SparkNotes Blog

7 Times Marvel What If? Scenarios Became Full-Blown Stories

Following her October 2014 debut, Marvel kept fans guessing at the identity of the mystery woman who had taken up the mantel of Thor, peppering each issue with clues and red herrings. Finally, the game came to an end last month, when Thor, Vol 2: Who Wields the Hammer? revealed the Goddess of Thunder to be—spoilers ahead! Cast thine eyes elsewhere now, mortal!—the Odinson’s ex-paramour, Jane Foster. Quite the shocking development…if it hadn’t already happen 37 years ago. We jest thee not: Marvel predicted this way, way back in issue #10 of its What If? series, which explored wacky this-will-never-happen alternate universe scenarios. Or did it? The Thor reveal isn’t  the only story to make the hypothetical-to-canonical leap. Read on for seven more eerily prophetic What If? tales!

Welcome to the Four, Spider-Man (What If? #1)

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four have always maintained a good rapport in their 50-odd years of being in the world-saving business, though it was never really enough to earn him a spot on their team (discounting the time he, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Hulk formed their own version of Marvel’s premier super family). What If’s classic first issue decided to throw an alternate universe’s Spider-Man a bone for a change, inducting him into the Fantastic Four as a fifth wheel—uh, member! The mainstream Spidey we know and love would have to wait quite a while before he was given his coveted time to shine in FF, Vol. 1, succeeding the then-fallen Human Torch per his incendiary friend’s posthumous request.

I Think, Therefore I Smash (What If? #2)

The Hulk and Bruce Banner have always been a popular metaphor for man’s internal conflict between the id and the superego—the former, in Bruce’s case, absolutely mopping the floor with its moral opposite. The first time the Hulk did wield both brains and brawn, albeit temporarily through magic, was in The Incredible Hulk#140, but it wasn’t until What If #2 that Marvel arrived at the thought: why not let Banner take the wheel more often? For real this time.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Hulk oscillated between brute and genius, each instance a defining moment for the character. And most recently he’s taken on the identity of “Doc Green” in Hulk Volume 2: Omega Hulk Book 1, utilizing his two greatest strengths to rid the world of all other gamma-powered individuals… which isn’t as humanitarian as one might assume.

A Radioactive Spider So Nice, It Bit Twice! (What If? #7)
If it weren’t for being in the right place at the right time, Peter Parker would have never been nipped by the radioactive spider that transformed him into Spider-Man and improved his social life tenfold. What If? #7 explored the alternate path not traveled, wherein Peter’s schoolyard chums were instead given the eight-legged bugger’s painful kiss. It was a fun concept to think about, likely inspiring current Spider-Man writer Dan Slott to put his own twist on the scenario. The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1: Parker Luck revealed that in addition to Peter, a young woman was bitten as well, years later taking to the streets as Silk.

Nifty Fifties Avengers (What If? #9)
Before we’d come to know them as Marvel, the publisher once operated under different names—specifically, during the 1950s, as Atlas Comics. In an interesting move, What If?#9 attempted to revive the obscure characters created during that era, bringing the likes of 3-D Man, Gorilla-Man, the Human Robot, Marvel Boy, and Venus together as the original Avengers. Sadly, Marvel’s top editorial brass expunged the team from continuity in the late ‘90s, and they were nearly forgotten yet again until writer Jeff Parker brought them back into the mainstream fold. Still rooted in the ‘50s, the “Agents of Atlas,” as they came to be known, work in the Marvel Universe’s pulpier shadows, at times butting heads with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the X-Men, as seen in Agents of Atlas Versus.

Rick Jones SMASH! (What If? #12)
We don’t like pointing the finger of blame any more than you do, but someone’s got to take the heat for Bruce Banner’s becoming the Hulk—and his name’s Rick Jones! Deciding that goofing off on a military test site was the best way to assert his virility to his pals (real friends don’t let friends get blown to atoms), Rick was spared the gamma radiation when Bruce selflessly ran in to save him. What If? #12 offered a flipped take on the incident, with Rick instead becoming the Hulk. Over 35 years after that story was published, Rick finally did become an ersatz Hulk within the central canon, transformed into the monstrous A-Bomb. Hulk, Vol. 1: Red Hulk showcases the blue abomination’s earliest exploits, every bit as unpredictable as his green-skinned buddy.

Hulk the Barbarian (What If? #23)
Let’s see if you can identify the storyline: Hulk ends up on a distant planet, where living and dying by the sword is the acceptable norm, and is taken in with open arms by its inhabitants. Amazed by his immeasurable strength, and regarding him as a savior, the people don’t hesitate to rally behind the Hulk in a grand push to liberate their world from sinister forces. If you said Planet Hulk, hey, good for you, you’re right—but it’s also a pretty fair description of What If? #23.

Captain America: Super Soldier, Avenger, President (What If? #26)
For a What If? story, the idea of Captain America becoming President of the United States isn’t all that much of a stretch, especially considering the fact that he’s a patriotic WWII vet embodying the very concept of apple pie, baseball, and green lawns and white picket fences (kind of like Eisenhower). Although he tried and failed in the mainstream canon, Cap’s Ultimate Universe analog had a bit more success winning over the hearts and minds of his constituents in Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand—not too hard when Washington’s been reduced to flaming rubble and the incumbent’s, well, dead. Even Howard the Duck would’ve had a pretty decent shot!

This story was first published on the Barnes & Noble Sci Fi and Fantasy Blog.