Five Great WHAT IF? Stories From The Original Series

What If? Classic: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 is out this week from Marvel Comics, and we’re counting down five of the series’ best stories.

For the uninitiated, the title of the series really says it all: what if things in the Marvel Universe had happened differently? At the start of each issue, The Watcher brings the reader back to a pivotal moment in Marvel lore. A slight alteration is made, and the audience gets to sit back and see how things could have played out differently with the change. These simple one-shot stories ranged from fun and silly to philosophical and thought-provoking, and were put together by some of Marvel’s biggest creators (including Jack Kirby, during his late-70s Marvel comeback).

what if? marvel comics

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So without further ado, let’s take a look at five of the best What If? stories you’ll be able to read in the new collection:

What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four? (What If? #1)

By Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, Pablo Marcos, Janice Cohen, & John Costanza
what if? spider-man marvel comics

The story that started it all. Remember way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1 when Peter Parker tried to join the Fantastic Four because he wanted a salary? (The FF don’t get paid for their superheroing, by the way.) This story shows what could have happened if the team accepted Spidey into their ranks. It’s a fun action story that perfectly introduces readers to the concept of alternate timelines. It also immediately shows how even a seemingly positive change can have tragic results, something that would become a theme of the series.

What if Jane Foster had found the hammer of Thor? (What If? #10)

By Don Glut, Rick Hoberg, Dave Hunt, Carl Gafford, & Carol Lay

what if? thor marvel comics

Well this sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Decades before Jason Aaron would put Mjolinir in the hands of Jane Foster, the idea was tackled by Don Glut and Rick Hoberg. This issue is especially interesting to read in light of Aaron’s current Thor run. Despite the large gap in publication dates, the two stories tackle a lot of the same issues, such as sexism, and how Odin, Asgardians, and other heroes react to a female Thor.

What if the original Marvel Bullpen had become the Fantastic Four? (What If? #11)

By Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, Bill Wray, & Carl Gafford

what if? marvel comics bullpen stan lee jack kirby

King Kirby himself wrote and drew this crazy story, where he became the Thing, Stan Lee was Mr. Fantastic, Flo Steinberg was the Invisible Woman, and Sol Brodsky was the Human Torch. This is a great read for so many reasons. First off, it’s Kirby, so you get the big, bombastic action that made him infamous. The comic also marked the first time in eight years that Jack had worked on a Fantastic Four comic, and the first time that he had written one himself (although, granted, it’s a very different team). It’s one of the last comics that the King worked on for the House of Ideas, and it’s a must-read for fans of the iconic artist.

What if the Hulk had the brain of Bruce Banner? (What If? #2)

By Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Tom Sutton, Glynis Wein, Joe Rosen, & Tom Orzechowski

what if? hulk marvel comics

One of the deeper issues of What If?. Hulk has always been a character that elicits philosophical discourse. His comics are all about the duality of man, and the monster that lives inside us. Roy Thomas and company take the time to ask what would happen if that monster had the brain, and therefore the logic and reason, of the man. The team explores how differently people would have treated Hulk if he had Banner’s brain, and again we’re left with a shocking ending that turns the positive premise of the story on its head. No spoilers here, but the Watcher’s closing words are a perfect summary of the series: “There is, perhaps, a cosmic scale somewhere — an inescapable balance which decrees: for every gain, there must be a loss.”

What if someone else besides Spider-Man had been bitten by the radioactive spider? (What If? #7)

By  Don Glut, Rick Hoburg, Sam Grainger, George Roussos, & Rick Parker

what if? spider-man spider-verse marvel comics

This is perhaps the original Spider-Verse story. We get three different stories packed into this issue, asking what could have happened if the radioactive spider had bitten Flash Thompson, Betty Brandy, and John Jameson, respectively. This is a fun read for Spider-Man fans, especially in the wake of all the recent Spider-Verse stories we’ve been getting, both in comics and film. The Flash Thompson one has actually been revisited recently as well, in the new What If? series from 2018.

Additional stories in the new Complete Collection include “What if Captain America had not vanished during World War II?” and “What if the Avengers fought evil in the 1950s?”

What’s your favorite What If? story? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @monkeys_robots!

Anthony Composto - EIC
Anthony Composto - EIC
Editor-in-Chief for Monkeys Fighting Robots. A lifelong fan of Spider-Man and the Mets, Anthony loves an underdog story. He earned his B.A. in English because of his love for words, and his MBA because of his need for cash. He considers comics to be The Great American Art Form, and loves horror movies, indie dramas, action/thrillers, and everything in between.