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

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
Smoking a fat stogie inside a space suit just seems like kind of a spectacularly bad idea.
 

Daikaiju

Rated Ages 6+
(He, Him)


Published: February, 1979
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Glynis Wein
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard


Roy Thomas is in his element here, as he wrote a lot of Marvel's Conan tales back then. In the original tale, The Citadel At The Center of Time; Savage Sword Of Conan #7, the sorcerer (natural predator/prey of Conans) Shamash-Shum-Unk lowers the musclehead down a well to test a localized Time Portal. He witnesses the TRUE HISTORY of Altantis's collapse, the dinosaurs ascendance & decline, and then modern man's evolution. Afterwards, he manages to clamber back out and make the world a little less magical.
However, The Watcher sees an alternate path.
In this divergence, the rope snaps. Did our hero have a sammich before raiding the Citadel? Did Shamash
cheap out on the rope? We'll never know.

Conan plummets through history and into Times Square, specifically at 8:37 PM on Wednesday July 13th, 1977. Disoriented and confused, with NYC experiencing a blackout, Conan takes it out on a cab. Luckily the cab survives and it's driver, Danette, takes a shine to our Cimmerian wanderer. She herds him into the backseat and helps him escape the City Watch NYPD. With the Manhattan getting a little nuts due to the lights out, she takes Conan back to her apartment, thinking she can figure out what language he's speaking and where he's from. Danette is also kinda freaked out by the riots and she seeks refuge in Conan's arms (It was the 70's and genre tropes were rampant). The couch gets a thorough shakedown. Afterwards, while relaxing from the mutual comforting, roving thieves on the street below break the mood with their noisy shenanigans. Dan (as Conan calls her) talks him into dispatching them, short of killing them. Comics Code in effect in y'all.
Getting back on track, She then looks through her encyclopedia set (like any respectable NYC 1970's cabbie has) trying to trace Conan's place of origin. Conan sees a picture of the Guggenheim upside down and realizes it looks exactly like the sorcerer's citadel. He realizes he need to get to the roof of the museum to return to his time.
To quote MovieBob;



Arriving at the museum, as storm clouds gather above, Conan and Danette encounter more looters. One of them takes a potshot and grazes Dan. The Cimmerean flips out and this time not even the Code can save the ne'er do wells.

With sirens approaching, Dan and Conan say their goodbyes. He gives her one of his gold bands and she gives him her blue cabbie hat. As she's walked out byu the cops they manage to see the Cimmerean struck by lightning and supposedly disintegrated by the bolt. Back in his own time, Conan finds himself outside the Citadel and decides to get the hell outta ancient Dodge. While he writes it off as a magic induced dream, Uatu notes, as Conan hold's Danette's cap, deep in his soul he knows better.

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?
Conan has crossed into the Marvel Universe, in Excalibur #49, and Fantastic Four #405. So... Maybe? At any rate, Conan and Uatu are not done with each other yet...
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
Was this the issue where Conan robs some people for their pocket change? Or was that one of the later Conan-based WHat Ifs?
 

Daikaiju

Rated Ages 6+
(He, Him)
You mean Pimp Conan? That's What If Vol.1 #43 (February 1984). Another What If...? riffing on this.
 

Jeanie

(Fem or Gender Neutral)
BUT DID IT HAPPEN?
Conan has crossed into the Marvel Universe, in Excalibur #49, and Fantastic Four #405. So... Maybe? At any rate, Conan and Uatu are not done with each other yet..
Conan is, as of the time of this post, currently in the Marvel Universe. Read Savage Avengers for more.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)


Written by Marv Wolfman, Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnot
Colors by Michele W.
Well, this might be the single most difficult to recap issue so far. But, luckily, my lack of familiarity with Nova is not much of an impediment. Going in, all I know about the character is that he's basically Marvels version of Green Lantern, but the Nova Corps Centurions have generally nicer uniforms and a worse record in terms of all being jackasses. And since there's Lantern Corps entirely defined by their ability to generate fear or hatred, that's saying something.

Anyway, Uatu also assumes that the reader isn't familiar with the background of a brand new character, so his recap comes right out the gate (revenge obsessed dying alien comes to earth, looking to get back at the criminal who wronged him, and gave the Nova Force which empowered him to Someone Entirely At Random, which wound up being General Sad Sack Richard Rider, who went on to be Nova. Later he fell in love with Peter Quill of the Guardians of the Galaxy, witnessed the destruction of the Nova Corps several times, was possessed by a cthulhu, ripped Annihilus inside out, called out Tony for the idiocy that was Civil War, and wound up going to a lot of therapy for everything I just said).

...Reading that, I guess I know more about Nova than I thought.

ANYWAY, the point is that the Nova Force went to someone at random, so what if it went to SOMEON ELSE at random?

Someone like Helen Taylor, (as related in our first story, with Art by Simonson and Wiacek. It doesn't specify which Simonson, but my gut says it was Walt). Helen Taylor, you may recognize from... just this one story, according to Google. Helen is the unfortunate newly made widow of... some guy whose name I didn't think to write down in my notes, who was just shanked up to high-heaven after a mugging went wrong. Helen, apparently actually Batman, swears revenge on the mugger what did all that shanking and spends the next few years of her life becoming obsessed with revenge, especially after it becomes clear that the police were making no progress in hunting down this random mugger like the dog he is and revenge-murdering him.

Luckily, a space-ray strikes her just as she's grimly walking through a cemetery demanding violent retribution, and immediately gives her battle armor, and an array of Flying Brick-style super-powers, and she realizes that she can just her own damn revenge now;

So Helen proceeds to... just go absolutely Deathwish on everyone who even looks like they might want to commit a crime at some point demanding that they give up the name and location of the guy who killed her husband (she doesn't know his name either, and none of the criminals she's attacking know what she's talking about).

At first, the public loves Nova because she's absolutely obliterating some genuinely awful people, but the general mood gradually swings the other way, when it becomes clear that she's purely driven by rage and revenge, and really does not care about collateral damage, or even about the innocent civilians caught in her rampages; ultimately prompting the President to call in the Fantastic Four to bring her down; which they ultimately do, by Sue encasing her head in a forcefield until she passes out form oxygen loss.

Reed can't figure out how to depower Nova, or even if there's any kind of limit to her strength, so he just skips to the solution most likely to work and just tosses her into the Negative Zone.

And in an ending worthy fo EC Comics, later the Harbour Patrol fishes up a crashed car that had been buried underwater for a couple of years, and the drowned corpse of the mugger was inside it; so Helens quest for revenge was pointless afterall.

Our second story comes from Infantino and Springer, and is about a well-meaning homeless man named Jessie, who has a pet... mammal (Infantino is a genuine legend in the comics industry, but I swear, I have no idea what this animal is supposed to be), who is struck by a Strange Ray chock full of Nova Juice as he was walking away from a half-way house he was being kicked out of (for... being too homeless?), which he doesn't really seem to notice. In fact, him being struck by a strange beam escaped MY notice too, the only acknowledgement is that he's surprised to find a set of Nova Corps armor in his bindle.

Jessie walks up to the first house he finds with the lights on and asks for lodging in return for some housework, and this exchange is quickly accepted (New York City was much friendlier to homeless black people than I thought in the 1970s), and as it turns out the house he chose at random happened to be an orphanage who was needing a friendly extra pair of hands who can distract children with interesting life stories. And this makes it look like the story is going to have a happier ending.

But NOPE, this is What If, Happy Endings are discouraged; and as it turns out this orphanage has been targeted by the Skrulls as the beachhead for their invasion of Earth!

To be fair, this is because they detected the Novaforce there and wanted to claim it for their Empire, and not because of the orphans themselves; though they might have had slightly better success if that was their target.

Anyway, these Skrulls apparently weren't previously informed on the nature of space-cops armed with the Worldmind of Xandar, and how "turning into a snake" really isn't enough to stop one, so Jesse absolutely wipes the floor with them, then travels up to their ship and starts punching its computers until it explodes. And while nothing about any of these stories so far would imply that that would be any kind of impediment to Nova... I guess it was a really good explosion, because he dead.

And all the Orphans celebrate because this was all apparently taking place on December 24th, and they assumed that the exploding Skrull Ship was the Christmas Star.

Yay?

Okay, slightly more familiar ground with story 3, featuring Middlepark Highs Official Wall-Flower; Peter Parker! This one has art by Andru and Giacoia, and I am not familiar enough with either of them to make judgements! This opens in the familiar Spider-Man way, with Peter getting bitten by a radioactive spider at a High School demonstration.

And, at this point, you might assume "Aha! But he's struck by the Nova Force at the same time, so he becomes Nova AND the proportionate strength, speedy and sensiness of a Spider".

That's certainly what I expected. But nope, just a radioactive spider bite. The real difference between this story and Spider-Mans origins is... well... he was bitten by a radioactive spider. And, well... you shouldn't get bitten by radioactive spiders; It's unhealthy. So unhealthy, in fact, that Peter needs to be immediately hospitalized, and the radioactive poison coursing through his veins wreaks havoc on his body; only surviving because of some medical equipment that Tony Stark and Reed Richards donated to this particular hospital; but leaving him both physically and emotionally crippled.

Also, Aunt May heard about all this and immediately died of shock.

Peter and Uncle Ben are having a real bad day here.

Anyway, a few years later, after Peter constantly blaming himself for being bitten by a spider and his aunts heart attack has completely withdrawn from humanity and THAT is when the Nova Force beam strikes him (thought that stupid thing was never going to show up); and he's overjoyed to not only have a fully functional body again, but one that is nearly invincible, can fly, and shoot lasers out of his hands; and he immediately decides to show his Uncle Ben that a miracle he's been the recipient of.

And, as it happens, he chose to do this on the same day that a certain robber breaks into the Parker house...

But the robber panics when he sees an armored spaceman explode through the living room wall screaming about how cool flying and lasers are; and he shoots the armored figure; and the resulting ricochet bounces off Peters body and drives itself directly into the robbers chest, killing him.

Peter blames himself for a violent home invader shooting him, then being in the path of the resulting ricochet and immediately quits his super hero career because he can't be trusted with power, even though the cops and uncle Ben alike inform him that there is no possible way that Peter Being Shot and then the Criminal Who Shot Him Being Hit by the Ricochet could in any possible context be considered him being responsible.

But Parkers are gonna Parker, so he tosses the Nova uniform in the garbage and walks away sadly.

And our final story comes from Perez and Palmer, and... no idea who got the Nova Force this time; the story doesn't say and the only implication of who it is is of no help to anyone. In this story, not only is Nova purely evil, he formed a team with some of the worst of Earths villains; Dr. Doom, The Red Skull and... err... The Sphinx.

He's at least a Nova villain, so I'll allow it.

Anyway, with this Eeeeevil Novas power, and access to the Worldmind of Xandar, he's able to lead this team (referred to as the Masters of the Master Villains) on an amazingly successful campaign against all the Earths superhero population; which the rest of the villains find kind of disappointing; the conquest and murder of everything good was too abrupt and decisive to give the Skull a chance to enjoy all the pain and despair on all his enemies faces, Doom won't stop making victorious speeches to his own grandiosity and the Sphinx... is just a real bummer in general, y'know?

And Nova doesn't care, he's done what he wanted to do (conquer the world, and kill every superhero) so he's happy than a clam.

Later that night, his allies all decide to turn against him, however, because they're all backstabbing evil people who want to be on top of the heap, and not second fiddle to a rando given the Nova Force by sheer chance; and... they really shouldn't have, as they wind up fighting one another for the right; and Doom kills the Skull, Nova kills Doom, and Sphinx kills Nova (thoroughly enough that his armor is turned to dust).

At this the SPhinx finally starts talking and explains the important parts of his whole deal; he's immortal, being immortal sucks, and he's looking to die now, please. And figures he can use the technology in Novas star base to find someone capable of killing him; or just go on a savage enough killing spree that someone on the Earth finally has to figures ou how to punch his dance card.

Kind of think he should have left a few super-powered people around to help speed that process up a bit.

Anyway, Uatu points out that blowing up Nova in particular was the wrong choice there, as the Xandar Worldmind could have easily figured out how to kill him.

And that's our story; our first instance of a What If Where Everyone Dies!

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?!?!
Pretty much; like I said, the Nova Corps are basically the Green Lanterns, and like the Green Lanterns, there's a whole damn lot of them from all kinds of planets; quite a few are from Earth, so while I don't think these particular four people ever got the fancy hat, there are countless people, besides Richard, who have; even the Guardians of the Galaxy joined the corps for a short while near the end of Gerry Duggans run on the book (didn't care too much for that run in general, but that was a fun arc), and there's at least a few outright Evil Novas over the years.

NEXT TIME: Fewer rings are involved than in the movies
 
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Adrenaline

Post Reader
(He/Him)
I'm surprised the Conan What If isn't on the app since Marvel got the license back and has been publishing Conan comics for a couple years
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
And especially since the next what it is for a property that Marvel lost and I don’t think anybody is clamouring for
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)

Written by Doug Moench, Art by Rick Hoburg
Wray and Stevens Inkers, Colors by Slifer​

Y’know, I’m going to sidestep a lot of baggage here by using the guys MCU name; Wen Wu, instead. Also, this… might actually be the best What If story so far? Got a bunch of neat little flourishes that you don’t usually see in comics written written before the late 90s at the very least.

Anyhow, Shang Chi is another one of those characters I don’t have a lot of prior knowledge of; besides the movie (which I loved) I’d only read a handful of comics he even appeared, let alone starred, in. So this is another one of those stories where it could be canon and I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Luckily, Uatu is around to show us the way Shang Chi’s origin is supposed to have gone; he was trained from a young age to be a living weapon by his father; an illusive, seemingly immortal megalomaniac, and only came to question the possible ethical core of his dad when he was assigned to assassinate a sleeping old man.

In the 616 universe, Shang confronts his dad after this and they wind up having a falling out, and Shang dedicates his life to opposing his father in all his evil plans. In this timeline, however, he… still does that but Wen Wu decides to make a philosophical debate about it rather than immediately ranting about disloyalty, and it gives Shang something to chew on, debating whether it’s okay to murder people if it means saving others.

Wen doesn’t specify how the Kill::Save ratio breaks down, which doesn’t escape Shangs notice, but he doesn’t have enough time to argue the trolley problem before he’s sent off on his next mission; one that is far less ethically dodgey than the trolley problem he’s going to help a bunch of Wen Wus henchmen dig up the corpses of a bunch of his long deceased better henchmen.

Meanwhile, across the city (London, incidentally), the friends and allies of that old man what Shan Chi punched the neck off of assemble, as it turns out they're part of the British secret service who have been working on bringing down Wen Wu for decades, and the de-necking of that old guy have galvanized them and told them that Wen Wu is in the city and has something big planned. I presume that these are regular characters in the Shang Chi comic but, as said, I didn’t read that so I‘unno.

anyway, because of their alertness they get word that a bunch of masked guys have been seen at a local graveyard and have been digging up the corpses of Wen Wus top lieutenants.

At this point, the comic gets a bit more experimental and pretty rad, honestly. The narration boxes stop being from an omniscient narrator/Uatu, and become the internal monologues of different characters, written in different styles and fonts depending on which character it is and also following different characters whose actions are mirroring one another all in the same sequence. To wit;

The secret service is trying to keep the henchmen from digging up corpses because that’s a jacked up thing to do
Shang Chi is trying to stop the secret service from stopping them aiming and revering the corpses of fathers honoured friends
Wen Wu is busying himself reconfiguring the serum that granted him immortality to grant him the power to raise The dead and give him an undead army.

All in all, a mixed success for everyone; Wen Wus men manage to get five out of seven corpses back to their masters lair, the Secret Service manage to knock out one of the henchmen and bring him back for questioning, and Wen Wu… successfully made a zombie potion.

Shang goes off to tell his dad the good news about recovering the bones of his old buddies to honour them properly, and instead runs into his dad resurrecting them in a cruel mockery of life, giving them spooky skeleton armour and turning them loose on Buckingham Palace (and in another mirror scene, the Secret Service administers a dosage of truth serum to the captured henchman and wind up killing him, but in service of protecting the country).

Shang is kind of horrified by this, as, living weapon or no, he was brought up to honour and revere all life, and turning your most loyal friends and followers into murderous ghouls runs pretty counter to that, and decides to turn against his father then and there.

Which is kind of the opposite of what the title promised, really.

Anyway, Wen Wu doesn’t care about his son being uppity, so he locks him in his room and launches an attack on the Queen of England, armed with toxic gas, dozens of soldiers and a bunch of skeleton knights riding giant lizards.

The secret service can handle the troops, and even the giant lizards (surprised by them, certainly), but the Death Knights are another matter entirely, as these are Evil Dead as opposed to Romero style zombies, and nothing can stop them from getting back up, headshot or no.

Shang escapes his bedroom (by kicking through the iron bars, rad) and runs to Buckingham Palace to aide in the defence against his father, and is genuinely shocked and horrified to see the Secret Service eventually defeating the zombies by incinerating them with flame throwers (raising the dead and killing the dead is precisely as immoral for him) and when he confronts his father after punching the hell out of every single person in the palace, Wen Wu simply disappears, saying that if Shang has decided to dedicate his life to stopping his plans at world conquest, it’s no big deal. Wen Wu is immortal, Shang is not, he can just outlive him and try again.

And Shang, equally horrified at the deaths caused by both sides of the conflict, when he was so badly troubled by the one murder he committed, decides to abandon everyone and dedicate himself to stopping his father alone.

BUT DID IT HAPPEN!?!?
This is another one where I’m going to have to rely on someone else to tell me; all I know about Shang Chi outside of Hickmans Avengers run comes from the movie. I’m fairly sure that they retconned his dad to be The Yellow Claw after Marvel collectively realized that theres no market for Fu Manchu stories anymore. Kind of a lateral move, there.

Next Time: Bad Good
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)

Written by Steven Grant, Art by Carmine Infantino and Chic Stone
Got another anthology within the anthology this issue, and the titles kind of misleading, since most of these are lateral moves at worst. Also, each story had a different colourist, but the quality is similar enough between them that all I can do is trust that it wasn’t the same person trying to draw three paycheques.

Kicking off with What if Ghost Rider was a Villain, which is definitely the most confusing of these three stories, and not just because several major plot points had been retconned away so long ago I genuinely forgot they were retcons. And partly because there’s nested flashbacks,

In roughly chronological order, Ghost Rider had his original origin basically intact (stunt rider sells his soul to the devil in order to save his dads life, devil pays him back by turning him into the Spirit of Vengeance). But, while in the 616, the devil didn’t uphold his end of the deal by letting Johnny Blazes dad be killed in a different way, which allowed Johnny to rein in the Spirit of Vengeance’s power and let him fight against evil instead of for it. This time… Satan does not do that… so the spirit of Vengeance fully consumes Johnny’s soul and we have a Ghost Rider completely devoid of even a shred of empathy.

Good job, Satan! See what you can accomplish if you show a little patience on being evil?

And the first thing Ghost Rider does after being incarnated on Earth is completely incinerate Johnnys dad to the bone with a blast of Hellfire, before leaving town and going on a Countrywide road cling down and obliterating anyone who stands in his way of delivering supernatural retribution.

In this timeline, being Completely divorced of Johnny’s ability to rein in his impulses, the Rider views the act of destroying anyone whose soul is even slightly tarnished is a Good Thing and he’s furthering the cause of justice, and he doesn’t care who is informing him of any perceived moral failings.

Long and short of it is that the Rider is travelling from prison to prison across the US and completely incinerating the entire population, which even the most militant proponent of law enforcement would consider overkill.

That being said, I never get tired of someone seeing Ghost Rider and saying “Oh My God!”, and Ghost Rider responding “Wrong.”

Its a staple for a reason!

Anyway, with… umm… prison overpopulation being far less of an issue now, and also every prison guard who tried to stop the flaming skeleton demon from murdering everyone with magical fireballs also burnt to death, Johnny Blazes ex-girlfriend tracks him down and tries to convince him to stop exploding so many people (she recognized his jacket and bike, and assumed her boyfriend became a skeleton).

Unfortunately, she was trying to stop Ghost Rider, which counts as interfering with the Law as far as the Spirit of Vengeance is concerned, so she also gets ‘sploded by hellfire.

Only After this Does anyone with super powers think to get involved with this demonic fire skeleton; and it’s none other than Daimon Hellstorm (Son of Satan, magical anti-hero, hates shirts) who drew the short straw to deal with him. And the first is completely one-sided, as it turns out that Satan’s Son outranks Satan’s Bounty Hunter, and Daimon is able to drain all the hellfire out of Ghost Riders body, leaving him completely powerless and inert, frozen forever in the Arizona desert.

This is something that was fine when those characters were brand new, but everything about this has been retconned away quite a while ago; as neither of those two are associated with either each other or Satan. It was Mephisto who cursed a Johnny Blaze to be Ghost Rider, and despite the nickname, another demon lord (I want to say Marduk?) who is Daimons father. And those two hate each other. If there is an actual singular Satan in Marvel comics, he delegates a lot And it leads to some serious infighting.

What if Spider-Woman is at once more straightforward and bonkers,

As in SWs debut story, she wasn’t Jessica Drew, Detective/Superhero, but a super powered amnesiac, trained and brainwashed by HYDRA, in order to assassinate Nick Fury. As the story really went, she realized that HYDRA were actually bad guys (the creepy masks and volcano bases and oaths about sacrificing henchmen wasn’t enough of a tip-off) and turned against them. Here… she doesn’t do that and murders up Nick Fury real good.

While this is great for HYDRA, and Spider-Woman’s chances for career advancement in that organization, it really sticks in the craw of top SHIELD agent, former Nick Fury girlfriend, and future HYDRA commander (err…) Contessa deFontaine, who swears vengeance on this masked spider-woman.

And unlike most other instances of swearing vengeance on people who killed their significant others, Contessa is quick to act on this and descends on Spidey like the hammer of God, immediately tracking down the HYDRA base Jessica Drew fled to and wiping out every single green suited jerk inside, blowing up the escape craft of the Supreme HYDRA (for this week, at least. That position Is basically a time share) and knocking out Spider-Woman in order to put her on trial.

The trial isn’t particularly fair, since Jessica is so heavily sedated that she doesn’t even wake up until midway through it, and the only character witness is the apparently not dead Supreme HYDRA (a… lot of stuff to unpack right there), and the only proper defence is that the Supreme HYDRA reveals that you can’t hold Jessica accountable for any crimes because she isn’t human, she’s a spider who was transformed into a human.

Legal proceedings in the Marvel Universe are rarely dull.

Jessica wakes up just as this is revealed, and declares that to be a really stupid explanation for her origins (Marvel thought so as well, since it was almost immediately retconned away) and she just… escapes the courthouse because she is a super strong flying lady with lightning powers and they didn’t think she might stop being sedated during the trial, and she disappears into Europe, trying to find the real truth of her origins, while constantly avoiding SHIELD agents and Interpol.

And finally we have What if Captain Marvel Was Evil which… doesn’t involve Captain Marvel being evil.

Big difference here is just a sliiiiight tweak to the status quo of early Mar-Vell stories; with Marv being a secret agent sent to undermine and conquer Earth, but deciding he LIKES us, and instead trying to trick the Kree Empire into thinking he’s doing his job and conquering us when he’s actually sabotaging all their efforts. Also his actual commanding officer is sure he’s turned traitor but can’t actually prove it, so is instead trying to kill him and make it look like an accident.

All in all, one of the more elaborate and interesting premises for a Silver Age Marvel comic, and Stan was absolutely not up to the task of doing it justice so that book wound up swerving into so many new directions it should have been charged with a DUI.

ANYWAY

In this timeline, Commander Yon Rog just… left the radio on, I guess, when he was talking about trying to kill Mar Vell by sabotaging his mission one time, and word got back to his boss, Ronan The Accuser. And Ronan doesn’t stop to get more context for why Yon Rog would be trying to kill one of his agents, all Ronan sees is a Kree soldier engaging in behaviour unbecoming of a military officer, a crime which carries the same sentence as absolutely every crime in Ronan’s eyes; death by hammer. And as soon as Ronan arrives on earth, it’s Hammer o’Clock.

Yon Rog takes the news of his impending hammer-based execution badly (as one would) and figures that if he’s going to die, he’ll make sure Mar Vell goes with him, and steals a gunship from the Kree Command vessel hidden above the Earth and attempts to murder him with it.

Marv, incidentally, had been spending this entire story at a missile base, fighting Sentry 459 (the hardest working, least respected, robot in Marvel comics) so he has no idea any of this is happening. So he’s very surprised and confused when Yon Rog appears out of nowhere trying to kill him with a spaceship, and then that spaceship is immediately smashed flat by Ronan the Accuser who also appeared out of nowhere and appointed Marv the new leader of the Kree invasion of Earth.

And Marv has some brief imposter syndrome before figuring ”Well, I’m not sure if humans suck and deserve to be conquered… so… ill just hunker down and wait”

Story Over, No Moral

But Did It Happen!?!?
Well, in regard to the Ghost Rider story, yes. There’s been a Rider for as long as there’s been a concept of revenge, and more than a few of them wound up being a bit too eager to punish the guilty than protect the innocent. Also, a recent story involved Johnny becoming the King of Hell, which isn’t a job you can get without winding up taking a fair bit of psychological baggage.

As for the other two stories, I’m genuinely unsure. I’m not especially familiar with either Spider-Woman or most of the Captain Marvels’s to know for sure.

Next Time: Wizard People, Dear Reader
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I know that Peter David swerved his Captain Marvel series in a direction that turned the character evil. Like for an entire series, about 15 years before Superior Spider-Man. Genis-Vell who was... a Mar-Vell clone or something, I think, spends 18 issues of volume 5 as a baddie, conquering planets and even deciding to destroy the universe after being manipulated by a villain named Entropy. He eventually gets sort of better but also in a wacky anti-hero way, including making a plan to have the Earth hear a ballad composed by Rick Jones (whom he was sharing a body) in order to make a million dollars.

It should be noted that this change in David's run occurred when he and Bill Jemas and... Ron Zimmerman, I think, were in a very stupid contest Bill set up to prove he was a better writer than David. Which lead to Marville, Marvel's worst book ever by a WIIIIIIIDE margin and a huge sign that Bill Jemas doesn't get how writing or politics or humour work.
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
There was also Noh-Varr, a Kree from an alternate reality, who came to 616 and briefly adopted the Captain Marvel moniker as a member of Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers, but he quit the team after he learned they were all villains posing as heroes.
 

Jeanie

(Fem or Gender Neutral)
For the record, Genis-Vell is Mar-Vell's son. He had Cosmic Awareness, which drove him a little crazy, until he was stopped by his sister, Phyla-Vell, who was created by Cosmic Retcon. Genis later died from this.

Phyla also took up the Captain Marvel name for a bit, took up the Quasar mantle for a bit, and was last seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy book with her wife, Moondragon, who is neither Moon nor Dragon.
 

Jeanie

(Fem or Gender Neutral)
Spider-Woman Jessica Drew kinda went evil in Secret Invasion, but that was a Skrull Impersonator. Jessica's whole Hydra backstory is a large mess, not as bad as some, but you have things like the High Evolutionary and clones and genetic engineering and recently a secret brother with his own kid with a medical condition similar to Jessica and... *waves hands* ugh.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
Man, I hope Moondragon shows up in one of these, because that’s a whole bag of snakes worth upending for the sake of an out of continuity story
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)

Peter Gillis, Tom Sutton, Bruce Patterson, Tom Orzechowski, Glynis Wein, Mark Gruenwalf, Jim Shooter​

Who handled what I couldn't really say, since the credits are written all fancy-like. Also, not counting a few dropped plot-threads that lead me to assume that the writer didn't realize this was supposed to be a one-and-done story, this may actually be my favorite What if so far. In my top three, at least. Really helped by the fact that the artist has everyone over-emoting on an almost Jojo level.

As per usual, we're kicking things off with a recap of our title character, with Uatu popping in to tell us the well established origin of Dr. Strange (brilliant, but arrogant, surgeon gets his hands wrecked, decides to try to use magic to cure them, realizes he's good at magic and devotes himself to fighting the Darkest Artes after learning his mentors *other* protégé is a disciple of the Lord of The Dark Dimension, Dormammu). And now that we know What Is, let's instead ask WHAT IF!

This Timeline starts to diverge shortly after Strange meets the Ancient One where, in the original story, Strange was turned away when he asked the Ancient One to heal his hands, but is invited to stay the night. Here that still happens, but instead of secretly conferring with his true master, Dormammu, the rival sorcerer Mordo instead pulls Strange a side with him and proposes something of a deal with the devil with him.

And by "something of a" I mean "He has the Lord of Chaos on a Zoom Call right now"

Mordo explains that the Ancient One is just a weird old man who doesn't want to use his power to do anything *really cool* (and to be fair, this is explicitly the case) but the NEW hotness is this wild and crazy ruler of the Dark Dimension; The Dread Dormammu, an ageless godlike being of chaotic magic and is just impatient to get to making dire pronouncements and posturing.

He's also one of my favorite Steve Ditko designs, and a mainstay in my Marvel vs. Capcom teams.

Steve is no dummy, and figures that the guy with the flaming head who keeps referring to his youth pastor that is Mordo as an ignorant mortal slave is the right horse to back, and Dormammu responds by using his power to fix up Stevens hands good as new. And while Steve is right back on easy street- doing complicated brain surgery for COLD HARD CASH, it turns out that the devils hands are idle playthings, and it doesn't take long for Steven to learn that the unbridled Chaos Magic of the Dark Dimension is a poor replacement for, like, some ibuprofen and maybe a cold compress; as he completely murders the hell out of some patients and is disbarred from practicing medicine for malpractice.

Unfortunately, this is still a Steve who never once had to show any kind of humility or, indeed, a modicum of decency, and leaves the hospital swearing revenge on the witless fools who would DARE suggest that Steven Strange is not a competent doctor, merely because his evil magic hands killed a bunch of people, and he happens to run smack into Baron Mordo, who just happened to be in the neighborhood, listening in to a malpractice trial that was apparently loud enough to be heard from outside.

Mordo explains that if a liiiiittle bit of Chaos Magic was enough to restore Stevens hands (long enough to let him to reclaim his practice for a hot minute, if nothing else), then by devoting himself to Dormammu he'd reap the benefits of VAST amounts of dark magic at his beck and call; far more than enough to get revenge on the hospital staff who fired him. And Steven is experiencing some *real* mission creep right now, so he signs up then and there; STEVEN IS COMPLETELY ON TEAM MURDER; and he immediately moves in to Mordos castle (Mordo has a castle, incidentally, I didn't think he did, but he IS a Baron. Also I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Mordo).

Unfortunately for Mordo, he doesn't get much of a chance to enjoy having a new Evil Wizard Buddy, since Dormammu is the kind of Magic God who plays favorites, doesn't see the benefit of having *two* disciples, and happily acknowledges that one of the two guys in his corner is vastly more powerful than the other; and he asks Strange to kill Mordo and take his power for his own.

And this is a Bad Dr. Strange, so he does so and becomes the sole mortal inheritor of the power of Dormammu.

At this point, two things happen; first The Ancient One realizes that Dormammus new disciple is the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen, so he's going to enact a contingency plan: gather up every Good Wizard and Witch on the planet and hope that their combined power can overcome Strange and Dormammu (a plan he has even less hope of succeeding than his original "Do Nothing and Hope Steven Strange decides to become a paragon of Light Magic for no reason" plan.)

That's not me editorializing, that's literally what his plan was.

The SECOND thing, is that Dormammus sister; Umar the Unspeakable (twice as powerful, twice as dangerous, but cursed into a human body that greatly reduces her abilities) wakes up to learn her brother has a new champion and concocts a plan to seduce Steven to turn him against Dormammu with the hope that they'll kill each other and she can reclaim the throne of the Dark Dimension herself. This plan is repeatedly mentioned, but nothing ever comes of it, leading me to assume that the writer thought this was going to be a multi-part story.

Anyway; Dormammu doesn't see any good reason to sit on propriety; and decides to have his champion attack the Ancient One and the Sanctum Sanctorum then and there with the aide of a bunch of spooky ghosts; and Strange comes in hot; discovering the worlds greatest assembly of Good Wizards waiting there to ambush him (other than Dr. Druid and Agatha Harkness, I did not recognize any of them).

And they really shouldn't have bothered; since Stranges chaos-magic slices through their defenses like a hot knife through open air, disrupting the ritual that was their one hail-mary to stop Strange; channeling all their power into the Ancient Ones talisman; Eye of Agamotto and letting it open a gateway that would send Strange directly to the feet of Eternity itself; letting the most powerful cosmic being in existence obliterate him.

Anyway, because of Stranges disruption, the spell was what you might call a mitigated success; Strange does indeed confront Eternity (with an excellent reveal; Strange in a empty dark void, chasing a single point of light, then the camera pulls out and shows that he's just a speck in front of Eternitys body, completely bemused) but it also backfires and casts a few of the wizards into the endless void outside the universe; so they definitely won't have enough magical oomph to try it again.

Anyway, Eternity metaphysically flicks his finger and casts Strange right back into his usual reality, with a "Get outa here, ya crazy kid", and he lands back in Mordo Castle. And, as you might expect from Strange at this point of the story, and the life he's lead; he immediately swears revenge on Eternity, and figures if he was just a little bit stronger, he could definitely take on the Embodiment of Everything That Is, Was And Ever Shall Be. And Dormammu tries to talk him down from this because while, yes, Attacking and Dethroning God is the ultimate objective here, Strange couldn't successfully kill one lousy wizard who so old his first name is literally "Ancient". So maybe work on jumping over one hurdle before you head to the Olympics.

But Strange ain't hearing none of that, especially when the Eye of Agamotto suddenly appears around his neck; leading him to assume his attack scared the Ancient One so badly that he offered up the most powerful magical relic in existence as a peace offering; and Dormammu can't really dispute him; the Eye was instrumental to his plan to kill Eternity, and killing the Ancient One was just the simplest way to get the Eye.

So casting the same spell he saw the Wizard Circle casting before (just far more successfully because Strange is just that powerful, especially with Dormammu helping him) he and the Dark Lord confront Eternity in his own realm outside the cosmos; where Dormammu reveals why he needed Stranges on hand when he set out to attack Eternity; Strange wasn't intended to *help* his lord and master, so much as act like a human shield; the Eye of Agamotto around his neck would protect Strange (and by extension, Dormammu) from Eternitys power, while strengthening the Chaos Magic Dormmy channeled through it.

Needless to say, Strange *really* doesn't like this plan, but he's also a pawn in a game played by two beings so powerful that they'd be insulted if you called them Gods, so he doesn't get a vote.

Luckily for... umm... all of existence and everything that lives within it, as in the 616 Universe, Dormammu really overestimates how powerful he is compared to Eternity, even with the Eye boosting his power so he just can't make any headway. And Eternity, I guess doesn't have a lot going on in his day-to-day so he's just letting the fight continue. And Steven comes to realize that the Eye of Agamotto isn't restricted to opening a pathway to Eternitys Domain, or amplifying magical power; it's real power comes from its ability to shine The Light of Truth when it's activated, and through that, he comes to realize that Dormammu never had any intention of letting him rule all of existence alongside anyone; he was content to kill Strange the instant this fight was over regardless of the outcome; and The Ancient One gave him the amulet hoping he would see this for himself.

Strange feels like a real turkey for trusting a giant fiery-headed demon wizard who kept talking about taking mortal slaves who prides himself with being THE RULER OF THE DARK DIMENSION, and decides to turn against Dormammu; which is about all it takes for the the fight to not even show any semblance of being remotely fair, and Dormammu is annihilated by Eternity, and Strange is returned to Earth.

Strange returns to the Sanctum Sanctorum, and apologizes to The Ancient One for umm... the very near miss on the apocalypse, and for selling his soul to evil and killing a few wizards (he doesn't comment on the hospital patients, and Mordo was kind of a lost cause anyway) and decides to dedicate himself to being a GOOD Wizard from now on; which should be easy since the main Dr. Strange villains are now dead.

BUT DID IT HAPPEN!?!?!
More or less; there's been plenty of stories where Strange was forced into an uneasy alliance with Dormammu (presently, Dormammus son, Doyle, is a student at Stranges wizard-school, in fact), and there's also been a number of Dr. Strange stories where he's found himself plainly on the Bad Guy team for some perceived greater good. Guy was even the head of his own apocalypse cult tearing universes asunder in the lead-up to Secret Wars, which is more than Dormammu ever managed; that guy can barely keep a lid on ONE dimension

NEXT TIME: Wealth and Fame? He's Adored!
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)

Written by Peter Gillis, Art by Pat Broderick, Inks by Mike Esposito. Everyone else is hard to say

Despite that ominous tagline on the cover, this is another lighthearted, goofy story. so far, the series is not living up to its “Therefor, everyone dies” reputation. It’s also about Spider-Man setting up an in-universe MCU, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Uatu gets to save some effort this month, as Spider-Man is doing what he does best; recapping his own origin and the cruel irony that the one criminal he neglected to stop wound up killing his own uncle, and saying how different his life would have gone if he hadn’t learned that with great power (and so on)

At which point Uatu says “Let’s find out, shall we?” And we cut back to that fateful day and this time Spidey Does bother to stop the burglar before he can escape. This is less inspired by a love of Justice or a dislike of armed robbers, and more because he figures that an aspiring tv fixture and professional wrestler could do well with a bit of free publicity, which he receives in spades, courtesy of The Daily... Globe.

The Daily Globe, thoroughly scooping the Daily Bugle, and completely beating J Jonah Jameson to the punch for all the HOT CELEBRITY GOSSIP.

I have never been clear if the Bugle is supposed to be a tabloid or a regular newspaper, and I suspect that this is because Stan Lee wasn't sure either, and everyone else had to run with it, but either, for the sake of this story, JJJ has been thoroughly snubbed and he is NOT the kind of guy to let things go; and he decides to personally blame Spider-Man for... another Newspaper being more receptive to celebrity news.

It's a multiversal constant across all dimensions and timelines; Jonah just hates Spider-Man.

As for Spidey, he's riding high off this newfound surge of fame, and leverages it into more and more lucrative TV appearances; becoming such a regular guest on The Tonight Show that he's given the guest fill-in spot for Johnny Carson and ultimately given film roles after proving to hotshot movie producers that he genuinely has spider-powers, and isn't just an acrobatic guy in brightly coloured jammies.

All this fame, predictably, goes right to Peters head, and he immediately becomes just completely intolerably smug to his friends and family, and starts bullying Flash Thompson for being a podunk do-nothing who peaked in high school (he's still in high school, and later would become a decorated war vet, and Guardian of the Galaxy, so this is doubly unfair) and moves out of his Aunt and Uncles house when Ben admonishes him for using his incredible power for fame and glory instead of doing the responsible thing like being a vigilante crime fighter with a compulsive hero complex, after he reveals his true identity to them.

Petes got stars in his eyes, though and is focusing on the meteoric rise of his acting career; so meteoric that news that he's going from actor to director is shocking enough that it pre-empts the televised funeral of J. Jonah Jamesons son, John, the astronaut who was one of the first people Spider-Man saved after becoming a super-hero. Jonah is inconsolable at the death of his only son, who he deems a true hero and not a vainglorious publicity hound like Spider-Man who apparently everyone ELSE is quick to praise.

Anyway, as a film director, and following the success of his own biopic (starring Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando) Spidey the idea to start buying up the likeness and film rights to OTHER super-heroes and start his own little cinematic universe, and even his own comic book company so people can read about his exploits on the off months where there ISN'T a superhero movie in theaters (he insists his own book should come out twice a month, to show off how spectacularly amazing he is, which got an appreciative smile from me); meanwhile, the Daily Bugle falls farther and farther into ruin as they can't compete with the exclusive contracts Spidey has signed with every other newspaper and magazine, and Superhero Movies and TV are all anyone wants to consume.

As Jonah slides closer to financial ruin, he starts resorting to progressively more yellow journalism and even outright crimes; starting with engineering a public protest against Spider-Man for how dangerously imitable his behavior is for kids, to the fact that some of his recent signees are straight up wanted criminals (Daredevil is a vigilante), and when that fails he just straight up doxes Peter Parker. Pete fires back by 1) saying that he has super powers so, by definition, kids can't imitate him and shouldn't try, 2) Daredevil is a hired bodyguard for him and the police never actually wanted him and 3) The public doesn't really really *care* that Spider-Man is Peter Parker.

Furthermore, in his investigation, Peter realizes that a good chunk of the reporting staff of the Bugle are themselves major criminal figures (this happens... a lot in Spider-Man comics) and soon the police arrest... like... his entire bullpen and Jonah is out of a job and flat broke. Out of options, he visits Frederick Foswell (one of the aforesaid arrested reporters, alias The Bigman of Crime) and the two of them concoct a revenge plan against Spider-Man, the feds couldn't find all of Freds resources and contacts when they arrested him, and he'll give them to Jonah as long as he promises to use them to kill Peter Parker.

Pete, for his part, is blithely ignorant of this, even when one of his personal trainers (actually Kraven the Hunter) attempts to murder him with a poisoned knife; and Daredevil tries to save him form it. It's honestly not clear if Kraven was one of the assassins Jonah hired, of if Peter paid extra for some especially strenuous personal training and didn't mention it to his bodyguard. Not is it very clear when one of the special effects in Petes latest movie shoot winds up being more dangerous than expected and nearly electrocutes him if that was another attempt on his life or just a genuine accident.

Story kind of takes a bit of a different vibe than intended just a week or so after that whole Alec Baldwin thing.

Anyway, the repeated near deaths of Peter Parker have Daredevil on edge (he doesn't LIKE Pete, but that doesn't mean he's content to let him be murdered in front of him, especially when he's on the clock) and he's soon following him everywhere. And the attempts on his life become a lot less ambiguous when he's in a meeting pitching the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he discovers that all the Hollywood Agents are *phonies*!

Err... in the sense that they're all supervillains in disguise, not the usual Hollywood Agent kind of way; it's the Sinister Six! Lead by a mysterious robed guy who *really* hates Spider-Man!

So of course a fight breaks out, and Daredevil fights on behalf of Spidey (who admittedly does do his own stunts, but isn't really a superhero in this timeline), but seeing ol' Matt Murdock getting... all the way killed by a bunch of supervillains who really just want to kill *him* causes a change in Petes cold film-producing heart and he surprises everyone by jumping into the fray and successfully beating the already pretty beaten-up Sinister Six (while still giving scripting notes about how long the fights going, and that the audience will lose interest if a scene is too protracted).

Mysterio also admits that he was responsible for the near electrocution thing, because he was frustrated at how much Spidey has to micromanage every scene; imagine how much worse Stanley Kubrick would have been if he could also lift a Volkswagen over his head.

Anyway, the Sinister Six are defeated, and their cloaked leader is unmasked to reveal J. Jonah Jameson; which feels like its far less of a reveal than it was intended to be since... who else was it going to be? Jonah explains that it's a heroes job to save people, and all Spider-Man has done is get rich and famous and wreck peoples lives so he's clearly the villain of this story and... is then hauled off the jail while Spider-Man resumes being a superhero action movie star, but presumable his movies are going to get more morose and introspective after this point.

BUT DID IT HAPPEN?!?!?
More or less; setting aside the fact that because of Spider-Verse every alternate version of Spidey is canon (and more than a couple are cited as being actors famous for playing Spider-Man), there's been many stories about Spidey being lured to Hollywood as part of a convoluted plan to kill him on set is the plot of a great many stories over the years, and JJs Sinister Six outfit, and the fact that he's a mysterious death-like figure obsessed with the fact that Spider-Man ruined his life is fairly similar to Kindred, the big villain of Nick Spencers Spidey-run.

I'm still getting caught up on that, so no spoilers, please.

NEXT TIME: Rick Jones Resumes being The Most Important Human Being
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
In the '90s cartoon, Spidey teamed up with alternate universe versions of himself, one of whom was an overconfident billionaire in silver armour. As it turns out, that version's Uncle Ben never died, either. I dunno if that counts as him "never becoming a crimefighter" so much as "becoming an arrogant Tony Starkesque superhero".
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
Been a hot minute since I watched Spider-Man TAS, but wasn’t one of them also an actor who never did a day of crime fighting in his life?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I think so. And then our Spider-Man met Stan Lee and then we never actually got to see him save Mary Jane. Then Spider-Man Unlimited.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
Which I recall as being more of an adaptation of Man-Wolf starring a handful of Spider-Man characters, instead of overt biblical allusions
 
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