I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
I was a sucker for a lot of different superhero comics when I was a kid (as the “Previously…” selections below decisively prove), but few series inspired such full-fledged geekery in me as Marvel’s What If? Largely a conception of Roger Stern, the series was launched in the nineteen-seventies as a way to tell stories that had no real place in the vaunted continuity of the universe, but answered some persistent speculation on how things might have gone differently in the vast tapestry of the shared universe. This wasn’t a term in common usage then, but it was fan service. That was undoubtedly part of the appeal to me. Since the writers tended to revisit major storylines that inspired the heftiest back issue prices, it was also a way for me to experience part of the mighty Marvel mythos that I’d missed, since this was well before the point when the individual snippets of the sage were reprinted in a multitude of forms. I’d never be able to afford a copy of The Incredible Hulk #181, featuring the first appearance of Wolverine, but I could spare the buck for the oversized issue of What If? that revisited the titanic tale while adding a twist.
Billed on the cover as “THE WORLD’S FIRST AND GREATEST CANADIAN SUPERHERO,” Wolverine inserted himself into a battle between the green goliath and the shaggy beast known as Wendigo. Created by Len Wein and Herb Trimpe, the creative team on the Hulk’s title at the time, there was certainly no conception that they were introducing the character who would become the standout star of the publishing line about a decade later, much less that he’d be played by an Australian song and dance man in seven feature films (and counting) a generation after that. They simply needed a new character to tussle with the Hulk. There are wolverines in Canada, and they have claws, so why not? By the time the What If? story came around, Wolverine was established as a ruthless, violent hero (though still tame by modern standards). Writer Rich Margopoulos took advantage of that shift, along with the beginning swell of Wolverine’s popularity, to speculate that the pint-sized Canadian could have actually felled the Hulk. Indeed, he made it look pretty simple.
Always go for the throat, kids. That’s still good advice.
Finishing off one of the most powerful figures on a planet rife with superpowered beings naturally swells Logan’s head a bit, so he switches from his costume to an outfit more appropriate for tavern-hopping in the Great White North and heads out to regale some barflies with boasts of his strength.
Some of the other fellows the bar don’t especially enjoy this newcomer occupying the time and attention of the available ladies. When they pick a fight, Logan, apparently still adrenalized from killing the Hulk, goes into a rage and winds up extended his claws into one of the agitated patrons. Battling the Hulk was a mission he was sent on by the Canadian government, but slicing up a civilian is another thing. When Logan seeks help from his military handlers, he doesn’t appreciate their suggestion that he needs to turn himself in a go through the justice system. In a timely turn, when Logan flees, now desperate and alone, he’s snatched up by Magneto, traveling with the poorly named Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (it’s gotta be hard to get people to accept a pro-mutant agenda put forth by a group with the word “Evil” right in the name of the organization). With shaky but admittedly accurate reasoning, Magneto figured that the murdered of the Hulk just had to be a mutant, and that mutant would be the perfect recruit. Magneto enlists Wolverine to infiltrate Charles Xavier’s X-Men, sending him into the School for Gifted Youngsters a few years before he’d arrive in proper continuity.
As was the case with Magneto’s instantaneous, instinctual detective work, Cyclops’s distrust of Wolverine is rash, entirely unjustified, and wholly accurate and astute. Sure enough, even after his new teammates save him in a battle against some Sentinels, Wolverine stalks around the mansion while everyone else is sleeping, sabotage on his mind. Like any sane Canadian, he makes sure he has a frosty beer with him while engaged in betrayal.
With the security system disabled, Magneto and his nefarious compatriots are free to attack. Initially, Wolverine stands by and lets it happen, but when Magneto uses his powers to hurl a metal plate at Jean Grey, Wolverine turns against Magneto. Like just about everyone else who met Jean, Wolverine was immediately enamored with her, leading to the urgent need to defend her. Even then, Jean’s mutant powers would have made her one of the most formidable members of the X-Men, but, you know, she was a girl, so making apple pie would be more her thing. She’d need a big strong man to defend her.
What If? issues were often bloodbaths, with the stories demonstrating all the ways things would have gone terribly wrong for these treasured characters in this revised scenarios. If you love these heroes, the Marvel writers had it right in the first place, true believer. This issue is no exception. Besides the cadaver of the Hulk out there in the woods, Wolverine’s protective fury leaves Magneto mortally wounded, but with just enough strength to use his powers of magnetism to exact a little revenge.
By now, I think its been established that the potency and effectiveness of Wolverine’s mutant healing factor would clear up that little tracheotomy problem in no time, with nothing more than maybe a little raspiness. That didn’t occur to my young, impressionable brain when I first read the story, though. Instead I was blown away by the hardcore bleakness of it. I mean, killing off Wolverine is something they’d never do in true continuity, right? Seeing it there on the page was enough to blow my developing mind. As I noted above, I was a sucker.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall