I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
I started reading superhero comics at almost the precise time that collecting back issues evolved from something that might be done when the easy opportunity arose (like finding a stack of beat-up old issues at a garage sale) to an integral part of the pursuit, facilitated by the rise of shops specializing in the form. Madison’s Capital City Comics had first opened its door a few years earlier, and it was like walking into Valhalla itself for me. I always had a mental checklist of old issues to seek out, dominated more by my somewhat idiosyncratic predilections than any consensus canon ruled upon by the Overstreet price guide or any number of other comic book historians. For some reason, What If? #6 was one of those issues.
Well, there were reasons. As I’ve reported before, Fantastic Four was my favorite Marvel Comics title, and I had a special appreciation (sense of superiority is probably more like it) over the fact that it was the series that started it all for the Marvel Universe. And I had a weakness for What If?, the bimonthly series that imagined alternate paths for major storylines from the publisher, so an issue that featured the F.F. had a major appeal. Originally released in 1977, I remember the issue as a pricey one to seek out from a comic shop, although that could be way off-base. Regardless, there was some point when I was in Capital City Comics and I finally found a copy at a price I could afford. I snapped it up and relished it.
A lot of What If? stories took some notable pivot point in Marvel continuity and posited what would have happen given the opposite outcome, usually a fate that was far bleaker that what actually occurred (there were a lot of dead superheroes at the end of What If? stories), but this was more general. Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Benjamin J. Grimm took the same ill-fated rocket ride, only emerging after the ensuing bath in cosmic rays and subsequent crash with a different set of powers.
Instead of becoming the Human Torch, Johnny became a robotic man. Ben Grimm’s rocky hide and super-strength were now a pair of dragon-like wings sprung from his back. Sue Storm’s invisibility powers became a crazy elasticity similar to those held be Mr. Fantastic in “real” continuity. Since Sue took Reed’s stretching, he needed something else. He wound up as a disembodied brain, his already mighty intellect heightened to immeasurable levels.
Eventually, this heroic quartet catches the attention of the despotic ruler of Latveria, one Victor Von Doom, who handily recounts a series of adventures parallel to those of the first few issues of Fantastic Four.
As devoted readers know, Dr. Doom had a history with Reed Richards even before they were costumed foes, so his animosity towards the leader of the Fantastic Four is already firmly in place in this divergent reality. Luckily for Dr. Doom, Reed may have a heightened intelligence, but he’s also remarkably easy to trick. Dr. Doom plies Reed with promises of rejuvenating his body so he can be reunited with Sue, the woman he loves. In that moment of vulnerability, Dr. Doom kidnaps him, taking the floating brain back to a laboratory where the foul plan is explained.
Naturally, Reed’s teammates come to his aid, eventually besting Dr. Doom. There’s an explosion that levels his castle, but has a surprising final outcome, one that is grounded in the history and abilities of the super-villain. As the cataclysmic leveling of the structure takes place, Reed’s intellect is switched with Dr. Doom’s, giving the leader of the Fantastic Four a body again after all, leading to the obligatory issue-ending twist.
That might not seem like all that shocking of a conclusion, but it’s a big deal in the annals of the Fantastic Four, albeit a visual that wasn’t entirely unprecedented. What If? relied on a rotating band of creators, but Roy Thomas was usually connected with the writing in some way or another on these earliest issues, and that was the case here. (Jim Craig penciled the first eleven pages, with Rick Hoberg handling the rest.) Probably the first major writer brought into the fold when Stan Lee started downshifting in his involvement, Thomas had a reverence for the characters and their history that came through. In the end, I think that’s part of why this particular issue appealed to me so much after I finally had it and read it (being honest, the story is pretty dopey). Somewhere in those panels I sensed the same outsized affection for the Marvel Universe that I’d developed. It almost ratified my fan excitement over all the possibilities this fabulous realm of superhero sagas held, even those possibilities that were officially erased by forward march of continuity. The issue was worth the hunt.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby