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Comic Book / What If?

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This is the 34th issue, and no, the Watcher is NOT joking.

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 10: "What if Jane Foster had found the hammer of Thor?" — Features Jane becoming the God of Thunder decades before Jason Aaron's run in Thor's comics during the 2010's.
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  • Volume 1, issue 32: "What if the Avengers Had Become Pawns of Korvac?" — The ultimate Kill 'Em All story of the series, in which in alternate outcome for The Korvac Saga, 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?"
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  • 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.

In 2019, it was announced that an animated series based on the title would premiere exclusively on Disney+, specifically exploring possible outcomes within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Various actors from the MCU films are expected to reprise their roles for these stories.

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 the Gauntlet, and retreats to an Eden-like world with Shala-Bal as a mortal.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Flash Thompson and J. Jonah Jameson have a dose of this during one comic. To emphasize, see The Atoner below.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Bucky's counterpart from What If... Captain America Fought in the Civil War?, is a sadistic monster of a man who orders his solders to kill every man woman and child with a lack of remorse.
  • 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 Joker Immunity and the obligatory immunity of heroes 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, and don't expect the Actually a Doombot trope to save Doom either, as most of the time when he dies, its the actual Doom and not a Doombot.
  • Apocalypse How: Given that a number of canon stories were devoted to explicitly avoiding this fate for Earth (or occasionally reversing it), many What Ifs revisiting those stories will often end up with this.
  • Arc Welding: One of the few actual stories involved the Time Keepers actually their Evil Counterpart called the Time Twisters start screwing with universes to destroy them. This included revisiting stories like The Fantastic Five, Wolverine as Lord of the Vampires, and Odin losing to Thor. Eventually, it all gets sorted out.
  • 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. They end up in a real romantic relationship after Wolverine end up trapped in the past (while Conan is flung into his place in the future), and the two become a legendary Battle Couple.
  • The Atoner:
    • Two examples in "What if someone else besides Spider-Man had been bitten by the radioactive spider?" (v1 #7).
      • Flash Thompson accidentally kills the Crusher during their match in the first scenario. In order to make up for what he did, he decides to become a superhero.
      • In the third scenario, J. Jonah Jameson blames himself for his son's death, since he was the one who pushed him to become a superhero. Out of remorse, he resolves to use his influence to make sure the public accepts other superheroes.
  • Badass Boast: At the climax of "What if New York became Ka Zar's Savage Land?" (vol.2 #112), upon realizing that Thanos may have used the Terraformer to transform more than just New York - that the entirety of the universe may now look like the Savage Land - Shanna the She-Devil declares that Thanos should start running for fear of her wrath. For the uninformed, Shanna is a Badass Normal jungle-woman, whilst Thanos is a Physical God.
  • 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.
    • "What if Peter Parker Had To Destroy Spider-Man?" sees Peter Parker go full Gadgeteer Genius after Flash Thompson gets bit by the radioactive spider and turns to a life of crime. After neutralizing Flash with gadgets of his own making, Peter is convinced into becoming a Spider-Man of this fashion by Reed Richards.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Some issues end with the villains victorious. Including in these:
    • In "What if Steve Rogers had refused to give up being Captain America?" (v2 #3), Steve Rogers is cleared of all charges by President Ronald Reagan, only for the Red Skull order Cap assassinated. Cap is killed and John Walker takes over as Cap, but goes insane and the title is retired, leading to the Skull to gloat in victory.
    • In "What if Spider-Man's Parents destroyed his family?", Spidey is framed for the deaths of Mary Jane and Aunt May, who were killed by the robots of Richard and Mary Parker. Spidey goes on a rampage, murdering the Vulture and the Chameleon, but upon catching up to his "parents", their final battle ends with them shifting back into their human forms, dying as them and framing Spidey for their deaths. Spidey is arrested and a shadowy figure implied to be the Harry Osborn Green Goblin laughs in victory.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: In "What if Rogue possessed the power of Thor?" (v2 #66), Rogue is besieged by the voices of the victims she absorbed and finds herself overwhelmed. Ultimately, Thor's gets through to her and convinces her to accept the power fully and be the hero she should be.
  • 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.)
  • Bittersweet Ending: A fairly common occurrence - arguably moreso than clear-cut happy endings or Downer Endings - but the most-remembered one is probably "What If Dr. Doom Had Become A Hero?" Page after page demonstrates to the reader that, had Victor von Doom had just a little more humility, he could've become one of the greatest, most selfless heroes of all time... but his childhood sweetheart would still be doomed to Hell, thanks to an unusually proactive Mephisto.
    • In the "What if all of the Fantastic Four had the same power?" issue (v2 #11), two of the universes end this way, one has an outright Downer Ending, and one has an unambiguously happy ending. In the universe where they all become Human Torches, a stray spark during a battle with the Miracle Man results in a fire that kills a little girl; the team quit superheroing as a result, with Sue becoming a nun, Reed throwing himself into his labwork, and Johnny focusing on exploiting his fire immunity to become a professional racecar driver—only Ben Grim eventually resumes the mantle of the Human Torch and joins the Avengers. In the universe where they all become Mr. Fantastic, Ben and Sue find their powers "ugly" and "stupid" and so they refuse to become superheroes; instead, they pursue a normal life together and get married, causing Reed to become a bitter recluse who stays in his lab—only Johnny gets a happy ending, using his powers to become a wealthy and much-admired entertainer.
  • 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 mutants such as the 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. One notable example was "What if Phoenix Had Not Died?", which was based on Chris Claremont's originally-planned ending for The Dark Phoenix Saga, but factoring in the subsequent Retcons stemmed from the introduction of X-Factor in the main timeline.
    • Another is "What If the Hulk Kept the Mind of Bruce Banner", which eventually results in Hulk, Reed Richards and Professor X using a machine to combine their metahuman energies to repell Galactus. It works, but they're permanently depowered as a result.
  • Butterfly of Doom: While this could explain most of the series as a whole, let's nail down specific examples:
    • "What if the Avengers had fought Galactus?" (v2 #41) has the point of departure be the Fantasic Four's spaceship crash landing upon reentry, killing them all. As a result, Doom becomes an ally of the West, Namor still has amnesia, Captain America is never found, and the incident that the issue is named for: the Avengersnote  becoming intangled with the Galactus incident. The result from that is the Silver Surfer joining the Avengers after being released from Galactus' controll, and Galactus' hunger being satiated... at the cost of the Watcher's own life. Uatu even points out that his counterpart's death was why he was so reluctant to share this particular story for so long.
  • Canada, Eh?: "What if Alpha Flight talked like T.V. Canadians?", one of the gag stories in Volume 1 #34.
  • Characterization Marches On: This acts as the diverging point in "The Day I Killed Spider Man" (vol. 2 #58), where instead of using the original characterization, it uses the later (1994, at the time of the issue) characterization of The Punisher in the events of "The Punisher Strikes Twice!" (The Amazing Spider-Man, vol. 1 #129; the Punisher's first ever appearance). As is the case, instead of going after Spider-Man immediately, he chooses to hold back and study him, ultimately figuring out about the Spider Sense. Most notably, after figuring out after killing Spider-Man that he's "a college kid" (and getting damn near steamrolled by every one of Spidey's pissed off superhero pals,) Frank ultimately hunts down Miles Warren and, exploiting Suicide by Cop, kills him and himself.
  • 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.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: Jim Shooter penned a one-pager in Vol. 1 No. 34 in which Iron Man summons every character who had been a member of The Avengers at one point or another at the time the issue was printed in order to stop a candy store robbery.
  • Darker and Edgier: The original 1977 series didn't always have a happy outcome, but the 1989 run delved into increasingly dark storylines, actually using this as a selling point.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • "In The Shadows" (vol.2 #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.
  • Domestic Abuse: In the vol.2 story "The Man, The Monster" (issue #91), the death of Bruce's mother at the hands of his father without the latter being caught by it led to Bruce turning out just like his father, physically and emotionally abusing his wife Betty almost as entertainment after starting a war between America and the Middle East just for vindication - and, in a Downer Ending, when she confesses the truth about what a psychopath her husband is to a base psychiatrist, he blackmails him with the threat of being sent to the front lines to make him complicit in covering up his crimes.
  • Downer Ending: A lot of the What Ifs end up having very unhappy endings, especially in the 1989 series after the switch to a Darker and Edgier style.
    • "The Man, The Monster" (vol.2 #91) has Colonel Bruce Banner successfully get away with starting a war for his own means and abusing his wife Betty by blackmailing the one man who could help her into not speaking up for her.
    • "What if the X-Men Condemned Gambit to death?" (vol.2 #106) has Gambit be forced to duel Archangel over his role in the Morlock Massacre. Whilst Archangel spares his life, he decrees that Gambit is to be forever exiled from the X-men. Then Marrow steps in and kills Gambit anyway.
    • "Tragedy in a Tiny Town" (vol 2. #109) has Reed, Sue and Johnny die in a failed attempt to escape from Liddleville without Ben, and the story ends with Ben and his family trapped in a microsized version of Doom's castle — only now Ben is in a synthi-clone of his monstrous Thing body, Alicia hates him for lying to her and putting his own happiness and insecurity over the lives of their family, and they don't even have the facade of Liddleville to comfort them in their imprisonment.
    • In the What If where all of the Fantastic Four become deformed monsters (v2 #11), Reed begins to devolve into savagery, Susan loses her mind and becomes an instinct-driven beast like the Man-Thing she resembles, and the quartet exile themselves to Monster Island in shame.
  • 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.
  • Elseworld:
    • 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 Negative 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.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Invoked and subverted in vol.2 #76; after Peter Parker helps take down Flash Thompson, "The Spider", Reed Richards depowers Flash by extracting the genetic contaminants that had given him his spider-powers, creating a vial that was, effectively, essence of Spider-Man. An excited Peter immediately thinks that they're going to give him the spider-powers, and is startled when instead Reed pours it down the sink. Instead, with Reed's encouragement, Peter Parker continues fighting crime as "Spider-Man, the Gadgeteer Genius".
  • 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).
  • Expendable Alternate Universe: One of the defining examples in comics. You'd have a harder time naming an issue that doesn't feature at least a few major characters biting it, and a good number straight-up end on some level of Apocalypse How. Spider-Man and Wolverine are probably the most chronic cases.
  • 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.
  • Failure-to-Save Murder: In the story where the Fantastic Four members all have the power of the Human Torch, Susan Storm becomes so distraught over a little child they failed to save from a building they accidentally set on fire and then come back to put out much too late, that she forsakes ever using her powers again and becomes a nun while the other three members go their separate ways, with Ben Grimm joining the Avengers as the Human Torch.
  • Fake-Out Opening: Vol. 1 #34 opens with the traditional opening spiel by the Watcher about the core premise of the series, and the tone is just like any other issue so far...
    Watcher: Today, I wish to share with you the most awe-inspiring alternate reality I have ever witnessed... A world in which you will learn--
    (another, goofier Watcher bursts through the panel)
    Watcher 2: BAH! Enough of this super-serious pseudo-scientific claptrap! Let's have some FUN for once! Let's do a whole book filled with alternate UNREALITIES!
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Two stories in Volume 2 deal with Conan the Barbarian ending up in New York City. In the original story he lands in the middle of the 1977 blackout, meaning he's never exposed to much of the modern world except for guns and cars before a magic bolt of lightning sends him back home. The second, an offshoot of the original, has Conan missing the lightning bolt and being permanently stranded in modern times. While he's stymied at first, the Cimmerian is clever and adaptable and gradually gets acclimated to the modern world, teaching himself English and eventually becoming a gang leader and crime lord.
  • Formula with a Twist: As the Trope Namer for the What If? trope, this comic explores several hypothetical twists on existing concepts.
  • 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 take over the Earth and turn 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.
  • Funetik Aksent/Ye Olde Butchered English: In "What if Rogue possessed the power of Thor?" (vol. 2 #66), Rogue absorbing Thor's power and consciousness results in her speaking with a combination of her normal Southern drawl and the God of Thunder's pseudo-Shakespearean.
  • 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, faking that the first baby born on the Asteroid is a "Homo Ultima" in order to scare the Acolytes into ceasing their feuding.
  • 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • In "Death & Dishonor" (vol.2 #101), to Apocalypse's horror, Archangel turns on all mutants, wiping out the most powerful first through manipulation and ultimately exterminating them all before turning on Apocalypse himself.
    • In "What if Wolverine had become the Horseman of War?" (vol.2 #111), Wolverine's first act upon receiving his adamantium upgrade and becoming the "perfected" Horseman of War is to turn on and murder Apocalypse himself.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Grand Theft Me:
    • In "What if the Fantastic Four had different powers?" (v1 #6), Reed Richards uses his psychic powers to transfer his mind into Dr. Doom's body before Doom can destroy his life support system. The comic ends with Reed, wearing a Fantastic 4-styled version of Doom's costume, adopting the name "Mister Fantastic".
    • At the end of "What if Doom became Sorcerer Supreme?" (v2 #52), 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.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: "What if Shang-Chi fought on the side of Fu Manchu?" (v1 #17): Shang-Chi successfully assassinates Dr. Petrie without being caught by Sir Smith, though as it goes against his spiritual values, Fu Manchu has to convince his son that he only has to kill those who intend to kill. Meanwhile, Sir Smith has Black Jack Tarr, Clive Reston, and Leiko Wu unite to avenge Dr. Petrie's death. Upon seeing Leiko — a Chinese woman — fighting Fu Manchu's Si-Fan during a graverobbing mission, Shang-Chi seriously starts questioning his loyalty to his father, and stumbles upon Fu Manchu's scheme to raise the dead and kidnap the queen of England. It is at this point that Shang-Chi turns against his father, but since he has witnessed Tarr and his group killing Fu Manchu's undead soldiers, our hero considers them no different from his father and decides to remain active as a lone wolf.
  • 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.
  • Hell on Earth: The 2018 What If? Ghost Rider one-shot has Robbie Reyes the Sole Survivor of a transformation of the Earth into this.
  • Heroic BSoD: "What if the Avengers had fought Galactus?" (v2 #41) ends with the Watcher somberly admitting the reason why it took him so long to share this story with us:
    The Watcher: And so you see why I have waited so long to show you this alternate reality... ...and why it is so difficult for me to observe. For in this reality... ...I died.
  • 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).
    • In "What if the Silver Surfer remained the Cosmic Carnage?" (vol. 2 #108), the Silver Surfer does this to destroy himself and the Carnage symbiote after they end up being permanently bound together.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: In "What If Doom Became Sorcerer Supreme?" (v2 #52), the Ancient One agrees to train Doctor Doom as a mystic when he finds his way to the Ancient One's keep before Stephen Strange does. Even after seeing Doom chop off Strange's mangled hands and replacing them with cybernetics and subduing Mordo with a cerebral nanite bomb, he still decides to train Doom as his successor.
  • 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.
    • Done in "What if Wolverine was Lord of the Vampires" (v2 #24) where Wolverine is corrupted by vampirism and basically takes over New York. He's completely evil and unable to do what he would have normally done (commit suicide) until Doctor Strange helps him achieve self-control with a Battle in the Center of the Mind. After that, he uses the Darkhold to destroy all undead in the world.
  • Identically Powered Team: Invoked in volume 2's 11th issue, which explores four universes where the Fantastic Four all received the same power set from the cosmic rays. Ironically, it's subverted, or at least zigzagged, in the last universe, where they all became Ms. Fantastic; Sue gains the power to turn herself (and only herself) invisible, Reed can make other people invisible, Ben gains the ability to produce invisible forcefields, and Johnny gains the power of Intangibility, which is actually not part of Sue's power set in the main universe.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Implied and ultimately averted in "What If...Kraven the Hunter Killed Spider-Man" (vol. 2, no. 17); going on the premise of Kraven actually killing Spidey during the "Kraven's Last Hunt" story line (instead of tranquilizing him,) an increasingly unhinged Kraven begins dressing up as Spider-Man and raves about his obsession with "becoming the Spider." It gets to the point where he feels he has to "consume the Spider" in order to achieve his goal. Apparently consuming an actual hive of spiders wasn't enough for him, so he proceeds to dig up Spider-Man from his grave, and looks like he's about to indulge in cannibalism, only to be stopped by Captain America, Daredevil, and Human Torch.
  • 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.
    • In "What if the Fantastic Four had all gained the powers of the Human Torch?" (v2 #11), the Avengers still form, even though the disbanding of the Fantastic Four means that Namor the Sub-Mariner never regains his memories, and thusly Captain America is never unearthed in the Arctic.
  • Interspecies Romance: In "What if the X-Men stayed in Asgard?" (v2 #12), part of the reason that Rahne Sinclair and Sam Guthrie stay in Asgard is to continue their relationships with Hrimhari the Wolf Prince and Kindra the Dwarf Princess, respectively.
  • 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!"
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Inverted in the vol. 2 #91 storyline; here, it is Colonel Bruce Banner who is the psychopathic, abusive, murderous, war-mongering monster, whilst the Hulk-equivalent, "Starman", represents Bruce's buried innocence and grief, leaving it a gentle, sad and child-like figure.
  • 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.
  • Legacy Character: In the 2018 one-shot "What if Spider-Man became the Punisher?" has Peter become a gun-slinging vigilante known in newspaper as the "Punishing Spider" but, after averting The Night Gwen Stacy Died, Peter realizes he can't work like that anymore and destroys his costume. The end of the comic reveals that Frank Castle would still become the Punisher, but inspired by Peter.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Consider the Watcher, known for his Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow. In "What if the Avengers had fought Galactus?" (v2 #41), his actions don't work out the way they did in Fantastic Four #s 49 and 50. Not only have the Avengers ignored his warning on how Galactus intends to consume their planet, but the quest for the Ultimate Nullifyer (here carried out by Iron Man) goes south because Iron Man fell to defense mechanisms on Galactus's ship that detect metal. What follows is a Curb-Stomp Battle that incapacitates and disables the Avengers one-by-one. This pushes the Watcher to outright break his vow and get directly involved in the conflict right as Galactus is about to crush Hercules to death.
  • 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.
    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?
  • 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. However, Falcon explains that the reason he doesn't do it himself is that, at this point in time, most Americans wouldn't be too receptive to a message of unity delivered by a black man.
  • 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).
    • In "What if the Fantastic Four had different powers?" (v1 #6), Reed Richards becomes known as "Big Brain", because his genius is enhanced to the point he becomes a disembodied sapient brain with Psychic Powers.
  • 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.
  • Never My Fault: Flash Thompson in "What if Flash Thompson became Spider-Man?" 2018 one-shot. Despite being a hero, he's also a major Jerkass who has frightened the populace. He accuses Peter Parker of trying to slander him through his photos and ends up murdering him.
  • 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. Drinking water even transformed Warlock of the New Mutants into a serpent man, even though he's a technoorganic being that doesn't know what water is! You'd think Warlock would be one of those immune, if anything!
  • 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.)
  • Origins Episode: In a bit of departure from the magazine's main premise, v1 #23-30 had a backup feature called "Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe", which revolved around The Eternals and how their lore shaped the Marvel Universe. These stories were all collected in a December 2019 one-shot appropriately entitled Eternals: Secrets From the Marvel Universe. Specifically...
    • v1 #23 focuses on the First Celestial Host, with the Space Gods creating the Eternals and the Deviants while introducing the mutant gene to humans.
    • v1 #24 focuses on the first Eternals, mostly the civil war between Kronos and his brother Uranos. It ends with Kronos discovering the secret to immortality and becoming a cosmic entity.
    • v1 #25 picks up right where the previous story left off, with Kronos' sons Zuras and A'lars (later to be known as Mentor) forming the Uni-Mind with their fellow Eternals for the first time to determine who the rightful leader should be.
    • v1 #26-28 follow up on what happened to Uranos and his followers after being banished by Kronos, contributing to the lores behind Marvel Boy, Thanos, and The Inhumans.
    • v1 #29-30 is a crossover with the "Tales of the Inhumans" backup feature as seen in The Mighty Thor and Marvel Tales, in which the Eternals help the Inhumans relocate Attilan away from human civilization.
  • Our Presidents Are Different:
    • "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.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The What If? Annihilation special begins with the events of Annihilation being treated as this in regards to Civil War, as Nova arrives on Earth during the climax of the latter crossover and is shocked and appalled that Earth's heroes have been ignorant of the threat of the Annihilation Wave up until then.
  • Personality Powers: "What if the Fantastic Four had different super powers?" (v1 #6) is built off of the premise that the Fantastic Four's abilities are these, and thus emphasizes different personality traits to justify giving them different powers.
    • Reed's stretching powers are said to represent his reaching out in search of knowledge by any means necessary, while his powers as Big Brain are fairly self-explanatory.
    • Sue's Invisible Woman powers came from her being a Shrinking Violet at the time, while Ultra-Woman represents her flexibility in dealing with her surrogate family.
    • Johnny's hot-headedness is said to be the source of his Human Torch powers, while his love of all things mechanical is the source of his Mandroid powers.
    • Finally, Ben's rough-and-tumble personality inspired his Thing powers, while as Dragonfly it's all about his love of flight.
  • Pig Man: The Kingpin's Funny Animal counterpart in "What if the Spider had been bitten by a radioactive human?" (v1 #8) is King-Pig.
  • 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 and among the Skrulls 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. 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 stories, notably "What if Spider-Man had married the Black Widow?". Naturally, Black Widow ate him.Ironically... 
  • 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.
  • Recursive Reality: In "Tragedy in a Tiny Town" (or "What if The Thing refused to leave Liddleville?", vol 2. #109), after Ben Grimm finally musters the courage to free himself, his Love Interest Alicia and Franklin from Liddleville, he finds that Doom has already pre-empted them by moving them to a more elaborate device, causing them to go from Liddleville into a miniaturized replica of Doom's own castle, ensuring they will be trapped forever.
  • 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.
  • Retired Monster: In "What if Wolverine became the Horseman of War?" (v2 #111), it's revealed that, after terrorizing humanity so badly that it united and gave up on making war, Wolverine managed to regain control of himself and ultimately took up a peaceful life.
  • 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).
  • Second Love: In "What if Namor had joined the Fantastic Four?", Sue gets over her crush on Reed and falls in love with Namor. Likewise, Reed ends up married to his new research assistant Lissette Orvola.
  • 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 divergent 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?
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Lissette Orvola from "What if Namor Joined the Fantastic Four?", Reed's new research assistant who has been forced to drug him by Doctor Doom, and eventually becomes his wife.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: In "What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Powers?" (v1 #6), Ben Grimm becomes a Winged Humanoid instead of the Thing and briefly wields a mace when the team battles Dr. Doom. A winged man with a mace? Sounds kinda familiar...
  • 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.
  • Subverted Catch Phrase: The opening sequence of "What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Powers?" (v1 #6) sets up The Thing to say his catchphrase, "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" However, he instead exclaims, "NAWWW!! Why waste my patented line on a lowlife like you? Ya gotta be satisfied with... 'IT'S PUNCH-PULLIN' 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.
    • "What If Wolverine Had Become An Agent of SHIELD" (v2 #7) ended with Nick Fury dying in a battle with an LMD of Baron Strucker and Logan succeeding him as the Director of SHIELD. With his newfound political clout Logan was able to convince the US Government to pull the plug on Stephen Lang's Sentinel project, preventing the X-Men from going to the moon to stop them and averting the rise of the Phoenix (and subsequently Dark Phoenix). Logan later discredited Senator Kelly's proposed anti-mutant policies, which helped bring about an end to government persecution of mutants, averted Mystique's attempt to assassinate Kelly (and thus the dark future from Days of Future Past), and ultimately ushered in a new era of human/mutant coexistence.
  • 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 built 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."
  • Taking the Veil: In "What if the Fantastic Four all had the same power as Human Torch?" (v2 #11), Susan Storm decides to become a nun after she fails to save a child who was caught in fire started while the Four were fighting a monster.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: What If? Vol. 1 #34 features "What If Marvel Comics and the National Endowment For the Arts Presented Spidey Intellectual Stories?" In it, Spider-Man is able to talk the Mad Thinker down by discussing the logical fallacy of his goal to rule the world through fear.
    Watcher: For a ⚞yaagh⚟ select audience, to be sure!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Watcher delivers Juggernaut's Catchphrase 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 one of these.
  • 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.
  • The Unmasking: Occurs in several issues.
  • 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.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • In v2 #75, "What if Blink had lived?", Blink ends up entering the realm of the In-Betweener, the abstract entity that controls the timestream, and starts trying to give all her friends a utopian reality, only to nearly cause the complete collapse of existence. It only really falls apart when Blink decides she's become powerful enough erase the deaths of Generation X, even though their deaths were what put her in a position to claim the In-Betweener's power. She's forced to reset everything back the way it was, although she is allowed to become an apprentice to the In-Betweener instead of dying.
    • In v2 #84, "What if Shard had lived instead of Bishop?", Shard's execution of Magneto and employment of of the X.S.E's ruthless, bordline fascist methodology policing of mutant-kind doesn't inspire humanity's trust like she expected. It inspires them to wipe out mutant-kind completely, with the last panel depicting a statue of Shard surrounded by mutant heads and bodies on spikes with a plague commemorating her for having the courage to turn on her own evil race.
  • 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.
  • Wham Shot: The last shot of "Paper Hearts" from v2 #100 has Rogue discovering (in horror) what was in Mister Sinister's mysterious box, what was his greatest secret: a bunch of Marvel comics. And yes, this includes this very issue.
  • What If?: The underlying trope of the series.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Several of the 1989 issues retell stories that'd already been told in the original 1977 run, or even earlier in its own run. For example, volume 2 has two separate storylines based on the idea that Captain America managed to prevent the assassination of Dr. Erskine, creator of the Super Soldier formula: the first (vol.2 #28 "What if Captain America led a Super Soldier army?") is a two-parter story that sees an entire platoon of super-soldiers defeat Hitler, only for their ship to be sunk on the way home so that Red Skull, disguised as Captain America, can become President of the USA and turn it into a Neo-Nazi nightmare, which Captain America has to end by teaming up with a band of rebels. The second (vol.2 #103: "What if Abraham Erskine survived?") sees the corrupt corporation Roxxon take over the super-soldier formula and commercialize it, turning it into a highly addictive drug marketed to the elite; again, Captain America has to lead a revolution to break Roxxon's control over it, voluntarily depowering himself to emphasize his position.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: In v1 #34, the final scenario is "What ̸If will happen when Stan Lee reads 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 and inadvertently mugs a New Yorker, who tosses all his money at Conan and runs. Conan keeps the $1.75 in change while discarding the $200 in bills, thinking it's some kind of wrapping. He later learns about paper money by observing the trade of the New York drug dealers.
  • You Just Had to Say It: In Vol. 1 #34's "What If... anyone who'd ever been an Avenger had remained an avenger?" Iron Man decides to sound the call to arms, leading to this exchange between him and Ant-Man:
    Ant-Man: No, Iron Man! Not that! Don't say...
    Iron Man: Don't say what, Ant-Man? AVENGERS ASSEMBLE?
    Ant-Man: (thinking) Some people never learn!
  • 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."

"I mean, haven't you wondered WHAT IF THE WATCHER WERE A STAND-UP COMEDIAN?"

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