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The Road Not Travelled: Let's Read Marvels WHAT IF...

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Hi, I'm Octo and I just finished reading Stan Lee and Jack Kirbys original run of Fantastic Four. And prior to that, I read all of Jack Kirbys work on The Fourth World for DC. And then I made a poll to see what old comic I should go all in on and recap next. And the winner was What If...

Just want to be up front about this; this is NOT a thread for the MCU animated series of the same name which is currently streaming, and is in the middle of its first season.

Specifically, we're talking about the 7 year first volume run, from 1977 to 1984. There's no single creative voice through that whole line, since the creative team changed drastically from issue to issue (not sure if the same group worked on any two books, honestly), but that fits the intent of the series perfectly. As the title implies; What If... is an anthology book that takes a look at already published Marvel stories and pointing them in a different direction. While some of the stories DID wind up getting their own sequels or spin-offs (in one case, it's own bespoke continuity and spin-offs), most of them are one-and-done stories. And the majority of them also end with everyone dying, or at least resolving in a much worse way than the main 616 Continuity. However some won=und up having stories that the main continuity would ALSO use much later. Not sure how those worked out, because I only ready a handful of books from late in this run. I guess we'll find out together.

I am the Octo, and I will be your guide as we ask the question... What If...!


Written by Roy Thomas and Art by Jim Craig

And what better way to kick off the series (and what better bridge from my last comic deep dive) than a story focusing on what was still Marvels bread-and-butter, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. Also, have to say; going directly from Jack Kirby to Jim Craig is... well... it's jarring, I'll say that.

After kicking off on the moon (excellent way to start any story), we're introduced to Uatu the Watcher; who reveals he hasn't just been Watcher-ing Earth, but literally all of time, including Alternate Histories that did not happen, or bad futures which could as yet possibly happen.

And he was not watching any Marvel/DC crossover stories, so he has no idea if they actually happened or not.

More germane to the plot today, however, is one of those alternate time-lines; in the 616, on one of Spider-Mans first stories (back in issue #1, in fact, which this comic replicates all the dialogue of, and Craig does his damndest to copy Ditkos art), Spidey attempted to join the Fantastic Four, as he needed money really badly, and then decided not join to when he realized the the FF was a non-profit; preferring to sell selfies to a tabloid journalist in order to slander himself as that paid better.

BUT NOW!

Reed and Sue are genuinely impressed at Spider-Mans performance; both for how effective his powers are, and his desire to use them to help people (and also he needed money pretty badly for living expenses, not greed), and decide to allow him to join anyway. And Reed also reveals that he'd been spending some of his time as the worlds greatest scientific genius to try to work out how to improve the FFs budget anyway, so he'd got enough to give Spider-Man a per-diem.

A CPA is a kind of mathematician, so that counts as science.

Anyway, in the short-term, this new arrangement works great. Peter is bringing in enough money to cover Aunt Mays perpetual medical and housing bills. And Reed holds a press conference where he reveals that the FF now stands for the Fantastic FIVE. And, in what is easily my favorite moment of this comic; even J. Jonah Jameson very openly endorses Spider-Man (as Reed Richards is a national hero, and is vouching for him, and also because, as Reed points out Jameson himself literally made up every negative news story ever published about him).

And this is where Roy Thomas gets to really stretch his legs as being the guy who puts WAY too much thought into the inner-workings of every dang Marvel comic and probably has an entire room of his house dedicated to no-prizes, as we also see how this affected Spidey and the FFs super-hero careers with some dazzling minutia;

The Chameleon didn't have the opportunity to play off the public mistrust of Spidey so his criminal career never got started
The Vulture, likewise, was a solid match for one super-hero, but is was completely out of his depth when he had to fight 5 (one of which could fly WAY better)
The Red Ghost was beaten much more easily, as he couldn't contend with how Spider-Man changed the team dynamics.

And The Watcher (i.e; Roy Thomas) takes the time to explain a handful of other slight changes this results in, like how Spider-Man didn't ever need to invent the device that disabled the Vultures flight suit, and also that The Watcher looked completely different in his first appearance because he was trying to intimidate everyone into leaving him alone. And Uatu knows how Red Ghost survived the end of the issue, but doesn't want to talk about it)

In fact, the Red Ghost thing is where the comic starts to really diverge from the 616; as in the original story, Reed built a rocket to go to the Moon. And as in the original continuity, he only built it with four seats; because he doesn't think about his girlfriend very often; and figured a guy who's built for urban environments would be very helpful on the moon; and tells Sue to stay behind and monitor the Baxter Building while they're gone.

As it would happen, around this time (specifically, during issue #13 of Fantastic Four, as Helpful Roy informs us) was when The Puppet Master recovered from his injuries and hypnotized Namor the Sub-Mariner into kidnapping Sue and goading the rest of the FF into a trap.

THING IS, that only kind of worked through subterfuge in the 616, but here, Sues been side-lined in favor of Spider-Man and casually disregarded by her boyfriend, that she's perfectly willing to go along with the hunky fishman who actually seems to care about her. Takes her a long while to work out he's being mind-controlled, granted, but she's working through some stuff; we all overlook things when distracted like that.

What follows is a truncated, but pretty faithful adaptation of FF#14, with the change that Spidey is on the team also fighting Namor in his undersea base, and also with Roy putting more thought than Stan ever did about over-explaining everything. It's.. stunning really.

Did you know that Deep Sea Predator-Clams could exhale chloroform? Roy does!

We also learn that the bombastic narration boxes were never Stan Lees, they were always Uatus. Roys own narration box is a different color and is as surprised by this as anyone.

I love Roy Thomas.

Anyhow; once again, Namors mastery and knowledge of all forms of aquatic life makes him a match for the rest of the team, and Ben goes ahead and tries to free Sue from the deadly Octo-peril she's in, and once she's free she quickly calms everyone down by explaining that clearly Namor is being controlled by someone since he traditionally wants to marry her, not kill her with octopuses. And that problem is resolved because then Puppet Master himself catches the business-end of a thrown Octopus and is killed (poetic justice).

Namor, having now come to his senses, apologizes to the FF for his behaviour and also reveals that while he would like to marry Sue, he certainly wouldn't kidnap her to do it, and furthermore, he also had just finished constructing a device that would permanently transform her into a FISHLADY so they could live at the bottom of the sea together. And Sue says "Well... y'know... I'm cool with that, actually. Let's do it!"

She doesn't turn into a mermaid or a female Gillman or anything like that; she looks the exact same; except she can't breathe oxygen anymore.

Namor says "Oh frig, forgot; I'm the only Atlantean who can breathe air" and quickly destroys the Atlantean outpost, letting the sea flood in, forcing the FF to quickly evacuate in an escape pod and completely destroying the Human/Fish transmogrifier so as to make sure Sue will never again be able to live on the land.

Neither Sue nor Reed are *terribly* broken up by this (Reed figures Sue would be able to reign in Namors impulses, making the world safer on the whole, Sue is happy to finally have a man in her life who seems to want to spend any time with her at all) and Spidey blames himself for all this and Johnny informs him that this situation probably would have turned out the exact same way regardless of whether or not he was involved.

One of the rare (relatively) happy endings in this series

NEXT TIME: HULK THE SMARTEST ONE THERE IS!
 

gogglebob

The Goggles Do Nothing
(he/him)
Octo, I don't know if you want to handle this, but can we have a "follow up" feature that notes whether or not the central What If? ever wound up happening in the whole of continuity eventually? It is always fun to look at some of the more bizarre What If stories becoming vaguely "real" as, ya know, half a century of continuity unfolds.

(Also, obviously, enjoying this thread already)
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
To Wit

Did This Ever Happen?
Sort of. Not the same circumstances, of course, but during Hickmans run on Fantastic Four in the late aughts/early teens, Spider-Man did join the FF as a semi-permanent member, in order to replace Johnny (who was missing and presumed dead), and he got his own Spider-manier version of the FF uniform. Also, these alternate universe Reed and Sue did pop up in the main comics, as visitors from another universe. Sue eventually goes full Atlantan with a fishy outfit and blue skin and everything.
 

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
(He/Him)
It is kind of wild to me that Ghost Rider is the 4th member of that team. Is that just for the fire, or was he really a top 4 marvel character in . . . 1991(?)
 

Daikaiju

Rated Ages 6+
(He, Him)
Yes, he was. See also the Rise Of The Midnight Sons crossover event from the same era.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
It is kind of wild to me that Ghost Rider is the 4th member of that team. Is that just for the fire, or was he really a top 4 marvel character in . . . 1991(?)

That was the exact time for Ghost Rider to be extremely popular. The character had fallen off since the initial '70s occult-tinged creative boom that spawned him, but thanks to the growing anti-hero-obsessed sentiment in the medium for the better part of the '80s he was prime for a relaunch in 1990 or so. New titular main character with the previous one taking on a mentor role, eyecatching and grim art with the requisite edge from Mark Texeira and others, and dips into the marketing gimmicks of the time with holofoil covers and the like... it was just where the culture was at, so the Danny Ketch incarnation became what's iconic of the character much more than Johnny Blaze had really ever been. They crossed him over with everything as long as that boom lasted.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
From briefly looking up Ghost Rider incarnations, I learned that the guy who we mainly think of as the Punisher became a space-ghost-rider and hung out with baby Thanos. Comics are weird.

(The Ghost Rider I've actually seen the most of is Robbie Reyes, from his stint on Agents of SHIELD.)
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
The vast majority of the Cosmic Ghost Rider stories are absolutely wild and a lot of fun; can’t recommend them enough.

Didn’t care that much for “Destroys Marvel History” but I appreciated the ending
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

Written by Roy Thomas, Art by Herb Trimpe​

Not gonna lie, this one wastes no time in going pretty far afield, and it keeps on a wandering. Also, Herb Trimpes art is... not quite up to Jacks standards, I'll say that. I like the way he draws The Watcher though; kind of a middle ground between Giant Adult Baby Man and Giant Head Weird-Alien Man.

Anyway, we get a different cold-open this time, instead of having Uatu explain what non-canon means, we get a very short Hulk comic crammed into a few pages. Hulk is in a city, yelling that puny humans should leave him alone or he will smash, and then they don't leave him alone so he smashes things. Then, when he is alone, he's sad because Hulk aint super introspective but feels like he should be, and he tries;



This may be my single favorite Hulk image ever.

Anyway, this is the point where Uatu shows up to proclaim the issues title, after recapping his origins, and explaining again that Hulk is Strong and Dumb escaped your notice.

There's no real explanation for it this time, it's just that, for some reason, the Gamma Ray Bomb that turned Bruce Banner into The Hulk didn't just fail to make him Dumb and Angry, it made him substantially more friendly and empathetic. To a degree that even Squirrel Girl would have a hard time accepting; the first thing he does after transforming for the first time is try to sneak off the base where the Gamma Bomb test was being conducted because he doesn't want to startle anyone (though admittedly, this is less out of concern for other peoples mental well being and more because he doesn't know how bullet-proof he is and so is trying to discourage people from panicking and shooting him).

Bruce heads back to his lab to see if there's something in his notes that will help de-mutate him, and just happens to stumble upon one of his lab assistants ransacking the place and communicating with a hostile foreign power (they don't specify which one) and, furthermore, implicating himself for sabotaging the gamma bomb in an attempt to kill Bruce.

The whole attempted murder thing ticks off Bruce, but Hulk isn't going to restort to violence; not in Jimmy Carters America. He just turns him in on treason charges.

Which I believe is still an automatic death sentence; so… you know… baby steps.

Almost immediately after that (it would have had to have been *minutes* later) we find that the spy’s handler was listening in to this exchange and lands a partially destroyed aircraft in the middle of the Nevada desert in order to kill the Hulk, but a mildly impassioned speech from Hulk gets him to renounce his evil spy ways and he decides to head back to help people in his own country rather than try to conquer people in other countries. And so back to his Foreign Hostile Country he flies, even though the US army already shot him down partially on the way over.

Right around that time, both Betty Ross and her dad show up, having tracked reports of a giant powerful green man to Bruce Banners lab/apartment, where they get their first look at Nice Hulk. They're initially startled, but Nice Hulk is so gosh darn friendly and reasonable that they waste no time in deciding they have no actual problem with the fact that Bruce Banner is suddenly Very Large, Strong and Green.

General Ross even has to stop and think it over for a minute when Hulk points out that Ross hated him for being a spineless milksop and is scared of him for being a giant beef-heap so what does it take to make him happy, huh?

Also, right then the sun comes up and Hulk reverts to Banner, and everyone is surprised by this so all of this had to have happened on the same night.

Anyway, being an incredibly friendly and emotionally available green strongman when the sun goes down is by no means a deal-breaker for even a relationship built on the flimsiest foundation, so Betty and Bruce eventually get married and Hulk eventually becomes a public darling (comic is kind of back and forth on how public the knowledge that Bruce and Hulk are the same person). And we also get a montage of other changes that resulted form Hulks sunnier disposition, which mainly serves to highlight Roy Thomas' encyclopedia knowledge of Marvel History, and also English History because that's how Roy Thomas roles, baby). Such as that The Avengers never formed because nobody would be willing to credit the Hulk going on a rampage for Loki to frame for his own crimes.

Anyway, time passes and Hulk is eventually asked by Reed Richards to help with his experiments on turning Ben back to human. And it actually works perfectly for once, because of the insights Bruce was able to bring to the table researching his own condition; and Bruce winds up joining the team as a replacement since they'd still need a Big Strong Guy on hand.

It's also got another example of why I'm glad Herb Trimpe wasn't on any of the big-name Marvel books;



After hearing that two of the greatest scientific geniuses and experts in the field of mutated humans have had such a string of successes, they're soon joined by a third; Professor Charles Xavier! Who, in this time-line, never thought to start a school to teach young mutants how to handle their powers. Instead he's going to join forces with these two chuckleheads in order to build a vastly more powerful version of Cerebro called the PSYCHOTRON in order to pin-point any super-powered being on the Earth rather than waiting for them to visit him.

I... guess?

Anyway, we're more than halfway through the comic and there really hasn't been any kind of conflict; so now it's time for all the chickens to come home to roost; see if you can guess what goes wrong to make this timeline worse than the 616;

A grave retaliation from the hostile foreign power for disrupting their spy agency?
A deadly super-villain wins a decisive victory because there were no Avengers or X-Men to stop them?
The Psychotron causes Professor Xs evil side to manifest as a tangible being?

All excellent guesses, but NOPE;

Turns out an unexpected side effect of the Psychotron that it had the same energy that Galactus uses to search for planets to devour, and it lead him straight to us.

Well h*ck.

Luckily, a secondary function of the Psychotron is that it can merge the essences of anyone who is actively using it, and by Reed, Professor X and Hulk using it at the same time; they merge into THE X-MAN which is a very very tall and muscley Professor X in underpants. X-Man and Galactus tussle a bit and find themselves too evenly matched; Galactus would eventually win of course, but he'd waste so much time and energy doing it he'd be better off tracking down a planet that's less capable of putting up a fight.

Lucky thing G did at that time, as moment later the energy keeping The X-Man together dissipated and took Reed, Charles and Bruces powers with them. And, as it would happen, it all flowed into Ben Grimm, who happened to be standing around when it happened; turning him back into The Thing.

Except with Professor Xs mental powers, Reeds shape-changing, Hulks strength and also... umm... all the anger at the world that Hulk didn't actually possess in this story for some reason.

So General Ross leads a special army unit of Thing-Busters trying to apprehend Ben Grimm, and none of the people actually responsible for his change seem to be overly concerned.


Alls well that ends well, I guess?

BUT DID IT HAPPEN:
Famously, and repeatedly, in fact. During Peter Davids run on Hulk through the 90s being the best known instance; of Bruce going to therapy to help reconcile his human and Hulk sides resulting in a genius Hulk, and a rampaging skinny milk-sop; this version of Hulk eventually showed up in the movies with Avengers: Endgame as well. More recently, in The Immortal Hulk a similar change happened with the cunning (but VASTLY less friendly) Devil Hulk taking over. That series also focused a lot on Hulks transformation being daylight-based as opposed to being stress-induced (but to be fair, that was the case in very early Hulk comics and was retconned away)

NEXT TIME: Some Assembly Required
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)

My God. Sue. She looks like something out a 90s Grant Morrison or Keith Giffen comic where the point is the character looks like a bizarre mockery of "normal" to the point where it looks horrifying.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
The only saving grace is that she really distracts you from whatever the hell is up with Reeds posture.

Not sure how grateful I am that the screengrab of Galactus wouldn't properly load. He... he is a sight
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Turns out he was actually the lead artist on Hulk during the time, which would explain why Hulk looks so much better than every other character. Or else he just really didn't have the time to spare on this one

 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)

Here's some pretty decent Trimpe art. Like, not mind blowing but good and fun composition. Also, Ross' "shake harder, boy" moment is putting some Jojo-level stress on his spine.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
For the record; Tom Sutton was the inker on the last issue and Glynis Oliver was the colonist. Not familiar with either of them to make a value judgement.

ANYWAY


Written by Jim Shooter
Pencils by Gil Kane
Inked by Klaus Jansen Colours by George Roussos

Hey, we all like the Avengers, right? Well what if... THE AVENGERS DIDN'T LIKE THE AVENGERS?!?!

Why... there's an uncountable number of comics based on that premise, including a good number of big crossover story-arcs, but usually it takes longer for them to get on each others nerves than this.


I love the Smug Thor in the corner there, incidentally. Didn't notice him at first, but now he's stealing all the focus.

Anyway, less beating around the bush, explaining the concept of "non-canon" this time, as we go directly into Uatu spoiling 25 year old comics by summarizing the first few issues of Avengers (with the capable hand of Gil Kane doing his best to copy Jack Kirby); specifically that The Hulk helped found the team, then immediately quit after he was framed for crimes by a Space Phantom (it happens), and then teaming up with Namor, forcing the Avengers to truly bond as they had to deal with two extremely dangerous misanthropes who very plainly hate the human race.

BUT!

We ain't in the 616 this time. So that isn't how things worked out.

In fact, as is often the case with What If stories, everything falls apart, and it's all Hank Pyms fault. In his defense, it's because he raises a pretty good point about treating people fairly (in his offense, nearly every other line of dialogue he has in this issue is him insulting his wife and calling her an idiot); the Hulk is right to not want to be with the Avengers if he doesn't want to and furthermore, the team was originally assembled in order to beat him up, so it's not like he was overcome with a sense of friendship. And Thors reaction to this speech is to say "Yo, I didn't join this team to NOT beat up giant rage monsters. If you don't need me, I'mma go do some Asgard stuff."

He says it more Shakespeare-y, but that's the gist.

And then Hank realizes that the only thing he and Janet brought to the team was a size differential, so he also decides that the two of them quit.

He also tells Janet to shut up when she objects because Hank is the absolute worst.

Long and short is that now the Avengers is down to... just Iron Man, so they can't even use the plural of the name.

But Tony is ever a workaholic who puts the problems of the world squarely on his own shoulders, so he decides to chase the Hulk anyway and beat him up; which (predictably) ends with him being beaten senseless seconds later because this is Early Iron Man, and that suit broke down if a bumblebee flew too close to it and held a battery charge about as well as a Game Gear.

As in the 616, Hulk goes on from here to meet up with the Sub-Mariner, where they bond over their mutual dislike of the human race, and desire to smash them, and they form a Supervillain Team-Up; issuing a challenge to the Avengers to JUST TRY to stop them from taking their vengeance on the world.

Neither of them were informed that the Avengers disbanded seconds after Hulk last saw them, and Tony is aware that he couldn't come close to slowing one of them down, so fighting both would absolutely kill him; so he does the only thing Tony ever does when confronted with problems; he builds a bunch of specialized Iron Man suits and finds some rubes to wear them.

The possibility is raised of him calling the FF for help, since they're accustomed to dealing with both Namor and Hulk, but he immediately disregards that possibility; the FF have been in the first two What If issues already, and Heaven Forbid Tony ask someone for help.

Someone besides the rubes he needs for these spare Iron Man suits at least; and those rubes are the only Avengers still returning his calls; Giant Man and The Wasp.

And Rick Jones!

Each of them are given specialized suits of Iron man armor that augment their natural abilities (Pyms armor increases his strength another hundred fold when he grows, Janets bio-electric stingers are replaced with a powerful toxic dart and Rick... becomes intangible). But everyone has a learning curve to figuring out how to work mechanized battle suits, and that cheeses off Iron Man so much that he accidentally reveals his secret identity and tells everyone to shut up when they apologize for not being immediately proficient in Mecha-Suit combat.

Also; Hank insults Janet a whole bunch again.

Anyway, Tony kicks everyone out of his lab and decides that it's up to him and him alone to stop Hulk and Namor, ignoring the several other extremely good suggestions everyone has to deal with the threat, like "practice with the Iron Man suits a bit" and "Call other Superheroes to help" or "Don't fight Hulk and Namor, because they haven't actually threatened anyone". No, the only good ideas are Tony Stark ideas, and a Tony Stark kind of idea is to overcharge his armor to an extremely dangerous extent, and hope it makes him strong enough to beat both Namor and Hulk before it causes him to go into a cardiac arrest so severe it cooks his heart like a pizza pocket.

So he does, and the other half of this over-long comic is just straight up Superhero Fights. And, in fact, a real good one; (Gil was no stranger to drawing good Superhero Fight Scenes), but unfortunately, and as expected, the extremely limited nature of Iron Mans power boost catches up with him before he can come close to fighting the duo, and Namor floors him with an uppercut so severe I'm honestly surprised his head didn't detach . Based on the dialogue, Namor straight up killed him with that one punch and his body just didn't quite shut down yet.

Around that point, the rest of the Iron Avengers show up, having gotten over the initial learning curve they'd need to actually use their suits without crashing into everything they see. That's good!

Unfortunately, they're still a teenager, a thrill-seeking fashion designer and Hank, so this still doesn't amount to much in terms of help; in fact, Hank himself is smacked so hard by a single blow from the Hulk that he also dies, but Tony (who is about 95% of the way there himself) sacrifices the last lingering charge of his own armor to act as a defibrillator and restart his heart.

Meanwhile, Namor is tired of the weak-sauce insults Rick Jones is heaping at him, and decides to just throw him against a wall until he stops bugging him. And as it would happen, Ricks screams of terror as an outraged Fishman prepares to smash him to a pulp happen to fall within earshot of the Hulk, and Rick is the *only* human being on the whole dang planet that Hulk actually likes. So Hulk calls an immediate end to this team-up with Namor, as Hulk can (punching the hell out of him) and dragging him underwater, where the limitless strength of Namor and Hulk clash hard enough to permanently disrupt the Sea of Gibraltar (!) before they decide to call it a draw and leave each other alone.

And on land, Hank, Janet and Rick decide to form a new Avengers team, in memory of Tony Stark, who I am sure just looks like a bowl of salsa inside his armor at this point.

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?
Like I said, stories about the Avengers breaking up because of some irreconcilable difference or another are beyond counting, even back when this was first published (heck, the team broke up just a few issues after this story took place), but the nearest analog that comes to mind was probably Civil War; as that also revolved mainly aroundthe team disbanding because they disagreed about how to handle super-powered people who don't want to Avenge anyone, and most of the problems stemmed form the fact that Tony was a self-righteous ass who refused to work alongside anyone, but which the editorial staff decided he was the good guy all along.

No, I'm never going to stop being salty about that.

NEXT TIME: The Number-One Superhero!
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)


Written by Roy Thomas Pencilled by Frank Robbins
Inked by Frank Springer Colored by George Bell​

Hoo boy, folks. Gonna be blunt here, this issue is a mess. Both visually (it’s a plot point that characters are off model and I could not tell) and narratively. I think this is the only book I’ve read in Roy Thomas‘ entire bibliography where I was confused about what was happening.

Furthermore, this is also the first issue that doesn’t pose the question of “What If?”, there’s not a blessed thing that suggests this isn’t just a weird corner of Marvel history.

On the plus side, if there was any debate if Roy’s obsession with No-Prizing every single minor plot point in every corner of Marvel history didn’t extend past the Silver age, this will put that to rest. Individual issues of obscure Golden Age are cited on nearly every page.

Picking up with a moment that was definitely referenced before, and often, we have the final mission of Captain America and Bucky, as they try to stop a badly miscolored Baron Zemo in his final push to help the Nazis attack the US; succeeding at the cost of Buckys life (give or take being turned into a Soviet Robocop) and Cap falling into the North Atlantic. News which reaches the office of President Truman, and the disbelieving ears of their associates in The Invaders!

The Invaders, for the sake of everyone not familiar with Golden Age superhero teams, was basically World War 2s version of the Avengers which, admittedly, had a bunch of names familiar with modern Marvel readers, but not characters; Captain America and Bucky, Namor, The Human Torch (not that one) and his sidekick Toro, Spitfire, Union Jack, The Whizzer, Ms. America and Patriot (no relation to the Young Avengers of the same name);

Anyway, as it goes; the rest of that team continues doing whatever it was that they were doing during WW2 (including melting Adolph Hitler down to a skeleton, and arbitrarily deciding whether to help America or Japan during the War of the Pacific, because Namor hates all humans equally), and then when they return to the US after the fall of Berlin; President Truman has a surprise for them; Captain America and Bucky!

And you'd think that this is where the WHAT IF part of the story comes in, showing the world and the way it would be if Cap and Bucky were saved from Zemos exploding drone-plane.

And you'd be wrong; because it's quickly pointed out that this Cap and Bucky have completely different faces than Steve Rogers and James Barnes (literally every character has a completely different face from one panel to another, so I have no idea how they could tell), and that's because ol' Harry was pulling a fast-one on them; he just found two people who have similar body-shapes and gave them replicas of Cap and Buckys outfits; the new Cap and Bucky are actually The Spirit of '76 and... some guy who impersonated Bucky once before (Roy cites his work, and I have no idea who they are).

Anyway, a few pages are then eaten up by... a lot of poorly rendered and problematic fighting scenes as the Invaders proceed to win the War in the Pacific for the US, and do their part in helping dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (heroes!), and as a reward, ol' Harry Truman decides that since the team isn't invading anyone anymore, they need a new much clumsier and more diplomatic-sounding name.

Now. by Presidential Order, they're The All-Winners Squad and are going to focus entirely on Gangster-based crime (Namor considers this to be a stupid name and a much worse use of his time than fighting Nazis and decides to scram back to Atlantis)

Eventually, after Roy finishes rolling through all the D-list Golden Age Marvel comics to use as means to pad out this issue, the All-Winners Squad decides to go on vacation, so The Torch and his side-kick decide to visit Dr. Horton, the man who invented him. For... some reason. Torch is pretty upfront that the two of them do not get along and the doctor was more on the supply side of crime, but... this is how the story progresses.

And as they arrive, they find something unusual about the doctor; he only says the word "Likewise", and doesn't react to someone shaking his hand. ALso his skin is made of plastic and his eyes are glowing. This is because, as it turns out, he's a plastic robotic duplicate made by who I GUESS is this stories big villain; ADAM 2!


Apparently, Adam-2 DID reappear in the 616 continuity after this story, referencing it. So I guess this What If actually DID happen. In any case, besides a truly awful costume and color scheme, Adam 2 is best described as "Ultron, if he were a bit crap"; he was a robot built by a jackass scientist, who figures that Robot Duplicates are better off replacing humans and also that he should rule over robots because, you know, someone needs to delegate.

Adam escapes while Torch and Toro fight the junky robots he has on hand to act as enforcers, and they deduce (from the still living Dr. Horton, who I guess was NOT killed when Adam built a robot duplicate of him) that Adams plan is to build life-like replicas of a politician, then have that Politician become President, and then... I guess... pass a law to make people have to let robots steal their identities and then be locked in their basements?

Anyway, word reaches the rest of the All-Winners squad about this impending threat to democracy and, via process of elimination, realize that only Jack Kennedy could be Adam-2s target (they keep saying Jack, but he looks like John, and as far as I inferred from Wikipedia redirecting me, they're the same guy), and the team scrambles to stop the pre-emptive assassination of JFK via *robocide*. Unfortunately, the New Captain America is immediately crushed to death because he has no super-powers outside of kind of looking like Paul Revere.

Cap 2s death throes alert the rest of the All Winners to where Adam is, however and they converge on him as he steals a car and attempts to flee (which is a weird thing for a robot to do), but his escape is caught short by *yet a third* Captain America (again, not the real one, just another guy who is similarly built like a brick hit-house) and Adam assuems that Captain America must be immortal so he panics and crashes his car, dying in the process.

Which is another weird reaction to get from an emotionless robot.

Anyway, a tearful third Captain America takes the smushed up corpse of the other Captain America off to a proper burial and Uatu weeps at the sight as well.

And then we close out on a full page of text not *quite* saying (but strongly implying) that this issue was supposed to be part of the then-ongoing Invaders comic, but scheduling mishaps made it show up in What If instead.

Didn't do anything to make me feel inspired to read another comic, I'll say that.

BUT DID IT HAPPEN:
I don't think there's any real argument to be made that it didn't, honestly. Adam-2 even comes back, as Adam-3, decades later, having met the exact same same fate, and that all text page at the end implies that this is fully canon. Just take out Uatu and there's no reason to think this is a What-If issue at all.

NEXT TIME: Let's do that for real this time
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
BUT DID IT HAPPEN?
Like I said, stories about the Avengers breaking up because of some irreconcilable difference or another are beyond counting, even back when this was first published (heck, the team broke up just a few issues after this story took place), but the nearest analog that comes to mind was probably Civil War; as that also revolved mainly aroundthe team disbanding because they disagreed about how to handle super-powered people who don't want to Avenge anyone, and most of the problems stemmed form the fact that Tony was a self-righteous ass who refused to work alongside anyone, but which the editorial staff decided he was the good guy all along.

No, I'm never going to stop being salty about that.
Wasn't there also a brief period where The Avengers all had Iron Man-esque armour?



Apparently it happened (is still happening?) this year. Geez. It's so hard to keep track.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Like Secret Wars and Contest of Champions before it, that story is better than expected and I'm reasonably sure was written in order to sell toys.

Less good, perhaps, than those examples, but surprisingly fun
 
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