When credits finished rolling for Avengers: Endgame (2019), Marvel fans around the world wondered what sorts of stories the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would explore next. Theories flooded forum boards and Reddit pages by the thousands until Kevin Feige announced that Marvel Studios would produce a series of shows for Disney+. What If…? is one of those shows — one that wrapped up its first season in an appropriately epic fashion.
We’re not here to spoil What If…?‘s season finale, nor do we know what will happen next with this experimental series. We will say this; Marvel Comics has cooked up some crazy stories over the years. Big-name heroes like Spider-Man and Wolverine have had their morals flipped upside down. Major story arcs like Civil War and World War Hulk have received drastically different conclusions. Do you think Marvel Studios’ What If…? was a wild show? The following comics might make it look tame by comparison.
Vol. 1, Issue #39 – “What If Thor Battled Conan the Barbarian?”
Raise your hand if you knew that Conan the Barbarian is a Marvel Comics character. True, a writer by the name of Robert E. Howard invented Conan in 1932, but Marvel Comics began publishing comics about the character in 1970. That’s why Conan joined the Savage Avengers in 2019. That’s also why Shuman-Gorath, one of Conan’s foes, showed up in the Marvel vs. Capcom video game series. And that’s why King Conan has traded blows with the Mighty Thor.
Okay, the actual reasoning behind that matchup is a bit more sophisticated. Loki tricks Thor into traveling back in time to the Hyperborean age. Conan almost drops a boulder on Thor, prompting these two warriors to go head to head. What follows is a battle of strength, a test of wits, and an epic journey that’s certainly worthy of both characters.
Vol. 2, Issue #34 – “What If No One Was Watching the Watcher?”
With the What If…? series, Marvel Studios introduced viewers to a cavalcade of awesome characters; Captain Carter, Strange-Supreme, and Star-Lord T’Challa, to name a few. The show also formally introduced the Watcher — a character that Marvel fans had speculated and theorized about for years. Jeffrey Wright’s performance as the Watcher is simply immaculate; he’s staunch, stoic, resolute — everything that the Watcher isn’t in What If volume 2, Issue #34.
“What If No One Was Watching the Watcher?” is an incredibly lighthearted issue, despite what its name implies. Goofy, boundary-pushing scenes fill each and every panel. The Avengers play strip poker, Dr. Doom experiments on children, and a certain rockstar from Tupelo, Mississippi makes a cameo appearance. If all that sounds crazy, just wait until you see this issue’s cover.
Vol. 3, Issue #5 – “What If Professor X and Magneto Formed the X-Men Together?”
What If stories are fun because they aren’t bound by the status quo; Dr. Doom doesn’t have to be evil, Uncle Ben doesn’t have to perish, and Magneto and Professor X don’t have to be mortal enemies. What If volume 3, issue #5 imagines a world where the Master of Magnetism and Charles Xavier founded Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters together. The duo meet as children in this world and remain on good terms well into adulthood.
Things get off to a great start; Professor X and Magneto build a school together, Storm becomes the president of Kenya, and Magneto gets married. Going into fine detail beyond this point would bring us dangerously close to spoiler territory, but X-Men fans will likely appreciate this story from start to finish.
Vol. 4 – What If? Daredevil
Daredevil has been the subject of many What If stories, alongside his closest friends and deadliest enemies. The Man Without Fear has joined S.H.I.E.L.D., killed the Kingpin, and met his demise at the hands (and guns) of the Punisher. Simply put, he has been sent hither and yon over the years.
What If: Daredevil takes place on Earth-717, specifically in Feudal Japan. We primarily follow Masahiro, a.k.a. the Devil Who Dares, as he battles corruption in his homeland. Matt Murdock appears as well, though fans may be surprised by his role in this story.
Vol. 5 – What If? Wolverine: Enemy of the State
Wolverine has been immensely popular for as long as anyone can remember. Putting him on a comic’s cover was a sure-fire way to sell issues — even if Wolverine wasn’t the focus of the comic in question. People love him for a myriad of reasons; he’s an anti-hero, his powers are awesome, he’s the best there is at what he does — take your pick. We love him for his compassion. Can Logan kick all kinds of butt? Absolutely. But he tries not to. He struggles against his dark past in an attempt to become a better man.
Wolverine: Enemy of the State flips that idea on its head. What if Professor X never helped Wolverine break free from his Weapon X programming? The results are grisly, to say the least; beloved heroes and reviled villains are cut down one by one. This issue is a reminder of how dangerous Wolverine can be when his morality gets left at the front door.
Vol. 6 – What If? Civil War
Civil War is one of the biggest events in Marvel Comics history. Tragedy strikes, superheroes take the blame, and lawmakers propose the Superhuman Registration Act. Captain America opposes the bill while Iron Man supports it wholeheartedly. Things go from bad to worse to cataclysmic as pro-registration and anti-registration heroes and villains go head to head.
What If? Civil War proposes two new storylines — “What If Captain America Led All the Heroes Against Registration?” and “What If Iron Man Lost the Civil War?” The names of these tales might sound self-explanatory, but there are tons of surprises in store. And by “surprises” we mean enough character deaths to make George R.R. Martin blush.
Vol. 7 – What If? House of M
The next time you can safely attend a Marvel convention, whisper the words “no more mutants” wherever you go. Notice how many true believers react to that phrase — how many people will stare at you in wide-eyed disbelief. “No more mutants” calls back to House of M, a story where the Scarlet Witch purges mutantkind from the face of the Earth with three simple words.
But what if just one word was different? What if Wanda said, “no more powers” instead? That’s precisely what this storyline explores. The Thing reverts to a normal, flesh-and-blood human being while Dr. Strange can’t magic anymore. Fear and relief spread through the superhero community in equal measure. What If: House of M delves into some truly bizarre depths and stands out in the What If catalog.
Vol. 8 – What If? World War Hulk
Planet Hulk and World War Hulk are more iconic Marvel Comics story arcs. The first sends the Hulk to a distant planet, where he must fight for his freedom in an alien gladiator pit. The second sees the Hulk return to Earth, seeking vengeance against the heroes who exiled him to begin with. The Jade Giant (literally) stomps out troves of heroes and villains in World War Hulk. He’s unstoppable on his warpath, bringing Iron Man and the Illuminati to the brink of desperation.
What If? World War Hulk pushes Iron Man over the edge and pits the Hulk against one of his oldest rivals — Thor. Just like What If? Civil War, this issue depicts multiple stories — each with genuinely harrowing narratives, and drastically different outcomes. Hulk solo stories have always been some of Marvel’s craziest tales and What If? World War Hulk is no exception.
Vol. 9 – What If? Iron Man: Demon in an Armor
For all his faults, Tony Stark is a hero at heart. A cocky, troubled, possibly mentally ill hero, but who doesn’t have their inner demons? This What If story brings Tony’s inner demons to the surface. What If? Iron Man: Demon in an Armor asks a deceptively simple question; “what if Tony Stark had become Doctor Doom?” The Iron Avenger retains his intellect, but he loses many of his heroic traits.
What If volume 9 also features a series of backup stories that focus on a Venom-possessed Deadpool. Two of Marvel’s snarkiest, craziest characters joined together in a symbiotic bond. No, we don’t see cause for concern at all.
What If? Infinity
Infinity War is a storyline that needs very little introduction. This massive crossover comic series is precisely what inspired Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), to a degree. The modestly titled Infinity series was published in 2013 and features Thanos, the Avengers, the Inhumans, and the Builders in a battle of epic proportions.
What If? Infinity explores that epic battle from a myriad of new angles. “What if the X-Men were the sole survivors of Infinity?”, “What if Thanos had joined the Avengers?” and “What if the Green Goblin stole the Infinity Gauntlet?” are just a few of the questions this comic answers. What If? Infinity is a dense, mind-boggling read to be sure. And we’d expect nothing less when the Mad Titan is involved.
What If? With Great Power
Most people can probably summarize Spider-Man’s origin story by heart; meek and mild-mannered Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a superhero. But Peter wouldn’t have risen to such great heights if Uncle Ben never uttered that iconic line “with great power comes great responsibility.”
What If? With Great Power features several stories that flip the Marvel universe upside down. Flash Thompson becomes Spider-Man while Peter Parker takes up the Punisher’s mantle. Magik takes over as the Sorcerer Supreme while Ghost Rider crashes through the fourth wall!