Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Omitted material: What If? Classic volume 5

Another look at issues from the original What If? series.

#30: "What If Spider-Man's Clone Had Survived?", written by Bill Flanagan and drawn by Rich Buckler, & "Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe: Moving Day!", written by Peter Gllis and drawn by Ron Wilson, both reprinted in What If? Classic volume 5

Once again we have a non-alternate reality back-up story, telling more of the history of the Marvel Universe and presumably filling in continuity gaps, but frankly it takes up pages needlessly. But as for the main feature...

It's impossible to approach this story without remembering the second Clone Saga from the 1990s. The scenario is thus familiar - Spider-Man fights his clone in battle when an explosion detonates. Afterwards one Spider-Man awakes and assumes he's the real thing. He disposes of the other and heads off to resume his life. But in fact this is the clone.

But there's one major starting difference from the way the story was told in the 1990s. The clone's memories stop short, only lasting until a genetic sample was taken from Peter. Consequently he can only remember as far as the start of his college days and finds much has changed in his life and the world around him. Visually the clone is drawn to resemble the late Ditko era Peter, with Betty Leeds even commenting on his haircut. He tries to make his way through life but soon realises the three year gap in his knowledge will prove fatal, especially after an encounter with the Kingpin. Finally he releases the original from suspended animation and they take down the Kingpin and his thugs. Then back in Peter's apartment the clone considers leaving and taking on a new identity, but the original suggests they instead work together and take advantage of the double situation, agreeing to alternate in both roles to avoid missed classes and dates. "I get the bed -- you get the couch. I get Mary Jane you get Doc Ock!"

I forget how the later Clone Saga precisely covered the point about the clone's memories not going all the way up to the original's, but this take on events is more in line with the original storyline where Gwen Stacey's clone had a shortfall in her memories, shown most vividly by her ignorance of the unexpected change of President in the meantime. It's interesting to see contrast as a Peter Parker from circa Amazing Spider-Man #35 explores the world after issue #149 and discovers how much his relationships with those around him have changed. It's also clear just how difficult it is for him to fit into this newer world because of all the experiences he's missed. At best the clone can be a help to Peter and an alternate hero. This story pretty much showed why the second Clone Saga couldn't work, a decade and a half before it happened.

As a story in its own right, this one is somewhat tame and limited, showing just the first few days after the clone takes over, rather than the approach of several other stories that rush through a more lengthy series of events. The idea of the original and clone Peters timesharing sounds good but could easily lead to tensions, plus as the clone is explicitly established as being about three years younger they may not always be able to convince. The scenario would probably have ended in spinning the clone off to another pair of identities. It also takes the clone rather a long time to realise that he is the clone, especially when confronted with so much change and he keeps assuming he just has partial amnesia. (One minor continuity error is that Betty Brant and Ned Leeds's wedding has already taken place in this reality when in the regular continuity it was still a few issues away.) But on the plus side it shows Spider-Man's investigative skills as he works out ways to discover just where he lives without giving the game away. This isn't the strongest of What If?s but by keeping the scope modest it succeeds in presenting the stating point of a realistic scenario.

Other stories in the volume include:
  • #27: "The X-Men Ask: What If Phoenix Had Not Died?" & "Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe: Kree Encounter"
  • #28: "What If Daredevil Became an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.?", "What If Ghost Rider Were Separated from Johnny Blaze?" & "Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe: New Life"
  • #29: "What If the Avengers Defeated Everybody?", ""Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe: ...The Search for the Great Refuge!" & "What If Sub-Mariner Never Regained His Memory?"
  • #31: "What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?" & "What If the Fantastic Four Had Never Been?"
  • #32: "What If the Avengers Had Become Pawns Of Korvac?"
Issue #29 is a curiosity as it's an alternate take on an already distorted reality - the world where the Scarlet Centurion persuaded the original Avengers to neutralise all other super-powered beings in the world as seen in Avengers Annual #2. Spider-Man has a tiny cameo as one of the many defeated in the process. Issue #31's Fantastic Four story is based on the Thing angrily rejecting the others and rampaging through New York; the disruption caused results in Peter Parker never attending the famous demonstration and Donald Blake missing his flight to Norway; whilst Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are reassigned from bomb tests in the west and weapons work in the Far East respectively. The result is a world with far fewer heroes.

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