What If... Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four? (Vol. 1, #1)
That's right, True Believers, we're starting things off with the very first ever issue of What If...?
You may ask, however, where do we go from here? After all, there's currently 200 issues of What If...?
floating around. Well, I'll be proceeding according to a combination of my personal preferences and whatever requests or suggestions I might receive. If you've got a favorite issue, drop a comment and I'll see what I can do.
Anyway. Our cover is a classic: The Fantastic Five
burst through old FF
pages. Spidey says that "If Dr. Doom and company thought the old
FF were tough... Wait'll they meet the Fantastic Five!
" In case you're wondering, Spider-Man's FF costume is pretty much the same as usual - except his spider emblem's abdomen is enlarged and has a "5" on it. It's sort of hokey looking, but this is 1977 so I'm gonna let that slide.
Anyway. Your friend and mine, Uatu, the Watcher, greets us. "Since time out of mind, I have observed the rise and fall of civilizations — of worlds — of galaxies.
I know all that is
— most that has been
— and much of what will be.
" One thing I'd like to point out is that this is back before the Watcher's design really fell into place. If you're familiar with the character, you most likely think of him as a guy with a huge head and a scrawny body, but in his original appearances this was far from the case; his head was still pretty huge, but in a more muted, Exeter
kind of way, and he had an impressive Heroic Build
if you can believe it. Bulging biceps and all.
Anyway, he tells us that he also has windows into the strange parallel worlds of what might have been. For instance: What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four? He knows as well as you do, "privileged ones now receiving my telepathic message", that this never
happened (Hilarious in Hindsight
ahoy! Spidey was
, however briefly, a member of the New Fantastic Four along with Wolverine, the Hulk, and Ghost Rider - though, naturally, long after this was published), so he kind of expounds on the previously explained concept of parallel worlds, giving examples from established Marvel canon: A world where Reed Richards became the Thing, which crossed over with the main (616) universe at one point, a world where the Axis Powers won World War II, the world of the Squadron Supreme
, and the alternate futures of Killraven and Deathlok. I'd like to pay especial attention to one instance, though - Uatu mentions there are lingering doubts about whether or not Spider-Man's spectacular bout with "a certain colorfully clad alien
" took place in this time continuum or another, a reference to the then-recent instant classic Superman vs. Spider-Man
Augh, I've barely gotten started and this is like a million words already. I should move on. Anyway, after mentioning those alternate futures, the Watcher shifts gears and says today we concern ourselves with the past
, where "two fateful accidents
caused the creation of five of the most unique human beings to ever live on any Earth." He, of course, means the cosmic ray bombardment that mutated the Fantastic Four and the radioactive spider bite that turned "Puny" Peter Parker into the Amazing Spider-Man. For years, people have wondered what it would be like if they'd joined forces in their early days - "And rest assured — such a thing nearly did happen!" After all, the FF appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #1
Okay, now we begin the story properly. Days after adopting the Spider-Man identity, Peter Parker is desperate. After both selfless acts and commercial endeavors failed to bring him the fame and fortune he desired, he's stumped. The Daily Bugle
recently offered a reward for Spider-Man's capture, and he's trying to puzzle out a way to capture himself
and collect the money. Thankfully, he abandons that line of thought when he notices an authorized Fantastic Four comic book lying around his room. That's it! He'll join the Fantastic Four and make money licensing his image!
...Huh. Either this was before the Baxter Building... or I'm maybe thinking of Four Freedoms Plaza. Whichever one had the giant "4" on it. Whatever, the FF's headquarters looks like any other skyscraper is my point. Spidey's convinced he's got the perfect sales pitch - they'll jump at the chance to have a teenager with super powers working with them! Figuring a demonstration would help, he suits up and walks across a web line to their HQ. Unfortunately for him, the FF are hardly caught napping, because this sets off an alarm. Unfortunately for them
, someone was dumb enough to leave a window open, through which Spidey deftly makes his entrance. It turns out this was a trap: the a steel shutter closes over the window as a plexi-glass cage drops on him from the ceiling. However, Spidey isn't giving up - he manages to slip out of the cage, and a veritable melee breaks out.
The Thing pops ol' Webhead right in the breadbox, but gets caber tossed by Spidey in return. The Thing swears he pulled his punch since Spider-Man's so small, and he's probably not trying to save his pride. Mr. Fantastic tries to grab Spidey, but our quick-thinking arachnid hero snares him in a web cocoon. Reed doesn't want to fight a stranger without even knowing why
they're fighting, but Spidey claims this isn't a fight - it's an exhibition! The Invisible Girl sneaks up on him, hoping to get our guy with a rope, but his Spider-Sense warns him of the danger - he grabs the rope and pulls, taking her for a little spin. The Human Torch makes a ring of fire in the air around him, but he just hops, crawls, and jumps out of it.
Mr. Fantastic has had enough. He stretches his body to mammoth proportions and demangs Spider-Man explain himself - why is he here? Spidey says he wants to join up with the group, and just wanted to give a little demonstration. He just wants to know what the job pays. Turns out... nothing. The Fantastic Four are strictly non-profit; all proceeds are funneled into charity and scientific research. Johnny quips that if Spidey wants a job that badly he can look up General Motors. This
is what happened in our timeline.
The Watcher pops in, pausing the tale with "Timestop." He uses an analogy to explain the situation - a speeding car, a hapless pedestrian, and a startled onlooker. Based on the onlooker's actions, the situation is radically altered. He can do nothing and let the pedestrian die, he can leap to save him but not make it in time causing them both
to die, or he can jump in a split second sooner and save them both. He reminds us that what preceded is what happened in our world, but what if things had happened just a little differently mere moments later?
Back in the story. The FF is still putting Spidey through the wringer - this guy's wanted by the police! "This ain't 'Outlaws, Anonymous', ya know!" Spidey's pissed; the FF aren't any better than anyone else in his life, always thinking the worst of him. He starts to leave, and here is the slight difference that leads to the huge change: Invisible Girl asks him to come back. She thinks if he can stop being so hostile, she's sure they can come to some sort of agreement. Mr. Fantastic thinks she's being a little hasty, but can it really hurt to hear him out? Spider-Man keeps pushing the money angle, and the Human Torch isn't having it... But Mr. Fantastic thinks it could work. The group could use his unique abilities, and he's been recently thinking about doling out some extra spending money to the rest of the group
The Thing and the Human Torch are still opposed to the idea. They're both way more powerful than Spider-Man! Hell, so is Reed! (This is before Invisible Girl developed her force field powers, sadly). Reed tries to get them to calm down - he never said Spider-Man was better
than anybody. He just thinks that he could be useful to the group. Seeing the trouble he's causing, the Webslinger starts to think he should
leave. The Thing agrees, and raises another point - they don't even know who this clod is! The Fantastic Four is Comicdom's first family, and there's no secrets between them. How can a mystery man in a mask fit into that dynamic? Even Invisible Girl thinks this could be a deal breaker.
The Thing says it won't be a problem much longer, because he's gonna tear that mask right off Spidey's face. Mr. Fantastic stops him - if Spider-Man truly wants to join the Fantastic Four, he'll have to make that decision for himself. Spider-Man mulls it over, and decides it's only fair if they're going to be his partners. He takes off his mask, revealing "Peter Parker, boy wallflower of Midtown High!" Sue is relieved; she was worried he'd be scarred like Dr. Doom. Reed points out there are many kinds of scars, and Spidey agrees - like she scars he's had ever since Uncle Ben was murdered. His old Aunt May is a widow, and he's her only support. Which reminds him, he better get home to check up on her!
Once at home, Peter makes up a crazy explanation as to why he'll be away from home more in the future - he finally got a job! It's too bad about her heart; if she ever discovered he was Spider-Man, the shock would probably kill her. Later, at a hastily convened press conference at Rockefeller Center, Mr. Fantastic announces that the Fantastic Four is no more — they're now the Fantastic Five
! Upon this revelation, he, the Human Torch, and Invisible Girl tear off their "4" insignia to reveal a "5" underneath it. Spider-Man, wearing the costume from the cover, then swings in. A few members of the press are skeptical. Spider-Man's a complete enigma, nobody knows anything about him!
J. Jonah Jameson knows something about him: He's a dirty rotten crook! That is, until the Fantastic Five publicly embarrasses him by definitively clearing Spider-Man's name. He gives Spider-Man the endorsement of the Daily Bugle in an attempt to save face. The Chameleon watches on TV, enraged that his plan of impersonating Spider-Man to commit crimes will no longer work. He soon lapses into obscurity. Soon, however, New York is swept by a crime spree perpetrated by Adrian Toomes - the Vulture! The Vulture is known for giving Spider-Man trouble in 616 continuity, but on this world, Spider-Man isn't alone! Rather than having to devise an anti-magnetic gizmo to defeat the Vulture, the rest of the Fantastic Five picks up the slack. But is this for the best?
Soon the FF embarks on a mission to the moon - but since they weren't able to make proper accommodations in time, one of them has to stay behind. Bitterly, Invisible Girl remains on Earth. Meanwhile, Ivan Kragoff of the Soviet Union takes his three trained apes on a similar mission - but not before bombarding themselves with cosmic rays to gain incredible powers! Once on the moon, Kragoff - now the Red Ghost - gives the Thing a bit of trouble by virtue of being an Intangible Man
. Spider-Man does his part by taking on the Red Ghost's Super-Apes solo, leaving the Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic to reach a mysterious city on the moon's surface.
There they discover neither the USA nor the USSR was the first to reach the satellite, for they are met by none other than our humble narrator, the Watcher himself! Soon, the Red Ghost is defeated and they head back to Earth. They land at a regular airport to meet their public - they are, after all, the first men on the moon. They'll soon come to regret the delay, for Prince Namor of Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner, calls to Sue from the ether, begging her to meet with him. Upon so doing, she's mesmerized by, and I swear to Christ is says this, "a hovering, fluttering hypno-fish". At Namor's command, it encases her in a large air bubble before they leave for Atlantis. As it turns out, this is a ploy by the Puppet Master, controlling Namor's will. He desires revenge against the Fantastic Five for a past defeat, and even though he could simply manipulate them with his dolls, he feels it would be much more satisfying if he didn't.
Yeesh, this story's really all over the place. Still, I persevere.
Back at FF HQ, the guys are trying to keep busy while Sue is visiting her cousin (according to a note she'd left behind). However, they're soon interrupted by the Sub-Mariner's arrival. Their attempts to attack him pass right through - he's not really there, he's a mental projection. He tells them Sue is his captive, and that if they're man enough they can try to take her from him.
The FF heads for Atlantis in a special submarine, unknowingly watched by the Pupper Master all the while. As they approach Namor, they're attacked by a giant scavenger clam under his thrall. Namor takes them to his lonesome undersea palace, having yet to discover his Atlantean subjects scattered throughout the seven seas. There he reveals Sue imprisoned in a water tank. She's still in that giant air globule, but the world's mightiest octopus is bearing down on her! Reed notices this doesn't add up - the Sub-Mariner isn't acting like himself. In his own way, he loves
Sue. He'd never intentionally put her in harm's way! The FF launches at Namor, and Spider-Man is impressed by how close-knit and loyal to one another they are.
They struggle in combating Namor, but eventually teamwork prevails and he's bound with spider webs. The Thing dives into the tank, takes out the giant octopus, and saves Sue. "Not a whimper out of her. First time I ever saw a female who could keep her mouth shut for so long!" I'm sorry, that line's hilarious. And before you think that sexism was unintentional, the Watcher remarks that "Ben Grimm, of course, has just revealed that in any time continuum, his knowledge of women is something less than perfect."
The Puppet Master sees that everything's working out, and he certainly can't have that. He commands Namor to strike anew. "I must put an end to you all! I have no other choice!" Reed figures out why the Sub-Mariner is acting so strange — he's being controlled by the Puppet Master! Namor's got them cornered, but at that moment
a Deus ex Machina
Namor's giant octopus bursts from a dome atop Namor's palace seeking a new victim. It finds one in the Puppet Master's submarine, from which he has been watching all along. The Puppet Master is a quick thinker, and actually tries to carve a puppet of the creature - but you can't dominate the mind of a mindless beast!
Namor's will is now his own, and he wants to do battle with Mr. Fantastic! Sue commands them to stop - this is her choice to make. And since the Fantastic Five doesn't need her, she chooses Namor. Namor takes her to a special chamber that alters her, turning her into an amphibian like himself. Well, not really. Namor
is an amphibian, but only because he's half-human - the device turned her into an Atlantean
, and she can thus only survive underwater! Desperate, Namor hurls the machine at the dome keeping his palace from being completely submerged. Water comes in, but Sue's transformation is now irreversible.
The Fantastic Five, or probably Four again, having left at some point, aren't feeling so hot. Reed thinks the bright side to all this is that Sue will almost certainly act as Namor's conscience, staying his temper and keeping him from acting irrationally in the future. Spider-Man says he can't help but feel responsible - if he hadn't upstaged her, she probably wouldn't have gone with the gillman. Johnny comforts him, saying it's just fate. If Spidey had never joined the FF, it probably would have worked out the exact same way.
Whew! That's one under my belt, I guess.
SO IT WAS ON THIS WORLD. BUT WHAT IF...?