The Essence of What If?

WHAT IF? #45, Marvel Comics, June 1984
I'll see if I get rewarded or punished for it, but I just got my first issue of What If since I abandoned the 2nd series somewhere around its Wolverine explosion. It's a Secret Wars tie-in which explains that. Let you know how it was.

My first issue of What If was actually #45 of the first series, "What if the Hulk went berserk?", which prompted me to get most of the back issues. Doesn't sound like a What If though. Sounds more like something that happened EVERY DAMN ISSUE OF THE HULK! But despite this pleonastic title and the misleading dancing Hulk in the corner of the cover, the story should actually be called "What if Bruce Banner was seconds slower reaching Rick Jones at ground zero of that durn Gamma bomb?" Not as sexy, I know.

(Speaking of sexy: Give it up for my main man Bill Sienkiewicz who rocked those last few covers on the old What If series!)

But that's usually the way What Ifs were designed. The real change in history was always some tiny, tiny thing, but it changed everything. And admittedly, 90% of all What Ifs either changed nothing at all in the long run (if you escaped death, you were still going to die somehow, for example) or killed an inordinate amount of Marvel's most important characters (What If #45 falls in that category). I guess the lesson is: The Marvel Universe is perfect as it is. (Yeah, ok, tell that to Gwen Stacy and Uncle Ben.)

Though What If #45 is basically a big slugfest between the Hulk and all the early Marvel heroes who could drive a car (Spider-Man ain't thumbing out to Arizona in this one), there's a little more than that here. The real turning point is that, having been caught in the explosion with Banner, Rick Jones got two things out of the explosion: 1) a mind link with the Hulk and 2) radiation poisoning (I know, unheard of in a comic).

So you've got your dying Rick that can talk to the Hulk in his mind, and the Hulk that can feel Rick's pain in his. That might've been a reasonable way to run the old Hulk series actually. Good deal! But in this story, it's what prevents the Hulk from ever resting. It starts out like a normal Hulk script: He turns green, soldiers make him angry, he destroys a helicopter, then a jeep, then a tank, then a missile silo, and so on. The difference is that the army notices his connection to Rick and start torturing the poor boy just as he was calming the Hulk down mentally. Poor Rick, from the look of it, they make him watch The Spirit and Catwoman back to back. That only makes the Hulk angrier.
Oh no, wait, he's dead. Well, that's when the Hulk loses it and does his best impression of the Mask:
Seriously, he actually FELT Rick's death and now instead of screaming "Hulk smash!" and other beloved Hulk dialogue, he's all about "Kill Ross!" (Referring of course to General Thunderbolt Ross, who is actually more sympathetic when the shit hits the fan here than in any "real world" appearance I've read.) After having ICBMs thrown at his helicopter, he finally calls in the superheroes.

To the Hulk, they're all Ross. And since it's a What If, he has the chance to kill 'em all. The Fantastic Four? Now the Fantastic Two. Iron Man? Dead (can't believe they call anything about his armor "relatively delicate", but this is a Hulk comic). Thor? Loses his hammer in the fight, and back in those days, that meant he had 60 seconds before he became frail Dr. Don Blake and 61 seconds before he became a greasy red crust under the Hulk's fingernails.

With no choice, Thor snaps the Hulk's neck about a second before he loses godly form, gets the hammer back and FRICKIN GIVES BRUCE BANNER AN IMPROMPTU VIKING FUNERAL!
That's really the essence of What If... The title character's corpse being incinerated in the last panel of the story. If you can't tell from this review why this is a good thing, I shall just have to pity you.


The Mutt said...

What If the Hulk watched a Friends marathon?

rob! said...

I loved this issue, because it felt like Marvel just said "The hell with it, let's just have a story where the Hulk kills everybody and then he dies at the end!"

Nik said...

This was one of the first What Ifs I read too, and a real mindblower. The part where Thor just SNAPS HULK'S NECK -- when you're a kid, that's like a major holyshite moment. Hardcore Thunder God action! Still one of the better What Ifs I've read too.

Siskoid said...

What If the Hulk watched a Friends marathon?

Since he totally identifies with Ross, each season finale brings on the RAGE.

Anonymous said...

The ratings images are just fine to me.

Rob!:"I loved this issue, because it felt like Marvel just said "The hell with it, let's just have a story where the Hulk kills everybody and then he dies at the end!"

And that's what I like about the good What If? stories. You can pretty much do anything you want to the characters, no matter how bizarre, and kill anybody.

(Am I hoping too much hoping that everything starting at Civil War is just one big what if?

Siskoid said...

Actually, a lot of What Ifs eventually came true!

What if Spider-Man's clone had lived?
What if the Hulk became a barbarian?
What if the Thing continued to mutate?
What if Spider-Man hadn't married Mary Jane?
What if Phoenix rose again?
What if the Punisher became Captain America?

You can see where Marvel writers got some of their ideas.

Anonymous said...

why use torture weve got truth syrum


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