Friday, 18 January 2013

Omitted material: What If?

My first ever comic that headlined Spider-Man was none other than issue #31 of the second What If? series - "What If Spider-Man had not lost his cosmic powers?" Although I was unfamiliar with either the scenario or many of the villains (both the Hobgoblin and Venom were too new to have appeared in the Spider-Man cartoons up to then), it was nevertheless an enjoyable tale told in a single issue which managed to do something different with the character and also explained everything I needed to know about the basic situation.

Historians are traditionally wary of speculating in counterfactuals for a variety of reasons. But that doesn't mean the idea can't be fun. However with any ongoing fiction the most obvious "What If"s are also really the most boring - what if a different storyline was pursued, what if a particular writer or actor hadn't left, what if a series wasn't cancelled and so forth. Far more exciting are the stories that could (usually) never have been done at the time, such as discoveries, marriages, deaths and more that would have broken the rules of the regular continuity. DC pioneered this idea with their "Imaginary Stories" of the 1950s and 1960s. Marvel came later with What If? which was more rooted in specific continuity and (until the late 1990s at least) tended to take a specific point in history and go a different root. Most were narrated by the Watcher, the all powerful alien observer of our planet.

The first What If? series ran from 1976 until 1984 and each issue was longer than the standard Marvels of the day. At first the focus was primarily upon the early Silver Age but as time went on it broadened out. In recent years the run has been collected in a series of tradepaperbacks (although with some omissions, mainly due to rights issues) though noticeably not as Essentials but rather as more conventional colour volumes containing about six issues each. Still we can but hope that this means Marvel has the issues on file in a cleaned-up form ready for any future Essential release.

In the meantime, I'm going to take a look at some of the issues featuring Spider-Man. These posts will be irregular though.

Oh and I'm not the only one who's looked at early What If? issues. Every so often the blogger the Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk and reviews on of these old issues. His thoughts can be found at El Fresco: What If Wednesdays.

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