The best of classic What If?

Speaking of virtual multiverses, What If? was an ongoing series that featured a different alternate reality every issue, usually with the theme being that everything in a given famous storyline went horribly wrong, and usually in an unexpectedly dark manner. There were a surprisingly large number of great issues of this back in its prime, especially when you consider how they had to keep coming up with a whole new one of these every month. So in chronological order, here are some of the best issues before the dreaded mid-90’s came along and ran the series into the ground like it did everything else.


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What if the alien costume succeeded in taking control of Spider-Man instead of being cast off to later become Venom? Well, naturally it would lead to a crazy, evil Spider-Man who gets wrapped up in some wacky shenanigans that ultimately lead to a horrible death and the symbiote jumping ship and taking over Hulk, and later Thor, before finally being stopped. It’s not the most well-written of the bunch, but you can’t help but be excited by the idea of Venom-Hulk and Venom-Thor (well, at least I can’t)!


This is where there series really started getting grim. The X-Men lose Inferno, which results in them all dying horribly except for Wolverine, who wins the bonus prize of becoming the new possessed champion of the demon invasion. He then proceeds to slaughter the shit out of the rest of the Marvel universe, only taking an occasional break to eat some babies. That’s not a joke, he literally eats a baby. COMICS, KIDS!


Next we have another Spider-Man issue (there were quite a few Spider-Man issues, as you’ll see). This time featuring the famous Kraven’s Last Hunt story, but this time instead of drugging Spider-Man and killing himself at the end, Kraven just kills Spider-Man and goes on a crazy rampage, ending with his insanity becoming so great that he actually starts eating Spider-Man‘s corpse, thinking it will give him spider-power. Also, from the look of that cover, he probably teabagged the corpse as well.


Here we have another tale of Wolverine becoming a monstrous mass murderer, this time by becoming the new Dracula. He does this by getting bit by Dracula and then overpowering him, which you would think by comic book vampire logic would cure him, but no, he just kills the shit out of everyone again. Wolverine gleefully turns all the other mutants into vampires and they pretty much take over the planet until Punisher, who has now become the new sort-of-apprentice of Dr. Strange because there’s no one better left alive, has to fight his way through all of them by himself and snatch the Darkhold to make everything better through the power of magical genocide. Yep, the ultimate spell destroys all vampires, so now all the heroes and mutants are dead. Another cheerful ending for everyone!


Atlantis Attacks was all about some underwater jerks trying to bring the elder god Set back to life so he could eat everyone that hadn’t already been turned into a snakeman. Once again we see most of the major heroes die almost immediately, with the only hope left resting in the hands of an oddball group of random heroes and villains. The survivors are forced to fight and kill all their other surviving old buddies who have become snakemen. Then Set himself drops by and says “FUCK YOU GUYS, I’M HANGRY!” and things don’t go too well for anyone. Set ends up being banished in the end by a convenient plot device, but not before he left behind a bunch of Set babies, who end up eating everyone else anyway, making the vampire world from the previous issue look like they had it good.


This one had two stories about Reed Richards’ daughter surviving, one where she’s good, and one where she’s a horrible H.R. Giger-looking monster that sucks the lifeforce out of all her friends and family until her brother Franklin is forced to team up with Dr. Doom to stop her. This time the good guys save the day and there’s a happy ending for everyone! Just kidding, they all die again.


Another Spider-Man one. This one was actually pretty positive, surprisingly. Yes, he gains godlike power, does weird things to his enemies, gives Aunt May a heart attack, and alienates the hell out of his wife and friends, but amazingly he actually doesn’t go on a murderous rampage and even survives in the end.


COME ON! WHO DOESN’T LIKE VENOM-PUNISHER? Oh. Was it just me? Oh well. What can I say, I was crazy for Venom back in the day, so I got excited by anything remotely like this. The story still holds up pretty well today though.


Here we see what Dr. Doom would have been like if he was Sorcerer Supreme instead of Dr. Strange. Naturally, he’s still a complete asshole, but it made for a pretty interesting story, watching him crush his enemies by combining science and sorcery in such devious ways.


And finally there’s this one. Death’s Head II was one of the grimmest, most XTREEEEEME things around back in the early 90’s. He was kind of like what would happen if Venom and the T-1000 had a baby that was also British. Again, his comics still hold up pretty well even now. That brief 90’s wave of Marvel UK books was really good in general actually. Point being, this issue had Death’s Head, Death’s Head II, and a crazy story where almost everyone dies again. Noticing a pattern yet?


Anyway, I hope you’ve learned a thing or two from all of this, like don’t let Wolverine babysit your children,  don’t pick up and wear any strange alien costumes, and definitely don’t summon snakey elder gods to this plane of existence no matter how fun it sounds.

Now Reading: Chew

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Chew is the story of Tony Chu, a special agent who can get psychic readings off of anything he eats. He lives in a world where chicken is outlawed, food-related psychic powers are popping up all over the place, and the FDA and USDA have taken over as the primary law-enforcement agencies. It’s actually even weirder than it sounds.

Tony has a crazy family with powers of their own, a bisexual cyborg partner, a boss that hates him, and a food-crazy Serbian vampire for an arch-enemy. He works on cases involving an alien fruit that tastes like chicken and grants visions, genetically engineered hallucinogenic frog/chicken hybrids, and anti-chicken death cults, and it’s still even weirder than it sounds.

For the most part all the insanity plays out in a light-hearted, almost cartoonish tone, but there’s a surprisingly complex plot tying it all together that suddenly gets pretty dark and serious at times. It’s an absolutely insane and unique saga that I think has been one of the best Image titles of the last several years, and it’s nice to read it all in one shot now that the story is finally over (and all the hardcovers are out).

Now Reading: Guardians of the Galaxy (of the 90s)

Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino Omnibus came out recently and I couldn’t help myself. This was one of the last great superhero comics of the early 90’s before the godawful dark age of the mid-90’s erupted in a shower of shit, like a toilet that was overflowing because someone tried to flush too many pouches and shoulder pads down it. The original Valentino run still holds up well enough for what it is, an interesting, but slightly goofy look at a possible future of the Marvel universe.

Unfortunately, Valentino ran away to Image and left just about every plot thread dangling. A new creative team was brought in, who wrapped up all of Valentino’s plots as best they could, but it was never quite the same. The series also got canceled with a number of unresolved newer plots hanging in the air, so ultimately there is no satisfying conclusion to be found whether you stick with just the Valentino run or go all in. Oh well. At least now I have the first appearance of Taserface again (yes, he was a real character)…

Now Reading: Crossed +100

Crossed +100 is the story of what the world is like 100 years after the original outbreak of the crossed, who if you’re not familiar with, are basically really rapey 28 Days Later-style-rage-non-zombies. Most Crossed comics since the original series by Garth Ennis have been little more than extreme gore porn, but occasionally some good stuff comes out of it and this is one of them.

Started by Alan Moore and picked up by Simon Spurrier, this story deals with how the remnants of humanity are surviving in a post-apocalyptic world and how the crossed have also been secretly evolving through some complex long-term secret plots. The broken future-English takes some getting used to, though its existence is understandable considering that this is 100 years after the collapse of civilization and modern education systems and such are all long gone.

It’s a pretty interesting look at what humanity could turn into with all their modern conveniences removed and how the crossed manage to work around their complete lack of impulse control in order to avoid extinction. The only downside is that it ends a bit suddenly. There was clearly going to be more to this story, but it was canceled before it could all play out. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them revisiting it and maybe finishing it up with a mini-series or new ongoing someday, as Avatar has been known to do that every now and then, but for now, these 3 story arcs are all there is. While it isn’t quite as good as Spurrier’s earlier Crossed – Wish You Were Here, it’s still one of the best stories in the Crossed world.

Now Reading: Phonogram

Kieron Gillen and McKelvie’s interesting tales of a group of music-based magicians and the music-related shenanigans they get into. Very interesting and energetic stuff that feels kind of like a prototype for their currently running title The Wicked & The Divine. I kind of wish there was more of it, as it’s such an interesting concept that could be explored so much more. Despite the fact that the music they all reference (a lot of 90s pop/punk stuff mostly) isn’t really my kind of stuff, half of it I’ve never even heard of, the metaphors are all clear and the social constructs of one music scene are apparently close enough to that of an entirely different one that all the good old cliches of elitist sub-genre cliques and such are all too familiar. Definitely a worthwhile read for anyone who likes Gillen and/or unusual Brit-magic stories.

Now Reading: Miracleman

Miracleman, originally called Marvelman, was originally a blatant Captain Marvel/Shazam ripoff, but upon his revival in the early 80s by THE ORIGINAL WRITER, he became one of the earliest examples of a superhero comic trying to be painfully realistic. Miracleman confronts his goofy secret origin, meets his creator, wrestles with his own godliness, and reaches the only natural conclusion that a godlike superbeing could reach, that he and the few others like him should run the world. This occurred a bit before Gruenwald did it in Squadron Supreme, and was of course, with THE ORIGINAL WRITER involved, a great deal more graphic about it.

It’s not the greatest work of THE ORIGINAL WRITER, but it was still a very memorable series while it lasted and under the Comico label, was able to deal with much more mature and dark issues than the other mainstream superhero books were allowed to touch on at the time. Neil Gaiman picked up the title after THE ORIGINAL WRITER left, but the publisher went under right before the last issue of his second arc, The Silver Age, leaving us with arguably the worst case of comic book blue balls in history. Amazingly though, since Marvel picked up the rights and reprinted all the old stuff over the last few years, they have finally made a deal with Gaiman to come back and finish the story, which is supposed to be happening sometime this year. Maybe he’ll even get to do the final arc he had planned, The Dark Age. We shall see.

Anyway, despite the way these modern Marvel reprints are disgustingly overpriced and packed full of filler “extras” pages (literally only 50% or less of each volume is actual story), they remain the best, and realistically the only, way to physically enjoy this essential classic series.

Now Reading: Scalped

Scalped is the magnum opus of big-time comic writer Jason Aaron. Whatever your feelings may be on his mainstream superhero comic work (I’m of a mixed mind myself, loving his Thor, not really liking his Dr. Strange too much), these mature readers books are where he really shines, and Scalped, in particular, is something every comic fan should see, if they’re not too squeamish for it.

It tells the story of a bunch of people on a Native American reservation: some are criminals, some are the people trying to bring the criminals down, some are just everyday people caught in the middle, and all of them are thoroughly, disgustingly entangled in a complex train wreck of bleak misery. It’s certainly not for everyone. My wife often expresses her disgust in great detail when I play her movies and shows like this, where everyone is basically just awful and all they do is try to screw each other over, and she always asks me what I see in such dark, depressing stories where there isn’t really anyone worth rooting for. I’ll tell you the same thing I tell her: I just like dark shit, bro!

Anyway, also see the currently ongoing Southern Bastards for more similarly delightful Jason Aaron bleak-as-fuckery.

Now Reading: Mind MGMT

Mind MGMT, put simply, is Matt Kindt’s tale of a secret organization of people with bizarre mental powers. The main plot is about a group of former members fighting against the Mind MGMT organization, which was formerly a beneficial one, but is now corrupt and evil, but the book also gets into the long history of the organization and its many weird members. As usual with Kindt, the powers these characters have are a lot more varied and unique than the usual telepathy/telekinesis/etc-type abilities you expect when you hear the term “mental powers”. Sure, there’s a little of that too, but mostly there’s a bunch of unconventional powers involving controlling and affecting minds through various mediums like books, music, and art.

This world and its characters are made even more dense by the unusual placement of pieces of side stories around the gutters of the pages and by Kindt’s dreamlike water colored art, which tends to contain a lot of double-imagery and other odd visual subtexts.

My only complaint is the same one I usually have about these kind of self-contained independent comics: the ending feels a bit sudden and condensed compared to all the slow build-up preceding it, a common problem with these kind of niche titles. Still definitely a worthwhile read though.

Now Reading: Rachel Rising

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This is a surprisingly dark story from Terry Moore. Seems like every damn person in the town this takes place in is some kind of secret serial killer/abuser/rapist/necrophile/etc. As it turns out later in the story, there is a reason for that, but you’ll have to read it to find that out. This is a typically entertaining Terry Moore story, full of great black and white art and a thoroughly compelling story and cast of characters. The only downside is the same issue Echo had: this story was clearly meant to go on much longer than it did. There’s about 39 issues worth of build up and then everything (almost) is suddenly resolved in a single, final issue and it’s all over before you can even blink. It’s still a worthwhile read, but it sure would be nice to have a more natural conclusion to a Terry Moore story again. Maybe someday…

Now Reading: Black Panther (the Priest run)

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So…Christopher Priest’s Black Panther run. Probably the only time anyone has really given a shit about Black Panther up until recently, at least in my lifetime. This run brought Black Panther up from being a near-forgotten C-list character, to basically being Marvel’s Batman, at least until the next creative teams came around and flushed that all down the toilet.

There’s plenty of action, and comedy, and some impressively complex political and sociological intrigue (maybe a little too complex for the typical mainstream reader in its final days…). This is basically THE Black Panther series to read, of all of them, and I would say the best example of the potential of Christopher Priest’s writing as well.

Things get a little weird in the last book, with the focus suddenly shifting to the “new Black Panther” and the formation of The Crew, a team of oddball Priest characters that would never be heard from again afterwards (as far as I remember), but even that part was still an above average read. Highly recommended to anyone interested in Black Panther or even just Marvel in general.