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What If, sometimes rendered as What If...?, is the title of several comic book series published by Marvel Comics, exploring "the road not traveled" by its various characters. Events in the series are considered separate from mainstream continuity in the Marvel Universe.

Uatu the Watcher

The stories in the initial 1977-1984 series featured the alien Uatu the Watcher as narrator. The observer of events transpiring on Earth from his base on the moon, Uatu, a member of an immortal race of Watchers, is also able to observe what transpires in alternate realities. Thus, What If stories usually began with Uatu briefly recapping a notable event in the mainstream Marvel Universe, then indicating a particular point of divergence in that event. He would then demonstrate, by way of looking into a parallel reality, what could have happened if events had taken a different course from that point.

The second What If series — which ran from 1989–2000 — adopted the format of its predecessor, with Uatu serving as series narrator and providing the historical context. However, due to events in the Fantastic Four comic book in which Uatu was punished for destroying another Watcher, he was phased out. The stories themselves began to take center stage, with no need for a framing device; Uatu's last appearance in this role was in vol. 2, issue #76.

With future series of What If, whether or not the Watcher appeared was decided upon by the writer, and many elected to have alternative narrators or none at all. Brian Bendis chose to use a version of himself in the 2005 What If issues of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and in the early 2006 series a hacker whose alias is 'The Watcher' online opens all six issues.

Publication history

Volume 1

The initial 47-issue series ran from February 1977 to October 1984. The first What If story, "What if Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four?", presented an alternate version of events seen in The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #1.

Some storylines involved individual characters choosing to take (or not to take) a particular action, when in "reality" they had made precisely the opposite decision. For example, a Captain America storyline published circa 1980 saw the hero being offered the opportunity to run for President of the United States as a third-party candidate. In the end, he declined the invitation. Nevertheless, issue #26 of What If ("What if Captain America became President?") showed him accepting the nomination, and ultimately winning the 1980 Presidential Election.

Due to their nature, stories presented in the What If format were allowed to break the rules of the characters' respective series that kept the status quo intact; major characters could be (and often were) killed off in the alternate realities, and many stories were based on the premise of a particular Marvel superhero, upon gaining/discovering his or her special abilities, choosing a life of crime instead. One issue used what had been the original plot for the conclusion of the Dark Phoenix saga in the X-Men, where instead of committing suicide Jean Grey submits to a lobotomy that removes her powers. In the What If version, though, Jean Grey is powerless to later prevent the death of Scott Summers; the resulting shock causing Dark Phoenix to be restored resulting in a Galactic cataclysm. However, not all What If stories were quite so serious in nature. Issue #11, for instance, offered a tongue-in-cheek view of what might have happened if members of the original Marvel Bullpen — specifically, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Flo Steinberg, and Sol Brodsky — had been given the powers and abilities of the Fantastic Four.

The series occasionally ran a backup feature, "Untold Tales From the Marvel Universe", depicting the development of some of Marvel's superhuman races such as the Eternals and the Inhumans.

Following the cancellation of the series, Marvel published a one-shot What if? Special (June 1988) with the story "What if Iron Man Had Been a Traitor?"

The title's letter page was dubbed "Why Not?", with the words used by an exasperated Uatu, already up to his eyes in letters, receiving another bag-full of mail from the postman. In later issues the letters page was titled "What Now?"

Volume 2

What If was revived for a 114-issue monthly series running from July 1989 to November 1998. The second series became notable for revisiting and revising ideas seen in earlier issues, often updating them for the times in the process. Additionally, stories could now span multiple issues (whereas before each "What If" had been self-contained), and sometimes multiple takes on the concept could be seen in the same issue, with at least one issue offering three possible endings to its story ("What If War Machine Had Not Destroyed the Living Laser?") and allowing the reader to decide for himself or herself which one "should" have happened.

There was also a subtle crossover with the Acts of Vengeance storyline: in the pages of Quasar, the hero pursued the Living Laser into the Watcher's lair on the moon, who then fled through Uatu's portal into other universes. The Laser had a brief appearance in that month's What If as a streak of light. (This storyline would later be followed up by one in which Uatu directs Quasar to track down the Living Laser through several What If universes, eventually ending up in the New Universe, where Quasar receives the Star Brand.)

By issue #87 the by-then-well-known convention of stating the actual point of divergence in the issue's title was dropped. Instead, each issue's cover was made to more closely resemble an issue from the actual series being featured, with only a "What If..." logo denoting its "alternate universe" status.

In one of the last issues of this run (#105), What If introduced the character of Spider-Girl. She proved popular enough to be spun off into her own series, which in turn spawned the MC2 line.

Volume 3

"What If" was revived again for six one-shot comics cover-dated February 2005 based, according to What If? editor Justin Gabrie, on a suggestion by C. B. Cebulski. Although several followed the traditional style of narration by the Watcher, two titles written by Brian Michael BendisWhat if Karen Page Had Lived? and What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? — replaced the Watcher as host with a representation of himself. Also, another story showed a conversation between a comic shop customer and worker, where the customer posed the question, "What if Aunt May had died instead of Uncle Ben?" This idea had been visited previously in the original What If...? series, though, under the title What if Uncle Ben had Lived? It follows an altogether different course of events in the 2005 incarnation.

A parody by Marvel, What, Huh?!? was published in August 2005.

Volume 4

Another series of six one-shots was released cover-dated February 2006, but these more closely resembled their DC Comics equivalent, Elseworlds. While traditionally, What If...? posed a specific question and told a story based on a divergence from regular continuity via a different outcome of a specific event, Elseworlds are usually simply new continuities that tell stories which are alternate versions of established characters based around the different time period or location the story is set in (for example, Superman: Red Son, in which Superman was raised in the Soviet Unionmarker instead of the United Statesmarker).

All but one of these new What If...? one-shots followed this approach, focusing on different time periods within the shared universe of Earth-717 which first diverged during the feudal Japan era with the emergence of a Daredevil hero known as The Devil Who Dares. The stories go through other historical eras and heroes, including Captain America battling "The White Skull" during the American Civil War, Wolverine taking the role of The Punisher and fighting mobsters in 1920s Chicago, Sub-Mariner being raised by his father on the surface during World War II, Thor becoming a herald of Galactus and a Russian version of Fantastic Four known as The Ultimate Federalist Freedom Fighters being a part of the Cold War.

All of these stories are portrayed as historical documents from an alternate dimension discovered by an entity known as The Watcher.

Volume 5

At the end of 2006 Marvel released five new one-off comics, this series focusing on alternate outcomes of major storylines, such as Age of Apocalypse, Avengers Disassembled, Spider-Man: The Other, Wolverine: Enemy of the State, and X-Men: Deadly Genesis. They were later gathered in a trade paperback entitled What If: Event Horizon.

Volume 6

What If?: Planet Hulk was the first announced title for 2007 and was released in October. It was followed in November by What If?: Annihilation. December saw two more What If? Specials for Civil War, and X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire. January 2008 saw the release of What If: Spider-Man vs Wolverine. These issues were later collected into a trade paperback titled "What If...? Civil War."

What If: This Was The Fantastic Four, featuring Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Hulk, was intended to be released in November but was cut short due to the passing of Mike Wieringo. It was eventually released as a tribute to the late author in June 2008 as a 48-page special, with all proceeds going to support the Hero Initiative.

Volume 7

Starting weekly in December 2008, five more What If specials were released, continuing the theme of alternatives for recent events coupled with classic ones. The ones announced were for Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, House of M, Spider-Man: Back in Black, Secret Wars & Infinity Gauntlet and the new Fantastic Four consisting of Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man and Wolverine. In addition a storyline featuring the Runaways as the Young Avengers ran throughout all five comics.

Volume 8

Starting in December of 2009 a new volume that will be released that will once again focus on three recent events in the Marvel Universe - in this case the House of M: Spider-Man mini series, World War Hulk and Secret Invasion, plus one for the Astonishing X-Men ongoing and a classic What If centred round Daredevil and Elektra. With the exception of the last one, each comic will feature two alternatives for the event as opposed to one.

Alternate Earths

Marvel has given several What If? stories official numerical designations as continuities within the Marvel Comics Multiverse, differentiating them from the main Marvel Universe of Earth-616.



  • What If Vol. 1, #1-47 (Feb. 1977 - Oct. 1984)
  • What If Special #1 (June 1988)
  • What If Vol. 2, #1-114 (July 1989 - Nov. 1998)
  • What If Vol. 3 (six #1 issues, Feb. 2005)
  • What If Vol. 4 (six #1 issues, Feb. 2006)
  • What If Vol. 5 (five #1 issues, Nov. 2006)
  • What If Vol. 6 (five #1 issues, Oct. 2007 - Jan. 2008)
  • What If What If This was the Fantastic Four? (June 2008)
  • What If Vol. 7 (five #1 issues, December 2008)
  • What If Vol. 8 (five #1 issues, December 2009)

Collected editions

A number of the stories have been collected into trade paperbacks:
  • What If? Classic:
    • Volume 1 (collects What If (vol. 1) #1-6, January 2005, ISBN 0-7851-1702-4)
    • Volume 2 (collects What If (vol. 1) #7-12, January 2006, ISBN 0-7851-1843-8)
    • Volume 3 (collects What If (vol. 1) #14-15, 17-20, January 2007, ISBN 0-7851-2081-5)
    • Volume 4 (collects What If (vol. 1) #21-26, December 2007, ISBN 0-7851-2738-0)
    • Volume 5 (collects What If (vol. 1) #27-32, January 2009, ISBN 0-7851-3086-1)
    • Volume 6 (collects What If (vol. 1) #33-38, December 2009, ISBN 0-7851-3753-X)
  • X-Men: Alterniverse Visions (collects What If (vol. 2) #40, #59, #62, #66 and #69, Boxtree, May 1996, ISBN 0752203428, Marvel Comics, August 1996, ISBN 0-7851-0194-2)
  • What If?: Why Not? (collects What If (vol. 3), March 2005, ISBN 0-7851-1593-5)
  • What If?: Mirror Mirror (collects What If (vol. 4), May 2006, ISBN 0-7851-1902-7)
  • What If?: Event Horizon (collects What If (vol. 5), July 2007, ISBN 0-7851-2183-8)
  • What If?: Civil War (collects What If (vol. 6), April 2008, ISBN 0-7851-3036-5)
  • What If?: Secret War (collects What If (vol. 7), April 2009, ISBN 0-7851-3341-0)

See also


  1. Asking the Big Questions: Gabrie asks "What If?", Comic Book Resources, January 9, 2008
  2. Marvel Previews for October 2007 - News
  3. Newsarama.Com: New Green Friday: A New Joe Fridays' Fill-In
  4. George, Richard and Schedeen, Jesse. "What If? Returns in 2008," (June 28, 2000.) Accessed Sept. 24, 2008.


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