Or – “This One Might Actually Kind Of Be #200. Kind Of…”
I often have problems with Marvel’s renumbering schemes because the people in charge of counting like to skew things in their favor. Captain America’s renumbering to 600 only makes sense if you count the 100 issues of Tales To Something-Or-Other that came BEFORE the book changed it’s name to Captain America V.1, most issues of which didn’t even feature the character. But for What If?, the bean-counters seem to be playing fair, counting 47 issues of volume one, the hundred-plus issues of volume two, and the various one-shots over the last half-decade to reach a seemingly legitimate count of 200 issues. Of course, that pedigree inclues some real stinkers, so the question at hand is, is this one any better than “What If Nick Fury Fought WWII In Outer Space?”
Previously, on What If?: Men call him Uatu, the Watcher. His one duty in life is to monitor the goings-on of a smallish blue-green planet in the western spiral arm of the galaxy, never interfering in the destiny of the inhabitants thereof. ‘Course, he’s really kind of bad at that, as anyone who ever read his first appearances can tell you, but as part of his duties, Uatu also monitors the events of various alternate realities, filling his time by seeing what could have happened if a tiny difference had occurred in the events of our mainstream 616 Marvel reality. Many times, we see that things don’t go nearly as well as they did in the “real world,” which also leads to the question of what makes the Marvel Universe so damn lucky, but in any case, these cautionary tales serve to remind Uatu (and us, the omnipotent readers of their lives and adventures) that things could always have been worse. Case in point: The recent Siege of Asgard by the insane Iron Patriot, Norman Osborn.
The alternate world of this issue’s lead story is one wherein Ares refuses to believe Norm-O’s story from the get-go, leading the Sentry to rip him in half BEFORE the Siege begins, and allowing a Sentry at full power to engage the heroes in Broxton, Oklahoma a few days later. It’s a story that bodes badly for the coalition of heroes, as anyone who has ever read a What If? tale would expect. The art is fully painted, but there are some issues with the choice of color, or at least the saturation at which it’s reproduced. The entire story has a brightly lit, almost unreal sunset orange tint, giving the entire affair an apocalyptic tinge which makes you believe that things are hopeless throughout. There are a couple of fascinating twists, and the key characters are not who you would expect given how the original Siege tale ended. A couple of fascinating character points, but a story that offers little in the way of surprises.
The second story is a bit more successful for me, although that’s probably the art of Dale Eaglesham talking. The story takes off from events in Fantastic Four #48-50, but instead of Reed Richards bluffing Galactus with the Ultimate Nullifier, Uatu the Watcher steps in and destroys the Devourer of Worlds with a frap-ray from his palm. Things get existential from there, as the council of Watchers arrives to take Uatu into custody, sentencing him to death. The Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer get involved in the jurisprudence (on opposite sides, one defending the being who saved their planet, and the other condemning the monster that slew his master) but it is the Watcher himself who finally weighs in with the words that lead to his sentence. It’s a very Stan lee melodramatic moment, but one that works well for me overall, and finishes off the story in a satisfying way.
The rest of the book is taken up with a countdown of the content of the 199 previous issues, a fascinating history of What If? by Roy Thomas, the original writer/editor of What If? back in the day, and a reprint of one of the most popular issues of the original series, “What If Bullseye Hadn’t Killed Elektra?” featuring art and story by Frank Miller. It’s a pretty full package, with fifty-odd pages of story and/or content for $4.99, which is really only a buck more than they want you to pay for Avengers every month, so I’m not overly unhappy with the price point. The main story isn’t really the draw here for me, as it’s a pretty by-the-numbers revamp of a story that wasn’t overly brilliant to begin with, but the backup tale and the retro material is quite good, leading to mixed emotions overall. What If? works best when it plays with the Marvel Universe is ways that are fundamental but still leave characters recognizable, and the cliche that everyone dies isn’t entirely squashed here, but I’m pleasantly surprised with what we got. What If? #200 earns a pleasantly entertained 3.5 out of 5 stars overall, making me wonder if this concept would work as an ongoing series again.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Do you have a favorite What If? story of years past? (Mine is, not surprisingly, V.1 #9, the first appearance of the characters who would become the Agents of Atlas…)