Happy birthday, Jack. You were a hell of a goddamn artist. Here’s a picture you drew of yourself smashing a sophisticated computer with a shoe.
This week, we not only ask ourselves what if something, we also travel back in time twenty-one weeks to the first of these columns. Ahh, how young I was. How stupid. How devoid of pictures and “hilarious” alternate titles Forbidden to Interfere was. Yes, it’s the first time What If? has returned to an old story, in this case What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?
If you recall, that story started with Spidey forcing his way into the FF in an effort to get paid those mad Baxter Building stacks and ended with Sue Storm left the team for Namor when she found out Reed Richards was a sexist asshole who wouldn’t let her go on any missions.
“Stay home, Sue. We men have important work to do” is a direct quote from this issue.
So we rejoin the Fantastic Four battling the Super-Skrull. Unfortunately, they’re quickly outsmarted by Super-Skrull’s ability to turn his head into goat, a skill that neither the Thing nor, I think I can safely say, anyone ever in the universe could have predicted. He then goes on to set himself on fire and hit Mr. Fantastic with a rock, thoroughly defeating the FF. The day is saved when Spider-Man arrives and captures the Super-Skrull in his Super-Skrull proof net.
That threat eliminated, Reed gets to his new favourite post-adventure pass time: handing out blame. He demands to know why Spidey took his sweet time coming to the FF’s rescue. Turns out Reed’s been doing a lot of that since Sue split and Spidey’s actually pretty fucking sick of it, thank you oh so very much. He rips off his “Fantastic Four Featuring Spider-Man” brand logo decal and webs off, away from the story. So if you were excited about seeing what a Fantastic Four with Peter Parker was like, you can probably bail now. He gone.
That bit of unpleasantness out of the way, we travel under the sea where Namor and Sue are celebrating the fact that Sue is pregnant. Hopefully not with Franklin Richards, a character who was consistently boring from first appearance until the recent Jonathan Hickman run on the book. The idea of a Franklin Richards that is half Namor may be the most insufferable thing on the planet. Except Rick Jones, of course.
Sue’s genuinely happy in her new, constantly wet life with Namor but she misses her old family in the Fantastic Four and asks Namor to travel to the surface and invite them all to the baby’s birth. Because there’s nothing your ex wants more in the world than to see you and your new husband have a kid. This is an ancient Atlantean ritual called “Rubbing Your Face In It.”
Back where they got a lot of sand, instead of a hot crustacean band, the Human Torch and the Thing’s usual bickering takes an awkward turn when Ben points out that Reed’s been kind of a shit since Sue left. Reed Richards, literally the smartest man on the planet, responds by punching his best friend in the face. Ben’s had all he can stands, he can’t stands no more and he too quits the FF, leaving in a taxi and lamenting that he has no logo to dramatically tear off. He rips a couch in half instead.
At this point, Namor arrives with Sue’s invitation and man, he could NOT have picked a worse time. The Fantastic Two flip out, attacking the sea king. Namor gets the hint that Reed and Johnny are maybe not interested in a little fishing expedition and leaves.
“Hey,” he says. “I don’t want to fight. I don’t even want to come to the surface world. But Sue misses you guys. You want to calm down, call me.”
Listen, when Namor’s being civil and non-jerkish to you, it might be time to realize you’re in the wrong here. Unfortunately, Reed and Johnny do no such thing. Using the power of video editing software, Reed is able to turn that preceding speech from Namor into “Hey. I fight Surface World. I Sue Surface World.” and shows it to the UN. Fearing a lawsuit, the UN prepares for war with Atlantis when Ben shows up with an undoctored tape from the Baxter Building’s security cameras. Reed and Johnny leave the UN in disgrace.
With no other options, but with access to a speedboat and a ridiculous hat, Reed and Johnny head to Atlantis themselves, ready to start their own war. They head underwater, the Torch raining water-proof fire on Atlantis below. “Fuck you, physics!” is their rallying cry.
Namor attacks the Torch as Sue goes into labour, tended over by Atlantean birthing dolphins or something, I don’t know. While this is going on, Reed slips away to plant his ultra weapon somewhere in Atlantis. Jesus Christ, Reed. Your Marvel Trading Card clearly reads “Super-Hero”. The hell is wrong with you?
Meanwhile, the most epic battle between the Submariner and the Human Torch is being waged. We know this because a caption tells us so. What we actually see is Namor catching Johnny in a net made of kelp. Well, no surprises there.
Reed sneaks into Sue’s bedchamber where a slew of blue handmaidens are preparing for her birth. Reed chases them away, locking them outside so he can “save” Sue. At which point we learn that the smartest man in the world cannot identify a pregnant woman on sight.
Namor arrives with the captured Johnny and Reed explains his not-at-all-horrible-and-evil-plan-don’t-worry-I’m-the-good-guy-here. He’s set off a device that will make every Atlantean into a surface breather, destroying Namor’s kingdom and forcing Sue back to the surface, after which she will SURELY love me again. Sue is not thrilled, blasting Reed with an invisible forcefield and returning him to his senses. “My god” he thinks, echoing the words of the Talking Heads. “What have I done?”
Without another word (which is a shame because telling Namor he had changed his mind might have saved a lot of misey), Reed leaves to put right what once he made wrong. He reaches the device but it destroys the oxygen pill he took so he could breathe underwater. Nice one, Richards. Luckily, Namor arrives just in time to smash the stupid thing. Unluckily, this is not before one of Namor’s subjects, Warlord Krang is killed also trying to save the day. Hey, remember when Reed killed a guy?
Namor returns Reed to the palace where Sue has given birth to her son. It’s probably not Franklin. Johnny rockets away, angry that he and Reed’s plan to genocide a race of people didn’t work out as planned, while Reed vows to do whatever it takes to strengthen relations between Earth and Atlantis. Or he would if he weren’t arrested for trying to kill all those people.
Well, goody fucking gumdrops, it’s another What If featuring my favourite character Rick Goddamn Motherfucking Jones. The Kree/Skrull War, which I have never read but was apparently a really big Avengers story from back in the early seventies, features… what else? A war between the Kree, a mostly blue and pink race of war loving jerks from the planet Hala led by a giant green blob in a jar and the Skrull, a race of shape changing space monsters who once sent a box of super powers to Stan Lee. Earth somehow gets caught in the middle.
In the normal reality, the day is saved by Rick Jones, when said blob in a jar Supremor unlocks Rick’s potential by allowing him to psychicly summon old Golden Age super heroes out of his mind. Said Golden Agers (including the Whizzer) manage to defeat everyone and save the day somehow.
Alas, in this new universe, Rick Jones is unfortunately executed by traitorous head Kree guy and villain of this summer’s smash hit, the Guardians of the Galaxy Ronan the Accusor. While in our reality, Ronan is delighted by Rick’s ackward sixties era slang, here Ronan just gets cheesed off and shoots him with a hammer instead. Rick’s still smoking corpse is then dragged away to Supremor.
“Shit.” Supremor thinks.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, on a Skrull ship, a chunk of Avengers have arrived to wreck up the place.
There’s Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the Vision and they’re all looking to find the captured Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Captain Marvel. Hang on, guys because this is going to get even more complicated.
The Avengers manage to get a Skrull to talk and discover that there’s a nuclear bomb being launched at Earth. Captain America contacts Goliath (Who is either Hank Pym or an enormous Hawkeye, I have no idea which, but either way he’s wearing a terrible costume.)
and sends him after the bomb while the remainder of Avengers stay behind to battle the Star Strikers. You’d think with a cool name like that, the Star Strikers would be… like a team of Skrull Super Villains or something but no. Just a handful of Skrull idiots in identical yellow spacesuits. They get their shit wrecked severely. Like, it’s embarrasing.
Meanwhile, on Skrull Throneworld, we meet the Skrull Emperor and his giant hat. Skrull Emperor has been watching the recently escaped Marvel, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as they work on the Omni-Wave Projector. The Omni-Wave Projector is a powerful space weapon or possibly telephone. It can do two things, why shouldn’t it? Skrullperor waits for Marvel to finish his work so he can kill the three Avengers and steal the weapon/phone for his war. His hot daughter, Princess Anelle begs him to stop so he punches her in the face.
Elsewhere, Captain Marvel arrives to tell Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch that he’s finished repairing the Omni-Wave Projector and has tried to use it to contact Rick. Unfortunately for him but fortunately for me personally, Rick’s already dead. Cap’s a big Rick fan since they used to share a body so he’s pretty pissed off. He starts flying around the Skrull ship blowing crap up and yelling about vengence. It’s very embarrasing for everyone.
Skrulleror’s getting worried Captain Marvel’s attack so he authorizes Kl’rt the Super Skrull released from jail. Admittedly, Kl’rt’s been under arrest for… you know, trying to kill the Skrull Emperor with his combined powers of all of the Fantastic Four but that’s not really important right now. Clearly this war will be won by whichever side can make the most bad decisions.
Over in Earthspace, Goliath has managed to destroy the nuclear device. He gives himself a congratulatory pat on the lower, uncovered portion of his giant sweaty back and then realizes that there’s a giant armada of Kree warships hanging around the Earth. He manages to slip his ship through the Kree blockade and rendevouze with Nick Fury on his flying, shockingly uncrashed helicarrier. The Helicarrier takes a couple of potshots at the armada before being utterly destroyed. Luckily, all the main characters escape. Especially Dum Dum Duggan and his dumb dumb derby.
On actual Earth, Professor X of the X-Men contacts the Fantastic Four and every other super hero and villain on the planet, letting them know about the incoming invasion. The super hero army loads up into one of Reed Richard’s captured Skrull spaceships and heads out to kick ass. It’s pretty fucking awesome.
Back on the Skrull Warship, a couple of Skrull Warguys (also known as soldiers) discuss their career options until the Vision punches them in the face. He and Captain America escape in a two-seater Skrull escape ship back to the Throneworld while Iron Man and Thor stay behind to destroy the warship. It goes pretty well until Iron Man almost dies. Thor grabs Earth’s Drunkest Avenger and books it for Asgard where he can hopefully get the poor bastard patched up. Or soldered. Whatever.
Over on the Throneworld, the Super Skrull and Captain Marvel battle it out while Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver try to escape. They manage to run into Princess Anelle who drafts them into her own army of Skrull rebels.
At this point, Captain Marvel finally defeats the Super Skrull, snapping his neck like the universe’s most pliable twig. While that’s happening, Vision and Captain America arrive on the Throneworld and are instantly attacked by more Skrull because absolutely nothing is easy. They take a moment between murders for Captain America to tell Vision he’s noticed that Vision has become… noticeably infatuated with Scarlet Witch. Vision brushes it off but Cap knows the Android Avenger’s got a serious case of Scarlet Fever.
Okay, now things are getting REALLY busy. Thor’s arrived in Asgard, getting Iron Man the help he needs and bringing an army of pissed-off viking gods to Earth to help with the alien invasion. Supremor’s doing something… unspeakable with Rick Jones’ corpse. The army of super heroes (including, thanks to a colouring mishap, either Black Daredevil or White Black Panther). Cap and Vision are joined by Captain Marvel and then plunged into the middle of a Skrull civil war.
Back at Kree HQ on Hala, Ronan the Accusor is attacked by a disgusting green blob fetus. It’s the Supremor, joined with the corpse of Rick Jones and now more powerful than ever for some reason! Rick Supremor and Ronan enter one of those battles of psychic will you’ve probably read about in the newspaper. Rick Superemor eventually wins, exploding Ronan’s head. Permanently.
Back on Throneworld, Vision, Captains America and Marvel, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are all finally united. Vision goes to make his move on Scarlet Witch but then Quicksilver gets stabbed in the ankle and Vision loses his nerve. The Skrullperor arrives with the Omni-Wave Projector and starts flat-out vaporizing chumps. Scarlet Witch uses her hex beams to destroy it, also blowing up the Skrullperor and winning the Skrull/Skrull War.
Finally (FINALLY, Jesus.) the smoke clears. The army of superheroes goes home. The Skrulls have a new leader in Annelle and Rick Supremor crowns Captain Marvel the new ruler of the Kree so that Rick Supremor can fly out into space and be a gross intergalactic space baby blob monster thing. Also Vision is about to make his move on Scarlet Witch but then doesn’t instead because he sees her tending to her brother Quicksilver and doesn’t want to be a third wheel. Which is disgusting.
It’s Spider-Man again this week, so I think we can skip the tedious origin retelling and all the power and responsibility crap. You guys all know how this works now, right? In this reality, Spider-Man does indeed stop the burgler who would go on to murder his beloved Uncle Ben! But in this horrible new reality, Peter does it for the fame of stopping small-time crime.
As everyone knows, anyone who can stop a fleeing criminal making off with well over two hundred dollars is most definitely deserving of a movie career and Spidey’s able to strike a deal with well-known agent to the stars J.B. Priest. This (somehow) results in Spider-Man hosting the Tonight Show. Presumedly, Johnny Carson was killed by the Vulture or something.
Unfortunately, before we can get to the Amazing Spider-Karnov segment, the show is interupted by news that John Jameson, astronaut and Real Hero© has died in a routine space shuttle explosion. If only some kind of costumed adventurer had been around to save him instead of hocking deoderant and flirting with *ugh* Joan Rivers.
Peter returns home, excited to tell his still-alive Uncle Ben and always-just-barely-clinging-to-life Aunt May that he’s Spider-Man. Upon hearing the news, May passes out because that’s literally all she did until the 1990s. Ben’s just pissed off because Peter’s no longer interested in his first love, science. Apparently, the fact that people occasionally change their minds about their careers is a fact good old Uncle Ben has never heard of. I guess with great power comes great lectures. Anyway, Spidey storms out, leaving his Aunt and Uncle to cry in a ditch somewhere.
The Spider-Man movie premieres to a sold-out crowd and Peter arrives looking like… well, like this.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Spectacular Spider-Pimp! During the interview, Spidey’s accosted by Daily Bugle reporter and surprisingly important back in the 60s character Frederick Foswell. Foswell’s also local gang boss, the Big Man but that won’t be important for a few more pages. Foswell demands to know if children will replicate Spidey’s dangerous stunts. Spidey responds with a simple request that Foswell go piss up a rope.
Back in his palatial dressing room, Parker reviews his stock options and considers moving into producing (Exciting action in the Mighty Marvel Manner!), when a flunkie comes in and tells Pete that the Daily Bugle has discovered and released his identity! I guess Uncle Ben and Aunt May blabbed. Ohh, if only someone had come along to shut one of them up! Spidey heads over to have a few words with Jameson and brings along a crew of gun-toting Spider-Man dressed thugs. After a little shakedown, Spidey reveals to the assembled press that he’s really only there to present JJ with the First Annual Spider-Man Award for Outstanding Achievement in in the Field of Super-Hero Identification. The press eats it up with a spoon, apparently deciding to ignore the hired goons with machine guns.
Next, Spidey begins gathering up the other local super-heroes, acting as an agent. He secures marketing and film rights for the Fantastic Four, the Avengers (whom I thought had Tony Stark for that but whatever.) and the X-Men. Maybe a little fame will make those guys less depressing… He also buys Marvel Comics and begins putting out a popular comic series about an alternate reality where he isn’t a total douchebag. And forty years later, some guy starts reviewing them on tumblr.
Spider-Man eventually gets around to signing new super-hero Daredevil (I’m frankly shocked that Spidey didn’t sue him for copyright infringement, frankly but whatever.) He hooks DD up with a new, non-yellow costume, leading me to wonder if I’m the only person on earth who actually LIKES Yellow Daredevil.
Back at the Bugle, JJ decides that Daredevil is the last straw and he has the Bugle sue Spider-Man for… something. I guess because Daredevil’s a vigilante? I dunno. Anyway, Peter’s so upset he turns the newspaper into a cloud and I start to wonder if this is actually Spider-Man at all. I mean, look at that guy. I’ve been looking at pictures of Spider-Man all my life and that is not him.
Pete does a little digging around of his own (mostly going back and reading the fifth paragraph of this review.) and discovers that Daily Bugle employee Fredrick Foswell is really local mob boss, the Big Man. Foswell is jailed and Jameson is discredited and forced to resign from the Bugle. He visits Foswell in prison and is offered a job in the Big Man’s syndicate. But can formally upstanding business owner J Jonah Jameson really turn to a life of crime? Possibly while wearing a cloak with a skull on it? Probably.
Six months later, filming is in progress on Spider-Man 2: Money Never Sleeps. Spidey is almost killed by a robot dinosaur, predating Jurassic Park by fourteen years. Luckily, he’s saved by Daredevil who, in addition to co-starring in Spidey 2, has also decided to act as Spidey’s body guard. DD suspects that someone is trying to kill Peter which sounds ridiculous. Whoever would want to kill a rich, self-centered asshole with suspected mob ties?
The next attack does indeed come at Spidey’s workout. He hires the world’s greatest martial artists to attempt to kick his ass, Kingpin style. And it just so happens that Kraven the Hunter is in there. Kraven poisons Spidey with a tiger claw and then escapes. Parker regains conciousness in his ridiculous spider bed, and then he and DD head over to a script meeting with some corporate guys.
Unfortunately, the corporate guys are actually the Sinister Six, joined together under the leadership of some weirdo in a hood. (It’s JJ.). They then BEAT DAREDEVIL TO FUCKING DEATH. It’s only then that Spider-Man realizes that with great power comes great saving your own ass for once in your miserable life and he’s able to defeat everyone. Probably would have been more useful before the above average strengthed blind guy sacrificed himself to save you but whatever. Anyway, Spidey rips off Hooded Weirdo’s mask, Scooby-Doo style to reveal Old Man Jameson, utterly broken by Spider-Man’s rise to fame. Spidey realizes this just in time for the Ol’ Parker Guilt to come back. Ahh, how I missed it. Refreshing like a summer stream.
This week we get back to comics about guys I know reasonably well. Like this fellow: Dr Stephen Strange! Master neurosurgeon and total dickwad until an drunken car accident destroyed the nerves in his hands but left the actual hands looking fine! Look how mad he is!
Strange travelled the world searching for a cure until he heard tell of the Ancient One, a reasonably old man who lives in Tibet, doling out spiritual wisdom and fixed hands. With nothing to lose, Strange sought the Ancient One out, but instead of healing Strange, the Ancient One showed him a better way: AA. Also Strange became Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, with all the benefits that role obviously entails.
But not so in this universe! For what if, our old pal Uatu asks, Strange had taken a different path. Behold, oh Tumblr followers, as Strange gives in to the whispers of the Ancient One’s mandatory evil student, Baron Mordo. Mordo, secret pawn of the Dread Firy-Headed Non-Ghost Rider: Dormammu! Dormammu sees potential in Strange and has Mordo heal his hands. Strange then returns to his life of an evil surgeon. Which is fine until he gets hit with a malpractice suit. Unfortunately for Strange, he’s also the only character in the Marvel Universe who DOESN’T hire Matt Murdock as his lawyer and inevitably loses the case. He storms out into the night, swearing revenge and is found by Mordo once again.
The Ancient One watches all this through a crystal ball and shrugs. “I really had hope for that Strange guy. Too bad he’s evil now. WHELP. Whatever.”
Strange and Mordo and their sinister facial hair return to Castle Mordo where Strange’s training begins. Strange establishes himself as a quick study, taking to floating in a room cross-legged while reading a long scroll like a champ. Unbeknownst to him, he is watched by Dormammu’s sister: She-Dormammu! Also known as Umar the Unspeakable. Luckily for this Tumblr, it’s still reasonably writeable.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all those people in the last paragraph, the Ancient One prepares for the inevitable coming battle with Dormammu. He first goes to Doctor Victor Von Doom, hoping to make Doom the new Sorcerer Supreme, but that’s a different issue of What If, so instead he gets a bunch of other famous magic guys together to save the world.
And what a line up it is! Agatha Harkness! Dr. Druid! Genghis the Senile Magician! Zatara! Baron Winter! Dr. Fate! John Constantine! (It turns out I know waaaaaay more DC magic guys than Marvel. Thanks a lot, old issues of Swamp Thing.) The Ancient One shows the wizards his trump card, the Eye of Agamotto! It’s a big-ass gold eye that lets you talk to Eternity. In this case, Eternity is a big silhouette dude full of planets. He’s basically the representation of the Marvel Universe which means he really outta look like Jack Kirby, but whatever.
Back at Team Bad Guys, Strange is summoned in the night by Dormmamu, who tells him that the time has come to kill Baron Mordo. Which is a bit of a dick move since they’re all living at Mordo’s house rent-free. Strange uses evil magicks to turn Mordo into a burning set of his own clothes. Or disintegrate him. Whatever.
Umar watches all this and decides it is time to strike, appearing to Strange in a dream begging him to free and comes to work for her. Strange does so for the possibility of more power, like some evil but yet-unjailed Tim Allen. At this point, it looks like everyone is pretty much completely prepared to betray everyone else. It’s getting all Shakespearean up in this bitch.
Meanwhile, the Ancient One gathers his Magic Men in an attempt to contact Eternity for help. Unfortunately, Strange uses this moment to attack the summoning with an army of mist ninjas. It’s… really fucking cool.
Dr Druid panics because he’s not a real doctor and begins a different ritual. Gengis the Senile Magician (Bet you thought I made him up!) joins in because he’s fucking nuts and everyone is sucked into the Eye of Agamotto.
The Magic Men escape but Strange is thrown through one of those kick-ass old Ditko looking magical plane things and finds himself face-to-literally everything ever with Eternity. Then Strange does what any of us would do when staring down the actual Universe. He picks a fight with it. Luckily for him, Eternity’s not terribly interested and sends him back to Earth instead.
Strange arrives pissed off and embarrassed. “How DARE the universe not be destroyed by me!” He yells at a flower, knowing Eternity will get the message. He demands Dormammu give him the power he needs to kill Eternity. Dormammu says no. Not because he, you know, needs to live in the universe but because it’s not time to do so yet. It really feels like nobody is thinking this plan through.
Back at the ranch, the Ancient One and his Magic Men are recovering from their failed visit to Eternity and they still need help. The Ancient One summons his masters, the Vishanti, for advice and they tell him what to do: Send the Eye of Agamotto to Dr. Strange. Seriously, guys, are you all forgetting that you live in the Universe? Nobody wins if they blow it up. Except Thanos, I guess.
Strange takes the Eye to Dormammu, telling him that he now has the power to destroy Eternity. Like a mom with a possible sleepover in her hands, Dormammu tells Strange he’ll think about it and then sends Strange to destroy the Ancient One in the meantime. Strange easily defeats the Magic Men and then uses the Eye to open a portal to Eternity.
“Wait!” cries Dormammu, knowing he’s outclassed. “It’s not yet time to destroy Eternity! I haven’t even found a new place yet!”
“Screw you, Mom!” shouts Strange. “I do what I want.”
Dormammu blasts Strange with his evil powers, while Eternity bathes the Doctor in good powers. For a moment, Stephen Strange is caught between the powers of Pure Good and Pure Evil. All of the universe is laid out before him, giving him the infinite possibility to save it or destroy it.Strange has spent years studying the dark arts, gathering power for himself, all only to prepare himself for this moment.
So he wusses out and chooses good for some damn reason. I don’t know. Seriously? You’ve been an evil, murdering bastard for like forty pages but then you just decide you DON’T want to end the universe? What the hell, man? You know, one of the things I like about What If? is that you actually can end an issue with the destruction of the Universe. In fact, there’s one coming up! But nothing here? What a rip-off.