The What If? Classic Omnibus, Vol. 1 is the #60 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus of 2017 on Tigereyes’s Secret Ballot.
Visit the Marvel Masterworks Message Board to view the original posting of results by Tigereyes.
What Is It? What If (1977) featured a round robin of Marvel creators telling one-shot, alternate reality tales that altered key elements of the company’s biggest heroes.
What If? ran for 47 issues from February 1977 to October 1984.
Past Ranking: Unranked in 2014-2016; #18 in the 2013 survey
Probable Contents: What If? (1977) #1-12 & 14-25 (#13 featured Conan, whose stories Marvel does not have the rights to reproduce.)
What If? (1977) issues had 35-40 story pages per issue for the duration of the title’s run, which means we could fit a max of just over 30 total issues of the series into a single omnibus (the biggest of which is currently 1344 pages).
[Thanks to CBR’s Rincewind for giving me a heads up on the page length!]
That would leave us with a follow-up What If? Classic Omnibus, Vol. 2 containing What If? (1977) #26-38, 40-42, 43 (1st story only), and 44-47. (Issues #39 and 41 featured Conan stories.)
Note that issue #16 was absent in the earlier reprints because it featured Shang-Chi and his father Fu Manchu, but would likely be available again now that Marvel has reached a new licensing agreement with Sax Rohmer’s estate regarding Fu Manchu stories.
Can you read it right now? Yes! This series has been printed in its entirety (save for issues with licensing conflicts) in seven Classic collections: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6, Volume 7. They happen to each be available right now for $5.50 on Kindle! Also, Marvel Unlimited currently has issues #1-38.
While this imaginative series probably wouldn’t last more than a few issues today, anthology style series and stories sold just fine back in the 70s and 80s – especially when they were stacked with a cast of Marvel’s most major heroes.
What If? changed one big element in the stories of Marvel’s heroes and watched the domino effect sweep across their lives – and sometimes across the entire galaxy! Each story was framed by The Watcher solemnly introducing us to an alternate reality where he observed the key difference.
One of the most interesting aspects of What If? is how it predicted future Marvel plot points. What seemed like fundamentally inalterable truths of our heroes back in 1977-84 – that Phoenix hadn’t died or that Jane Foster could be Thor – began to look like interesting story possibilities to creators starting just a few years later and extending to today.
Even when we haven’t seen the exact premise of a certain story occur in Marvel’s continuity, some of the stories’ imagined outcomes have still bled into the comics that have occurred since then.
It would be easy to explain that away by saying “There are only so many comic plots,” but I genuinely don’t think that’s the case. Instead, I’d say that certain traits of Marvel’s characters are so iconic and immutable that – when faced with certain types of adversity – the characters tend to drift consistently in certain directions.
There’s not much more to say in summation of this book since it only included a single continued story out of 47 issues, so instead I’ve recapped every “What if…?” question posed by the series with an analysis of if they ever came true.
As you browse the scenarios, you’ll notice that the primary stories in What If? never stray too far from The Avengers with their holy trinity of Cap, Stark, and Thor, plus Hulk, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four. Those character account for 68% of the issues of the series, and the remaining 32% are still filled with major characters with their own ongoing titles like Daredevil and Doctor Strange. There are really only a handful of issues that drift past that second tier to Marvels’ C-list. It’s seems impossible that the X-Men only have a single issue to themselves, as a decade later they could probably sustain their own What If? series!
It’s a pity there isn’t a way to squeeze this series into a single volume, because while one book with a short run might sell decently enough, I doubt Marvel would be able to sell a pair even if they tipped their hands about producing both far ahead of time as they did with Master of Kung Fu.
Will we see this omnibus in 2018? No.
Look, anything is possible, but when it comes to 70s stories Marvel has a lot of surer sellers, including some things that have never been printed in color. I think we’d be more likely to see Complete Collections recollecting the aging Classic collections.
Would I recommend buying it? No; read it digitally.
What If? stories are a fascinating indicator of what Marvel creators considered to be both nearly-possible and too-crazy in any given period, which makes them a valuable historical document in addition to being enjoyable one-off stories. Yet, I don’t think it’s worth shelling out $55 after discounts for a book of enjoyable one-offs, few of which bear revisiting.
I’ll precede this analysis with a caveat: Though my Marvel knowledge is encyclopedic, I’m not an all-knowing Watcher like Uatu. If you think I’ve missed a “What If” that came true – or, just want to argue with my interpretation – sound off in the comments below.
- Out of 47 issues of What If?,
23 2425 of them came to pass in some fashion – 49% 51%53% of all issues came true!
- In those 47 issues, there are 59 “What if?” stories, so
39% 41%42% of all stories became at least a little bit true!
(The strike-throughs indicate changes after readers have chimed in with corrections.)
#1 What If… Spider-Man Joined The Fantastic Four?
It happened! While we haven’t gone back in time to make Spider-Man a member from the start as he is in this story, he became an official member of the Fantastic Four after Johnny Storm’s apparent death in Fantastic Four (1961) #588
#2 What If… The Hulk Had The Brain of Bruce Banner?
It happened! We’ve now seen smart Hulk many times over, most-recently in the Gerry Duggan run on Hulk in 2014.
#3 What If… The Avengers Had Never Been?
Hmm… I’m certain a few minor stories have retroactively removed The Avengers from existence at this point, but none immediately leap to mine.
#4 What If… The Invaders Had Stayed Together After World War II?
While we’ve had some Invaders reunions since their 1975 series, it remains canon that they disbanded after the war.
Per Rincewind in the comments of this post, you have to consider the context on this one – originally, this story appeared in the middle of the run of Invaders. By the end of the run, it was established that some of the events in this story more or less happen – that the team continues with a substitute Cap and Bucky after their appearance deaths. Thus, we’re changing this to “It Happened!”
#5 What If Captain America And Bucky Had Both Survived World War II
It happened! This one was long held as one of the inmutable pillars of Marvel story telling, but it was finally topppled by Ed Brubaker with his Winter Soldier epic, which is now part of Marvel’s cinematic continuity!
#6 What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?
The team has occasionally swapped powers for the span of a story, but I don’t think this one has ever become an ongoing plot.
#7 What If Someone Else Had Become the Amazing Spider-Man?
Close enough! While no one has outright replaced Peter Parker in continuity, we’ve recently seen both Dr. Octopus acting within Peter’s psyche and that Cindy Moon was bitten by the same spider to become Silk. Plus, this issue supposes Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, and J. Jonah Jameson were spiders, and Flash actually sort-of was in Venom and JJJ was in Spider-Island.
#8 What If… The World Knew Daredevil Was Blind? / What If The Spider Had Been Bitten By A Radioactive Human?
It happened! The world has found out on multiple occasions that Matt Murdock is Daredevil, and it’s widely known that Murdock is blind.
The B-story is a silly one imagining a Spider Peter Parker bitten by a human.
#9 What If… The Avengers Had Been Formed During The 1950’s?
It happened! Howard Chaykin penned a 2011 mini-series called Avengers 1959 (2011) where Nick Fury formed a pseudo-Avengers squad a few years prior to their official beginning.
#10 What If…Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?
It happened! This is the premise of the current run of Jason Aaron’s Thor.
#11 What If The Fantastic Four Were the Original Marvel Bullpen?
As a silly, real-world analog story, this one hasn’t occurred. Marvel was so massively popular in the 60s and 70s that their various staff members were considered to be characters with personalities just as big as their heroes! I guess today’s equivalent is creators who are really loud on Twitter?
#12 What If… Rick Jones Had Become the Hulk?
It kind-of happened. While Jones isn’t officially The Hulk, he did become A-Bomb, yet another Gamma-Powered hero.
#13 What If… Conan The Barbarian Walked The Earth Today?
I’m not aware of a modernized Conan tale that isn’t just a longer what-if, though Valiant later ran with this concept for X-O Manowar.
#14 What If… Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos Had Fought World War II in outer space?
I’m going to give credit for this one, since part of the reveal of Original Sin is that Nick Fury has been keeping an eye on space-faring threats as a sort of original Guardian of the Galaxy.
#15 What If… Someone Else Had Become Nova?
It happened! Nova membership has become a much more common thing, just like Green Lantern membership, and we’ve now seen at least another pair of Earth Novas. This issue explores a few specific stand-ins, like Peter Parker, but I’m giving it a pass on concept.
#16 What If… Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Had Remained Loyal to Fu Manchu?
I haven’t read all of Master of Kung Fu, so I don’t know if this plot ever unfurled, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t.
#17 What If… Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman, and Captain Marvel Had Remained Villains?
Close enough! Both Ghost Rider and Spider-Woman took later, villainous turns, as did a legacy version of Captain Marvel
#18 What If Dr. Strange Had Been A Disciple Of Dormammu?
I don’t know my Strange well enough to know if he’s ever collaborated with Dormammu for more than an issue or two.
#19 What If Spider-Man Had Stopped The Burglar Who Killed His Uncle?
The real title of this issue is “What If Spider-Man Had Never Become a Crime-Fighter?” So, although he does eventually catch and confront The Burglar, I’m rating this one as “never happened” since Peter Parker has never quit being a hero for a significant period of time.
#20 What If?…The Avengers Had Fought the Kree-Skrull War Without Rick Jones?
This one is still imaginary, although I’m sure it could be retconned one day!
#21 What If… Sub-Mariner Had Married the Invisible Girl?
It happened! Chris Claremont played out this plot in his uncollected run of Fantastic Four (1998)
#22 What If… Doctor Doom Had Become A Hero?
It happened! Doom is a legitimate contributing member of the Fantastic Four for a while during Hickman’s run. Sure, he had ulterior motives, but he was heroing while he did them.
#23 What If… The Hulk’s Girlfriend Jarella Had Not Died? / What If Aunt May Instead of Her Nephew Peter Had Been Bitten By That Radioactive Spider?”
As far as I know, Jarella has never been revived in the long term. And, Aunt-May has been seen with spider-powers on a few occasions, so while this whole premise hasn’t played out we have seen some of the story elements.
#24 What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?
It happened! Well, not actual Gwen Stacy, which then could proceed to make it so that Spider-Man and Mary Jane never become an item, but we’ve seen multiple returns of Gwen as a character between her clone and the alternate reality Spider-Gwen.
This issue contained a “Untold Tales Of The Marvel Universe: The First Eternals” back-up.
#25 What If Thor Fought Odin Over Jane Foster?
Um, that’s a little creepy? Also, I’m pretty sure it’s never happened.
This issue contained a “Untold Tales Of The Marvel Universe: The First Uni-Mind”
#26 “What If Captain America Were Elected President? / What If … The Man-Thing Had Regained Ted Sallis’ Brain?
We’re 1 for 2 on this one – the Ultimate Universe played out the story of Captain America as president. However, I don’t know enough Man-Thing to tell you if the second story came to pass.
This issue contained a “Untold Tales Of The Marvel Universe: Outpost On Uranus” back-up.
#27 What If Phoenix Had Not Died?
It happened! Both Jean and the Phoenix Force survived their apparent deaths in #137, although we’ve never had a totally awesome Phoenix vs. Galactus throwdown that we saw in this issue to the best of my recollection. By the way, this one is gorgeous.
This issue also included a “Untold Tales Of The Marvel Universe: Kree Encounter!” back-up.
#28 What If Daredevil Became An Agent of…S.H.I.E.L.D.” / What If Ghost Rider Were Separated from Johnny Blaze?
It happened! At least, the second story did – it’s how we got Danny Ketch as Ghost Rider. Daredevil has been used as an asset of SHIELD a few times, but I cannot recall him ever becoming a full-blown agent like he does in this story.
This issue also included a “Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe: New Life” back-up.
#29 What If…The Avengers Were the Last Superheroes on Earth? / “What If… The Sub-Mariner Never Regained His Memory?”
We’ve seen so many potential Marvel futures at this point that I’m sure this has been the case in one of them, but I don’t think we’ve seen a whole story predicated upon it.
#30 What If… Spider-Man’s Clone Had Lived?
It happened! ‘Nuff said.
This issue had an “Untold Tales Of The Marvel Universe: Moving Day!” back-up about the Inhumans.
#31 What If… Wolverine Had Killed The Hulk? / “What If There Was No Fantastic Four?”
The first one has never come to pass! The second is about Thing going on a rampage and being disowned by the Fantastic Four. While Thing did leave the team during Byrne’s run, I don’t think that matches this reality, which supposes that if there were no Fantastic Four at the beginning of the Marvel Universe that many of the ensuring heroes would never arrive.
#32 What If… The Avengers Had Become the Pawns of Korvac?
I guess we’ll just go with “no” on this one, since it’s awfully specific.
#33 “What if… Dazzler Had Become the Herald of Galactus? / Iron Man Was Trapped in the Time of King Arthur?”
Marvel missed the chance to do this one when they cast Emma Frost in their 2010 Heralds series rather than Dazzler. As for Iron Man, this story continues a plot from the prior year of Iron Man, and I don’t think Stark has been stuck in the medieval past for any lengthy period since then.
#34 What If…The Watcher Were a Stand-Up Comedian?
I’m trying to think of Watcher ever really gets up to any wacky hijinks and I’m drawing a blank. This issue includes a lot of short, comedic What Ifs, and I’m not going to go through them all!
#35 What If…Bullseye Had Not Killed Elektra? / What If Yellowjacket Had Died?
It happened! I mean, we can’t turn back the clock to reverse her being impaled, but she was resurrected to fight another day. However, I don’t recall if Hank Pym has ever been presumed dead before.
#36 What If…The Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Powers? / What If Richard Rider Had Not Lost (or, inside, “Given Up”) The Power of Nova?
We’re 1 for 2 on this one. While the Fantastic Four has occasionally lost their powers, I don’t think we’ve ever seen an entire story predicated on all four of them being powerless adventurers. As for Richard Rider – I never even knew he had lost his powers, so he definitely stopped giving them up at some point!
#37 What If…The Beast and The Thing Continued To Mutate? / What If Silver Surfer Lost The Power Cosmic?
I’m giving credit for the first story – the Beast goes through at least two more mutations! While Thing’s form has been slightly variable over the years, I don’t think we can fairly say he continued to mutate. As for the second, I don’t know my Surfer history well enough to say if this has happened for more than an isolated issue.
#38 What If…Featuring Daredevil and Captain America AKA “What if Vision and Scarlet Witch Married and Grew Old Together? / What If Sharon Carter Had Not Died? / Daredevil 2013 AKA “What If Daredevil and Black Widow Became Political Leaders in 2013?”
We’re 1 for 3 on this weirdly slapdash issue, as Sharon Carter living and interacting with a slightly older Cap pretty much describes the last three years of Captain America stories! I’d recommend reading the final story, it’s a real trip.
#39 What If…Thor of Asgard Had Met Conan the Barbarian?
To the best of my knowledge, Marvel never produced this crossover.
#40 What If…Dr. Strange Had Never Become Master of the Mystic Arts?
While we’ve seen Strange lose his title of Sorcerer Supreme, he’s never been non-magical for too long.
#41 What If…Sub-Mariner Had Saved Atlantis From Its Destiny?
We’ve seen several iterations of a resurrected Atlantis, but I don’t know that we can say he ever really averted its ruin (it has a tendency to wind up that way every time it’s rebuilt).
#42 What if…Susan Richards Died in Childbirth?
That’s pretty grim. Invisible Woman has never died, though her husband and brother both have. The story sees Reed going on a suicide run against Annihilus, which is actually pretty close to how the Human Torch’s death played out! Still – no credit for this one.
#43 What if…Conan the Barbarian…Were Stranded in the 20th Century?
This is kind of the same as the premise of issue #13, no? The answer is still the same.
This issue also included a sequel to #32 – What If… The Avengers Had Become the Pawns of Korvac?
#44 What If…Captain America Were Not Revived Until Today?
This is a tricky one to measure … because of the sliding time scale, Captain America certain was revived much later in history than we originally saw in Avengers. However, it hasn’t actually happened like this.
#45 What If…the Hulk Went Berserk?!
This one is hard to call. While we’ve seen the Hulk seriously Hulk out on many occasions and also once briefly hold the world captive in World War Hulk, this refers to the Hulk just becomes a destructive force of unbidden rage. Between that and the events of Civil War II #3 and their similarity to how this issue plays out, I’d say we can call this one as having occurred.
(Also, per my eagle-eyed friend Andre, Hulk was also driven to go berserk by Nightmare during Bill Mantlo’s run.)
#46 What If…Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben Had Lived?
Despite being teased many, many times over, a long-term resurrection of Uncle Ben seems to be one of Marvel’s few off-limit plots … at least, for now.
#47 What If…Loki Found Thor’s Hammer First?
Not only has this not happened, but I don’t believe we’ve seen an in-continuity Loki lift Mjölnir
I’m reversing the decision on this one! As faithful reader Pasquale pointed out that Loki briefly wields the hammer in Loki: Agent of Asgard #9, which I had read and then completely forgotten! I just perused it again, and I think it counts – he holds onto it for a whole fight with Odinson!