Comic Book / 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 1: "What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four?"
- 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 Nullifier.
- 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 1, issue 34 and Volume 2, issue 34 were both special issues full of one-page gags like "What if Doctor Strange were an ordinary magician?", "What if The Punisher were a stern yet fatherly type?", "What if Wonder Man were a Woman and Power Man were a Girl?", and "What if the Fantastic Four were all bananas?"
- 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 Spider-Man?", or "What if Peter Parker had to invent Spider-Man?".note
- 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.
See: What If?
, the trope, and Blog.What If
, a blog on hypothetical science questions by the author of xkcd
- Absentee Actor: The Watcher disappears from his role after vol. 2 #76, due to the events of Fantastic Four #400, which saw Uatu temporarily cast out as a Watcher.
- A God Am I: "What If the Silver Surfer Had Kept The Infinity Gauntlet" (v2 #49) had the Surfer set himself up as the omnipotent God of the universe with the intent of "fixing it". He initially does okay, removing hunger, disease, war and transforms Death into a less terrifying entity, as well as destroying Mephisto. However, the power eventually begins to corrupt him, and when he almost lashes out at his lost love Shala-Bal for questioning him, he comes to his senses, destroys the Infinity Gems, and retreats to an Eden World with Shala-Bal as a mortal.
- 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.
- Anyone Can Die: One of the main draws of the series is that, free from the binds of canon, What If? can outright avert Contractual Immortality and Joker Immunity by killing anybody off that it damn well pleases. Expect to see Spider-Man, the Kingpin and even Doctor Doom die a lot through a number of issues.
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: In "What if Wolverine had lived during the Age of Conan the Barbarian?" (v2 #16), Wolverine fights Red Sonja and defeats her. When he lets her live, she assumes he's heard about her Best Her to Bed Her condition, and prepares to be raped — and is puzzled (and a bit offended) when he's not interested.
- Badass Normal: "What if the Fantastic Four had not gained their powers?" (v1 #36) prevents them from ever gaining their powers because the shielding protected them from the cosmic rays and the space flight is completed successfully. As a result, they become a team of Badass Normals instead, in the style of Challengers of the Unknown.
- 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.)
- Bolivian Army Ending: The climax of the ''What if Annihilation reached Earth?" one-shot.
- A Boy and His X:
- "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. "What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man?" (v2 #4) has the symbiote jump from Spidey to the Hulk, and then to Thor, combining the powers of all three.
- Brought Down to Normal: A number of issues have had stories that end with a hero losing their powers due to various circumstances.
- Canada, Eh?: "What if Alpha Flight talked like T.V. Canadians?", one of the gag stories in Volume 1 #34.
- Clones Are People, Too: In "What if Spider-Man's clone lived?" (vol. 1 #30), after coming to terms with not being the real Peter Parker, the clone originally intends to leave New York and try to build a life somewhere else, but the original argues that they both have a right to the life of Peter Parker, and they decide to simply share the responsibilities of Parker and Spider-Man, allowing them to split their rather overwhelming workload between them.
- Cloning Blues: In "What if Spider-Man's clone lived?" (vol. 1 #30), the Spider-Clone seals away the real Spidey and goes on to take back his life, believing that he's the real Spidey. He ends up finding evidence that, nope, he's the Clone and is almost tempted to kill the real Spidey, but changes his mind.
- 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.
- "What If the Silver Surfer Had Not Escaped Earth?" (v2 #22) has the Surfer (in this version a member of the Fantastic Four) make a deal with Mephisto for his soul to save the rest of the Four (aside from Johnny Storm whom Mephisto burned alive). In a twist however, Mephisto discovers that the Surfer's Incorruptible Pure Pureness burns him, and because of the deal, Mephisto is now trapped burning in agony until the end of time in the light of the Surfer's soul.
- "What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man?" (v2 #4) has Black Cat sell herself into servitute to The Kingpin for life in return for a sonic weapon to kill the Venom symbiote in revenge for the death of Peter Parker. She solemnly accepts her life as Fisk's assassin once she's avenged her one true love.
- Death by Childbirth:
- "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).
- "What If the Fantastic Four's Second Child Had Lived?" (v2 #30) explores two different possibilities had the daughter that was stillborn in "A Small Loss" (FF #267) had survived. The second scenario involves Sue dying in childbirth and the daughter being named after her.
- 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.
- Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: In the "Newer Fantastic Four" one-shot, Thanos is in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet, with Mephisto as his advisor — and Wolverine outwits them both by manipulating Thanos' love of Death against him.
- 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.
- A short run of issues published in 2006 took this tack, with stories about Daredevil in Feudal Japan, Captain America in The American Civil War, The Punisher in Gangsterland Chicago, and so on.
- This was discussed in Fred Hembeck's segment in v1 #34, in which the Watcher discusses the difference between "Imaginary Stories" and "Alternate Reality Stories". According to the Watcher, "An Imaginary Story can proceed from any premise whatsoever, no matter how absurd, with no thought to how a given situation came about." As illustration, he presents "What if the Fantastic Four were bananas?", "What if Odin were Peter Parker's uncle?", "What if Don Blake and Tony Stark were brothers?", "What if Aunt May were Ant Man?", and "What if Spider-Man married Spider-Woman?" Moving on, the Watcher explains that Alternate Reality Stories "must proceed logically from an established event, by showing a single variable and following its consequences." He then presents absurd alternate realities where Reed Richards allowed Willie Lumpkin to join the Fantastic Four, Captain America remained Nomad, Rick Jones left Captain Marvel in the Negatic Zone, and Nick Fury had to wear his eyepatch over his other eye.
The Watcher: Now, friends, you too know the difference. Just remember, in any reality, comic book stories are imaginary! So says the Watcher!"
- Elvis Lives: Played with in "What If Thanos changed Galactus into a human being?" (v2 #34). 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, such as Stilt-Man, The Beetle and Firebrand, to get back at Justin Hammer, who'd caused his downfall.
- Episode Finishes the Title: Especially in the first series. Later on, issues increasingly got titles that didn't fit the format.
- Evolution Power-Up: All over the place in "What if the Avengers lost the Evolution War?" (v2 #1).
- Expy: In "What if the Fantastic Four had not gained their powers?" (v1 #36), the Fantastic Four essentially become expies for the Challengers of the Unknown.
- The Extremist Was Right: A short comic in v2 #110 shows the Fantastic Four apologizing to Doctor Doom after he successfully transforms the world into a Utopia.
- Fish Out of Temporal Water: Two stories in Volume 2 deal with Conan the Barbarian ending up in modern times (the 1970s). The first time is during a major New York blackout, so he's never exposed to much of modern day aside from guns and eventually finds his way back home through a time portal caused by a lighting strike on a museum rooftop. However, the sequel to that story has him being a few minutes early and getting caught by the cops, leading to him missing the lighting bolt and being stuck in the present. He initially ends up in prison and put on trial (the lawyer pleads an insanity defence but since Conan doesn't speak English, all he grasps is that he's being judged for a crime and breaks free), and wanders the streets as a thief, eventually picking up the language and returns to his original occupation: a mercenary, this time for New York's crime gangs. He eventually tires of working for others, and recruits his own gang, the Barbarians (whom he forces to adhere to his own moral code), which brings him into conflict with Captain America, who recognizes that Conan isn't inherently a villain, and offers him a possible spot on the Avengers. The story ends with Conan contemplating Cap's offer while staring at a phone.
- For Want of a Nail: A common plot device. An interesting variant is "What if Vision of the Avengers conquered the Earth?" (vol. 2 #19), where we're given dual nails - the initial premise, in which the Avengers are unable to save the Vision from inserting his conscious through every computer and he ends up taking control of them all. The second nail comes from the Vision's message to the United Nations. In one version, the nations of the world accepts, Earth becomes a major galactic power with all beings beloved by all and they end up bringing an end to the threat of the Kree and Skrull by allowing friendlier members of their people to take power; another version has Genoshia freak out and nuke New York to stop the Vision. Not only does this fail, this ends up leading to the Vision recruiting Doctor Doom, the Mad Thinker, Kingpin and the Supreme Hydra, who takes over the Earth and turns humanity into a conquering species.
- "Freaky Friday" Flip: "What If Tony Stark Became Doctor Doom?" (in the Iron Man: Demon in an Armor one-shot) 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.
- Fusion Dance: In "What if the Hulk kept the intellect of Bruce Banner?" (vol. 1 #2), thanks to various events, it's up to the Hulk, Professor X and Mr. Fantastic to stop Galactus when he first appears. They use a machine that fuses them into the being known as the X-Man.
- Genghis Gambit: In "What if Magneto ruled all mutants?" (v2 #85), Magneto does this to unite the factions of Acolytes battling on Asteroid M.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: In "What if Iron Man had been trapped in King Arthur's time?" (v1 #33), of the "use crude tools to make better tools" variety, where Stark eventually ends up starting the Industrial Revolution 1500 years early.
- 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".
- Gone Horribly Wrong:
- In "What if J. Jonah Jameson adopted Spider-Man?" (v2 #82), Flash Thompson steals the Scorpion formula and suit to keep it out of the wrong hands, and thought he could use it to prove that Spidey wasn't a bad guy (as well as hoping that they could become crime-fighting partners). Unfortunately the serum causes him to go berserk, and he ends up being dosed with the antidote.
- In "What If the Hulk had Evolved into the Maestro?" (v2 #80), an attempt to cure Bruce Banner of the Daddy Issues that caused the Hulk to be born works too well, causing him to go berserk. In the ensuing rampage, he kills Mr. Fantastic and causes the Thing to mutate even further (due to a failed attempt at applying a radiation "tag" for tracking). Bruce, realizing he's close to losing control, reasserts himself long enough to commit Suicide by Cop.
- Grand Theft Me: At the end of "What if Doom was Sorcerer Surpeme?", Doom performs a Heroic Sacrifice and is unable to be saved by Stephen Strange, who in this universe never became a Master of the Mystic Arts. However, Doom realizes he has incredible potential and has his conscious transferred to Strange.
- Happily Adopted:
- An interesting case with vol. 2 #73, where the Kingpin adopts Matt Murdock after the death of his father. Despite turning corrupt, Matt and Wilson have an incredible bond. Kingpin was intending to go legitimate because of Matt assisting him legally, but he's murdered by his biological son Richard before he has the chance
- vol. 2 #82 ends this way with Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson becoming a father-son superhero team
- Heroic Sacrifice: In "What if the Avengers fought Galactus?" (vol. 2 #41), this happens to that universe's Uatu as things go pear-shaped without the Fantastic Four (who died in this universe).
- 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 Be Your Best Friend!" (v2 #92) 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 Spite of a Nail: Many stories have premises that, on paper, should completely redefine everything. What if the hero died in that famed story arc? What if the hero stays out of the adventure? What if the Origin Story does not take place? The actual result is that something happens so things stay the same, at least in Broad Strokes. The hero dies, but a Legacy Character replaces him. The hero does not take part, but another hero steps in and does more or less the same things. The tragic origin story is averted, but the main consequence takes place anyway because of some other reason.
- "What if someone else besides Spider-Man had been bitten by the radioactive spider?" (v1 #7) offers three stories in which Flash Thompson, Betty Brant and John Jameson, respectively, get bitten by the radioactive spider and attempt to be heroes. Flash is killed (due to not having Peter's web-shooters when fighting the Vulture), Betty quits after causing Uncle Ben to die and John performs a Heroic Sacrifice and inspires other heroes. All three of them end up the same way - due to participating in various events, Peter Parker is inspired to become Spider-Man, using the remains of the radioactive spider.
- "What if Jane Foster had found the hammer of Thor?" (v1 #10), where Jane stumbles into the cave that Donald Blake should have and becomes "Thordis". When she arrives in Asgard to deal with Loki, Odin's shocked that a female has the hammer and that it was meant for his son. When Jane stops Ragnarok from occurring, Odin rewards her for her valor by turning her into a true goddess and being his bride and returns the hammer to Donald Blake, who becomes Thor once more.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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!"
- Kill 'em All: Some issues end this way; often they're "What if the heroes had lost [famous battle]?" ("Dark Phoenix goes critical and destroys the universe" happens more than once), but sometimes they result from seemingly insignificant causes.
- Lamarck Was Right:
- "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 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!" (v2 #92) 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*
- Magical Negro: The "What if Captain America fought in the Civil War?" one-shot reduces The Falcon to a cross between a Magical Negro and a Magical Native American (in this version he was raised by the Shawnee tribe and became a shaman). He gives Steve Rogers a speech about seeing the similarities in people, uses his mystic abilities to give Steve superpowers, and then gets killed.
- 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?" (v2 #1) many of the superhumans cut their ties to humanity and leave Earth find their own destiny (Daredevil is one of the few that remain). 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 Deadly Than the Male:
- When Barbara Ketch becomes Ghost Rider instead of her brother in v2 #45, she proves to be far more violent and needs to be stopped.
- When a police widow gets the Nova helmet in v1 #15 and turns into an out-of-control vigilante-woman with superpowers.
- 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".
- In "What If the All-New, All-Different X-Men Had Never Existed?" (v2 #23), the Shi'ar find a way to permanently destroy the Phoenix Force, but doing so will require someone to sacrifice their life. Cyclops is fully prepared to do it, but Nightcrawlernote knocks him out and takes his place. He even tells the X-Men that Cyclops's death would destroy the group, but "I, on the other hand, will not be missed."
- My Brain Is Big: One of the consequences of super-evolution in "What if the Avengers lost the Evolution War?" (v2 #1).
- My God, What Have I Done?: In "What if the Avengers fought Galactus?" (v2 #41), Galactus turns his energy absorption device on that universe's Uatu, replenishing Galactus, but leaving the World Devourer confused as to why he did it. It allows Galactus and the Silver Surfer to leave on much more peaceful terms as they both try to seek out a reason for all of this.
- 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!" Examples include "What If Captain America had formed the Avengers?" (v2 #29), which despite being the direct sequel to a much more coherent issue, asks you to make a lot of leaps in logic to make sense of it all. In "What If the Hulk killed Wolverine" (v2 #50), the death of Wolverine creates a cosmic imbalance favoring chaos and thus the super villain the Adversary is free to imprison Roma and go on to kill many other X-Men, something he never did even when he fought them in the mainstream continuity. In "What If Professor X had become the Juggernaut" (v2 #13) the Fantastic Four decide to randomly attack Xavier and the X-Men after the latter trashed the Sentinels that first attacked them, handwaving that Reed Richards was friends with Bolivar Trask, the maker of the Sentinels, resulting in them all losing their powers due to a device that Xavier makes. In "What if The Marvel Super Heroes had Lost Atlantis Attacks" (v2 #25), Set contaminates the world's water supply, turning nearly everyone into serpent people (including most of the remaining super heroes and villains), except for about eight random superheroes and villains. No reason is given why these particular eight never drank the water, and why others did, other than for the purposes of the story.
- Oppressive States of America: What Captain America awakens to in "What if Captain America were not revived until today?" (v1 #44). (Published, coincidentally, in 1984 — although according to Word of God, had Peter Gillis, the writer, known that the story would reach publication in 1984, he would have changed the title accordingly.)
- 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.
- Our Presidents Are Different:
- 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 Spider-Man by using 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). Not only is he just pretending to be the real Cap, he's actually the Red Skull, which is as evil as they get.
- In the second story of "What If the Fantastic Four's Second Child Had Lived?" (v2, #30) on presidential orders, Henry Peter Gyrich, disguised as Captain America, tried to assassinate Reed and Sue's daughter Mary Richards when she addressed a peaceful protest rally in Washington DC. Despite her injuries Mary was able to use her mutant psionic powers to quell the crowd's hostility and prevent a riot. The president ended up resigning as a result of Gyrich's actions.
- Psycho Electric Eel: In "What if the Spider had been bitten by a radioactive human?" (v1 #8), Electro's Funny Animal counterpart was an electric eel.
- Pun: Some of the one-panel-shots from the facetious #34 issues, notably "What if Spider-Man had married the Black Widow?".note
- Rage Against the Heavens: "What if Dr. Doom kept the Beyonder's powers?" (in What If: Secret Wars) featured Doctor Doom retaining the Beyonder's power, plus a few extra trinkets, then taking on the status quo all the way up to the Celestials.
- Reality Ensues: Some storylines could showcase surprisingly logical results from the decisions (like how a powerless Ben Grimm is easy prey for the Hulk).
- Several stories have Wolverine dying by being thrown into space where his healing factor is useless without any oxygen.
- When the Punisher is tricked into killing Spider-Man (v2 #58), he discovers that the police may have been willing to turn a blind eye to him wiping out gangsters but killing a super-hero makes the Punisher Public Enemy #1. Plus, the Punisher finds himself hunted by every costumed hero in New York and openly noting how he's "out my league and over my head" with panels showing his guns useless on the likes of Luke Cage and the Thing, outmatched against Captain America and barely able to escape the Human Torch.
- 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.
- Refusal of the Call: In "What if the All-New All-Different X-Men had died on their first mission?" (v2 #9), a new team is formed comprised of Beast, Namorita, Warpath (going by his late brother's code name Thunderbird) Wolfsbane, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. However, Pietro and Wanda turn down the invitation at the end due to other commitments, but promise to come running when called on.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
- In "What if Caiera the Oldstrong had survived the destruction on Sakaar instead of Hulk?", a story in the What If: Planet Hulk one-shot.
- 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.
- Sealed Evil in a Duel: The conclusion of "What if Set had Come to Earth?" (v2 #25).
- 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?
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The first story in "What If Nova Had Been Four Different People" (v1 #15) focuses on a woman named Helen Taylor whose husband is murdered. When she gains the powers of Nova, she uses them to set out on a one-woman total war against the criminal underworld, even killing the Kingpin in the process, with the ultimate goal of finding her husband's killer. Reed Richards is eventually forced to put her in the Negative Zone to stop her killing spree. Unbeknownst to Taylor, the man who killed her husband had died the same night as the murder when his car crashed into the Hudson. Since no one knew that he was the killer, no one ever made the connection.
- Skull for a Head: The White Skull in the "What if Captain America fought in the Civil War?" one-shot.
- 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.
- Stage Magician: "What if Doctor Strange were an ordinary magician?" (v1 #34). Baron Mordo's betrayal of the Ancient One is interpreted as him performing his latest trick — sawing the Ancient One in half — and the Dread Dormammu's great master plan comes down to Strange having to Pick a Card.
- 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.
- Surprisingly Happy Ending:
- In "What if Spider-Man had kept his six arms?" (vol. 2 #42), Spider-Man's multi arms cause him to be adored by the public who see him adapting to his mutation akin to a disabled person working through their disability and becomes an inspiration to many. And as an added bonus, having multiple arms also prevents the death of Gwen Stacy.
- "What If The Amazing Spider-Man Had Not Married Mary Jane?" (v2 #21-22) is pretty sad overall. Peter decides to not marry MJ because he's afraid she'll get killed by his enemies like Gwen did, and instead ends up back with the Black Cat because she can handle herself. Unfortunately, she also dies due to a series of events involving the Vulture finding out her identity. However, Peter does eventually find love again, in the hands of, of all people, Silver Sable.
- 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.
- Take That!: In stories based off of specific plotlines, the writer will occasionally take swipes at the original story:
- In the introduction to the What If for Spider-Man: The Other, the Watcher outright says that the original story was build on a flawed premise.
- In Avengers Disassembled, Doctor Strange says that there's no such thing as Chaos Magic, which confused the hell out of fans since it contradicts years' worth of stories. In the What If, Strange not only reveals that it wasn't really himnote , but specifically responds to that line with "Of course there's Chaos Magic. It's too dangerous for most to use for the obvious reason — it's too chaotic."
- 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.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: This is how Xavier is defeated in "What if Professor X had become the Juggernaut?" (v2 #13). He chases Magneto and the rebelling members of the X-Men onto Asteroid M, Cyclops tries one last time to reason with him, but when he flips out and tries to kill Scott the group uses explosives that blow a hole in the asteroid, sucking Xavier out into space. As he disappears into the infinite void, the narration delivers Juggernaut's Catch Phrase with bitter irony:
"Nothing can stop the Juggernaut. And nothing ever will."
- 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.
- The Unmasking: Occurs in several issues.
- 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.
- Unusual Pets for Unusual People: In "What if Conan the Barbarian were stranded in the 20th Century?" (v1 #43), Conan becomes a gang leader and has a pet leopard.
- Weaksauce Weakness: In "What if Professor X had become the Juggernaut?" (v2 #13), Xavier uses various methods to get potential threats to mutantkind out of the way, including De-Powering the Fantastic Four, forcing Iron Man out of business (and sending him back to the bottle), re-freezing Captain America, and outright killing Doctor Doom. How does he deal with Spider-Man? He threatens to tell Aunt May. And yes, it works.
- What If?: The underlying trope of the series.
- Who Writes This Crap?!: In v1 #34, the final scenario is "What If... Stan Lee had read this issue?" Everybody involved gets fired.
- Winged Humanoid: Ben Grimm in "What if the Fantastic Four had different super powers?" (v1 #6). Instead of becoming the monstrous Thing, Ben instead grows a pair of impressive reptilian wings on his back, and is given the name "Dragonfly". However, this means he doesn't have his mainstream counterpart's strength or endurance.
- 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. He later learns about paper money by observing the trade of the New York drug dealers.
- 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 D