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

Adrenaline

Post Reader
(He/Him)
Reader is an inhuman with the ability to manifest things he reads into existence. Have him read something about the fictional person Mike Murdock, and, well...
 

Jeanie

(Fem or Gender Neutral)
Yep, it's in the Daredevil annual from last year, should probably be in the Marvel App by now.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)

Written by Don Glut Art by Alan Kupperberg and Bill Black
Colors by Carl Gafford, Letters by Tom Orzechowski

There are implications that Frederic Wertham is one of the greatest evils the Marvel Universe has ever faced. And... y'know... fair

Kicking off with Uatu perhaps doing the least he's ever done; and considering how his entire deal is Not Interfering with things; that's saying a lot. In this case, we open with us... watching the Watcher... watching The Avengers... Watch TV. Specifically, the special trans-dimensional TV that Tony had previously used to summon the Squadron Supreme from an alternate reality (presumably one similar DCs Earth 3), and as it turns out Tony doesn't quite know how this set works as he is completely unsure if he's watching the 616 Earths not-too-distant past; or an alternate Earth with a VERY similar history up through the 1950s.

And if Uatu knows, he ain't sayin'. Dude is only there to offer brief histories on the characters he expects people besides Roy Thomas have no familiarity with.

Roy, of course, is his own omniscient narrator.

ANYWAY, AS WE WATCH THE AVENGERS WATCH TV!

We open up on FBI agent, and Secret Service Agent, and, apparently, super-spy, Jimmy Woo (who you may remember as being a goofball detective played by Randall Park in Ant-Man and Wandavision), being hassled by some motorcycle punks in the noir-soaked streets of Chinatown. And while Jimmy is an extremely capable, high ranking agent... somewhere in Eisenhowers Whitehouse cabinet, he's also Just A Regular Guy, and about a dozen bikers are more than a match for him. Fortunately, he's being watched over by multiple superheroes who were all independently unaware of one another and just kind of happened to show up at the same time; Marvel Boy (possesses advanced, physics warping alien technology, presently dating Hercules in the Guardians of the Galaxy), Venus (literally the Roman Goddess of Love, presumably also the recipient of the same botched resurrection that created the Dark Olympians also in GotG, but I don't recall seeing her there) and... 3-D Man (doesn't have the same longevity, everything he does is in multiples of three).

The three heroes make short work of the bikers, and Marvel Boy uses some of his alien technology to peer into one of the unconscious attackers sub-conscious to find out why they all chose to attack Jimmy. And while "because they're a violent biker gang who happened upon a guy in a nice suit in a dangerous part of town" would normally be all the context the situation would really need; it turns out the answer is actually much more racist; they were hired to attack Jimmy Woo specifically, as they were hitmen sent by The Yellow Claw! Arguably Marvels most racist villain!

For clarity, that's in the sense that he is a horrific stereotype; I will grant that there are other villains who possess higher levels of intolerance for others.

Upon hearing that The Yellow Claw is involved, Jimmy quickly recaps what the Claws deal is (as you might infer from the name; he's... well, he's Fu Man Chu), and realizes that he was waiting around in unlit alleys hoping to see some Supeheroes for a reason; but first here's going to need some more; so he sends 3D Man and Marvel Boy off to recruit the last of the heroes he needs in a series of confusing vignettes that mainly serve to show that, yes, Roy Thomas DOES know obscure Marvel history, thankyousomuch; with the help of Jahna of the Jungle, Marvel Boy recruits Gorilla Man (cursed for comiting gorilla-murder, a guy turns into an immortal Gorilla; kind of a lousy curse, but okay. Currently on the Avengers payroll, but not an official member of the team), and with Namoras help (she's the Sub-Mariners cousin) 3D Man finds the watery resting place of The Human Robot (a robot who keeps killing people because it was built badly), who Venus reprograms using her ability to control the level of Love in others to remove all his MURDER PROGRAMS.

I'd question that, but from the evidence, that is how robots work.

Also, this makes The Human Robot take everything super literally, like Drax, to continue the GotG comparisons.

And Jimmy explains why he needs to find so many super-humans; President Eisenhower has tasked him with assembling a team of heroes to handle threats outside usual law enforcement and military intervention; a team that can AVENGE people who have been wronged by menaces like the Yellow Claw; a team... of Avengers!

Meanwhile, across the country, it turns out the Yellow Claw had basically the exact same idea but went the other direction; and with his hench-nazi friend (whose name I neglected to put into my notes, but he was a commander at Auschwitz so... you know... he's *pretty damn bad*); he has assembled the very worst Post World War 2 menaces the world has ever known; and I'll let them introduce themselves;




Obviously my favorite is Skull-Face, the skeleton of an alleged demon. And everyone is constantly surprised to learn he's a skeleton.

Yellow Claws has a plan for global domination using his evil Avengers (who do not ever get a cool team name so... let's call them the DEvengers), but it apparently takes a few months to get going, so; one day when President Eisenhower is out golfing; He's kidnapped by a friggin' skeleton!



Incidentally, Dwight is wildly off model in, like every panel; I genuinely thought that this was an alternate timeline where Bob Hope or Don Rickles were made president.

With a freshly kidnapped president, The Yellow Claw reveals his plan; he's going to kill Eisenhower UNLESS he officially signs over one of the Good Eastern Seaboard states! And from there he has some... vague plans to get the other fifty-odd States that he doesn't go into. Setting aside the fact that I don't think the President has the authority to just give states to people (otherwise, I feel like the last guy would have definitely done that), Claw doesn't even specify which state he wants. He just wants one on the Eastern seaboard.

Also, once he collects all 50 states, he's going to then take over "the Orient"; and explanation for what that means are precisely as forthcoming.

Oh, and he also tortures Jimmy Woo a bit because, hey... why not?

Claws daughter breaks away from him for a bit, as she's sweet on Jimmy, and gets word to the Avengers where the Claws secret lair is; and they arrive in no time at all thanks to Marvel Boys Uranus-born technology; and a fight breaks out between the Avengers and Devengers (which is extremely one-sided thanks to the fact that one of them is a skeleton who possesses no super powers outside of that fact. He doesn't even have, like... a knife or anything, he has to bite people.

God I LOVE Skull-Face.

Anyway, the Avengers win, but Yellow Claw escapes in the confusion and sets a bomb that doesn't hurt anybody (it looks like it kills Robot, but he's actually fine) and Dwight rewards the heroes by officially disbanding them! He decides that a secret team of superheroes was a bad idea to have during McCarthy-era, as confirmation of an advanced sentient AI, alien technology, magically cursed gorillas and a Non-Christian deity would rattle the American psyche more than it is already, and some friggin' dweebus is worried that superheroes as a concept would cause juvenile delinquency! So, by presidential order, there's to be NO MORE SUPERHEROES!

At least for the rest of his term.

And we cut back to the (present day) Avengers Mansion, where Tony remarks that he has no idea if this secret Avengers team existed and was classified or what, and how weird it is that it had so much overlap with the present day team.

And Uatu confirms that, YUP! PRETTY WEIRD!

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?
Like with the earlier Invaders story; there isn't really a lot of solid proof that it didn't. Even Uatu is cagey about whether this was something that happened in the past and was forgotten or was an alternate time-line. In his earliest proper appearances, Jimmy Woo was still in pursuit of Yellow Claw, and that story was written a decade earlier.

On the subject of there being previous Avengers teams that history forgot that overlaps with the current roster; in Jason Aarons Avengers the existence of the Prehistoric Avengers of One Million BC is a major element.

NEXT TIME: IF SHE BE WORTHY
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
BUT DID IT HAPPEN?
Like with the earlier Invaders story; there isn't really a lot of solid proof that it didn't. Even Uatu is cagey about whether this was something that happened in the past and was forgotten or was an alternate time-line. In his earliest proper appearances, Jimmy Woo was still in pursuit of Yellow Claw, and that story was written a decade earlier.
The issue did inspire the series Agents of Atlas, which became part of the mainstream Marvel continuity, so... yes.

 

Jeanie

(Fem or Gender Neutral)
The 50's Avengers also showed up in Avengers Forever where they stopped a Skrull from assassinating and replacing Richard Nixon. Also this Marvel Boy is not the one currently with Hercules. He's more Quasar adjacent than anything.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
I was associating him more with Mar-Vell, myself, and also assumed that his characterization changed over the years.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
Also, I love Skull Face insisting he's an alleged demon.

Either he hasn’t been convicted for the crime of being a demon, or else he isn’t sure himself
 

Olli

(he/him)
Is it just me, or is "given very meticulous research, there's no evidence that this did not happen" kind of missing the point of "What if"?
 

gogglebob

The Goggles Do Nothing
(he/him)
Arguably, the "canon" of What Ifs was a direct shot across the bow of DC Comics at the time. DC Comics had traditional "imaginary stories" where Batman and Superman would have super sons, or Lois Lane married a mermaid, or whatever. But, even though they established "elseworlds" pretty early with the Justice Society and Earth 2 existing parallel to the Justice League and Earth 1, their general "framing" for these imaginary stories always seemed to be that it was a dream, or a simulation, or the Batcomputer spitting out fanfiction, or whatever. What If, right from Uatu's appearance therein, made the point that all these stories are REAL, they just happen to be on other Earths. And the ones that blurred the lines seem to deliberately go further than that, with the implication for the readers the if Post-Steve Captain America can be real-real, then it is only a matter of time before Big Brain Richards or Generally Chill Hulk show up in "real" continuity. Most of these extra Earths never invaded proper continuity, but then when you get into a certain other Spider-Girl...

Anywho, just noting that "What If" was always kind of meant to be vaguely continuity-based over some competitor's interpretation of the same concept.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
Judging from the letters pages in the back, some What Ifs really were just one-off stories for other books that someone wanted to write and couldn’t fit into the main book because of continuity or publication snarls.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)


Written by Don Glut Pencils by Rick Hoberg
Inks by Dave Hunt Colors by C. Gafford
This is one of the stories I was looking forward to when I started this project, and then I saw it was a story with a principally female cast written by Don Glut, and my enthusiasm was much more guarded. Luckily, it's not as bad as I feared (all the issues with women Don Glut seems to have are at least attributed to characters who typically share those biases). The blurb isn't lying about the ending though. But we'll get there.

Getting the Don Glut required misogyny out of the way early, as we begin (as is typical) with The Watcher explaining the 616 Thors origins (or Thorigins); Lame Doctor (both in the "bad knees" and "uninteresting" sense) is on a hike in Norway, stumbles upon an invasion from rock men from Saturn, hides in a cave, finds a cane and is suddenly transformed into a Viking Thunder God, and figures he'll split his time between being a GP doctor and a superhero.

Thors first story is kind of weird.

And then Uatu editorializes a bit by saying "But you know the one thing THOR DEFINITELY IS NOT? A woman!"

But multiverse, worlds within-worlds, infinite tapestry, yadda-yadda-yadda. This ain't "That's What" this is WHAT IF!

THIS time Lame Doctor Blake brings his nurse/secretary/unrequited love Jane Foster along with him on his walking tour of the fjords of Norway (which I am now realizing is a kind of weird vacation for a guy with one working leg to pick; place did NOT have a lot of accessibility options back in the 60s, I bet); and spend most of their hike thinking about how requited their respective loves for one another are not; Blake is convinced that Jane can't love someone who has a busted knee, and if she DID love him, it would be out of pity which he could not bear, and Jane just doesn't know if Donald even likes her because men form the 1960s weren't allowed to emote.

As before, mid romantic drama, they just happen upon the landing site of alien rock men from Saturn. This time, however, Blake elects to stay hidden in the mountains of the fjord, while Jane runs off for help; and gets lost and hides in a cave that JUST SO HAPPENS to contain a staff entombed in a shrine waiting for someone Who Be Worthy. And she thinks "Hey! Cool stick! I bet I could whack an alien stone-man with this!"

And she tests it out by whacking a rock with the staff on a nearby rock, and is instantly transformed in a massive explosion of Kirby Krackle, into Thor! Except a Lady! Jane is... extremely on the ball with this and instantly grasps the entire situation; that the staff was Thors hammer Mjolnir, grasping it to defend Donald and the Earth from an invading force proved her worthy, and she's therefor now Thor.

But she decides to rename herself Thordis, after some girl she knew in nursing school, which is... a kind of weird leap.

The newly born Goddess of Thunder makes quick work of the aliens (who note that if a mere female could be this powerful, imagine how strong the MEN of this planet must be, which is awful judgemental attitude for a bunch of moai-headed spacemen to take), and Thordis rescues Blake. And has a much easier time convincing everyone that she and Jane Foster are different people because they honestly look nothing alike.

Back in the states, the first few Thor stories occur, largely off panel, and resolve themselves in much the same way, whether or not any given Thor is presently showing off their legs; just that Blake is often the damsel in distress for Jane to save. Things start to divert a bit when Loki first appears (breaking the curse that turned him into a tree by poking someone in the eye), and he heads to Earth hoping to track down his hated Half Brother and murdering the hell out of him.

This is still Early Loki when he was just a jerk-ass wizard, and it was early Stan Lee and Jack Kirby so his plans to kill Thor were *weird*; in this case, by turning a random crowd of people in New York into photo-negatives and waiting around for Thor to show up to cure them by spinning his hammer at them, and then hypnotizing Thor while he's distracted by the spinning hammer swirling around photo-negative particles.

This plan also happens now as it did then, but with the added change that Loki is really thrown off by the fact that his brother is now his sister, and Thordis exploits his confusion by punching him right in the god damn jaw and throwing him back to Asgard one-handed.

When he finally lands, flat on his ass in the Asgardian Royal Palace, Loki immediately begins Loki-ing and decides to go to Odin to tell him that the power of Thor has reawakened on Earth, so he should waste NO TIME AT ALL in bringing his wayward son home so everyone can rejoice. And Odin doesn't wait even an instant to consider that his step-son Literal God of Lies and Tricks may have some ulterior motive for telling him something he wishes to hear, and so summons Thor back to Asgard...

And then he sees some lady wearing Thors shirt and flips out.

After quickly deducing that Thor hasn't been transformed into a lady via magic, or personal reevaluation of themself, and in fact, it was just a kind heroic nurse who proved herself worthy of Thors power and coincidentally found Mjolnir before Thor himself could, Odin is still outraged that some mere human female would dare usurp the power power of Odins own son and banishes her from Asgard forever; which Jane is fine with since she's been in the place for ten minutes, and been hit on by Fandral twice and personally insulted by the king so she has no particular love for the place and wants to leave anyway.

She also throws Fandral into a wall for emphasis.

I love Jane-Thor.

Slightly more important than Odins general dislike of women, for the purposes of this story at least, is Sif, the Warrior Goddess of the Vanir. She's always loved Thor (ever since she was a baby bouncing on Thors knee, which is... umm... sketchy, but they're immortal so I don't know what kind of time-scale this is operating on and maybe it's okay?!?) and she's upset that if Jane is Thor now then the God she loves is lost to her, and she elects to head to Midgard to find the mortal guise of Thor to see if she could love a mere human who has Thors spirit even if he lacks the hunky bod. And, as it turns out, she can; Sif and Donald Blake quickly fall deeply in love, which annoys Jane to know SHE lost Blake just as Sif lost Thor.

This is a very confusing love triangle. Except with four side.

Love rhombus?

Also, on Earth we get a quick montage of Thors early stories with Jane doing a WAY better job thwarting evil than Thor ever did, which makes Odin realize he was WAY too hasty in forever banishing Thordis from Asgard because she's... really good at being a superhero. Putting the rest of the Asgardians to shame, really. But he used all the Really Good magic on banishing her, so he can't undo that spell. Not that she'd want to anyway, since Odin was a complete ass to her.

This all comes to a head in a recreation of the Mangog saga (#154-157, as a narration box helpfully tells us), which for one thing, is possibly my favorite single story in the whole Lee/Kirby run of Thor. In it, Odin has entered the Sleep of Life, which greatly reduces his magic power and immortality as he enters a deep sleep in order to restore his access to the Allforce of Asgard (also called "Odinsleep" and "Odinforce" because he's big on branding) and since Thor isn't around Loki has to sit on the throne in his stead. And an overwhelmingly powerful, murderous god-slaying entity known as the Mangog has emerged from the magical seal keeping it imprisoned and it now seeks to end the universe while Odin is powerless to stop it.

Most of that all still happens in this comic, but without Jack Kirby drawing the hell out of a giant goat-man ravaging a fantasy kingdom, but Sif, Thordis and Donald are all on Earth, where the impending destruction of Asgard is so severe that it's even being reflected on Earth. Sif figures that the fact that the sun disappeared and the sky became covered in darkness in the middle of the day is a Bad Thing, and figures that something apocalyptic must be happening in Asgard, which would mean that Odin must be denied his magic for some reason, so they can all return to the Golden City in order to see what's wrong.

So they do, and see Mangog, and collectively decide to attack it (Donald was given some magic armor and weapons so he isn't a complete liability). Eventually, the force of the battle against Mangog, coupled with Thordis really overdoing it with thunder and lightning wake Odin from his sleep ahead of schedule and he uses the power of the All-Force to defeat Mangog and re-seal him deep below Asgard.

Odin, for once in his eternity of life, shows humility and admits to Jane he was wrong and hasty in declaring her unfit to be a Goddess since she's obviously way better at it than everyone in every pantheon, and, since Donald is also around and has also shown a lot of humilty in the form of doing everything he can to help people despite being an uninteresting man with a bad leg, he decides to start undoing a bunch of enchantments he had done previously; he revokes Janes claim to Mjolnir and returns it to Blake, turning him back to his true form of Thor (which also makes Sif happy) and also imbues Jane with the All-Force turning her from mere human into a full fledged, heavy-weight Goddess on par with Odin himself.

Janes kind of disappointed by this because, sure, omnipotence and immortality are great and all but now she has to spend literally all of eternity watching a much more handsome version of the man she loves smooching on a woman she's friends with, so Odin says "Well, why don't you marry me instead?"

And so she does, politely overlooking the staggering amount of personal problems Odin has presented across all of human history.

How... romantic?

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?!?
And how! The vast bulk of Jason Aarons run on Thor from a few years ago (which is really good and I would put on the same tier as Walter Simonsons) is a greatly expanded version of this story. Furthermore, the Thordis outfit was later used by Valkyrie (albeit without the hat) and, bringing it all home, Jane herself, after giving up the power of Mjolnir herself became a new Valkyrie.

NEXT TIME: I'm going to break your heart, Kid.
 

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?
Like with the earlier Invaders story; there isn't really a lot of solid proof that it didn't. Even Uatu is cagey about whether this was something that happened in the past and was forgotten or was an alternate time-line. In his earliest proper appearances, Jimmy Woo was still in pursuit of Yellow Claw, and that story was written a decade earlier.

Belated response, but this What if? team intersects with 616 continuity as an alternate reality team of Avengers in Kurt Busiek's Avengers Forever, the 12 issue limited series where Busiek lets his inner Roy Thomas run wild by resolving as many dangling plot threads, ambiguities, and contradictions as possible. And then their 616 counterparts are established as separate, because they are also a part of Busiek's concurrent run on Avengers. So, in the most Busiek way possible, he affirms the relevance of this What If? story to continuity but cordons it off in an alternate reality, while also reminding everyone that technically these characters do still exist in mainline continuity.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)


Written and Drawn by Jack Kirby
Inking by Mike Royer Coloring by Carl Gafford​

Well... umm... well... sometimes... sometimes people were wondering about this one, I guess? More than anything else, it grabbed me how odd it was to see a Jack Kirby comic inked by anyone besides Joe Sinnott or Vince Coletta

Even Uatu is a bit confused that this one came up, and he's the guy watching the whole of infinity to record every possible event; opening up with what appears to be a regular ol' Fantastic Four story, until the camera pans around and instead of Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny, it's Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Sol Brodsky (Marvels VP in the Silver Age) and Flo Steinberg (their secretary); and Uatu elects to explain this particular Fantastic Fours origins, as they're... less conventional, and more in-joke heavy.

I'm sure these four got a good laugh about it all.

Anyway, one day in the early 1960s Marvel offices, Stan, Jack, Flo and Sol happened to get a strange package, signed from "The S People" that contained a small brick of Kirby Tech and a note saying that "Opening this box will reveal the ultimate fantasy". Which is pretty much exactly how Hellraiser starts. But luckily, instead of Cenobites, opening the box releases a huge flash of cosmic rays that transform everyone in the Marvel Bullpen into superheroes.

Specifically, it turns them into the Fantastic Four, which really helped the creative block Jack was coping with trying to think of characters for the book he was drawing.

So this Fantastic Four (who I am going to call The Bullpen to avoid confusion), like the traditional one, decides to use their new powers to protect the world just as you might expect, and then they write and draw slightly fictionalized takes on their adventures (only real difference being that it's Reed Sue Ben and Johnny in the books that they're writing) and publish them as comic books, which were apparently a bit more popular in this world than in ours because of their ripped from the headlines nature.

Also, Stan Lee is a genius inventor in this universe as well, because life imitates art.

On one of their adventures, which was NOT recounted in the attendant Fantastic Four comics, the Bullpen tries to visit a reclusive scientist who lives in a volcano base, and are surprised to find a caveman wielding a laser-club instead. Which would probably be surprising to you or I, but this is an FF comic, so it'd be stranger if there wasn't something like that. After subdoing the caveman, Flo Steinberg realizes that this is actually a cavemanned up version of the scientist and realize that he must have been exposed to the same cosmic ray device that they had, and he got a much worse reaction to it than they did.

And sure enough, they find another brick of Kirby Tech with a note from The S People, and Stan Lee realizes that since they've never found any trace of the S People on any of their adventures, that they must originate from either Under Water or Outer Space.

Big leap, but okay.

And since "underwater" is a much easier place to reach on a comic creative teams salary, they decide to check there first; this alternate reality still has an Atlantis and a short tempered, small-panted monarch and they opt to go pay Namor a visit to ask him about the S people. Possibly assuming that "S" stands for "Sea".

So they go to Atlantis, and meet Namor, and Jack Kirby immediately tries to get into a fight with him, because BIG COOL SUPERHERO FIGHTS are what Jack does best when he's stalled out thinking of a plot, and they're always great (didn't really get a laugh, but it got a bemused smile from me). Luckily, it turns out that this universes Namor is much more calm and thoughtful than the 616 version and considers that since the Bullpen showed up to warn him of the possible danger presented by a weird science brick that mysterious appeared before him, and since he was also targetted by the mysterious S people, that means that they must in fact be from Outer Space.

A fact that is confirmed when Namor turns on the Alien Detector he has in his throne room, but which he apparently never used, and is surprised to learn tis saying that there's a sneaky hiding SPACEMAN right in the room for them;

And then everyone puts together that S STANDS FOR SKRULL!

Which is a good time to come to that realization as one of the guards in Namors throne room turns out to be a Skrull spy in disguise, who realizes that his evil plan to give random people across the world randomly determined super powers was a complete failure (really got no idea how they figured this was a good plan in the first place) and Jack Kirby and Namor pursue him to the Skrulls secret underwater base, which they proceed to destroy.

And this is a late 70s comic, so the Comics Code was a lot less strict; Jack Kirby straight up murders an entire buildings worth of Skrulls by exploding their base underwater.

They dead.

And so, Uatu closes out by saying "Well that was a weird story, huh?"

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?!?!
Nope. Stan and Jack make cameos in countless Marvel comics over the years (and Jack Kirby may be the 616s Judeo-Christian God), but that's about it. Willing to accept that this team showed up in Exiles or something at some point.

Next Time: HULK THE TEENAG-EST ONE THERE IS!
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)

Written by Don Glut, Art by Sal Buscema
Inked by Bill Black colours by Roussos​

I’ve never been that big a fan of Rick Jones in the past, but damned if he isn’t the hardest working sidekick in the superhero comic medium. This comic is so rich with incident I needed a score card to keep track of things.

Even Uatu knows that 35 pages ain't enough to let any part of this story breathe for more than a second, so he gets RIGHT TO IT; kicking things off with where things change; in this case, like in the original story, Gamma-Ray Scientist Bruce Banner sees hapless teenage idiot Rick Jones playing harmonica in the middle of a nuclear weapon testing site, and tries to get him to safety before he can be vaporized. Key difference this time is that Bruce makes it back to the safety trench before Rick can and he's the one who gets a hearty dosage of Gamma Ray.

For a few hours, Rick and Bruce thinks he's fine, and the Gamma Bomb was a failure since it left him completely unharmed, then the sun goes down and Rick suddenly turns green, huge, and starts talking like a Beatnik Caveman;



Instead of Rick Smashing Puny Army, Rick jumps to the desert where he can smash rocks instead; and he reverts back to his human form when the sun comes up (as was the style of the time).

Bruce tracks Rick down (not difficult, given the trail of destruction, amazing that nobody in the army ever managed it), and quickly deduces that Rick transforms into an invulnerable nuclear rage-monster when the sun goes down, and suggests that the kid stay in a fallout shelter built to withstand atomic strikes when going to bed while he works on a cure. Furthermore, this also means that General Ross really never sees or hears about The Hulk after that first outburst so he never becomes obsessed with hunting him down, and he quietly lives out the rest of his life in an uninteresting desk job.

And this arrangement works well for... about a quarter of a page when things change gears completely and Loki appears, looking for something on Earth strong enough to beat up his brother, sees a big green guy and says "Him, probably!", and uses his magic to make Rick want to leave the shelter and trick him into wrecking a bridge when he transforms, leading to the assembling of The Avengers to stop him, and then he joins te Avengers in order to beat up other guys like Loki instead once everything is cleared up. And almost immediately quitting the team because of Space Phantom chicanery.

Which, again, is basically exactly how the comics work out anyway; but this time, Bruce Banner finishes work on a prototype anti-Hulk weapon and blasts Rick with it before he can do much more than say he's cutting out of these low-life chickens and do his own solo-gig; and unlike pretty much every other instance of Hulk being cured in Marvel history; this actually works! Well, mostly; it made it so that Ricks no longer a nuclear rage monster whenever the sun goes down; just whenever he gets suitably stressed out. And he's Rick Jones, the most unflappable person in the entire Marvel universe, so that plainly isn't happening anytime soon.

So Rick sulks away, before anyone can say "Hey, why is the Hulk a teenager?" or "You okay Rick? You're an orphan who was just punched in the head a whole bunch by a Space-Phantom controlled Iron Man" or "Who is this random ass scientist who shot our friend, The Hulk?", where he happens upon a back-alley that JUST SO HAPPENS to contain Captain America who is fighting an assembly of HYDRA soldiers.

Which I call shenanigans on, since Cap was still frozen in ice when Hulk left the Avengers, and HYDRA didn't show up until long after that; that's how I can tell Roy didn't write this one.

Rick helps Captain America beat up fascists (because who wouldn't?) and Cap thanks him, decides he reminds him a lot of Bucky, and decides to make Rick The New Bucky; making him put on the old costume and everything!

Which, again, is basically exactly how Ricks life went back then; it... it was weird. This was weird behavior from Cap. Only real difference is that Rick si already weirdly strong as a result of being The Hulk so often

Anyway, it doesn't last long, because while Captain America and RANDOM TEENAGER HE JUST MET storm a secret HYDRA base, Rick manages to get sufficiently riled up beating the crap out of henchmen that he activates his transformation into The Hulk; and starts doing a MUCH more thorough job of beating up Hydra Goons; thorough enough that even Cap is concerned for their continued well-being, and he talks Rick down back into his human form; and Rick is so upset about all the murders he very nearly committed, that he decides to leave Cap behind and go wander in the desert.

If they weren't HYDRA, I could sympathize with Rick here, but... y'know... I'm okay with splattering those guys. They made their bed.

Anyway, Rick doesn't have time to process the ethics of using excessive force on nazis, when he sees a ghostly image of Captain America in the desert, beckoning him to an ancient cave, containing a set of Nega Band bracelets, which he dons and is suddenly confronted by Captain Mar-Vell!

Mar Vell quickly explains the situation; Marvel is trapped in the Negative Zone, but he and Rick are now bonded because of the Nega Bands, Rick can summon Marv by clinking them together, and then they swap places and Marv can't spend too much time on Earth because of Weird Space Wizard reasons.

None of this is an invention of the What If timeline; Captain Marvel was just a wild-ass comic.

This quickly becomes another bad situation for Rick because the Negative Zone is also the domain of everyone (or at least my) favorite screaming bug-man; ANNIHILUS and boy oh boy does Annihilus hate Earthlings. Presumably he's indifferent to Kree super-soldiers since he didn't care about Mar-Vell.

Also; I love Sal Buscemas art in general, and he's going a great job with this comic in particular, but his Annihilus looks awful.

This is the other real diversion form the main continuity, since if Annihilus came a-callin' every time Captain Mar-Vell and Rick swapped places in the Captain Marvel comics, he kept it to himself.

This all comes to a head as, on one of his adventures, Cap gets a dose of nerve gas that makes him pass out, and leaves Rick stranded in the Negative Zone when Annihilus comes. And Rick is so laid back that he takes a weirdly long time to get stressed out by AN OUTERSPACE BUG-DRACULA STRANGLING HIM TO DEATH, but he eventually manages it and turns into the Hulk, at which point the tables turn pretty drastically;

It also leads to my other favorite part of the comic, besides BEATNIK HULK SPEAK; as Annihilus quickly realizes his "strangle a teenager to death" plan has backfired;

"In all the Universe, all which comes my way must PERISH! And in your death, I shall take exceptional delight! So continue to squirm, strain to break free of my grasp! Even now, as my fingers tighten around your throat, you struggle to survive, and even now... you begin to... grow and turn emerald?"
"DON'T JIVE HULK WITH FANCY LINGO, BUG-MAN! HULK DOESN'T DIG IT!"

And Hulk starts beating the absolutey GARBAGE out of Annihilus to the thunderous applause of everyone else in the Negative Zone (he's not popular there, either), and this becomes relevant on Earth, where the scene shifts, as it turns out that while Rick was off helping... every single superhero at one point or another, Bruce was working on a final revisions of his Hulk cure, and needed Reed Richards' help to finish it and track down Rick, and, as it turns out, the combination of the intensity of Hulk and Annihilus pounding one another and the entire Negative Zone cheering Hulk on is audible through the Negative Zone Barrier Reed keeps in his lab.

This lets Reed and Banner pinpoint Ricks exact location in the Negative Zone, and gives them a clear enough shot with the Anti-Gamma Beam to turn Hulk back into Rick permanently.

Which you would think they'd be slightly hesitant to do since Hulk is presently in a fight against Annihilus so intense that an entire sub-universe is keenly aware of it, so he should probably stay hulked out for at least a few more minutes, but NOPE; the possible usefulness of having the Strongest There Is around to fight an omnicidal grasshopper doesn't enter anyones heads, and they blast him anyway.

Luckily, Negative Zone physics are weird, so it doesn't work as expected; and instead of turning Hulk into Rick; it just makes Rick pop out of Hulk so now there's two of him; and the retrieve Rick safely, while Hulk remains behind to resume beating up Annihilus; eventually killing him by knocking him clean into the anti-matter barrier that keeps the Negative Zone apart from the rest of the Universe.

And so, Rick is free to resume his normal (ish) life, and spend some time with his girlfriend (who he met on one of his myriad adventures, and which wasn't otherwise relevant to this story), Mar-Vell gets to stay on Earth because... I'unno... complicated space wizard reasons, and Hulk gets to be the celebrated and beloved ruler of the Negative Zone, or having saved it from Annihilus' tyranny.

Pretty good day for everyone, really!

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?!?!
Heck yes it did; you don't spend as much time hanging out with Hulk as Rick Jones does without getting a pretty commendable dosage of Gamma Radiation; and wound up becoming Hulk, A-Bomb and Whisperer at various points in his career. They left the Green Door unlocked for him. Presently he's an upside down vestigial head on a glow-in-the-dark skeleton man so... y'know... he's had better days. Also, the Planet Hulk storyline is about Hulk becoming a celebrated societal leader after throwing off the tyranny of a brutal alien dictator.

NEXT TIME: This Comic Kills Space Fascists
 

Jeanie

(Fem or Gender Neutral)
BUT DID IT HAPPEN?!?!
Heck yes it did; you don't spend as much time hanging out with Hulk as Rick Jones does without getting a pretty commendable dosage of Gamma Radiation; and wound up becoming Hulk, A-Bomb and Whisperer at various points in his career. They left the Green Door unlocked for him. Presently he's an upside down vestigial head on a glow-in-the-dark skeleton man so... y'know... he's had better days.
Spoilers for Gamma Flight #5, out this week, but Rick and the gamma irradiated teen he was bonded to, are separated now.
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
Rick Jones also got turned into a/the Hulk in the Season 1 cliffhanger of the 1996 The Incredible Hulk cartoon.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)


Gary Friedrich and Don Glut Writers
Herb Trimpe on Pencils, Pablo Marcos on Inks
Dr. Martin on Colors​

Now, the eagle eyed among you might notice that I went right from issue #12 to issue #14. That’s because issue #13 of What If was about Conan the Barbarian, who was a Marvel character at the time (and indeed, a few other characters wound up tied into his comic), but they don’t have that licence any more, so those issues aren’t collected on Marvel Unlimited. Chan s are that that’s going to happen a few more times, unless something really surprising happens with creative rights. Rest assured, they probably involved something strange happening to everyone’s favourite Cimmerian.

And speaking of things that are strange, well… you saw the title of this comic. This one is broken into three chapters, for no readily apparent reason, as well.

We open up with Nick Fury and the rest of the Howling Commandos, on boring monitoring duty at a Naval base, designated "Pearl", which is soon destroyed in a sneak attack by a hostile imperial foreign power.

Also it's a space station, and the hostile nation is the Betan Empire, made up of outer-space lizard-men.

Also it's still 1938.

As Uatu explains, this is because all of the aerial screw helicopters and primitive cars and people-wheels that Leonardo DaVinci drew weren't just idle sketches or thought-exercise prototypes; they all worked and were built; giving the human race a 500-year head start on all forms of aeronautics and technology; meaning that we were a known interstellar power by the mid twentieth century.

Not bad for a guy named after a Ninja Turtle!

Anyway, the attack on Starbase Pearl, leads the Earth to getting involved in the war between the Alpha and Beta sections of the Galaxy. Like World War 2, except among the stars.

Some kind of a stars war.

Most of the issue is just straight up a Howling Commandos story, which, as Uatu notes, is also basically identical to the events of World War 2, except they use the words ”space” and ”laser” a lot, and Herb Trimbe has lots of chances to draw some honestly pretty excellent space battles.

The big difference comes during the Astro Battle of the Solar Midway, where the Howlers receive a new commander, in the form of a talking computer (Programmed Only For War), who instructs Nick and the rest of the team that their flagship is expected to be targeted by another sneak attack from the Betans.

We also find out that the Betan Empire has a spy within the Terran command, a hidden man with a thick German accent, who has been leaking vital military secrets to them.

And, as it turns out, this informant who found out about the Betan Secret attack, AND the spy who was informing the Betans of the human militaries strategies just happened to be the same person; and it also just so happens to be the Admiral of the Terran Navy; HYDRA founder and professional Evil German Autocrat Baron Strucker!!

Honestly, not the intensely evil German guy was expecting to show up from the way the story was developing.

Nick finds out that the Admiral is a traitor when his computer Commanding Officer slips him a note saying “ADMIRAL IS TRAITOR”, and Strucker confesses to everything the instant he’s confronted. Turns out his plan was to lead the Betans and Humans into a costly final battle that would leave the Betans destroyed, and the human army weak enough that he could sweep in with his Ubermensch super soldiers and conquer the rest of the Earth easily, finally giving the ratzis a chance to take over, as their entire movement was cancelled as soon as the human race unite in order to fight evil space lizards.

So this is just up and down a better timeline, really.

Nick and the Howlers wind up in a big scuffle with Strucker and his goons, and wound up beating them all pretty easily. Nick winds up giving chase to Strucker when he flees after he realizes his plan is going up in smoke (he wasn’t planning on being inside the command ship when the Betans attacked it), and Fury winds up chucking him out an airlock.

hes not too broken up about it, partly because of the treason, and mostly because boy does Nick Fury hate nazis, even In an alternate timeline where they never actually did anything.

The Betan sneak attack winds up going even worse for them than Strucker intended, once knowledge that he was trying to lead everyone into a mutually ruinous battle; as the Terran navy was able to bring in added reinforcements, and they quickly overwhelm the Betan fleet and destroy their flagship.

After the Betan fleet is destroyed, and despite being instrumental in uncovering and executing a traitor in the highest levels of the military, Fury and the Howlers are reprimanded for going against orders in order to save one of the wounded members of the team when ordered to retreat, leading Nick to surmise that their computerized commander might actually be his former commander, who got his brain out in a jar after being killed back when Starbase Pearl was destroyed.

And Uatu mentions he should keep on watching this universe, its way cooler than most other ones.

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?!?!
Well, its been a while since a history class, but I’m pretty sure World War 2 mostly took place in Europe and the Pacific Ocean, and very few combatants were space lizards. But in a more general sense, SWORD is the outer space division of SHIELD that specifically works to keep Earth safe from threats from other sentient worlds And after Nick himself stopped being a replacement for Uatu following murdering him (it was a whole thing), he was reassigned to being a Space Spy who could interfere with things on Uatus behalf, but I don’t know if anything came of that afterward.

Next Time: In Brightest Day! In Darkest Night!
 

Jeanie

(Fem or Gender Neutral)
The Space Nick Fury universe later showed up in one of those Earth X spin-off that no one read.

The Conan one got a sequel in the second What If? series and Conan in general, shows up in more of these stories than you would imagine. My favorite is the one where Wolverine gets pulled out of time to fight Conan, they become friends after the fight, and at the end of the story, Wolverine ends up staying in Conan's time and romancing Red Sonja while Conan goes back to when Wolverine was pulled from. Which was the Trial of the Phoenix and it goes the way most What If?'s do and that universe is destroyed.
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
As it turned out in the 616 continuity, Leonardo became head of the medieval precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D., then time-traveled to the modern day.
 
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