What If (comics)

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What If
Cover to What If? #1 (February 1977), art by George Pérez and Joe Sinnott
Publication information
PublisherMarvel Comics
Format(vol. 1–2)
Ongoing series
(vol. 3–9)
Publication date(vol. 1)
February 1977 – October 1984
(vol. 2)
July 1989 – November 1998
No. of issues(vol. 1)
47 (plus #0)
(vol. 2)
114 (plus #−1)
(vol. 3–4)
(vol. 5–9)
Collected editions
What If? Classic: Volume 1ISBN 0-7851-1702-4

What If, sometimes stylized as What If...?, is a comic book anthology series published by Marvel Comics whose stories explore how the Marvel Universe might have unfolded if key moments in its history had not occurred as they did in mainstream continuity. Since What If debuted in 1977, the comics have been published in 13 series as well as occasional stand-alone issues.

In 2021, an animated series based on the What If comics premiered on Disney+, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's multiverse.


The stories of the inaugural series (1977–1984) feature the alien Uatu, the Watcher as a narrator. From his base on the Moon, Uatu observes both Earth and alternate realities.

Most What If stories begin with Uatu describing an event in the mainstream Marvel Universe, then introducing a point of divergence in that event and then describing the consequences of the divergence. Uatu was used similarly in the second series (1989–1998) until a point where, in the Fantastic Four comic book, Uatu was punished for destroying another Watcher. This made the use of Uatu improbable, so the character was phased out to its last appearance in issue #76. Without a framing device, the stories themselves became the focus.[citation needed]

In later series, some writers chose to introduce alternative narrators. For example, in volume 3, in What If Karen Page Had Lived?, What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? and in Daredevil (2005), Brian Michael Bendis, the writer himself, makes a cameo as narrator. In the early 2006 series, a hacker, whose online alias is "the Watcher", opens each of the six issues.[citation needed]

Marvel has given several What If stories official numerical designations to make them contiguous with the Marvel Multiverse and differentiate them from the main Marvel Universe of Earth-616.[citation needed]

Marvel Comics occasionally issued backup features, Untold Tales from the Marvel Universe. These stories explained the origins of some of Marvel's superhuman species.

Publication history[edit]

Volume 1[edit]

The initial 47-issue series ran from February 1977 to October 1984. The first What If story was "What If Spider-Man had Joined the "Fantastic Four?". It presented an alternate version of events seen in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963). What If #24, which is titled "What If Gwen Stacy had lived?" and focuses on the consequences of Spider-Man's secret identity being publicly exposed, is one of the most highly regarded What If stories.[1]

Following the cancellation of the series, Marvel published a one-shot What If? Special (June 1988) with the story "What If Iron Man Had Been a Traitor?".

Volume 2[edit]

What If (vol. 2) #105 (February 1998), the debut of Spider-Girl, cover art by Ron Frenz

From July 1989 to November 1998, Marvel published 115 monthly What If issues (114 issues plus a #-1 issue) the second series revisited and revised ideas from volume 1. In volume 2, stories could span multiple issues (every issue of volume 1 contained a complete story). Also, sometimes, the volume 2 stories would offer multiple plots and endings and the reader could decide which one to adopt. For example, in What If the War Machine had not destroyed the Living Laser?, three endings were offered.

The humorous aspect of volume 1 was retained through volume 2, particularly in issue #34, an all-humor issue containing a number of single-page gags and two complete stories.

In issue #105, What If introduced Spider-Girl (Mayday Parker); the new character was popular enough for a spin-off series. From this, the MC2 line of publications were developed.

For a brief period between 1995 and 1996, all What If? stories were labeled as Marvel Alterniverse which included the likes of Ruins, The Last Avengers Story and Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe.

Volume 3[edit]

In February 2005, Marvel published a further six issues of What If. They were all in the "one-shot" format. The editor, Justin Gabrie, attributed the publication of volume 3 to a suggestion from C. B. Cebulski.[2]

Marvel published a single parody edition called Wha...Huh?!? in August 2005.

Volume 4[edit]

In February 2006, publication of volume 4 began. Again, there were six issues in the "one-shot" format. However, rather than follow What if tradition of using a divergence from a specific plot point, Volume 4 more closely resembled the DC Comics equivalent, Elseworlds, which presents stories that are continuities based on alternate versions (in time or place) of canon (for example, Superman: Red Son is a story in which Superman was raised in the Soviet Union instead of the United States) all but one of the volume 4 issues uses this format, explained by Uatu the Watcher having discovered historical documents from an alternative dimension. From the Japanese feudal era, the divergence of a shared alternate universe, Earth-717, begins. This divergence is the time when a Daredevil hero known as "the Devil Who Dares" appears. It is also the realm where characters are given alternative life histories and where they proceed in alternative historical periods.

Examples from volume 4 include Captain America battling the "White Skull" during the American Civil War; Wolverine taking on the role of the Punisher and fighting mobsters in 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago; Namor the Sub-Mariner being raised by his father on the surface during World War II; Thor becoming a herald of Galactus; and a Soviet version of the Fantastic Four, known as the "Ultimate Federalist Freedom Fighters" (consisting of Rudion Richards, Colossus, Magik and the Widow Maker), during the Cold War.

Volume 5[edit]

In 2006, Marvel published another set of What If? issues, including one based on the Spider-Man story "The Other".

Volume 6[edit]

Volume 6 consists of five issues (2007–2008). A sixth, "What If: This Was the Fantastic Four", featuring Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Hulk, was to be released in November 2007, but it was withheld due to the death of Mike Wieringo.[3] What If: This Was the Fantastic Four was released as a tribute to Wieringo in June 2008 as a 48-page special. All its proceeds went to the Hero Initiative.

The other issues were: "What If?: Planet Hulk" (October 2007);[4] "What If?: Annihilation" (November 2007); two What If? specials for "Civil War" and "X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire" (December 2007) and "What If? Spider-Man vs. Wolverine" (January 2008). These issues were collected into a trade paperback, What If...? Civil War.

Volume 7[edit]

In December 2008, Marvel published five What If specials which appeared weekly. They included: Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, House of M, Spider-Man: Back in Black, and Secret Wars. A new "Fantastic Four" consisted of the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Wolverine. In addition, a storyline featuring the Runaways as the Young Avengers ran throughout Volume 7.[5]

Volume 8[edit]

In December 2009, a new series was published. Volume 8 focused on three recent events in the Marvel Universe, including the Spider-Man: House of M miniseries and the "World War Hulk" and "Secret Invasion" storylines. There was also an edition focusing on the Astonishing X-Men series and a classic What If? about Daredevil and Elektra. With the exception of this last issue, each comic in Volume 8 featured two alternatives for the event.[6]

Volume 9[edit]

In September 2010, Marvel announced a ninth series of five What If issues in the one-shot format, to be released in December 2010. The second to fifth issues of volume 9 were not numbered.

What If? #200 was an extra-sized edition featuring two stories. It presented an alternative for the Siege Marvel Universe event, asking what might have happened if the Sentry had not lost control and Norman Osborn had conquered Asgard. The second story examined "The Galactus Trilogy", and was written by Stan Lee, the author of the original.[7]

Volume 10[edit]

On March 22, 2013, Marvel's editor-in-chief Axel Alonso revealed to Comic Book Resources that What If...? was coming back with What If...? Avengers vs. X-Men, a four-issue limited series written by Jimmy Palmiotti and illustrated by Jorge Molina.[citation needed]

Volume 11[edit]

In April 2014, Marvel released the five-issue series What If? Age of Ultron, which spun out of the 2013 event and examined the consequences of Wolverine going back in time to kill Hank Pym before he created Ultron. Each issue explored what a new universe would be like which arose from the removal of another core Avenger, with the Wasp in #1, Iron Man in #2, Thor in #3 and Captain America in #4. The series was concluded in #5 with a world where Hank Pym never created Ultron in the first place and thus, a universe without Ultron's creation of the Vision.

Volume 12[edit]

In October 2015, Marvel released another five-part series of stories under the What If? banner, this time focused on the 2013 storyline "Infinity", which saw the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhumans and other groups dealing with a combined threat of a universal incursion by the race the Builders, and an attack on Earth by Thanos and his forces. Each issue is a self-contained story, and the first four explore a different outcome to the event. The fifth, What If? Infinity: Dark Reign, presents a world in which Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers had acquired the Infinity Gauntlet during the 2008 - 09 "Dark Reign" storyline.

Volume 13[edit]

In October 2018, Marvel released six more one-shots under the What If? banner, as well as several $1.00 True Believer reprints of classic What If? issues.


Collected editions[edit]

A number of the stories have been collected in trade paperbacks:

In other media[edit]

The What If comic series has been referenced throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU):

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trumbull, John (September 2016). "What If? Starring J. Jonah Jameson". Back Issue!. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing (#91): 36.
  2. ^ "Asking the Big Questions: Gabrie asks 'What If?'". Comic Book Resources. January 9, 2008.
  3. ^ "New Green Friday: A New Joe Fridays' Fill-In". Newsarama.com. Archived from the original on July 10, 2007.
  4. ^ "Marvel Previews for October 2007". Marvel.com. 17 July 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  5. ^ George, Richard; Schedeen, Jesse (June 28, 2000). "What If? Returns in 2008". IGN. Retrieved 2008-09-24.
  6. ^ "Fan Expo: Gabrie and Allo on 2009 What If? Specials". CBR.com. August 29, 2009. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
  7. ^ "First Look: What If? #200". Marvel.com. September 13, 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
  8. ^ Moore, Trent (February 22, 2017). "Exclusive: Jed Whedon talks the 'What if' world on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Blastr. Syfy. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  9. ^ Mancuso, Vinnie (July 20, 2019). "Marvel's 'What If?' Announces Massive Voice Cast of MCU Stars & Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher". Collider. Archived from the original on July 21, 2019. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  10. ^ "Every Marvel Character In the 'What If...?' Trailer". ScreenCrush. July 8, 2021. Archived from the original on July 8, 2021. Retrieved July 29, 2021.

External links[edit]