What If... Captain America had formed the Avengers? (Vol. 2, #29)
Hey, I know it's been a while, but considering how there's 201 issues of What If...?
there are blah blah excuse.
Enough of that, true believers! It's time for one of the most ridiculous issues of What If...?
ever — and that's counting
the ones that are deliberate jokes! While many of these stories fall prey to Non Sequitur Causality
, this one takes the cake for sure, and you'll see just how as the plot unfolds.
This cover is, well... trying
. It's an homage to the classic cover of Avengers
#4, the first Silver Age appearance of Captain America. Frankly, I've seen many better versions of this cover - Captain America
#337, for instance, which is collecting dust in my closet right this second. Anyway, Cap is, well, in Cap's place. A Wendigo, a Canadian tribal spirit, takes the place of Thor; something that can only be the Punisher-as-Iron Man
is in Iron Man's spot; Giant Man is likewise still technically Giant Man, but this one appears to be black; and Namor, sporting a serious Alan Moore
-style long hair and beard combo, is the Wasp.
I have to admit that the first time I saw this cover, I was, to put it mildly, intrigued. "If Cap put together the Avengers, there'd be a Wendigo on the team, the Punisher would be Iron Man (or perhaps vice versa), Giant Man would be black, and, uh... Namor would have a beard? ...Oh, I gotta
see this." I don't necessarily regret reading this issue because there are parts where the story is honestly not that bad, but its worse moments are far more plentiful and nothing short of painful.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that this is one of very
few What If...?
s to be a direct sequel to another - in this case, the very previous issue, "What If Captain America had led an army of Super Soldiers in World War II?" I'm not doing that issue because, frankly, it's actually a little boring. I would bring you up to speed, but if you've been paying any attention at all you can probably guess that the Watcher will be taking care of that for me.
Yowza! I had originally scoped this issue out a while ago, and I'd forgotten how much artist Ron Wilson had exaggerated the Watcher's cranium. Man, even when his design gets locked down, it differs. Wilson's going for an obvious Jim Lee thing, by the way. Anyway, the big guy gives us the down low. On our world, Dr. Abraham Erskine developed the Super Soldier serum - but was assassinated before he could recreate it. Fearing spies, Dr. Erskine had committed the formula to memory and never written it down, meaning it was now lost forever. As recounted last issue, however, had Steve Rogers reacted just a half-second sooner, the doctor's life would have been saved.
With the serum, an army of super soldiers was created, who single handedly won WWII - in December 1941. However, a ship carrying super soldiers home was hit by a renegade U-Boat, and only Rogers emerged alive. Rogers came home to head SHIELD, a new army of American Super Soldiers that now controls the world
! Rogers soon became an incredibly popular figure and was elected President... and, like Roosevelt before him, re-elected, re-elected, and re-elected. Decades passed, and thanks to the serum, America became a nation of perfect human beings... but only for those who fit Rogers' personal idea of perfection; "other Americans suffered brutal
oppression at the hands of a new 'master race'." And, I'm just going to come out and say it - "other Americans" means "people who aren't white, and a pretty decent chunk of white people, too."
But even the masters are controlled by the government, relying on yearly booster shots to keep their perfect bodies. There are no super heroes in this world. For years, SHIELD has been eradicating such subversive presences. One SHIELD squadron led by agent Frank Castle not only killed Spider-Man, but went after the Sub-Mariner. Namor lost them in the north Atlantic, where he discovered something incredible... the real
Captain America encased in ice.
This is where our story picks up. As Namor marvels at his discovery, he's blindsided by Castle, who has donned a suit of Iron Man armor with a Punisher theme and skull insignia. I'm still not over this, to be honest. I know What If...?
pulls this crap all the time, and all, but this is a world that's far
more different than almost any other so far in the series, so I'm really not buying that Frank Castle would still be wearing a skull on his chest. Why? Are we, the readers, really too stupid to know who Frank Castle is? Okay, I'm letting this get away from me, moving on. Castle hits Namor from behind with these huge wrist-mounted guns. So he's also sort of like War Machine, I guess. Captions reveal that this suit, designed by multimillionaire SHIELD backer Tony Stark, makes him the ultimate fighting machine — Iron Man. No
, you're kidding
I really hate to sound so upset, but seriously. Anyway, we then cut to Castle and his squad being taken back to base, with Namor and Cap in tow. Castle's subordinate Clint Barton thinks they should just kill Namor right now. He's too dangerous! Castle says that's not their decision to make and that they're to take him back to base for evaluation. They've got Namor in a cage that keeps him dehydrated, thus making him too weak to resist. The ship's pilot, Jasper Sitwell, puts the bird on auto and asks about the ice man. Clint notices an uncanny resemblance to Steve Rogers, especially in that costume, when the guy actually starts to get up!
Cap screams "Nick! Look out!" and starts madly attacking Castle and his men. Retrieving his shield and mask, his memory starts to come back - they're dead, all of them. One of the SHIELD men asks who he is, and well, he's Captain America. When told there's only one Cap, and it's the President, he's not hearing it. They try to put him away, but soon realize that he's a Super Soldier just like them - even "Hawkeye" can't hit him! Cap says they rely too much on weapons: "Man himself is the most potent arsenal!" and tosses both Clint and Sitwell into a spare prisoner cell. Cap deflects a repulsor assault and knocks Castle to the ground with a toss of his shield. Castle's actually starting to believe that this guy's the real, original Super Soldier.
Cap says the last thing he remembers is being on a ship with the other Super Soldiers and getting attacked. Namor calls Cap over and fills him in on the rest as he's freed from his cage. That attack was over forty years ago, encased in ice, you can pretty much guess the rest. However, Namor dishes on how America and the world have changed since Cap's day — "The promise of perfection and the reality of tyranny!
" ...and the fact that the architect of it all has stolen his face and his name. Cap angrily shouts at Castle, asking if this is true. Castle tries to dodge the question, saying Cap is his hero and that he was just following orders. Clint and Sitwell are happy to field the question, confirming that they've created a perfect, pure America free of "mongrel races
and nonhuman freaks
Clint tells Castle that he's talking treason, and if HQ gets wind of this they'll hunt down his whole family! Castle thinks about his family for a moment, and when Cap asks him if he wants to fight for that kind of country anymore, he says no — by killing his cronies with a repulsor blast. Cap is shocked, but Castle doesn't think he did anything wrong. "They committed crimes. I punished
them." I don't understand the obsession with making things more or less the same when the point of the series is to see how things are different. That, and Castle's Heel-Face Turn
took like three panels. And nobody said anything about crimes, either. It's just clumsily trying to integrate stuff from the mainline universe. Anyway, Namor has unfinished business with Castle, but Cap stops the fight before it can start. They all have the same goal, and they need to work together.
Then Cap puts on a ridiculous screamy face right out of Rob Liefeld's sketch book and rants about liberty never dying in a speech that probably wasn't supposed to be stupid. Remember the last issue I did? Thor gave that little lecture about how the Avengers will never be gone so long as even one of them can shout "Avengers Assemble"? That was a lot more sincere. This is just weak writing. Even less smoothly, Cap mentions that all three of them have something to avenge, so they'll call themselves the Avengers. Again, not really buying it. Hell, the actual 616 Avengers called themselves that because it's all they could think of, and I like that
Next page... "Somewhere over the wilds of Canada... Specifically British Colombia, the 57th state..." Okay, I'd hate to nitpick, but if BC is a US state, then they aren't flying over Canada, then, are they? Cap says that thanks to Castle they've got a list of superhumans targeted for extermination by SHIELD. There's an odd moment where it's directly implied that Cap has never even heard of a computer before. Come on, he never saw a sci-fi movie? Namor catches something with his sharp vision - "signs of battle." They land and investigate, and find men slaughtered like animals. Namor wonders who could possess such power, and a voice calls at them from off-panel. "Lookin' for me, bub?
That's right, it's Wolverine. In a nice bit of continuity, Cap remembers him from the time they met during the war, as seen in the classic X-Men
#268. Well, it would
be a nice bit of continuity if, you know, the course of the war hadn't been drastically altered in this universe and there weren't no way for that to still have happened. Wolvie says he remembers Cap, to-, and pops the Sentinel of Liberty right in the mouth!
He keeps ranting at Cap, turning into a Wendigo nearly twice his normal size to take the fight to the next level. Castle tries to tell him this isn't President Rogers, but it's falling on deaf ears. The Avengers give him everything they've got and he's not going down. Cap manages to calm him by saying he came to ask for his help. Namor says that this government is no friend of his, either, and Wolvie can relate. A few years ago they came into this territory, started cutting down all the tries, driving off the Native Americans, building oil wells... Wow, a Wolverine who holds memories of Canada dear to his heart. Huh.
Cap gives another really weak speech, Castle tells Wolvie it'll be a free-for-all for killing Rogers' blue boys, and we find out Wolverine isn't Wolverine at all - he prefers to go by the Hulk. I don't even really get this, but it probably has something to do with Wolverine's first appearance, where he tangled with the Wendigo and the Hulk. Okay, so the Punisher is Iron Man and Wolverine is a Wendigo called the Hulk, for those keeping score at home. Anyway, we get a bullcrap explanation for the Wendigo thing that I'm not going to bother with.
We cut to the home of Dr. Henry Pym in New Jersey, where Samuel "Snap" Wilson, who is the Falcon on our world, breaks in with the intention to rob the place blind. Now, I'm sure they're trying to say something about injustice and necessity breeding crime, but the fact still stands that the only black person with a speaking role in this comic is introduced to us as a burglar. Anyway, it turns out he picked exactly the wrong place to rob, because the Avengers are there - and Castle holds a wrist-gun to his head, just itching to waste him. The Avengers had been hoping to recruit Pym, but he was dead when they got there. The Hulk observes that the bodies are cold, so it's been a little while. Captions note that Pym's first wife never died because the Soviet Union never became a superpower, and Cap tells us what we already know by saying that according to the notes he's found, Pym discovered a way to shrink and grow at will. Castle brings Snap into the room and says he's ready to take him out when Cap give the word. Snap has something to say, first.
He goes into this rant directed at Cap that's best summarized by this line: "I may be a thief, but you stole our lives!" Cap engages yet again in Easy Evangelism
, and two panels after delivering a hate-filled verbal thrashing to Cap, Snap is shaking his hand and joining the team. And there's an error in that panel that has the word balloons mixed up, too. Castle's indignant because of a lifetime of racist indoctrination, but Cap again exhibits the uncanny ability to sway people to his position every time he talks. Snap puts on one of Pym's extra suits and is given the size-changing capsules, becoming Giant-Man.
They then spirit away to Magnus' Academy for Gifted Youngsters, which is in an intense state of disrepair. They're assaulted the moment they walk in by Magneto, wearing his goofy "good guy" outfit that just doesn't suit him at all. The bodies of the X-Men litter the ground, because apparently Magnus never saw fit to bury them or anything. Castle wants a piece of this "lousy mutie", but Cap shuts him up. Magnus remembers Cap from when he freed him from a concentration camp as a boy. He pulls up his sleeve to show the number tattooed on his arm as proof. Back then, Cap told him a line that I actually think is pretty good: "I'm just a man, no different from you. We're all human beings. Only men like the Nazis divide people any other way." Cap insists he stands by those words, and that President Rogers is an impostor. If Magnus hears him, he doens't say so. Instead, he fashions a helmet out of the wreckage and vows that humanity will know him as its master. He flies away, and this is basically a Big Lipped Alligator Moment
because they don't even mention it at all later.
We cut to the Avengers aboard their transport, and I'm happy because I almost thought they'd go after another few members and see the exact same scene unfold several more times. They're running over their plan - Cap thinks they just need to cut off the serum supply at SHIELD HQ. It's simple, right? Yeah, simple... they just need to break into the most impregnable fortress on the planet - the SHIELD Helicarrier. I'd like to point out this has got to be the very worst drawing of the Helicarrier that I've ever seen, it looks terrible.
Alright, so they actually, uh, get in really easily with Frank's security clearance. They climb in a giant ventilation tube, and eventually hear some odd commotion below them. Looking in, SHIELD is conducting an experiment on none other than The Mighty Thor
! He's bound by Doctor Strange's Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, which SHIELD murdered him to learn. They're trying to see if they can make him drop his hammer, but nothing's worked so far. The Avengers burst from the tube and into the room, knock out the crew, and free Thor. Thankfully we're spared another "attack Cap, get talked down, join team" thing, because Thor manages to put the pieces together himself for the most part. However, the intruder alert was activated the by the explosion Thor caused when bursting from his bonds, and SHIELD's sending everyone in to kill them. Thor takes out dozens with a single toss of Mjolnir, to Castle's amazement. Meanwhile, President Rogers receives an urgent phone call.
A huge melee ensues, and everybody gets a piece. Giant Man's clearly working out some issues and he grabs two agents in his giant mitts and claps them together, saying "Come and get it, 'master race'!" Cap says that they're fighting well against such a large group, but they aren't fighting as a team
— SHIELD is going to bear them down with sheer numbers before long. Cap says they've got to get moving, but the Avengers stay behind to hold the agents off while Cap goes after the serum vault based on Castle's directions. As he rushes towards his goal, Cap is aided by being, you know, Captain America - SHIELD agents experience a moment's hesitation upon seeing him, giving him an edge. Apparently, none of them can match his fighting spirit, a phrase that's been used like three times so far and makes me feel like I'm reading Bleach
Because he's Steve Rogers, the vault recognizes his handprint and lets him in. Inside, he finds none other than Abraham Erskine, over a hundred years old - kept alive only by his own serum! It appears the good doctor is going a bit senile, because he doesn't seem terribly aware of his surroundings - nor does he realize that he's not talking to the President. He also doesn't know what year it is - Rogers has kept him holed up in there since '45! Cap shows him news footage of the world as it is today on a nearby communication station, and Erskine's all "orz". He laments the perversion of his dream, but Cap tells him a perfect world doesn't come from a test tube, but from the hearts of free men everywhere. That's when Steve Rogers walks in with a gun, and reveals himself to be the Red Skull.
He'd had his mind transplanted into a clone of Rogers' body and replaced him after the U-Boat incident, doing everything he could thereafter to create the perfect Aryan society. It turns out Rogers-Skull had kept it so that Erskine was the only one who knew the formula, so that he would always have total control over it. He kept him in the vault and told him whatever he wanted to hear to keep him motivated. Erskine is outraged, as you can imagine. Erskine says he's done serving him, but the Skull has actually learned the formula after all these years. He puts his gun to Cap's head, but Erskine rushes him and takes the bullet instead. Cap and the Skull struggle against each other, with the Skull deriding Cap's America as long dead. Cap tosses the Skull at a power grid, electrocuting him. Uh, yay, I guess? I mean, he kind of deliberately murdered the guy, I'm having a hard time being happy about Captain America doing that.
Back down below, the battle rages on as SHIELD sends wave after wave of Agents after the Avengers. Cap rejoins the dust-up and the Avengers give a mighty cry of "Avengers Assemble" as they face certain death. A few years later a statue is erected of them, the wounds of the Skull era beginning to heal. "The Avengers - They Gave Their Lives to Set Men Free."
The Watcher closes out the story, and what did I tell you about the Magneto thing? Seriously, why even have that in there if you're going to actively ignore it later? "A few years later America has become idyllic and awesome again and there's totally no evil mutants bent on revenge or anything" goes directly against... you know what, nevermind.
SO IT WAS ON THIS WORLD. BUT WHAT IF...?