mordo to succeed him as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. One day, however, a more promising pupil named Stephen Strange arrived on the Ancient One’s doorstep.

Despite his efforts to the contrary, Mordo shortly found his inheritance snatched away from him. But if he had proved himself worthy to the Ancient One sooner, Mordo might have secured his place such that none could have unseated him.

In a universe not so different from our own, Mordo accomplishes this and more, in time growing so confident that he decides to hunt the Ancient One’s most powerful nemesis: the dread Dormammu. Aware that he shall never surmount the Lord of Chaos in a battle of mystical might, Mordo defeats Dormammu by a trick.

“Begone, wretch! You have earned your world’s freedom-- but also my undying hatred! BEWARE!”

Although Dormammu promises never again to invade Earth’s dimension, he places no limits on the pawns that he might deploy in order to exact revenge. One such unwitting ally just so happens to be Stephen Strange…

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Best of "What If...?": #24

One-Shot (2007)
What if the Hulk died and Caiera lived?

CoverWritten by Greg Pak
Drawn by Leonard Kirk

Unbeknownst even to their own community, a small group of superhumans meets as necessary to ensure our planet’s safety. Recently, this secret society decided that the awesomely powerful Hulk was too dangerous to be tolerated any longer on Earth. Reluctantly, they tricked him into a special ship and shot him into space.

“Time and again, your anger and power have threatened the entire planet…” begins the group's parting message, ending, “…it’s the only way to be sure.”

Rather than drift harmlessly, however, the Hulk’s ship chances on a wormhole, which re-plots its course for a violent crash landing on the planet Sakaar. There, the Hulk becomes a hugely successful gladiator, winning the support of the people and the hand of an amazon named Caiera.

But fate is ever finding ways to rob the Hulk of peace. Incredibly, the ship that brought the green-skinned giant to Sakaar self-detonates, engulfing the Hulk in flames and killing his bride. Consumed by rage, the Hulk declares war on Earth.

The devastation thereafter inflicted by the Hulk elevates his already legendary infamy to new heights. No greater vengeance could have visited the Earth… unless the Hulk himself had died and Caiera had sought revenge…

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Best of "What If...?": #25

Volume 1 #36 (1982)
What if the Fantastic Four had not gained their powers?

CoverWritten and Drawn by John Byrne

“Nobody calls me a coward! Get the ship! I’ll fly her no matter what happens!”

Ben Grimm spoke these words years ago, and the rest is history. Ben and three others – Reed, his best friend; Sue, Reed’s fiancĂ©e; and Johnny, Sue’s brother – tore off into space, exposing themselves to cosmic radiation. Amazingly, these four adventurers not only survived a crash landing back to Earth but moreover gained fantastic powers.

Ever since, Reed’s cool intellect has prevailed… as it could have years ago. Given time to adequately shield their ship, the foursome’s flight could have gone off without a hitch. That success – combined with further fruits of Reed’s genius – could have ushered mankind into an era of unprecedented prosperity.

Now, that age is nearly at hand. Mere months after Ben’s celebrated landing, a sprawling scientific complex bearing Reed’s name has just opened. Thus, seismic scanners are in perfect working order when they report that an inexplicable earthquake is about to occur directly beneath the facility…

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

An intro to the best of "What If...?"

As I noted in my History, there have been 199 issues of “What If…?” over the course of the past 35 years, accounting for an impressive 223 stories.

Not all of these stories are good, however, and this can be blamed in large part on the fact that “What If…?” has never secured any one talented writer.

Roy Thomas and Don Glut co-captained Volume 1’s first two (bi-monthly) years, but they were succeeded by a grab bag of talent (and non-talent) from mid-’79 until mid-’83, when Peter Gillis arrived to helm the title for its final few issues.

When “What If…?” was brought back to life in 1989, it could perhaps brag of steady writers, plural; for its first three years, the title was scripted almost entirely by three capable men: Danny Fingeroth, Roy Thomas (again), and Jim Valentino.

But from '93 to '96, the series saw dozens of issues produced by totally random teams. And soon after that, Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco wrote a string of issues so awful that the series’ cancellation might best be described as a mercy killing.

With that said, the return of “What If…?” in 2005 was real cause for celebration. Top-notch writers delivered stories featuring characters they had written for years. And in 2006, a batch of “Elseworlds”-like tales offered something startlingly new.

Since 2007, though, virtually every issue of “What If…?” has been based on one of Marvel’s recent big-name “event” stories… with decidedly mixed results.

In short, while most of “What If…?” (like most writing of any kind) is not worth reading, there are perhaps two dozen issues that are deserving of your time.

In my next twenty-five entries, I'd like to introduce you to those issues. I won’t summarize their stories – and I certainly won’t spoil any of their endings – but I’ll attempt to say just enough to make you want to read them. They are worth it.

A brief history of "What If...?"

“What If…?” is a series that has been running, on and off, for nearly 35 years.

Volume 1, published bi-monthly from 1977 to 1984, offered 63 stories over the course of 47 issues. “What If…?” then lay dormant a while, until a one-shot Special starring Iron Man was published in 1988, rejuvenating the series.

Volume 2, published monthly from 1989 to 1998, offered 115 more stories across 115 issues. Additionally, three “Alterniverse” one-shots (two of which were actually released in two parts) were published during this time. But then, “What If…?” ended again. An uninterrupted decade of stories seemingly tapped the well dry.

In 2005, however, the series was given a third lease on life. “What If…?” returned with a wave of six one-shots and a humor special. In 2006, another six one-shots arrived, and a wave of five new one-shots has been published every year since. Additionally, a special one-shot starring the New Fantastic Four was released in 2008 to honor the memory of artist Mike Wieringo.

If my count is correct, “What If…?” has thus far brought us 223 stories over the course of 199 issues. A uniquely-numbered “What If…?” #200 is in fact scheduled to hit stands later this month, followed shortly thereafter by the one-shots of 2011.

What better time for a retrospective?