What If? is a Marvel Comics series in which each issue explores the consequences of some key event in Marvel history happening differently. These consequences frequently, though not always, turn out to be one of Hilarity Ensues or Anyone Can Die. The series originally ran from 1977 to 1984; a second series ran from 1989 to 1998. It has been occasionally revived in the 21st century for one-shots and miniseries, most often featuring alternate endings to the latest Crisis Crossover.Notable issues include:
Volume 1, issue 9: "What if the Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950s?" - Used as a major plot point in Avengers Forever, this later became semi-canon and led to Agents of Atlas.
Volume 1, issue 32: "What if the Avengers Had Become Pawns of Korvac?" — The ultimate Kill 'em All story of the series, in which Korvac, on a quest for order, achieves total annihilation of the universe with the Ultimate Nullifyer.
Volume 1, issue 44: "What if Captain America were not revived until today?" - A serious attempt to extrapolate from existing continuity, without using Diabolus ex Machina or Drollery ex Machina, with some interesting things to say about patriotism and national pride.
Volume 2, issue 76 — Notable as both the last appearance of the Watcher as the host of the series, and a tale that doubles as both For Want of a Nail and In Spite of a Nail: "What if Peter Parker Had To Destroy Spiderman?", or "What if Peter Parker had to invent Spiderman?".note To cut a long story short: Jerk Jock Flash Thompson is bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter, and becomes a supervillain called The Spider. Peter builds a multi-limbed suit of Power Armor to take him on, and winds up becoming a Gadgeteer Genius hero called... Spider-Man.
Volume 2, issue 105 asked what if Spider-Man's daughter (who was stillborn in the regular continuity) had survived and inherited her father's powers. The popularity of this issue resulted in the ongoing Spider-Girl series and the Marvel Comics 2 continuity.
Alternate History: The premise of the series is each issue is set in a different one of the thousands of universes in the Marvel multiverse. Except for the two #34 issues — those are just the Watcher making stuff up.
Best of All Possible Worlds: Even if things seem to be going well at first, they frequently end up worse than the "real" version of events. (There are, however, enough exceptions that listing them all individually would take up too much space.)
"I'll be your best friend!" (v2 #92) was the tale of a boy and his robot — specifically Josh, kid brother of Cannonball, an X-Man and a damaged Sentinel (robot designed to kill X-Men). Many readers questioned why this story was published as a "What If" given that it could've easily fit into Earth-616 canon.
Several of What Ifs have dealt with the repercussions of Peter either keeping the Venom symbiote or rebonding to it, or it bonding to someone other than Eddie Brock. One of the most famous examples, What If: The Other, had the symbiote abandon Mac Gargan to rebond to its "first love" after Peter refused to accept his Inner Spider, resulting in the birth of Poison◊, a being capable of Curb Stomping both Wolverine and Luke Cage. Another has the symbiote jump from Spidey to the Hulk, and then to Thor, combining the powers of all three.
Canada, Eh?: "What if Alpha Flight talked like T.V. Canadians?", one of the gag stories in Volume 1 #34.
Deal with the Devil: "In The Shadows" (vol2 #90) ends with Alex Summers basically selling himself into slavery at the hands of Dark Beast in order to keep him away from Scott.
Death by Childbirth: The premise of "What If the Invisible Girl Had Died?" (v1 #42) explores a scenario that would have happened if Reed Richards had not prevented this from happening to Sue in "Let There Be... Life!" (Fantastic Four Annual #6).
Detonation Moon: In "What if the Avengers had become the pawns of Korvac?" (v1 #32), Korvac and the Stranger become involved in a shoving match, with the moon itself as the object being shoved. The moon, behaving at least somewhat according to the laws of physics, gets ripped to shreds by tidal forces and forms a debris ring around the Earth.
Downer Ending: Frequently, even with changes that seem like they ought to be clearly positive. Often it seemed that the editorial staff had set a policy against alternate universes that were "better" than the primary Marvel universe.
Dramatic Irony: Several issues have characters speculating inaccurately about how things would have been different if the issue's premise had not been true. The very first issue, ''What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?", ends with this conversation:
Spider-Man: Johnny, I can't help feeling responsible for all this. What Sue said...! Maybe, if I hadn't joined the F.F. — upstaged her, so that she felt left out — things might have gone differently. Human Torch: Don't talk nutty, webhead. Like the song says — whatever will be, will be. It's fate — kismet — and there's nothing any of us can do about it. If you'd never joined the F.F. things would probably have worked out exactly the same.
Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Suffered by Earth itself in "What if the Avengers lost Operation Galactic Storm?" (v2 #55) And this is around the start!
Eats Babies: "What if the X-Men had lost Inferno?" (v2 #6) had a demon-corrupted Wolverine literally get handed a squalling infant by N'astirh, followed by a claw-popping snikt! and a barely Discretion Shot of Wolverine bending over the child's body.
Elvis Lives: Played with in "What if No One Watched The Watcher?". Thanos turned a defeated Galactus into an amnesiac with a body resembling Elvis and dropped him in a trailer park. The country woman who finds him helps "Elvis" remember who he was and his "purpose." When Adam Warlock finds him after beating Thanos, "Elvis" is happier as the "King of Rock and Roll." Having the good woman and her son as support didn't hurt either.
Enemy Mine: "What if Iron Man lost the Armor Wars?" (v2 #8) had an outlaw Tony Stark teaming up with some of his armored foes to get back at Justin Hammer, who'd caused his downfall because Ant-Man couldn't stop the "pest control" in the TransCorp computers.
"Freaky Friday" Flip: "What If Tony Stark Became Doctor Doom?" has Victor Von Doom do this to Tony Stark during their college years, giving Tony Laser-Guided Amnesia in the bargain. Doom, in Stark's body, becomes a hugely successful Corrupt Corporate Executive, while Tony, in Doom's body, achieves a number of doctorates on his own and creates a business empire in Latveria. Later, after Doom (in Iron Man-style power armor) is defeated by Stark (in a modified Doctor Doom armor) after attempting to sabotage Von Doom Industries, Doom offers to reverse the mind-swap in exchange for amnesty. Stark declines, stating that Doom has made the name Stark synonymous with corruption and avarice, and he wants no part of that name now.
Funny Animal: "What if the Spider had been bitten by a radioactive human?", a humorous back-up story in v1 #8, replaced Peter Parker and his animal-themed rogues gallery with a cast of actual animals, featuring Webster Weaver, the 'Mazing Man-Spider.
Genghis Gambit: In "What if Magneto ruled all mutants?" (v2 #85), Magneto does this to unite the factions of Acolytes battling on Asteroid M.
Good Hurts Evil: In "What if the Silver Surfer had not escaped Earth?" (v2 #22), Mephisto finally manages to acquire Silver Surfer's soul and brings him into Hell. He realizes too late that the Surfer's soul is so good and pure that its light hurts him. Since Surfer already agreed to be in Hell forever, Mephisto will burn "until time's end".
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: "What if Dazzler had become the herald of Galactus?" (v1 #33) eventually turns into a love story between the two.
Hurl It into the Sun: In "The Greatest Sacrifice" (v2 #108), Silver Surfer was unable to overcome Carnage's possession. When he regains control for one minute, he suicides this way.
I Cannot Self-Terminate: Subverted in "I'll Best Your Best Friend!" by Josh's pet Sentinel, when it finally repairs itself enough to identify Josh's family as mutants. Josh convinces the Sentinel that he'll have to gun down Josh to get to them, thus becoming a threat to him, and given Josh gave it a directive to "protect Joshua Guthrie at all costs", the Sentinel concludes that it has become a threat and promptly destroys itself.
In "What if the Fantastic Four had not gained their powers?" (v1 #36), Reed Richards properly checked the radiation shielding on his spaceship, so the Fantastic Four never get their powers. As it turns out, this has absolutely no bearing on their ability to kick Mole Man's ass.
An even more dramatic example is "What if Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos had fought World War II in Outer Space?" (v1 #14): Thanks to the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci, mankind has advanced technology including casual spaceflight by the 1940s, but there's still a World War II and it's still got the Howling Commandos fighting in it, complete with all the usual war-comic tropes. Fury's even still a Cigar Chomper, though you'd think that wouldn't work so well in a spacesuit.
Invisible Streaker: One of the gag stories in v1 #34 was "What if Reed Richards had not invented unstable molecules?" Part of the answer was that the Invisible Woman was always at least partly visible, because her clothes couldn't turn invisible with her, and she refused to enact this trope.
Japanese Tourist: One passes in the background in "What if Conan the Barbarian walked the Earth today?" (v1 #13), remarking that "with such happenings, it is little wonder that the yen gains daily on the dollar!"
"Brave New World" (v2 #114) had the heroes getting trapped in Battleworld after the events of Secret Wars, settling down and having children. All the kids have combinations of their parents' powers and traits; Captain America and Roguenote With Ms. Marvel's personality having taken over have a daughter who has strength, flight, and is a natural leader, while Human Torch and The Wasp's son has Hot Wings and fire projection (but only when he's shrunk) and is a smartass.
"Arachnomorphosis" (vol2 #88) dealt with Peter Parker's child by his dead wife (Gwen Stacey) being born slightly disfigured due to the bug bite his father received. In this universe, the radioactive spider bite didn't give Peter superpowers, but instead causes him to suffer from involuntary transformations into a flesh-craving spider-like monstrosity. His son, Ben, is suffering from a similar condition.
Loophole Abuse: "I'll Be Your Best Friend!" ends with this. Once Josh Guthrie's pet Sentinel has repaired enough that it can continue its mutant-hunting mission, it goes to terminate Josh's family (Since Cannonball, Josh's older brother, and Husk are mutants.) Earlier however, Josh had given the Sentinel an order to protect him at all costs. Josh uses a loophole in this very directive to convince the Sentinel that it has become a threat to Josh in itself since Josh outright said it would have to kill him to get at his family. The Sentinel promptly destroys itself.
Josh: This is my family. You want to hurt them – you’ll have to process me too.
Sentinel: JOSHUA CANNOT BE PROCESSED BY THIS UNIT. THIS UNIT MUST PROTECT JOSHUA GUTHRIE.
Josh: Yes, but if you kill my brother and sister, you kill me too...that makes you a threat. What do you do to threats to my safety?
Sentinel:ELIMINATE THEM. JOSHUA GUTHRIE HAS IDENTIFIED THIS UNIT AS A THREAT – JOSHUA GUTHRIE MUST BE PROTECTED – AT ALL COSTS. *Turns its own handblasters to its head*
Magitek: In v2 #113, Tony Stark becomes Sorcerer Supreme instead of Doctor Strange, and promptly starts working on ways to combine his Iron Man technology with his sorcery.
Merger of Souls: In "What If The Avengers Had Lost the Evolutionary War?" many of the superhumans cut their ties to humanity and leave Earth find their own destiny. Eventually, they merge with the Anthropomorphic Personifications of Death and Eternity, and the resulting entity leaves to create a big bang for a new universe, after which it splits into just Death and Eternity. Meanwhile, humanity evolves to the point that the humans merge their minds and become one with the planet itself, transforming themselves into a Genius Loci.
Missed the Call: "What If... Barbara Ketch Had Become Ghost Rider" (vol2, #45) had Jack Ketch's sister living and becoming a more violent Ghost Rider than her brother.
Momma's Boy: "Children in the Attic" (vol2, #98) focused on if Mystique hadn't abandoned Nightcrawler. Named Michael, she keeps him locked in a highly furnished attic while she trains the Brotherhood with Destiny. She does love him, but her smothering and overprotective nature has made him very weak-willed.
More Expendable Than You: In "What if Sub-Mariner had married the Invisible Girl?" (v1 #21), while Mr Fantastic and the Sub-Mariner are arguing over who gets to risk his life trying to deactivate a machine that threatens the Sub-Mariner's underwater city, one of the Sub-Mariner's subjects sneaks off to do it himself, explicitly describing himself as "far more expendable".
My Brain Is Big: One of the consequences of super-evolution in "What if the Avengers lost the Evolution War?" (v2 #1).
Non Sequitur Causality: A problem with some issues, most often in the form of "Well, first of all things seem to be going well, but then! Something bad happens! That didn't happen in the original timeline and yet isn't a consequence of the posited change!"
Personality Powers: "What if the Fantastic Four had different super powers?" (v1 #6) presumes that the Fantastic Four have Personality Powers, then explores what might have happened if different aspects of their personality had been at the forefront, giving them different powers.
"What if Captain America were elected President?" (v1 #26) has Cap accept nomination and defeat Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter to win the presidency. Rogers is the ultimate President Personable and President Action, as epitomized by both his inspirational inaugural speech and the fact that he takes off in the middle of it to disarm and capture his would-be assassin! After which:
Secret Service Agent #1: And we're supposed to be guarding him? Secret Service Agent #2: Yeah! But just seeing him makes me feel... safer somehow.
"What if Captain America were not the only super soldier in World War II?" (v2, #28) also has Captain America elected President — but this time it's actually the Red Skull in disguise, and things don't go so well.
Poisonous Person: In "What if Captain Marvel had not died?" (v2 #14), Captain Marvel was cured of cancer. Unfortunately, everyone around him starts getting sick with cancer and it's contagious. He caused plagues on Earth, the Skrull, and the Kree before he realized what was going on.
Power Armor: Peter Parker becomes spiderman via this in (v2, #76)
Power Incontinence: Averted in In the Shadows (v2, #90), where a young Scott Summers didn't suffer the head injury that took away the ability to shut off his optic blast, due to the fact that his parents escaped the Shi'ar spaceship that tried to abduct them.
President Evil: President fake-Captain-America in "What if Captain America were not the only super soldier in World War II?" (v2, #28).
Reed Richards Is Useless: Some stories attempt to justify the trope by showing what might happen if heroes had shared the wealth. In "What if Iron Man went public?" (v2 #64), Tony Stark shares his technology with the world; it has many good effects, but also falls into the hands of warmongers and supervillains, and Stark is driven to seriously consider extremely drastic measures to undo the damage.
In "What If Mary Jane Was Shot Instead of Aunt May?", a take on the Back In Black storyline, has Spider-Man Curb-Stomp Battle everyone between him and Kingpin after his wife is killed by Fisk's assassin.
Sequel Episode: The series had a few, returning to the timeline of earlier issues (or to a new timeline which resembled the earlier issue up until the point the sequel started).
The very first issue, ''What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?", had two (contradictory) sequels. In "What if Sub-Mariner had married the Invisible Girl?" (v1 #21), Sue Storm, feeling like a fifth wheel since Spidey joined, leaves the FF and marries Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. In "What if the Fantastic Five had invaded the Negative Zone?" (v2 #35), Sue stays with the team and the Fantastic Five take on Annihilus and Doctor Doom.
"What if Conan the Barbarian walked the Earth today?" (v1 #13), in which Conan the Barbarian is temporarily transported to 20th-century New York, was followed up by "What if Conan the Barbarian were stranded in the 20th Century?" (v1 #43). Rather than a direct sequel, it's a what-if of a what-if: What if Conan's trip to the 20th century had been permanent instead of temporary?
Spiritual Sequel: Of a sort. Vol.2's issue 92 was revisited in two different ways in the main Marvel Universe. Joshua Guthrie was given a mutant power and became a student at the Xavier Institute, and a teenager named Juston Seyfert would find an abandoned Sentinel and repair it.
Story Branch Favoritism: Played with in the series, where writers were able to print several stories based on Alternate Histories of the established canon. Although most of these were stand alone stories, popular entries such as Spider-Girl gained their own series in time.
Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum: "What if the Avengers had become the pawns of Korvac?" (v1 #32) ends with a giant Korvac sitting on Earth in a state of bottomless despair, and holding the Ultimate Nullifier. He thinks of everything that ever was, is and will be, and presses the button.
Suicide by Cop: The Punisher in "The Day I Killed Spider-Man" (v2 #58), after he realises he's been tricked into killing a hero. Specifically, he tracks down the villain who tricked him, and kills him in full view of a bunch of cops who have just warned him they'll open fire if he makes an aggressive move.
Sword over Head: Subverted in "What if Wolverine had married Mariko?" (v2 #43) when Wolverine has Mariko's murderer (Her own brother, the Silver Samurai, no less) at his mercy — he lowers the sword not because he's decided to let the man live, but because he's decided it would be more fitting to do the deed with his own claws. Snikt.
Wolverine: Nah, just decided, the honor sword's too good for you. It shouldn't be stained with a traitor's blood. Me? I'm not so fussy.
Take Me Instead: "What if the Avengers had been formed during the 1950s?" (v1 #9) sees the hostage Dwight D. Eisenhower beg the Yellow Claw to kill him instead of Jimmy Woo. While the Yellow Claw admires the President's bravery, it would be ridiculous to get rid of his trump card like that.
This Is My Side: A story in What If: Planet Hulk had a one-man version; Hulk lands on the planet the Illuminati meant to send him to, and he and Bruce Banner get into a back-and-forth war of screwing each other over. Eventually Hulk wakes up and sees that Bruce pulled this trope.
Thematic Series: Aside from the Watcher, the series had no recurring characters and usually took place in a different reality each issue. Also, unlike most comic series, there was no ongoing story arcs with one exception. The series simply focused on the concept of "What if" scenerios.
Thundering Herd: In the story "What If Everyone Who Ever Had Been an Avenger Had Remained an Avenger?" (in the gag issue #34), the entire hundred-plus man superteam responds to a convenience store robbery... and exit Avengers Mansion in a Thundering Herd.
Time Travel: The "Mirror Mirror" miniseries asked, for example: "What if the Fantastic Four were cosmonauts?" "What if Captain America fought in the Civil War?", "What if Daredevil came from Feudal Japan?" and "What if Wolverine were the Punisher (with him around the time of Al Capone instead of present day)?" Different seeds for hero ideas were scattered in the past and in different countries at times.
Winged Humanoid: Ben Grimm in "What if the Fantastic Four had different super powers?" (v1 #6).
Women Are Wiser: Inverted. When Barbara Ketch becomes Ghost Rider instead of her brother, she proves to be far more violent and needs to be stopped.
Worthless Yellow Rocks: In "What if Conan the Barbarian were stranded in the 20th Century?" (v1 #43), Conan the Barbarian is stranded in the 20th century, where he inadvertently mugs a New Yorker, who tosses all his money at Conan and runs. Conan ignores the hundreds of dollars in bills and keeps the 85˘ in change.
You Wanna Get Sued?: The punchline to the gag about "What if Wonder Man were a Woman and Power Man were a Girl?"
"Dear Marvel: Our lawyers advise you not to print this gag! Love, your Distinguished Competition."