Bullet Points is what can be considered the ultimate What If? story in the greater Marvel multiverse — specifically, "What could possibly go wrong by pulling a bullet 24 hours back in time?"
Simply put, instead of shooting Professor Abraham Erskine on the 9th of December in 1940, that Nazi spy shot him one day earlier. Cut to an airport, 8th of December: just when Erskine is about to take a plane in order to test the Super Soldier serum, the spy shoots him, killing not only the prof., but also another soldier in the process: Benjamin Parker.
Since Erskine had the formula in his head instead of writing it down — in order to prevent any spies from taking advantage of it — Captain America never came to be. A discouraged Steve Rogers kept waiting and waiting until he was the sole man remaining in the hall. So, the army noticed such patriotism and thought it was worth something, despite Rogers' weak body. Then they unveiled plan B — a robotic and then-rudimentary armor — that could only be worn by someone as thin as Steve Rogers. That was given the In-Series Nickname of "Iron Man". There was a downside to that — to prevent the armor from getting handled by the wrong hands, whoever was given the suit would also have to be linked to an electric device who worked as a sort-of-key for the armor. The device had to be installed within the user's heart. And the future Iron Man needed to be awake during the operation. Despite all of the crap to deal with, the patriotic Steve Rogers accepted anyway.
However, the bullet also made other changes. Without a paternal figure such as Uncle Ben, Peter Parker became somewhat of an Expy of James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause, and was wandering a wasteland alongside other fellow bullies. Pity his 4x4 ran out of fuel, of all places, where a Gamma Bomb was also going to be tested.
Back to Steve Rogers. The American hero Iron Man needed a technician to work on his suit: said technician wasn't anybody else than, you guessed it, Reed Richards — and as a result, he had to postpone his space travel. After gaining fame as the man who worked on such an amazing product of technology as Iron Man's suit, when Steve Rogers finally told Reed to focus on his own career, he finally accepted to travel alongside Johnny Storm, his sister Susan and Benjamin Grimm — but his fame made him an easy target. A man sabotaged the shuttle by setting a bomb on it and as a result, the shuttle fell down — with Richards as the sole survivor, and even then, at the cost of a missing eye. After donning an Eyepatch of Power and a lot of angst over the loss of his friends, Reed Took a Level in Badass when given the opportunity of disappearing from the face of the planet — by working for S.H.I.E.L.D..
When the aforementioned Gamma Bomb went kaboom, every life form (excluding Parker, because... uh... yeah) that survived the explosion was studied by Professor Bruce Banner. Including a spider, that, take a wild guess, ended up biting him.
We won't spoil any more of this miniseries — you only need to know that J. Michael Straczynski, famous for his run on Spidey, wrote it with a rather brilliant premise: "A bullet can spread lives as if they were balls on a pool."
See The Nail for this series' DC universe counterpart and Powerless for a series that similarly turns the Marvel Universe on its head and as such, for example, in Italy got reprinted together with Bullet Points in a single book. The concept of Steve Rogers becoming Iron Man was later used in the first episode of the Marvel Cinematic Universe series What If ?, which showed an alternate universe where Peggy Carter was given the super-soldier serum.
Let's add tropes now — again, without spoilers of course.
This series provides examples of:
- Alternate Continuity: The key differences this miniseries has with the standard Marvel Universe is that there is no Captain America and the accident that created the Fantastic Four never happened, instead having Sue, Johnny, and Ben killed because of a bombing with Reed as the sole survivor.
- Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: Even more so than ever - the Trope Namer himself, Reed Richards, posing as Nick Fury.
- Note also that while he's taking Nick Fury's place in this universe, he's still Reed Richards — as a consequence, S.H.I.E.L.D. operates less through 'clandestine super-spy antics' and more through 'building super-cool super science wonders'. And it is awesome.
- Arc Words: Many. Every issue has its Arc Words, courtesy of the narrator himself - such as the opening quote for this page, "This is a bullet, and this is what it does", that also opens the first issue.
- The Atoner: Bruce Banner — in this reality spared the gamma bomb explosion that would turn him into the Hulk — devotes his life to finding a cure for Peter Parker's condition because he holds himself personally responsible for what happened and is riddled with guilt as a result. This ends up turning him into Spider-Man instead.
- Avengers Assemble: This happens when every superhero is asked to help in the struggle against Galactus.
- Berserk Button:
- Sure, just keep picking on Parker! You WILL regret it!
- Also from Peter: "MMMMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY???"
- In their confrontation, Steve keeps calling Peter "son". This just sets him off worse.
- Big "NO!": When Susan dies in Reed's arms.
- Blessed with Suck: Being the Iron Man. Since there's no Stark genius in there, and it's WW 2, the technology used to make and operate the system is much cruder than anything Tony might've made. Steve is required to undergo surgery to implant the technology needed to operate it, and it is painful to use.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: One of the issues has the following Arc Words - Time. Space. Flesh.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Puns aside, in the first issue everyone's focus is on the assassinated Abraham Erskine, but a panel briefly cuts to another soldier lamenting his buddy, who has also been fatally shot but is ignored because he's just a grunt. The end of the issue reveals just who that man was, and why his death is every bit as serious as Erskine's.
- Comic-Book Time: Actually averted. The series begins in WW2, then jumps to the sixties, when Peter Parker becomes the Hulk, just as Spidey and the Hulk debuted in the 60s proper.
- Crosshair Aware: The cover of the first issue, as you can see above. Also, the very first panels of the same issue.
- Death by Adaptation: Steve Rogers, Ben Grimm, Johnny and Susan Storm, Baron Mordo, and Peter Parker get killed off in this continuity, when they're alive and well in the standard Marvel universe. Doctor Erskine and Ben Parker qualify as the "killed off sooner in the adaptation" variant, in that they die before playing their parts in Steve Rogers becoming Captain America and Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man.
- Decomposite Character: Steve Rogers becomes Iron Man in this continuity, but Tony Stark still becomes a second Iron Man after Steve dies.
- Determinator: Hulk versus Galactus. He still fights his enemy even when it's beyond unlikely that he'll win.
- Did Not Think This Through: Peter Parker and his friends steal a military jeep for a joyride. It's only after it runs out of gas they stop to think that there might've been a reason it was sitting around in a repair shop.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Sue in Reed Richards'.
- Do Not Go Gentle: With the arrival of Galactus, Reed notes it's killed thousands of worlds before theirs. The math on their surviving at all are basically slim-to-nil. Doesn't mean he doesn't plan on going out kicking and screaming anyhow.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him:
- Baron Mordo's death is only quickly mentioned.
- A lot of heroes die fighting the Silver Surfer.
- Elseworld: Did you think that a Marvel Universe with Reed Richards posing as Nick Fury was the same one where Reed Richards Is Useless?
- Eyepatch of Power: Reed Richards, naturally.
- For Want of a Nail: The whole basic premise is that the history of the Marvel universe plays out differently because of a single bullet being fired at a different time resulting in Dr. Erskine being killed before he can create the super soldier formula and Ben Parker being killed before he could help his wife May raise their nephew Peter. The series does note the limitations on how much the nail can actually change.
- Godwin's Law: This was pretty much inevitable when the story begins during World War II.
- Hollywood Heart Attack: May has one on seeing her nephew all Hulked out.
- Immune to Bullets: A bunch of police quickly discover pointing guns at the Hulk is very stupid.
- In Spite of a Nail: The series makes a point that not everything is necessarily going to be affected by a single event. We see that the careers of heroes like the X-Men, Thor, Daredevil, Namor, and Ant-Man proceed as usual. Villains like Doctor Doom, Kingpin, and the Green Goblin still emerge. The Vision is still created. Tony Stark still becomes Iron Man, albeit as a successor to Steve instead of inventing the mantle as normal. And in the end, Norrin Radd still turns against Galactus.
- Legacy Character: Steve Rogers ends up killed, resulting in Tony Stark becoming the new Iron Man.
- Missed Him by That Much: A gag in issue 4 has a brief glimpse of J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson talking about how they need something to get readers invested in the Daily Bugle... as outside, one of Banner's victims is webbed up right below the window.
- Mythology Gag: While far from giving Powerless a run for its money, this series has its moments. Such as May mentioning that if Ben had lived long enough to bring Peter up (and hopefully even longer), things would have been different.
- Oh, Crap!: "Meet Galactus, eater of worlds!"
- This Is Unforgivable!: The reason why Silver Surfer switches sides.
- Unstoppable Rage: Guess who.
- Wolverine Claws: Yet another artificial example of the trope, this time equipped by Stephen Strange, who decided to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of going to Tibet, thus never becoming Doctor Strange. As a result, Mordo had no rivals, but still, he wasn't pure-hearted enough to become a Sorcerer Supreme and therefore Dormammu kicked his ass. Interestingly the original Wolverine is still around.
- You Can't Fight Fate: The final issue has the Arc Words: "Absurd, pathetic, inevitable".