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

Octopus Prime


We’ve got some ill conceived names, the idea that Freedom Force was ever a draw o audiences, and the day being saved by Ronald Reagan in… What If Steve Rogers Refused to Give Up Being Captain America!

And that title is a bit of a mouthful, and isn’t… really very descriptive. Anyway, after kicking off with a man in media’s rez opening that’s contradicted a bit by later events in the story (Cap fights his way through the entire White House security staff because the President declares him a traitor) we get some context from Uatu about Recent Marvel Canon.

it seems that, owing to some documents he signed when he applied to Project REBIRTH back in the 40s, Steve Rogers was duty bound to serve as an agent of the US Government until officially relieved of duty by the president, and also since the Super Soldier Serum, as well as the shield and even his outfit were furnished by government spending, Cap is legally obligated to serve the US at the government orders.

Canonically, Cap responded to this by abandoning the Captain America name all together and started Avenging under the name Nomad while the Government wound up making their own ersatz Cap with The US Agent. Which wound up being it’s own whole mess.

But this time, Cap gives a much more emphatic “No… no I won’t abandon the identity I spent half a century cultivating because of poorly worded war time documents” and decides to throw hands instead.

This leads him to needing to resign from the Avengers, as they were technically government employees at the time (this doesn’t affect the story much, beyond getting the Avengers into a fight with the Freedom Force, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants after they realized their branding was a mess, to try to coerce Caps location out of them).

More directly it also inspires federal commision chairman Douglas Rockwell, and his boss, a shadowy man named Smith, to quickly shift gears into a plan to discredit Steve Rogers by any means possible; including charging him with sedition, and training up some extra replacement Captains America who look different enough from Steve that nobody would confuse the two of them.

Taskmaster shows up briefly, as a training coach but I think it’s because I think Taskmaster is a cool villain and I’m always happy to see show up and Jim Valentino wanted to give me a little treat 35 years later.

Anyway the discrediting plan completely fails since the public is much more inclined to assume that anything Captain America does is morally correct and nothing the Reagan administration does is; and eventually a rally that Cap is holding to tell his side of the story is attacked by…


Super Patriot and The Buckies! Which… is a bad name for a super team. These are, of course, the ersatz Captains America that Task Master was training earlier, and now they have to fight the real Cap, and also some of his buddies (Falcon, Nomad, Vagabond and, err… D-Man), and before the fight can get too rowdy it’s interrupted by SHIELD, who has unilaterally decided to throw their support behind Captain America…

And that would be a real escalation of hostilities until the day is saved by the very embodiment of peace, the most rational and calming presense the world has ever known, Americas Delirious Grandpa President Ronald Reagan appears and solves the problem; declaring that Steve can keep right on being Captain America and working with the Avengers and SHIELD and have all charges against dropped and The Super Patriot can be the clandestine government agent working without a shred of autonomy for the glory of the president.

Everyone wins!

Except the shadowy Mr. Smith, who says “Frick! Plan B then!” And commands Douglas Rockwell to up and shoot Captain America in the back of the brain while he’s distracted by Ronald Reagan’s confused rambling speech.

This plan works much better and Cap dies, and Rockwell is immediately gunned down by, like, so many SHIELD and Secret Service agents.

The Super Patriot, not having any competition for the role anymore, takes on Caps mantle and vows to live up to his legacy… and immediately fails because “John Walker absolutely sucks at being a good guy” Is his entire deal and he winds up tarnishing the Captain America legacy until he’s eventually sent off to the supervillain prison of The Vault and President Reagan says “Gee, I guess the guy wearing the costume is more important than the costume. Ah well.”

And we also learn that John Smith was actually Johan Schmidt; The Red Skull in disguise! And since “Kill And/Or Discredit Captain America” is basically what gets him out of bed in the morning, managing to do both at the same time is a real boost to his self esteem, and now he goes to the Steve Rogers Memorial every day to laugh at an effigy of his greatest enemy, and… I guess that’s about it?

Basically yes; the Civil War storyline was all about the Government trying to discredit Cap when they wanted him to only do his Superheroing with judicious oversight and, at the end of it, he was gunned down. Though he got better and The Red Skull wasn’t involved.

And there’s still a couple of pages left so we also peer through the winding paths of the Multiverse and see What if Peter Parker was Galactus


Man, all for want of a mail, huh?

Pete did acquire the overwhelming cosmic power of the Enigma Force at least once, so… I mean… kinda?!?

Octopus Prime


Issue 4 I covered previously in this thread (it was the What of Spider Man never separated from Venom story) We’ve got possibly the smallest deviation from canon yet in… What If Wonderman Had Lived and What If Vision Defeated The Avengers.

Despite the masthead on the cover that’s how the story goes. Also, while this is purely a Jim Valentino story (well, not for colours and lettering) you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Roy Thomas work because boy are there a lot of footnotes.

This month, Uatu is particularly hung up on the story of the story of Simon Williams, which is weird because this is, like, a decade before Kurt Busiek took over Avengers. Not the most compelling character to focus on. Anyway, Simon, early in his superheroic life, was given vast strength and durability, as well as severe radiation poisoning, by Baron Zemo as part of a plan to lure the Avengers to their death. Simon had a change of heart and, at the cost of losing access to a cure to his ionic poisoning saved the Avengers instead. Then Hank Pym made a mental copy of his brainwaves in case someone ever built a robot that needed human brains to function. Luckily someone did! Unluckily it was the killer robot Ultron looking to built himself a son, The Vision. And Vision nearly killed the Avengers until Simons personality took over and he became possibly the longest serving member of the team instead.

And that brings us to today where Uatu said “How Dofferwnt Would It Be if Simon took his medicine?!?” And the answer is… “Not Much Different!”

The Avengers recruit Simon then and there, as soon as Zemo was defeated since they figured a Super Strong Invincible Guy is always helpful for a burgeoning superhero team, and he does great. And a bunch of Avengers stories happen basically the same way except slightly easier because now they have basically two Thors. This leads Hank Pym to decide that the world needs another entomologist with a minor in robotics than it does a Tall Man Who Punches so he leaves the team to… zero fanfare. This also means that he never experienced the Pym Particle build up that eventually drove him to violent madness. So that’s good.

Later the Avengers split up in favor of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Hawkeye joining the team, as in the 616, but this time Wonder Man is also kicking around, and he and Wanda wind up hitting it off. Which infuriates Pietro a lot more than it should.

Well beyond “Overprotective Sibling” and straight into wondering if they’re aware they’re related in this continuity.

A few more Avengers stories occur in basically the same way (a cutaway confirms that the Celestial Madonna arc never happened because The Swordsman never fought the Avengers out of fear of a very strong man punching him, so… two wins) and eventually Simon and Wanda’s incessant flirting drives Pietro to evil and he leaves the Avengers to join forces with Magneto and the Brotherhood. He also wears a costume to disguise this fact when the Brotherhood and Avengers wind up fighting one another, and he’s dressed as The Grim Reaper (the sword arm guy, not the skeleton) and that’s just generally confusing.

I *think* it’s because the Reaper is usually Wonder Man’s brother, but he had no brother to avenge and so no reason to be evil in this continuity, but they wanted to keep an Evil Brother in the costume here?

Anyway, Magneto winds up smooshing Pietro to death by accident in the ensuing fight and Wanda explodes Magneto on purpose in response. Rough day for Ms. Maximoff.

Meanwhile, the one Avengers villain we hadn’t heard from yet, Ultron, finally shows up. Apparently having not bothered with the whole Pretending to Be An Unrelated Villain For No Reason thing. He’s instead completed building his perfect body; The Ultimate Ultron (it’s Vision, and everyone calls it Vision, despite him proudly naming it Ultimate Ultron), and he plops his own brain into it rather than using a spare he had laying around.

And since he doesn’t feel a strong urge to pretend to be a different, brand new villain even though nobody knows who he is, Ultron just goes ham on the Avengers, beating the current team within an inch of their lives and only being stopped from killing them because there were some spare Avengers in the mansion for Quicksilvers funeral.


I’m assuming that’s why they’re there; otherwise Cap, Ironman and Thor were just waiting behind a wall for months waiting for a dramatic excuse to punch it down.

Anyway, round two goes just as badly for the Avengers since Vision really is just that powerful, but while he’s distracted Hank Pym recovers, runs to his lab for his Pym Particles and shrinks down, and climbs into Ultrons body, disconnecting his brain from within, stopping him.

That’s good.
But he doesn’t manage to do it before Ultron can shove his entire arm through Simons body, leaving a flaming hole of Kirby Krackle in his chest.
That’s Bad.

Luckily Hank still has a Brain Swapping Machine in this reality and he just plonks Simons not Quite Dead mind into Visions now unoccupied body, so… Vision has Simons personality now. Just like in the 616.

Well… that’s… that’s all well and good, I guess?

As noted, basically yes, all this story is fundamentally unchanged from canon as is.

Hell To Pay

Octopus Prime


Not gonna lie, I had really high hopes for What If The X-Men Lost Inferno (Dan Fingeroth and Ron Lim) and they were not met. Also, again, pretty misleading title since this is very much a Dr. Strange story. It’s also basically the plot of Doom: Eternal

The original Inferno was one of the early success of the Crossover Event Comic, that was mainly focused on the X-Men (and more specifically on X-Factor and the New Mutants) and was an absolute hoot. Courtesy of some cajoling from the demon N’arstih (no idea how you say his name), there wound up being a power struggle in the Hell Dimension of Limbo between its rightful ruler Illyana Rasputin/The Darkchilde and Cyclops’ (justifiably bitter) ex wife Madelyn Pryor, that resulted in a big space hole opening above the Empire State Building releasing a demon army on the city; it was basically a combination of SMT and The Real Ghostbusters and it was fun as hell. The various X-teams worked together to seal the demon vortex, blow N’astirh to smithereens and demote Pryor from Unstoppable Witch Goddess to C-Tier Sympathetic Villain.

But what if the order of operations was switched around a little and they took out N’asrtirh first? Well; everything gets worse is what.

Waiting around for someone to up and blow up that rascally horseman was the *other* attempted major player in the Inferno storyline, the demon S’ym (named after David Sim, which started as a fun acknowledgement and eventually became a fitting indictment), who managed to absorb Nastirhs mystic energies after death, powering him up from Purple Bruiser to Demonic Demi-God, and he then threw his hat in with Pryor to help her fight the X-Men since he was smart enough to know that when you through enough X-people at a problem that problem gets solved.

So thanks to his sneak attack all the X-Men are killed, except Shadowcat who escapes and Wolverine who survives but is captured is corrupted and corrupted into a hunting dog for the S’ym/Pryor alliance. Also Maddy chops her own child in half in order to get more evil magic energy so the gate between Earth and Limbo remains open.

Then we flash forward a couple of weeks and things get bad real fast. Most of the human population of the Earth has either been killed/eaten or corrupted by the incursion of hell energy, and the total superhero population of Earth is down to, like, a dozen people, most importantly Shadowcat, Dr. Strange and Baron Mordo. There’s a few others but they don’t matter since they’re all immediately killed a page later when they’re discovered by Wolverine and his demon soldiers; but Strange Mordo and Kitty escape.

We also learn that this particular What If has a ticking clock that other stories haven’t been bad enough to warrant; Limbos incursion of Earth, besides being bad for humanity, has also tilted the mystic order of the universe all out of whack, and that means it’s attracted the notice of The Living Tribunal; acting as Gods personal Home Repair Service, and he’s coming to Earth to completely obliterate it, thus solving the problem before things get too dicey beyond the Earth. This means that S’ym and Pryor have to work out some way to get off Earth to escape the Tribunals judgement, and Strange has to find some means to get the demons off the planet… in… like… two hours or so.

Luckily he knows exactly how to do that since Strange detected a still human Rachel Summers who was cursed into the body of a mannequin (which happened in the Excalibur tie in to the story but I don’t think was mentioned here), and Rachel has a portion of the Phoenix Force inside her,.

So Strange frees her and together they perform a ritual to bring the Phoenix in full to Earth to deal with the demons *before* the Tribunal can arrive, and it looks like it’s going to work… but Mordo decides to betray Strange, because… that’s Mordo for ya, and he alerts S’ym and Pryor to what’s happening in exchange for his own safety, and a big confusing fight happens.

Morris caught in the crossfire and dies, Shadowcat is accidentally killed by Wolverine which is enough to snap him out of his corruption (he was literally carving up infants like a Christmas turkey earlier in the story so… I question why this is the line he wouldn’t cross), S’ym blasts Wolverine to a skeleton then dies from wounds Strange gave him then he possessed Wolverines bones to stab Madelyn so he can steal the Phoenix’ power like he did Narstih, but doesn’t manage to do it as Rachel connects with the full Phoenix Force at the last minute and uses it to purge the Earth of all demonic corruption.

Sidebar this also wipes out, like, 80% of all life on Earth back to Caveman times. To which the Tribunal says “Allright well… problem solved I guess?” And leaves well enough alone. And then Alicia Madters has a child that she names after Johnny a storm as they were married at the time prior to his death by Wolverine. Aww.

Erm… technically not no? One of the tie-ins to the 2015 Secret Wars was based on the premise of the X-Men losing Secret Wars and it was one of the more fun stories in that group (Illyana and Narstih were the main antagonists instead of Pryor and S’ym) and the much more recent Dark Web storyline concluded with Pryor opening up a permanent gate between New York and Limbo, but it wound up being an ambassadorial building for political asylum and immigration purposes rather than for conquest

Next Time:
Has… he not done that?


Arm Candy
N’astirh (no idea how you say his name)
I believe it's pronounced "Naster".

You know, like Howard and Naster.
Shadowcat is accidentally killed by Wolverine which is enough to snap him out of his corruption (he was literally carving up infants like a Christmas turkey earlier in the story so… I question why this is the line he wouldn’t cross)
Yeah, but did he know those infants?

Octopus Prime


Well if you want Robby Lies handling bloodless carnage and some shaky ethics, here ya go, as Mr. Liefeld and Jim Valentino bring us What if Wolverine Was an Agent of SHIELD

And, honestly that’s not the biggest shift from the normal status quo in this issue;


Rob Liefeld drew some feet!!

Clearly this is the inflection point for reality since it’s otherwise not really any kind of decision anyone made or circumstance that resolved differently. Hell, outside of the last couple of pages it could have just been a fill-in issue for either Wolverine or Agents of SHIELD.

Anyway, turns out Nick Fury needs some outside help as SHIELD has been infiltrated by some LMDs courtesy of HYDRA (lotsa acronyms in this setup) and their temp agency brought up Wolverine as a potential fix for this problem. This whole story taking place slightly before Logan joined the X-Men incidentally. And working together with the Black Widow, Logan takes care of the entire robot spy network inside of an hour. This also leads to SHIELD discovering the location of the main HYDRA base (or at least; this weeks Main Hydra Base, they change Main Bases more often than I change socks) and Logan joins in for an all out assault to stop HYDRA once and for all. For the moment.

Logan also offers to give Black Widow a haircut in the most ridiculous and threatening manner possible.


Anyway, the attack goes off without a hitch, HYDRA is defeated, Madam HYDRA/Viper is arrested and Baron Strucker is killed, and Nick Fury takes on Logan as a full time employee since his secret spy network outranks the Canadian Federal Governments Top Secret Black Ops Network, I guess?

So this goes great for Logan as a career move and he’s happier than he’s ever been being his own boss in the up and coming world of spy intrigue; he’s offered a position in the X-Men when Professor X comes calling but turns it down, instead saying he’ll use SHIELDs influence to help them when they need help, which is awful sporting of him.

Anyway, as so often turns out to be the case, Strucker turns out to be alive again (or it’s an LMD) and he launches a suicide attack against Nick Fury, killing both in a car crash, and Wolverine is appointed head of SHIELD instead, and, making good on his word to Charles, uses the organizations influence to prevent the Sentinel Program from ever coming to fruition and discrediting Robert Kelly from ever reaching political office with his anti mutant rhetoric; thereby becoming a more influential force in ending mutant impression than Xavier and Magneto combined, thanks to secret clandestine black ops.

If Wolverine wasn’t an Agent of SHIELD at some point or another, I’ll eat my hat. Hell, I think every component of this story happened at some point, just not all at once, and generally without peace through secret conspiracy manipulation.

Oh, and there’s also a bonus story since we wrapped up early.


Chilling to consider, no?
Thankfully no.

Next Time: Get Equipped with REPULSER BEAM


Arm Candy
If Wolverine wasn’t an Agent of SHIELD at some point or another, I’ll eat my hat. Hell, I think every component of this story happened at some point, just not all at once, and generally without peace through secret conspiracy manipulation.
Yep. the 2004 Secret War miniseries had Nick Fury recruiting Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America, Daredevil, and Luke Cage (it was written by Bendis, so of course it had Luke Cage) for a covert operation to overthrow the US-backed government of Latveria (this was during the period when Dr. Doom was in Hell). In the end, Fury is ousted as SHIELD director and reveals he brainwashed the members of the team to get them to work for him.

Octopus Prime


We’ve got some corporate pettiness, domestic terrorism and a lot of shots of Tony Stark in his underwear as Dan Fingeroth and Greg Capullo bring us; What if Iron Man Lost the Armor Wars

This is one of the stories I was really looking forward to and it does not disappoint. The original Armor Wars was among the best received IM stories of the 80s, and is still used as the basis for a fair number of stories since; people love tournament arcs. And buckle up because this is a dense comic.

With the help of Ant-Man, Tony discovered that, like, half of the list of people in the Marvel Universe with powered armor were actually wearing bootleg Iron Man suits with blueprints stolen by longtime Tony Stark corporate nemesis, Justin Hammer. Feeling personally responsible, Tony abandons all his friends and allies to solve this problem himself (following the Tony Stark playbook). This eventually leads to him beating down a whole dang bunch of Armored guys in a series of escalatingly tense battles, culminating with him faking his death and getting a new suit of armor so nobody would blame him for all the international airspace’s he’s violated and coworkers/government employees he’d nearly killed.

What a guy.

But, as noted, he had Ant Man’s help to get the ball rolling, and he’s only a l’il guy so What If Someone Stopped a Tiny, Tiny Man?

First off, Justin Hammers computer systems apparently had poison gas flooding through the wires every so often in case tiny, tiny men were doing corporate espionage; which seems ridiculous but it clearly paid off for him. Scott Lang gets a snoot full of gas and passes out, only to wake up in a lucite box on Justin Hammers desk, now being extorted as Justin apparently identified a random-ass electrician from Florida and kidnapped his daughter to serve as leverage.

At no point in this story does Scott embiggen himself or use his Pym Particle enhanced strength to bust through the tiny plastic box he’s in, so… that would have made the story go in a pretty wildly different direction.

Anyway, Justin uses Scott to lure Tony into a trap by feeding him false information while his Technicians work on a means to remote control the Iron Man suit. Which he does, and he also uses that control (plus the fact that he now has *two* hostages in the Langs) to put *yet another* mind control collar on Tony.

There’s enough shots of Tony in tiny underpants being mindcontrolled that I’m pretty sure we might have just stumbled into something Greg Capullo is just into.

Anyhoo, while under triple duress, Tony is forced to expose the secret defenses of, like… everything he’s built (including Stark Industries headquarters, the West Coast Avengers Mansion, and a bunch of SHIELD installations), and we’re assured that nobody died, though we see Rhodey die on panel. Justin is about to finalize his goal of just completely destroying Tony’s life and reputation by exposing Iron Man’s face on national tv and then proceeding to explode his own face off… when Hanmer is suddenly shot to pieces by AIM soldiers storming his mansion.

Drastically off model AIM soldiers; they’re dressed like green, baklava wearing masked gunmen and not beekeepers.

The lead AIM commander also notes that Justin Hammer will wake up later and face interrogation at AIM headquarters but, dude… dude has a lot of bullet holes in him, so if he’s going to be saying anything it’s going to be “Ow”.

Anyway, AIM had been watching the news, also knew that Hammer Industries had a grudge against Iron Man and knockoff Iron Man armor for sale and managed to put two and two together, figuring that Hammer had some means of commandeering Tony’s suit and now *they* want to do it.

Luckily, Justin dying left enough of a lapse in his control over Tony that he’s able to strip to his tiny underpants again and remove the slave collar from his neck and destroy the Iron Man armor before he loses himself again.

Tony disguises himself, and sets out to contact the *other* people with knockoff Iron Man armor; Stilt Man, The Mauler, The Controller, the Raider, Beetle, Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo. AIM is still looking for Tony and is able to use their new knowledge of his armor to track down and kill anyone using it so they’re all in danger.

The newly dubbed Iron Men all agree on the grounds that Tony has, historically, just wanted to throw them in jail and *at worst* not care if they apparently die when their plans backfire on them, plus Tony knows how to circumvent AIMs control of their armor.

So they all attack the new AIM stronghold at Hammers mansion;


Stilt Man acquits himself well.

Eventually Tony finds the (pretty ridiculous looking) Firepower armor, the final boss from the main Armor Wars story, and rescues the Langs (kind of forgot they were in the story) and tells them to call the Avengers for help, while he beats up the rest of AIM with his new friends.

Then upon beating them all up successfully he politely asks them to go to jail, since… they’re bad guys. And the Iron Men Collectively say “N-no?” and attack him instead…

Only for him to be saved at the last minute by the West Coast Avengers, whom Ant Mans daughter contacted, who haul the Iron Men off to jail. And also Tony himself since he’s done a lot of terrorisms and murders over the last few weeks, even if he was being mind controlled, and remote controlled and coerced, and if several hostages and plenty of evidence surrounding him proving that fact.

Let that be a lesson.

Tony’s had his armor hikacked into forcing him to commit crimes a lot, to the extent that it’s a surprise when it doesn’t work. He’s also had to work with a lot of the Armored Villains at various points, but not all of them at once to my knowledge. There’s also at least one “Iron Man’s armor gets compromised and I’m pretty sure it’s just because the creative team was really into this” when Ultron steals the Nanobot suit and uses it to turn Tony into his mom.

NEXT TIME: Well… I hope he’s happier