4 Impressively Dumb 'What If' Stories That Marvel Actually Printed
The Marvel Multiverse is a massive tapestry of realities stretching across an endless number of possibilities ... and some of those possibilities are just dumb as hell. Seriously, some of the alternate Marvel timelines out there make that "What if Thor was a party bro?" episode look like a Christopher Nolan movie …
"What If Conan The Barbarian Lived In The Present ... And Became A Pimp?"
One of Marvel's earliest What If issues was about Conan the Barbarian being transported to the present day of 1979 by a wizard, romancing a New York City cabbie, and being zapped back to his time period by a lightning bolt. The issue was so beloved by fans that it warranted a What If variation of its own, imagining what would have happened if Conan was permanently stuck in the 20th century. Right off the bat, the comic lets you know the answer is gonna be bonkers by having Conan point a gun at you on the cover.
While the previous story was mostly about Conan heroically defending his cabbie girlfriend, he starts this one off by mugging some people, figuring out how to deal coke shockingly fast, and joining a criminal gang. By the time he gets around to seeing his girlfriend again, he's wearing a pimp suit and has a pet leopard ... which doesn't appear again for the rest of the story, so he probably bought it just for this date. Somehow, the cabbie isn't impressed by his slick new persona, and she, too, disappears from the comic. He bought the leopard for nothing!
Next, Conan decides to form his own gang, so he goes to an all-Black gym and beats up the biggest guy there. This causes all of the Black people in the immediate vicinity to enthusiastically pledge their allegiance to Conan, specifically because of his "scorn for civilized ways," and they decide to call themselves "the Barbarians." It's not Marvel's finest moment, and let's leave it at that.
While Conan's new gang is robbing a museum, one of the clumsier Barbarians triggers an alarm, and Captain America himself comes to tell them that stealing is bad. So Conan stabs his ass.
Cap comes away thinking that the gang leader who tried to kill him looked like an honorable person and actually invites Conan to call the Avengers about a job one of these days. The comic ends with the Watcher saying he might show us Conan joining the Avengers in a future issue, but he never did, probably because he had even dumber stories to tell. Like ...
"What If A Crazy Person Killed And Ate Spider-Man?"
"Kraven's Last Hunt" is one of those comics that shows up in every "Greatest Spider-Man Stories Ever" list, often at the very top. It's about Kraven the Hunter finally getting his wish and defeating Spider-Man, which causes him to re-examine his life's purpose, and … well, it gets pretty dark. This 1990 What If issue asks the question: "What if this acclaimed comic was hilariously bad instead and went more off the rails every two pages?"
In this version, Spidey dies literally on page two after Kraven shoots him with real bullets instead of tranquilizer darts. After that, Kraven's next logical step is to eat fistfuls of spiders to become a spider. In the original comic, a similar scene is rendered incredibly creepy by the atmospheric artwork and introspective narration. Here, it's just a naked guy eating spiders.
Next, Kraven puts on Spider-Man's old black duds and goes around beating people up while yelling, "I am the spider!" and "I consume the spider!" Something tells the other superheroes that this might not be the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man they know and love, so they try to confront Kraven, and he starts beating them up too.
But, while fighting Captain America, Kraven decides that he still isn't spider-esque enough, so he goes back to the place where he buried Spider-Man's body and starts eating his face. In the literal sense, not the romantic one.
Kraven ends up institutionalized, and then there's a touching scene where Spider-Man's wife, Mary Jane, tells Aunt May that her nephew was a hero beloved by millions -- at which point May freaks the eff out, calls MJ a lying skank, and kicks her out of her house while screaming.
To be fair, the last thing Aunt May heard about Spider-Man was that he was terrorizing pedestrians while raving about his bug-eating habits. In an effort to repair her husband's reputation, Mary Jane calls a press conference to reveal that Peter Parker was Spider-Man and try to clear up the whole Kraven thing, and some heroes show up for moral support ... but that just makes things worse. J. Jonah Jameson, who had his leg broken by Spider-Kraven, interrupts the conference and starts hitting the Human Torch with his crutches. A photographer catches the moment when the Torch tries to defend himself from Jameson's abuse, and the resulting photo convinces America that superheroes must be outlawed.
Soon, all superheroic activity is declared illegal, and the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are forced to break up -- meaning that the Earth will definitely get eaten by Galactus the next time he's around. All because Kraven loaded real bullets instead of tranq darts into his gun one morning and was probably too ashamed to admit the mistake. Hey, speaking of Galactus ...
"What If Galactus Had A Disco-Dancing Herald, And They Fell In Love?"
Dazzler is a Marvel character created for the specific purpose of tying into a Bo Derek movie that never happened, so her very existence is the result of a ridiculous "What If" scenario. For a while in the '80s, Marvel tried to jam this disco-loving mutant into a bunch of other comics to build up #brand #synergy, and that included an issue of What If. In it, Galactus forces Dazzler to become his new herald under the threat of eating her family and friends, along with our whole planet. As you've probably guessed by now, this is the beginning of a beautiful romance.
Dazzler has no choice but to put on a pair of cosmic rollerskates and begin her quest to find worlds for Galactus to eat, all of this while singing a song that, we're told, "is somehow audible even in the great vacuum of space" (to the despair of any alien out there who isn't into '80s pop).
Dazzler does her best to steer "The Big G," as he calls him, away from populated planets, but one day she accidentally leads him to one inhabited by sentient plants. As she weeps for the plant people, Galactus' instruments suddenly determine that this planet isn't edible after all. In reality, he fudged the planet's readings because Dazzler has "touched his heart" and he knows genocide kinda bums her out.
But then, when a fleet of survivors from Galactus' indiscriminate people-eating days ambush Dazzler and shoot at her, Galactus slaughters the whole lot for daring to touch his beloved. Even though they attacked her, Dazzler cries for the dead aliens and tells Galactus he's still the same old meanie as always. Clearly hurt that she didn't appreciate his romantic gesture, Galactus fires her from heralding and tells her she's free to go back to her backwater planet.
Dazzler does so, gladly ... only to find out that it's been hundreds of years since she left Earth, and everyone is long dead now.
All of a sudden, Dazzler is like, "You know what, Big G isn't so bad," and reflects on how he CAN change, even though she just watched him murder hundreds of aliens for her. She feels like she has a responsibility to the mass murderer who kidnapped her for centuries and actually thinks to herself: "Truth to tell, after all this time, I need him too!" So she flies back to him, singing a song "of joy -- laced with sorrow" for her dead planet. Awww!
Wait, no, the opposite of awww. That's gotta be one of the most depressing and one of the silliest endings in any Marvel comic. Besides, we all know that if Galactus fell in love with one of his heralds, it would be this one:
"What If '90s Marvel Just Stopped Trying To Make What Ifs Any Good?"
One of the great things about the What If series is that, even when the Marvel Universe totally sucks, these stories can serve as an oasis isolated from the impenetrable continuity and endless interlocking crossovers. That's what Marvel could have done in the mid-to-late-'90s when the company was in its worst shape both in and outside the comics -- so, of course, they did the complete opposite. Hence, the mega-edgy What If revamp of 1996.
Oh, so X-Men comics have become an unreadable mess of bloated muscles and pointless ultra-violence? Let's make a What If issue where Wolverine is ultra-ultra-violent, and his bodily proportions hurt even more to look at.
Starting in '96, there was an intentional push to make the stories as adult as possible, and by "adult," we mean "a 15-year-old's idea of adult." One issue asks, "What if Bruce Banner was the real monster?" and it's mostly just Banner beating up his wife Betty accompanied by non-sequitur dialogue that might or might not be the result of a production error.
Later, Betty gets the courage to speak up about Bruce's abuse, so he tries to have her committed and ... actually does it, the end. The last panel is of a smiling Betty, seemingly unaware that she's about to be forced into a straitjacket. At least they added a little editorial note about how Marvel isn't saying you shouldn't speak up about domestic abuse or you'll end up in a padded room, don't worry.
A lot of issues from this godforsaken period are poor attempts at horror stories starring barely recognizable Marvel characters, like the one about Peter Parker slowly mutating into a giant spider monster instead of a wisecracking superhero. Somehow, he still managed to convince someone to have sex with him at some point and had a son, but the kid turned out to be a freak with creepy bug eyes ... and, worse yet, kind of an asshole.
One night, while struggling with his mutation, Peter crawls to the kitchen for a midnight snack and ends up eating part of the family dog, leaving the rest suspended on webs in the back yard. Then, to his horror, he sees that Junior did something similar to a school bully, and the PTA are all looking for him with baseball bats. Peter saves his kid from the mob, only to end up getting beaten to death in front of him.
The "feel good" ending for this issue shows the kid willingly going to the Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, like Peter always tried to convince him to do. We have to assume he shot up the place within a couple of years, though (hopefully, it was only with web fluid). So yeah, let's all hope Marvel Studios' What If gets canceled long before it reaches the Dork Age, and we have to sit through an adaption of one of these atrocities.
Top image: Marvel Comics