What If?: The Complete Collection Volume 4 (graphic novel review).

December 18, 2020 | By | Reply More

In the modern era of comicbooks, alternate realities are ten a penny. Whether it be Elseworlds, DC Black Labels or Ultimate Marvel Universes, the past few years have seen plenty of opportunities for writers to explore different incarnations and storylines for characters out of traditional continuity. Even within the realms of continuity, there are multiple Crises On Infinite Earths or Flashpoints or Rebirths on hand to rewrite what has come before or to allow for numerous realities to exist within the fabric of their respective universes.

But before they became a de rigueur comicbook trope to grab more money from comicbook fans…erm, I mean to explore brand new storytelling opportunities, alternative tales were much less prevalent. The pages of Marvel’s ‘What If?’ were always a perfect way to discover what would happen to some of your favourite comic characters and, to be frank, some characters you’ll have never heard of if fate had moved in a different way.

Volume 4 of the ‘What If?: Complete Collection’ takes in issues of the comic from 1983-84 and contains some intriguing takes on Marvel history, all narrated by the omnipresent Watcher. One tale looks at what would happen if Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben had lived? Answer: Aunt May would bite the bullet and Peter Parker would be more cynical and gruff. Whilst another looks at a universe that exists where Sue Richards dies giving birth, which means that Reed Richards goes more than a little mental. There’s also a world where ‘The Fantastic Four Don’t Get Their Powers’ and they prove that even in their humanity, there are a formidable quartet and one in which Captain America is revived in the 1980s.

The latter is a particularly politically charged piece of work in which Black Militancy comes up against the all-American values of the Captain or so it seems. A hard hitting piece swiping at intolerance using the Captain America as both an embodiment of out-dated values as well as a beacon of hope for the future, it has some comfortable parallels with the political situation of today. Given that a recent Captain America story was censored in Marvel # 1000 for a few lines that were deemed critical of the US, it would be surprise if the story was published today.

Indeed, there is a certain amount of nihilism present in many of the stories on offer here. It’s often by the very nature of the ‘What If?’ concept that allows writers to indulge in putting established characters through the emotional and physical wringer. After all, if there are no repercussions in continuity, why not indulge in killing off a few people or emotionally shattering them? Indeed, Volume 4 is sometimes a bit heavy going with all the stories having a sense of despair, perhaps also a reflection of the general social and political fears of the time.

Volume 4 is perhaps not a vintage collection of ‘What If?’ with stories starring the likes of Nova and Conan the Barbarian feeling rather underwhelming. The more hardcore comic fan will appreciate having this in their collection and with a forthcoming ‘What If?’ animated series coming from Marvel, there’s plenty here for people to discover.

Laurence Boyce

December 2020

(pub: Panini/Marvel. 488 page graphic novel softback. Price: £33.50 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-30292-286-3)

check out website: www.comics.panini.co.uk


Category: Comics, Superheroes

About the Author ()

Laurence Boyce is a film journalist who likes Bond, Batman and Doctor Who (just to prove the things he enjoys things that don't just start with a 'B'). He is also a film programmer for various film festivals in the UK and abroad.

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