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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.


  • What If?, #1-47 (1977-1984)
  • What If...?, #1-114 (1989-1998)
  • What If...?, #1-3 (2004)
  • What If?, #1-6 (2005)
  • What If? X-Men: Deadly Genesis, one-shot (2006)
  • What If?, 5 issues (2008)
  • What If? Avengers vs. X-Men, #1-4 (2013)
  • What If? Age of Ultron, #1-5 (2014)
  • What If...? Miles Morales, #1-5 (2022): A set of linked stories in which Miles Morales becomes other well-known superheroes instead of Spider-Man.
  • What If Dark (2023): A set of one-shot comics with similar themes.

In 2021, an animated series based on the title premiered exclusively on Disney+, specifically exploring possible outcomes within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Various actors from the MCU films reprise their roles for the series.

See: What If?, the trope, and What If?, a blog on hypothetical science questions by the author of xkcd.

For the DC equivalent, see Elseworlds.

    Notable issues 
  • Volume 1, issue 1: "What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four?" — Spider-Man would eventually become a member of the New Fantastic Four and the Future Foundation respectively.
  • 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 during the mid-2010s.
  • Volume 1, issue 32: "What if the Avengers Had Become Pawns of Korvac?" — 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?".
  • Volume 2, issue 21 & 22: "What if Spider-Man didn't marry Mary Jane?" & "What if Spider-Man married Black Cat?" — A rare 2-part story in which Peter gets cold feet leading up to his wedding with Mary Jane, and ultimately leaves her at the altar. He decides to commit fully to being Spider-Man and pursue a relationship with Black Cat instead.
  • Volume 2, issue 35-39: "What if the Fantastic Five fought Doctor Doom & Annihilus?", "What if the Cosmic Avengers battled the Guardians of the Galaxy?", "What if Wolverine had been Lord of the Vampires during Inferno?", "What if Thor was a thrall of Seth?" & "What if the Watcher saved the universe?" — A 5-part epic titled "Timequake", in which the Time-Keepers plot to kill the nexus beings of four different realities, but a mysterious being called the Whisperer is secretly thwarting them for their own ends, culminating in Uatu assisting the Time Variance Authority in stopping a crisis threatening the multiverse.
  • Volume 2, issue 41: "What if the Avengers had fought Galactus?" — A major inspiration for the overarching storyline in the animated series.
  • 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.


  • Accidental Murder:
    • In one of the stories in "What If: All of the Fantastic Four had the same powers?", the team all gains fire-based powers, and end up accidentally setting fire to a dilapidated building with a little girl inside. Figuring it was empty, they decide to let the firemen take care of it and return too late to save her, leading to them breaking up as a team.
    • In "What If Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man?" Flash angrily blames Peter Parker's accurate photographing of his violent actions for ruining his life and throws him into one of the walls of his trailer, leaving a dent that can be seen from the outside. To his horror, Flash discovers that he's killed the guy.
    • Crossing over with Does Not Know His Own Strength, in "What if Spider-Man Became a Murderer?" (vol. 2, #72), Spider-Man doesn't stop when the guy who killed Uncle Ben passes out, but keeps beating him until he get a hold of himself. He's horrified when he realizes he killed the guy, saying that he forgot how much stronger he'd become since the spider bite.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: "What If Spider-Man had Never Become a Crimefighter" has Peter stop the burglar in order to bolster Spider-Man's popularity. This quickly launches his career as an actor, and without the death of Uncle Ben to humble him, he ends up becoming a self-absorbed and greedy producer. He realizes just how callous he's become when he finds out the leader of that universe's Sinister Six is J. Jonah Jameson, who went insane after Spider-Man destroyed his life.
  • Adaptational Origin Connection: In Matt Murdock, Agent of... S.H.I.E.L.D., it turns out that Tony Stark was the employer of the truck that accidentally blinded Matt Murdock with the radioactive chemicals. Witnessing this he takes Matt to the SHIELD helicarrier, making him responsible for Matt becoming a SHIELD agent instead of a vigilante.
  • 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 soldiers to kill every man, woman, and child with a complete lack of remorse akin to that of the Red Skull.
  • 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.
  • And I Must Scream: "What If Professor X Had Become The Juggernaut?" uses this as its means of ultimately defeating Xavier. As it turns out, taking Juggernaut's indestructible unstoppable body and corruption via Cyttorak, and combining it with Xavier's genius and Psychic Powers, makes him basically unbeatable. Unless he ends up Thrown Out the Airlockhe doesn't need to eat, drink, or breathe, but his irresistible momentum means that he can't even slow himself down anymore, ensuring that he will spend the rest of eternity hurtling through space. As the Watcher wryly concludes:
    "Nothing can stop the Juggernaut... and nothing ever will."
  • 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, it's 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.
  • Art Evolution: With Uatu being the narrator and the connecting thread of the majority of the issues, the series is also a perfect representation of Uatu's evolution of design. At the beginning he start off looking simply like a giant man and by latter issues in the 90s he has his more modern alien appearance with a tiny body and an enlarged head.
  • 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 instead of him 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 to order Cap assassinated. Cap is killed and John Walker takes over as Cap, but goes insane, murders a criminal, 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 by an army of other superheroes 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 lab work, and Johnny focusing on exploiting his fire immunity to become a professional racecar driver—only Ben Grimm eventually resumes the mantle of the Human Torch and joins the Avengers. In the universe where they all become Mister 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, which probably led to the later, near-identical in concept (but fully canon) Sentinel series.
    • 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 repel 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 entangled with the Galactus incident. The result from that is the Silver Surfer joining the Avengers after being released from Galactus' control, 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.
  • Can't Stop The Signal: "What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?" concludes with a reversal of this trope, in that it's the villain who sends information to the press rather than the hero. The Green Goblin posts evidence of Spider-Man's Secret Identity to the hero's "second-greatest enemy": J. Jonah Jameson.
  • 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.
  • Commonality Connection: In "What if the Punisher's family hadn't been killed?", Frank Castle joins the NYPD, only to see deep-seated corruption everywhere, even in the courts. Disgusted, he decides to talk to his captain to see if he, too, is corrupt, and is overjoyed to recognize a fellow ex-Marine. Thus, he lets him in on what he's seen and Captain Carmody asks for his help in cleaning up the force...but as a relieved Castle walks away, Carmody gives someone called "the Arranger" a little call...
  • Composite Character: Some issues feature heroes or villains taking on different identities than the ones they had in the mainline continuity.
    • Volume 1:
      • In issue #10, Jane Foster is the one who finds Mjolnir in a Norwegian cave, not Donald Blake, which results in her becoming Thor.
      • In issue #12, Rick Jones saves Bruce Banner from the Gamma Bomb explosion, and thus becomes The Incredible Hulk after being exposed to the radiation.
    • Volume 2:
      • In issue #29, the ripple effect caused by Captain America having been frozen in 1942 instead of at the end of World War 2 leads to an Avengers line-up consisting of traditional members Cap, Namor and Thor, but also Frank Castle as Iron Man, Sam Wilson as Giant-Man and Logan as the Wendigo (which is a double example, as he fills the same role the Hulk did in the initial Silver Age Avengers stories).
      • In issue #44, Frank Castle becomes the host of the Venom symbiote instead of Eddie Brock.
      • Issue #51, What If The Punisher Became Captain America?, is pretty self-explanatory.
      • In issue #62, a former Canadian soldier named Guy Desjardins is the one who is kidnapped and given an adamantium skeleton and claws by Weapon X instead of Logan.
      • In #79, Jean Grey is knocked unconscious during the X-Men's escape from Steven Lang's satellite, meaning that Storm takes her place as the mutant who pilots the space shuttle and becomes the Phoenix Force's host.
      • Issue #113 presents a continuity where Tony Stark became the Sorcerer Supreme instead of Stephen Strange.
    • Volume 4:
      • Wolverine features Logan as the Punisher in twenties Chicago.
      • Fantastic Four has Colossus as the Thing, Magik as Invisible Girl, and Black Widow as the Human Torch. (Mr Fantastic is the same, except that Nathaniel Richards defected to the USSR before he was born.)
  • 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.
  • Covers Always Lie: Vol 2 #80 is titled "What If the Hulk Evolved into the Maestro" on the cover and "What If Bruce Banner were Cured" inside the book, but neither title is accurate. Doc Samson tries to cure Bruce, but it instead results in the Hulk developing a new personality that's cunning, ruthless, and utterly evil. While this is like the Maestro, he doesn't actually become that villain since Bruce commits Suicide by Cop once he realizes he's close to losing control for good.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: At the end of "What If Kingpins Assassins had Shot Mary Jane instead of Aunt May" (vol 2008 #5), Kingpin's got a man holding Aunt May hostage and plans to beat Spider-Man to death, assuming he won't risk May by resisting. Spider-Man proceeds to punch a hole straight through his gut, then asks Kingpin's man if he loves Kingpin enough to share his grave. He drops his gun.
  • 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. Stories include:
    • Daredevil murdering the Kingpin, leading to Karen Page being killed by an assassin and Matt himself dying in a suicide attack on Hobgoblin, leading to Richard Fisk becoming the new Daredevil. (#2)
    • Red Skull successfully ordering the assassination of Captain America. (#3)
    • Spider-Man being controlled and drained of adrenaline by the symbiote after remaining bonded to it for too long, leading to his death of old age when the creature leaves him for the Hulk. (#4)
    • The X-Men and the rest of Earth’s heroes losing Inferno, causing demons to ravage the world and kill or convert almost all of the heroes. It ends with Phoenix (Rachel Summers) and Doctor Strange defeating N’astirh, but it’s a Pyrrhic Victory that results in mankind being returned to the Stone Age. (#6)
    • Both the original X-Men (except for Beast) and the new members of the X-Men all dying on Krakoa. (#9)
    • Frank Castle’s wife and kids surviving the shootout, only for them to be killed in an explosion anyway, with their deaths still leading Frank to become the Punisher. (#10)
    • Wolverine and Conan the Barbarian permanently switching universes, leading to Wolverine falling in love with Red Sonja, and Conan hitting Cyclops with a rock, causing Jean as the Dark Phoenix to consume the universe in fire. (#16)
    • Kraven the Hunter actually killing Spider-Man instead of tranquilising him, and growing ever more mad, leading to him eating Spider-Man’s corpse when the Human Torch, Daredevil, and Captain America find him, and leading J Jonah Jameson to declare all superheroes outlaws. (#17)
    • The Vision becoming a universe-conquering A.I, eventually taking down the Skrull-Kree alliance alongside Doctor Doom, the Mad Thinker, and Hydra. (#19)
    • A vampiric Wolverine killing Dracula, taking his place as Lord of The Vampires, and converting heroes and villains alike into blood-sucking monsters, with the Punisher and the spirit of Doctor Strange fighting them to save Earth. (#24)
    • The Punisher gaining the Venom Symbiote instead of Eddie Brock, with the Symbiote murdering villains and making Frank more violent, only ending when Frank threatens to kill himself. (#44)
    • The Hulk kills Wolverine in their fight. (#50)
    • The Kree successfully annihilating Earth and the Shi’Ar home world, and pretty much conquering the Universe, with only the survivors of both the Avengers and the Imperial Guard continuing to fight to overthrow their regime. (#55-56)
    • The Punisher killing Spider-Man in an explosion the first time they meet. (#58)
  • 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 servitude to The Kingpin for life in return for a sonic weapon to kill the Venom symbiote in revenge for the death of Peter Parker, who the symbiote had killed by draining his life energy. 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.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • In "What If the Invisible Girl Had Died?" (v1 #42), Reed Richards is, thanks to Annihilus's interference, too late to save his wife Sue from dying in childbirth. Shattered, he then devotes the final days of his life to hunting down Annihilus and killing him in a Murder-Suicide.
    • In "What If Spider-Man had Never Become a Crimefighter" (v1 #19), J. Jonah Jameson loses his job in the Daily Bugle after Spider-Man gets him wrapped in a scandal by linking him to the Big Man, who was a Bugle reporter unbeknownst to Jameson, in order to get back at Jameson for a lawsuit against his production company. As Jameson's son also died in this continuity due to Spider-Man not being around to save him, he decides he has nothing left to live for and uses the Big Man's resources to form the Sinister Six and kill Spider-Man in revenge.
  • 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 "What If: All of the Fantastic Four had the same powers?" (v2 #11), the universe where all four of them turn into deformed brutes like Ben Grimm has the most outright depressing ending of the four universes examined in that issue: 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. Compare this to the Bittersweet Ending of the "all Human Torches" and "all Mr. Fantastic" universes, and especially the happy ending of the "all Invisible Woman" universe.
    • "What If the Hulk Evolved into the Maestro" (vol 2 #80) sees an attempt to cure Bruce Banner instead result in the creation of an intelligent, cunning, and utterly ruthless Hulk. When Mr. Fantastic and The Thing try to stop him, he kills Reed and exposes Ben to a heavy dose of radiation that makes him mutate even further. Bruce's final act is to commit Suicide by Cop in order to prevent this evil Hulk from doing any further damage.
    • "What If...Norman Osborn won the Siege of Asgard?" has the Sentry present to lay waste to the Avengers and the other heroes, only for him to learn that Osborn had ordered the death of his wife, leading him to embrace the Void as an Omnicidal Maniac, destroying Earth before, as that world's Watcher notes, moving on to the rest of the 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.
  • Due to the Dead: In "What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man?" (v2 #4), the symbiote takes full control of Peter to feed on him and goes on a rampage. It ultimately leaves him for the Hulk, revealing the drain was so severe to the point of Rapid Aging. After Peter dies, the Avengers and Fantastic Four hold a funeral for him, with Human Torch providing the eulogy. Even the Kingpin (told about the burial by Black Cat) takes a moment to pay respect to someone he considered a Worthy Opponent.
  • 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.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In "What If Everyone Knew Daredevil Was Blind" (v1 #8), Electro is fighting Daredevil and Spider-Man, unleashing a huge glare to blind Daredevil. When Daredevil is unaffected, Electro realizes the only way Daredevil could stand up to a blinding light was if he already couldn't see it. When Spider-Man and Daredevil try to laugh it off, Electro asks "what color is my costume?" The fact Daredevil pauses at such an obvious question proves Electro is right.
  • Evolution Power-Up: All over the place in "What if the Avengers lost the Evolution War?" (v2 #1).
  • Exact Words: In "What if the X-Men had Stayed in Asgard" (Vol. 2 # 12) Those Who Sit Above In Shadow agree that Loki's machinations have (inadvertently) brought peace to Asgard, and thus grant him his request to rule the Nine Worlds...then they send him to the end of time, where Asgard is nothing but a charred ruin falling inexorably into a black hole. After all, they didn't say when.
  • 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!
  • Finagle's Law: For every positive or light-hearted story, there is one where things will go for the worst possibility.
  • 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.
  • Fleeing for the Fallout Shelter: In Vol.1 #70 "What If... The Silver Surfer Had Not Betrayed Galactus?", with the Silver Surfer unwilling to side with humanity against Galactus, the Fantastic Four are forced to retreat from the roof of the Baxter Building to a shelter deep beneath it - stopping only to rescue Alicia Masters. They just barely reach the shelter in time to get inside before the Devourer of Worlds begins consuming Earth. Some time later, the Fantastic Four and Alicia reemerge in space suits to find that they're all that's left of humanity. Doctor Doom also arrives, offering them the chance to avenge Earth, since he himself was unable to get his people of Latveria to safety and barely able to save himself.
  • Forced to Watch: In "What if Professor X had become the Juggernaut?" (v2 #13), as in the main universe, Charles Xavier gaining the power of the Juggernaut causes the Temple of Cyttorak to collapse down on him, which forces him to spend years struggling to dig himself out of the rubble. However, Charles' psychic powers allow him to sense all the horrible things happening to mutantkind while he's helpless to do anything about it, which ends up driving him mad and turning him into an anti-human extremist.
  • 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.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: "What If the Heroes Lost Atlantis Attacks" (vol 2 #25) ends with that Earth in ruins, most of humanity snake monsters and Set's monstrous snake children feasting on who's left. Now grown, the children open dimensional gateways to other realities to conquer. The issue ends with the Watcher pointing at the reader with "And, dear reader, your reality may be next!"
  • Framing Device: "What If the Hulk Evolved into the Maestro" (vol 2 #80) is actually set in the normal Earth-616 universenote , but is presented as Ben Grimm reading a psychology magazine that Scott Lang extracted from a parallel universe, which supposedly details how Bruce Banner was cured. Once it turns out that the attempted cure ended very badly, Grimm rips the magazine into confetti and flushes it down the toilet.
  • "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.
    • In "Children in the Attic" (vol2, #98), Mystique keeps her son instead of throwing him away, and names him "Michael". Michael encounters Rogue after Mystique adopts her, and the two start a relationship. At the end of the story, when he's dying thanks to a misunderstanding between Rogue and himself and Mystique's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Rogue holds Michael for so long that she permanently absorbs his powers and persona while taking on an appearance resembling a cross between them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 sees J. Jonah Jameson adopting Peter Parker after John Jameson's rocket goes out of control and crashes into a spectator stand, killing Aunt May (and many others). The two do care for each other, but there's a wedge between them since Jonah blames Spider-Man for the accident and is fixated on revenge. Peter ends up unmasking before he takes on his Rogues Gallery (motivated by a bounty Jonah put on his head), giving Jonah a My God, What Have I Done? moment and prompting him to use a remote-controlled Spider-Slayer robot to help save the day. The comic ends with the two of them forming a father/son hero team based out of the Daily Bugle building.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In "what if Daredevil Killed the Kingpin (Vol 2 # 2)Matt Murdock sacrifices his own life to save Richard Fisk aka The Rose's. Richard knows he's not as pure as Murdock, and that he might have to pay for his crimes as The Rose one day, but for the moment he chooses to take up Daredevil's mantle, using a mask which gives him DD's sensory abilities.
  • He Knows Too Much: In Vol. 2 #76, Flash decides to kill Peter because he knows about his superpowers, which would complicate the life of crime he's planning.
  • 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 Loki found the hammer of Thor?" (vol. 1 #47), Sif sacrifices herself to allow Thor to return from Hel after his untimely death.
    • 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.
  • Hero with an F in Good: Flash Thompson as Spider-Man in the 2018, where he kept his Jerk Jock attitude even after walking out of high school, meaning he tends to use excessive force against crooks and causes hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. And he still seems to believe he's entitled to the public's praise and adoration simply because he's a "hero".
  • 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: Volume 2 Issue 11 has this as its core premise, exploring four different universes where the Fantastic Four all received the same powers from the cosmic rays. The final story partially subverts the idea by splitting the Invisible Woman's normal power set across all four members of the team: Sue can turn herself invisible, Reed can turn others invisible, Ben can project forcefields, and Johnny can become intangible, which is actually not part of Sue's power set.
  • 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.
  • Implied Death Threat: In "What If Spider-Man had Never Become a Crimefighter" after The Bugle publishes the secret identity of famous TV and movie star Spider-Man (thus ruining the plotline for "Spider-man II"), a group of armed men in Spider-Man masks rush into the Bugle building, enter Jameson's office and open the window so Spider-Man himself can personally confront the terrified publisher...and give him a plaque for investigative journalism. Jameson manages to put a brave face on for the cameras, but Spider-Man can see he's gotten the message, at least for a while.
  • Inspirationally Disabled: In "What If Spider-Man Had Never Lost His Extra Arms", while learning that he's missed his chance to remove said extra arms, Professor X suggests that Spidey use them as an inspiration for good, though secretly hoping it would improve mutant relations. After coming to terms with his transformation, Xavier's wish comes true as Spidey because a spokesperson for the physically challenged.
  • 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 had become the Amazing Spider-Man?" (vol. 1, issue #7) offers three variations, worlds in which Flash Thompson, Betty Brant and John Jameson get bitten by the radioactive spider and become heroes. Flash is eventually killed in battle (due to not having Peter's web-shooters when fighting the Vulture), Betty retires after failing to prevent Ben Parker's murder by the burglar, and John performs a Heroic Sacrifice that inspires other heroes. All three stories end with Peter Parker inspired to become a Legacy Character Spider-Man, using the remains of the radioactive spider to synthesise his usual spider powers.
    • "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 Rick Jones became the Hulk?" (v1 #12), where Rick Jones saves Bruce Banner and takes the brunt of the Gamma Bomb. Despite being a completely different person, Rick-as-Hulk is still picked out by Loki in the scheme that forms the Avengers, he still leaves the team out of mistrust, Rick still partners up with Captain America, is the key to stopping the Kree-Skrull War and bonds with Captain Mar-Vell. The only big difference here is that Banner is able to keep Rick-Hulk away long enough that the US Military can't hunt him down.
    • "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.
    • "What if Shang-Chi fought on the side of Fu Manchu?" (v1 #17): Shang-Chi gets away with killing Dr. Petrie, but his moral views are challenged as a result, eventually driving him to turn against Fu Manchu as in canon.
    • In "What If Dr. Strange Had Been a Disciple of Dormammu?" (V1 #18), a young and arrogant Strange turns to dark magic to regain the use of his hands and becomes a sinister magician. He and Dormammu eventually do battle with Strange realizing the demon was using him and taps into his inner nobility to defeat him. Realizing how wrong he was, Strange embraces becoming Sorcerer Supreme to atone for his actions.
    • 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.
    • "What if the Punisher's family hadn't been killed?" (v2 #10): Frank Castle's family are not gunned down in the park, but are killed by a bomb planted in their house and Frank becomes the Punisher anyway.
    • 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.
    • "What if Doctor Doom became the Thing" veers away from the original storyline by having Victor von Doom become friends with Reed, which alienates Ben and leads to him enlisting in the Army. Victor also takes Ben's place on the fateful rocket flight, which means he's the one who transforms into the Thing. His battle with Reed takes them to the test site of Bruce Banner's gamma bomb, where Ben (who enlisted in the Army) gets hit by the blast while protecting Reed and becomes the Hulk (but retains his original personality since he doesn't have Banner's psychological issues). The story ends with both the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom existing as normal, just with the powers shuffled around a little.
  • 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.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: "What If The Amazing Spider-Man Had Not Married Mary Jane?" (v2 #20-21) is built all around this. Peter breaks off his engagement to Mary Jane because he fears that she'll always be at risknote  and ends up marrying the Black Cat instead. While she can take care of herself, her own issues (especially her "need" to rub their engagement in MJ's face, which results in the Vulture discovering Peter's identity) lead to Felicia getting killed. The story ends with Peter forming a relationship with another woman more than capable of handling herself in a fight: Silver Sable.
  • 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.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Vol 2, Issue #76 has Flash Thompson lash out violently at and threaten to kill the occupants of a car that almost ran him over... who turn out to be bank robbers.
  • Lamarck Was Right:
    • "Brave New World" (v2 #114) had the heroes getting trapped in Battleworld after the events of Secret Wars (1984), 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.
  • Magic Pants: What If... Reed Richards Never Invented Unstable Molecules? explores the consequences of this trope being averted. Reed himself looks ridiculous with non-stretchy clothing, Johnny keeps burning his clothes off and asks for fireproof underwear, and Sue categorically refuses to be an Invisible Streaker.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Echo: "What If Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man?" has an example with almost immediate turnaround time. Throughout his career he'd acted as an overly violent and destructive Spider-Man, but still viewed himself as a hero worthy of praise. When Peter Parker comes to beg his help in saving Aunt May's life, Flash flips out and accidentally kills him. When he realizes what he's done, Flash says "I'm the good guy" as if to deny responsibility for his actions, but then a moment later he says it again, resolving to do the right thing and get May's cure to atone for his misdeeds.
  • 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.
    • Black Cat in "What If The Amazing Spider-Man Had Not Married Mary Jane?" (v2 #20-21) takes a much more proactive and violent approach to Spider-Man's Rogues Gallery, killing Kraven during the "Kraven's Last Hunt" event with poisoned claws and almost blasting Eddie Brock to smithereens during Venom's first outing (if not for Peter's intervention). She also kills the Vulture as a twisted way of cleaning up her own messes, since her bragging to Mary Jane allowed the villain to figure out Spider-Man's identity.
  • 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.
    • In "What If Spider-Man had Never Become a Crimefighter" (vol.1 #19), after spending the whole issue being a self-absorbed celebrity, Peter realizes how much his callous actions have hurt others when the leader of this universe's version of the Sinister Six turns out to be J. Jonah Jameson, who had gone mad with despair after Peter both intentionally and unintentionally ruined his life. The fact that Daredevil possibly got mortally wounded during the fight does not help.
    • In the "What If Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man?" one-shot from 2018, Flash spends much of the story being a gigantic Jerkass, until Peter Parker comes to him to beg for help in saving Aunt May's life. Flash, blaming Peter for turning the public against him with his photographs, flips out and punches him so hard that he dents the wall of Flash's trailer, which kills him. After realizing what he's done, Flash decides to make amends by getting the isotope May needs, then turns himself in to the police for the crime.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: In "What If Thanos changed Galactus into a human being?" (v2 #34), after Galactus is transformed by Thanos into an amnesiac human resembling Elvis Presley, he is taken in by a woman who helps him remember his "life". While he admits he still doesn't remember, he has learned enough about the real Elvis that he starts seeing his existence as a 'second chance' to make up for all the mistakes the real Elvis made in his music career.
    Elvis!Galactus: You convinced me, ma'am. I am Elvis Aron Presley.
    Gertrude: So you remember now?
    Elvis!Galactus: No, but you showed me! That was my voice singin' those songs! That was me actin' in those silly movies! I don't rightly know what happened to me, why I'm not dead and fat and all, but I'm here now! And I have a second chance! I won't get messed up with the drugs this time! No more luau music, no more 'My Way'... I'm goin' to stay true to Rock n' Roll!
  • 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 (2006), 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. Gyrich also gets Laser-Guided Karma when he's confronted by the real Captain America, now with Red Eyes, Take Warning as he delivers the last line: "Don't bother getting up."
  • 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... 
  • Pyrrhic Victory: "What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived" ends with JJ Jameson crashing Peter Parker's wedding with several cops and evidence the Green Goblin sent him which shows that the groom is actually Spider-Man. Peter is forced to flee rather than see anyone potentially get hurt...but Robbie Robertson quits the Bugle in disgust and swears to Gwen that they're going to take the real story of Peter Parker to the other papers and leave the Bugle unfit for fish wrap. Jameson stands alone, his victory over Spider-Man having caused the loss of a close friend, and soon, perhaps his reputation as well.
  • 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.
  • Raised by Orcs: Thor in the 2018 oneshot "What If: Thor #1", as summed up by the story's title: "What if... Thor was raised by the Frost Giants?" When Odin misses a critical thrust with his spear in a duel with the Frost Giant king Laufey, Odin is slain and Asgard sacked, with Thor as the Sole Survivor being dragged back to Jotunheim to be reared as Laufey's adopted son. Whilst initially Thor resists, ultimately, he adapts to his surroundings and becomes accepted by the giants, with Laufey in particular regarding Thor as a worthier successor than his own son Loki. The story ends with Thor becoming the king of Jotunheim, whilst Loki flees to Midgard and taeks up a mortal life.
  • 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.
  • Redemption Rejection: In the story where the Venom symbiote is able to fully bond with Peter, it ends up accidentally killing him via Rapid Aging. Later, when it's jumped to the Hulk, it tries to apologize (and seems to be helping Banner control the Hulk), but Thor isn't having any of it.
  • 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.
    • In "What If Wolverine Had Become An Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." (v2 #7), Logan turned down Professor Xavier's request for him to join the X-Men, but promised the Professor that he would look out for potential threats to the X-Men from his position as a SHIELD agent. Later when he succeeded Nick Fury as Director of SHIELD, he used his position to discredit Stephen Lang and Senator Robert Kelly, thus ending governmental persecution of mutants.
  • 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.
  • Ret-Canon: Several stories introduced ideas that subsequently became canonized in the mainstream Marvel Universe, such as Spider-Man's clone actually having survived, Jane Foster becoming Thor during Jason Aaron's Thor run and a group of obscure Golden Age characters banding together as the Agents of Atlas. Perhaps the most notable example is What if The Invaders (Marvel Comics) had stayed together after World War 2? (v1 #4), which detailed how William Naslund (a.k.a. the Spirit of '76) and Jeffrey Mace (a.k.a. the Patriot) became the new Captain America after Steve Rogers was frozen, with a boy named Fred Davis taking over as the new Bucky. The issue was later adopted wholesale into the mainstream Marvel continuity, with it being used to retroactively explain that the post-war comics featuring Steve and Bucky Barnes (as the Retcon that Steve had been frozen before the end of the war hadn't been thought of until the 1960s) had actually starred Naslund or Mace as Cap and Davis as Bucky. And, as mentioned above, Spider-Girl and the entire MC2 continuity owe their existence to the series.
  • 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.
    • In "What if the Hulk went Berserk?", the Hulk goes on a murderous rampage when his Mind Link with Rick Jones causes him intense pain once the boy dies.
  • Sanity Slippage: One story in "What If: All of the Fantastic Four had the same powers?" involves the Four all becoming monsters. In Reed's case, he becomes a purple-skilled beast akin to The Brute, his Counter-Earth self. Unlike The Brute, however, Reed slowly becomes more irrational and begins to have difficulty thinking properly.
  • 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.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: What If? Magik (2018) has Illyana Rasputin and Doctor Strange, who takes her in after she runs away from the X-Men, spend a good 90% of the comic exchanging barbs; Strange's snarky demeanor was clearly inspired by Benedict Cumberbatch's performance in the movies, while Illyana is a Bratty Half-Pint with a lot of emotional baggage.
  • 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.
  • Start of Darkness: The series can go both ways, showing how one turn can change a known villain into a hero or vice versa.
    • Several issues play with how, had he just listened to Reed Richards' warning in college, Victor von Doom wouldn't have suffered his accident and become, if not a pure hero, a nobler man.
    • Other stories emphasize how close Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman, Daredevil and even Spider-Man came to becoming bad guys.
    • In "What If Peter Parker Had to Destroy Spider-Man" (Vol 2, # 76), Flash Thompson is bitten by the spider and becomes a bad guy. Peter goes to Dr. Otto Octavius for help but the arrogant Octavius dismisses him. Peter warns Octavius his experiment is about to explode so he can stop it. A humbled Otto apologizes and helps Peter, thus becoming a revered scientist instead of Doctor Octopus.
    • In one of the three tales of v2 #60," Jean Grey romances Angel instead of Cyclops. This makes Scott bitter and arrogant and so is demoted as the team leader. An angry Cyclops is thus susceptible to Magneto swaying him to join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
  • The Stations of the Canon: The concept gets discussed in "What If Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man?" As Flash gets pinned beneath Doc Ock's collapsing base (recreating the same scene from Amazing Spider-Man #33), the Unseen narrates that some events are so critical to the fabric of reality that they will always happen no matter how far a timeline otherwise diverges from its original path.
  • 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 Catchphrase: 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!'"
  • Sudden Downer Ending: "What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?" ends with one. Peter saves Gwen, convinces her to let go of her hatred of Spider-Man, proposes to her, and nonlethally gets Norman Osborn to give up the Green Goblin identity. Everything seems to end well, until J. Jonah Jameson crashes the wedding and reveals that he exposed Spider-Man's identity to the world (thanks to Norman sending Jonah the info before his Heel–Face Turn), forcing Peter to go on the run.
  • 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.
    • What If Planet Hulk featured a story where Hulk landed on the peaceful planet the Illuminati had intended for him, rather than Sakaar. Hulk gets what he wants, a world where nobody will ever harass him just for existing, while Bruce Banner repeatedly tries to escape. They butt heads repeatedly (especially regarding a race of little alien animals, whom Hulk is fond of but Bruce wants to hunt for food), until Bruce discovers a valley where the aliens have carved giant statues of the Hulk and realizes that they view him as their god. The comic ends by jumping ahead to the point where the aliens have evolved into bipedal, sentient beings; they still view the Hulk as their god, but don't believe he exists — and the last panel shows him (apparently having achieved a "Merged Hulk"-like coexistence with Bruce) still protecting them from the shadows.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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.
  • 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.
  • These Hands Have Killed: In ""What if Spider-Man Became a Murderer?" (vol. 2, #72), Spider-Man accidentally beats the guy who killed Uncle Ben to death. Afterwards, the guilt causes him to be incredibly anxious about potentially harming people, either as Spider-Man or as himself, and he even considers letting himself be killed by the Lizard to stop the menace he feels he poses to the people around him. However, he realizes that if he wants to makes Ben's death mean something he has to embrace Spider-Man and come clean about what he did, so he turns himself in to the police.
  • 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.
  • Uncertain Doom: It's not made clear in "What If Spider-Man had Never Become a Crimefighter" if Daredevil will be able to pull through the extended beatdown he received at the hands of the Sinister Six.
  • 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 plaque 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.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: One of the stories in "What If: All of the Fantastic Four had the same powers?" has each team member gaining reed Richards's stretching power. Ben and Sue find the power "stupid" and "ugly" respectively so the idea of forming a team dies a-borning.
  • 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?"