What If... Someone Else Had Been Bitten by the Radioactive Spider?

This issue tells not one story, but three, saving the series the trouble of doing a What If ______ got Spider-Man's powers? story every few months. All the same premise, but passing the radioactive spider around like it's head lice. The three tales are actually:
(a) What if Flash Thompson had been bitten by the radioactive spider?
(b) What if Betty Brant had been bitten by the radioactive spider?
(c) What if John Jameson had been bitten by the radioactive spider?
And I'll be using those three ellipsed letters throughout this post to differentiate between the alternate histories.

What If Vol.1 #7 (February 1978)
Based on: Amazing Fantasy #15
The true history: You all know it... Young Peter Parker goes to a science exhibit where a spider gets a powerful dose of radioactivity and then immediately bites him. He gets spidey-powers and so it goes.
Turning point: (a) What if Flash Thompson had followed Peter Parker to the science exhibit? (b) What if J.Jonah Jameson was friends with the scientist conducting the radioactivity experiment? (c) What if astronaut John Jameson once worked with the scientist conducting the experiment?
Story type: Multiple choice.
Watcher's mood: Off the reservation.
Altered history: (a) Flash follows Peter to, y'know, bully him some more, and stands right under the famous spider, gets bitten and discovers soon that night that he has the proportional strength of a spider. (Consolation prize for Pete: The dead husk of the spider, which might make an interesting science paper.) Flash tries to beat the wrestler Crusher Hogan like Peter did in our world, but does so too aggressively and kills him. A fugitive from the law, he finds a costume and mask and tries to make amends by fighting crime as Captain Spider!
Unfortunately, his run ends as soon as he meets the Vulture (Captain Spider #2, we presume). Relying almost exclusively on his strength, and not having developped web-shooters, he's woefully ill-equipped to handle a flying adversary. He's dropped to his death and discovered by his greatest fan, Peter Parker.

(b) JJJ's interest in the science experiment puts his secretary Betty Brant on the scene. She gets bit and almost faints, prompting Peter Parker to take her out for coffee. That's where he notices her budding powers, helps her test them and comes upon a scheme to turn her into a superhero he can take pictures of to generate income for both of them. The Amazing Spider-Girl is born!
Some costume choices are just wrong, in my opinion. She and Peter become an item, and JJJ, predictably, brands her a menace. One day, she fails to stop a thief running with the "payroll" because her web-shooter fizzles out and she refuses to use her strength for fear of hurting someone. Like on our world, the thief kills Uncle Ben and Spider-Girl goes after him. When she realizes it's all her fault, she quits the game, and Amazing Spider-Girl #50 happens before even #1 can come out.
At least Peter didn't hold it against her.

(c) JJJ's son gets bitten and they soon notice back at the space program that he's gotten pretty strong. His father convinces him to quite NASA and become a superhero. Armed with a jetpack donated by the space boys, a Daily Bugle-fueled public relations campaign and a costume designed by JJJ, John becomes Spider Jameson!
Meanwhile, Peter Parker's lucky if he can be hired to take pictures of John's success. One day, a space capsule falls off course and Spider Jamison tries to save the pilot. His plan proves he probably didn't have the mental chops to be an A-list superhero:
WHAT. Well, he's dead. Jonah puts up a statue in the park to serve as inspiration to young kids like Pete, and swears to use the Bugle to sing the praises of all superheroes, even the freaky ones. So another world without Spider-Man?

Not so! Because if the Watcher has a point, it's this. In (a), (b) and (c) alike, Peter managed to give HIMSELF spider-powers using his consolation prize and the inspiration of each false spider-start. And hey, Uncle Ben is even alive in a couple of those worlds.
Books canceled as a result: Well there was little chance of titles named after Captain Spider, Spider Jameson, or even Spider-Girl surviving for very long in the nascent Marvel Universe, so think of them as abortive series - like the original (gray) Hulk - retooled as Spider-Man after no more than a year.
These things happen: While there was a Spider-Girl comic, it's based on a whole other What If. None of these characters ever had the spider-powers, though Flash would have wanted them, and Jameson got others entirely. Flash DID impersonate Spider-Man once, which deserves mention, I suppose.

So what did we learn? That Peter Parker was karmically the best and only choice to be Spider-Man? You're preaching to the choir, new regular writer Don Glut! No, what I really learned was that artist Rick Hoberg is terrible at designing costumes. I've seen better in random Dial H stories!

8 comments:

Sea-of-Green said...

OMG! Spider Jameson! That ... OMG, just the IDEA of that is so frickin' hilarious! :-D

Anonymous said...

Well, it also shows us that if one gets Spider based superhuman abilities, one should always invent webshooters.

I know I'm taking that advice to heart.

Nik said...

Brrr, that "Spider Betty" costume always kind of freaked me out. It was like, sexy but in a very WRONG kind of way. I feel dirty.

Anonymous said...

A more recent What If series also had Flash bitten by the spider, but instead he forces and tricks Peter into helping him become a super*villain*. Ben lives, but MJ gets killed. (Quesada rejoices!) Pete ends up creating a spidery exo-suit (with Reed's help), Flash's powers are removed, and Pete becomes a super hero anyway.

Not a bad story more or less.

Jack Norris said...

The thing that I found funny about this as a kid was the stretches they made to avoid having the male alternates use the most obvious name.
"Spider-Man" is such a no-brainer that I found it hard to believe that even a tool like Flash Thompson would have come up with "Captain Spider" first.
Only in a world where you're afraid of being sued by Marvel would a guy with spider powers choose anything but "Spider-Man."
I also remember this issue as the one where the "everything ends up the same eventually" What If story subcategory became really obvious to me.

Anonymous said...

I think it's the mask that makes the "Spider-Betty" outfit look so bad. The combination of the full-head mask, a female body, and the exposed-skin costume makes it look like her head is gigantic.

Siskoid said...

To me, it looks like they just grafted Spider-Man's head on a female body. Makes me a little queasy.

And yet, I don't feel that about the actual Spider-Girl.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't help that Betty's got Peter's armpit webs with exposed arms. Looks like she hasn't had a shower, or at least she hasn't run a Lady Speed Stick under her arms in god knows how long.

 

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