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?”

What If? #200
Writer: Marc Guggenheim/Stan Lee
Art: Dave Wilkins/Lucio Parillo/Dale Eaglesham
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Dave Lanphear/Todd Klein
Publisher: Marvel Comics

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.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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…)


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. My favorite What If? story is a two parter in Volume 2, issues 28 and 29. It was What If Captain American Had Led A Army of Super Soldiers in WW2? and What If Captain America Had Formed the Avengers? The ending in issue 29 still gives me chills, I just love the whole story. It all revolves around a super powered Red Skull who has over taken America and a revived Cap has to team up with Wendigo(Wolverine), Frank Castle as Ironman, Sam Wilson as Giantman, and a bearded Namor. If you come across those issues I say pick them up.

    As for the possibility of a return of What If? as a monthly, it is a long time coming, I say bring it on.

  2. There are a few What If stories I enjoyed. One was I believe the final issue of Vol. 2 (something like “Secret Wars: 25 years later”) showing a world where the Marvel heroes had stayed on an alien world after the Secret Wars, some of them having children together and Spiderman was perma-bonded to the symbiote so that it seemed only a skeleton remained beneath.

    I also liked the one that reversed the Hulk and Bruce Banner’s mental states (Hulk was intelligent, Bruce Banner was savage).

  3. I always seemed to pick up the crappy What If? books. I’d grab something that had a fascinating premise and then it’d be some foolish story…for instance, what if Mar-Vell had lived?

    Anyway, two questions. You say that the first story had some fascinating and unexpected twists, but offered little in the way of surprises. I was wondering if you could elaborate on what you mean by surprises in that context.

    The second question has to do with Uatu himself. Isn’t there just one Uatu? I didn’t realize that Uatu could be sitting there, watching different versions of himself watching him. That’s a little trippy.

    • Anyway, two questions. You say that the first story had some fascinating and unexpected twists, but offered little in the way of surprises. I was wondering if you could elaborate on what you mean by surprises in that context.

      Not necessarily surprises, but unexpected moments in terms of character, and the fact that it wasn’t Wolverine, Steve Rogers and Iron Man trucking in to save the day. In fact, The Cabal was better utilized than in the regular continuity…

      The second question has to do with Uatu himself. Isn’t there just one Uatu? I didn’t realize that Uatu could be sitting there, watching different versions of himself watching him. That’s a little trippy.

      Mmm… That is somewhat without precedent, yep.

  4. My favorite “What If?” is the Civil War one since it’s in continuity given how it’s Hozymandias (the one that works for Apocalypse) who tells 2 what if stories to Stark.

  5. I can’t recall any specific “What If…” stories, but I enjoyed the first 40-odd issues of the Marvel Comics “Exiles”, which was a sort of Quantum Leap meets What If?

  6. My favorite What If? is Vol. 1 #43. It is an alternate ending to What If? #13 where Conan is trapped in the 20th century. He goes through a series of encounters and eventually fights Captain America. It is that final point, the fight with Cap that truly makes the book. Awesome awesome awesome!!!

    • That was my favorite “What If?” too. I loved when Conan cuts a bullet out of his arm after being shot and realizes that guns are just “fancied up slings”.

      He totally establishes his badassery in our world, because really, Conan isn’t afraid of any “fancy slings”!

  7. Maybe I’m crazy, but I love Vol 2 #52, when Doom became the Sorcerer Supreme. I definitely enjoyed seeing Doom be a ‘good guy’, or as good as Doom could manage to be, though the ending revealed that he, as always, had something up his sleeve.

  8. My one pet peeve about the What If series is that at its heart, it’s usually borderline nihilistic in how it handles the protagonist of each story. The premise of the book allows writers to torture, maim and kill with abandon all the A-list characters who normally have plot armor, so naturally writers seize every opportunity to torture, maim and kill those characters, regardless of whether it makes a dramatically satisfying story.

    I remember as a kid in the 80’s being actually offended at “What if Phoenix didn’t die?” which read to me like Jim Shooter’s FU to everyone who didn’t like the editorially mandated ending of X-Men #137. In the What If story, Jean and Scott were defeated by the Imperial Guard before Jean’s Phoenix powers reasserted themselves and the Shi’ar psychically lobotomized her to take away her powers (the original Claremont-Byrne ending that Shooter overruled). Then, some time later, she got her powers back for no really discernible reason at all, but because she immediately used them to save a Shi’ar planet from some catastrophe, Lilandra totally got over her desire to kill Jean for the good of the universe. Soon after, though, Jean started jonesing to eat another sun and consumed the star of an uninhabited system. The X-Men confronted her, and she immediately turned into Dark Phoenix and killed all of them in graphically sadistic ways. When she realized what she had done, she went even crazier and started destroying whole galaxies. No one at any point acted remotely in character, and the whole thing was just … unpleasant.

    • The way the Watchers race has been portrayed in the past, it seemed like they were not a race that existed in the timelines in such a way that there would be alternates, like they existed outside of the regular rules of time/space.

  9. I have two favorites.
    What If? vol.2 # 4 had Spiderman waiting too long to remove the symbiote after Secret Wars. It had a very sad but touching ending concerning Black Cat. Looking back, it’s interesting to see the take on the symbiote before Venom.
    What If? vol. 2 #6 showed the effects of the X-Men losing Inferno. I was surprised at the time that it made it through the editorial process. The story is just insanely violent with an overwhelming feel of hopelessness. It was enjoyable for the unusual group of heroes that banded together in the end (even if most of them die horrifically).
    Plus: Wolverine eats a live baby. No kidding.

  10. this is fantastic news for me :) i’d been a fan of what if? since the 80’s vol.2 and retroactively completed vol.1 and #0 (…ironman was a traitor) the draw was always all bet are off, anyone could die, anyone could betray, anything could happen… given the right circumstances. ALWAYS fascinating if not always an entertaining read. kinda like the “age of…” storylines MARVEL seems to love doing.

    MARVEL M.O. = retcon this then return to status quo in mainstream 616,
    but WHAT IF? goes off the tracks by rewriting things then finding a new status quo. nice. like a year-long MARVEL event rolled up into one issue!

    my fave was in late volume 1 “what if conan battled thor?” totally unrealistic, made sense in a suspended marvel reality kinda way, it proved not EVERY what if? needs to remake the entire marvel reality to be a poignant and extremely fun read.

    i wish MARVEL would do a followup to it and make conan a god of war and rematch the god of thunder :)

  11. I only ever owned “What if J. Jonah Jameson Adopted Spider-Man?” and “What if? – Spider-Man: The Other – What if Spider-man rejected his inner spider?” I kinda liked the Spider-man “The Other” issue. It was an interesting take.

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