, sometimes rendered as
, is the title of several
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
. The observer of events transpiring on
from his base on the moon
, Uatu, a member of an immortal race of Watchers
, is also able to observe what
transpires in alternate
. 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
comic book in which Uatu was punished for destroying
, 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.
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
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
circa 1980 saw the hero being offered the opportunity to run for
President of the United
as a third-party candidate. In the end, he declined the
invitation. Nevertheless, issue #26 of What If
if Captain America became President?
") showed him accepting
the nomination, and ultimately winning the 1980 Presidential
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
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
submits to a lobotomy that removes her powers. In the
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
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
, Jack Kirby
, Flo Steinberg
, and Sol
— had been given the powers and abilities of the
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
The title's letter page
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?"
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
" 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
") and allowing the
reader to decide for himself or herself which one "should" have
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
universes, eventually ending up in the New Universe
, where Quasar receives the
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
" 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
" 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 Bendis
— What if
Karen Page Had Lived?
If Jessica Jones Had Joined the
— 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
It follows an altogether different course of events in
the 2005 incarnation.
A parody by Marvel, What, Huh?!?
was published in August
Another series of six one-shots was released cover-dated February
2006, but these more closely resembled their DC Comics
. 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 Union instead of the United States).
All but one of these new What If...?
this approach, focusing on different time periods within the shared
universe of Earth-717
diverged during the feudal Japan era with the emergence of a
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
being raised by his
father on the surface during World War
becoming a herald
and a Russian version of
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
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
, Spider-Man: The Other
Wolverine: Enemy of the
, and X-Men:
. They were later gathered in a trade
paperback entitled What If: Event Horizon
What If?: Planet
was the first announced title for 2007 and was
released in October. It was followed in November by What If?:
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...?
What If: This Was The Fantastic
, featuring Spider-Man
, Ghost Rider
, 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
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
Son: The Death of Captain America
, House of M
, Spider-Man: Back in
, Secret Wars
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
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
series, World War Hulk
and Secret Invasion
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.
Marvel has given several What If?
numerical designations as continuities within the Marvel Comics Multiverse
differentiating them from the main Marvel Universe
- 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.
- What If What If This was the Fantastic Four? (June
- What If Vol. 7 (five #1 issues, December 2008)
- What If Vol. 8 (five #1 issues, December 2009)
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)
- Asking the Big Questions: Gabrie asks "What
If?", Comic Book Resources, January 9,
- Marvel Previews for October 2007 - Marvel.com
- Newsarama.Com: New Green Friday: A New Joe Fridays'
- George, Richard and Schedeen, Jesse. "What If? Returns in 2008," (June 28, 2000.) Accessed
Sept. 24, 2008.