Monday, April 20, 2015

A Bevy of 100-Word Reviews


Doug: Welcome to another work week. As is our habit around here, we try to help you ease into your list of meetings and tasks with some comic book diversion. Today it's four Bronze Age beauties, brought to you in the 100-Word Review format by Mike S., known galaxy-wide as Martinex1. Be sure to pen a comment or two during the course of today's conversation. Thanks, Mike!

What If? #6 (December 1977)
"What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?"
Roy Thomas-Jim Craig/Rick Hoberg/Sam Grainger
In typical What If fashion, the Watcher explores possible outcomes of the fateful flight and cosmic ray impact in the origin of the FF. The artwork is serviceable at best but the story and characterization move briskly. In what may be the first overt linking of the foursome’s personality to their powers, we get Big Brain, Dragonfly, Mandroid, and Ultra Woman. Fairly standard adventures ensue. The highlight is the rather 1950’s horror inspired lunacy of Reed’s floating bodiless brain. Only Marvel could have vengeful dialogue like, “What’s wrong kiddies? You got something against Grand Funk Railroad!”  Who needs Dr. Doom?

What If? #7 (February 1978)
"What If Someone Else Had Become the Amazing Spider-Man?"
Don Glut/Roy Thomas-Rick Hoberg/Sam Grainger

The ol’ Watcher is at it again, sharing alternative tales of Spidey’s origin with the icon’s supporting cast being bitten by the radioactive spider. We get three abbreviated stand alone and tragic tales in which Flash Thompson, Betty Brant and John Jameson are the recipients of that fateful bite. The costumes are repetitive at best, and reflective of 70’s goofiness at worst. Spider Jameson (yes that is his moniker) dons a helmet reminiscent of the TV Captain America. No great insights here, and the ultimate outcome on all three worlds is predictable and melodramatic. Makes you long for Spider Ham!

 What If? #20 (April 1980)
"What If the Avengers Had Fought the Kree-Skrull War Without Rick Jones?"
Tom DeFalco-Sal Buscema/Alan Kupperberg/Bruce D. Patterson

In a nice companion piece to the Kree-Skrull War, the Watcher investigates a world in which Rick Jones dies at the hands of Ronan so he is never employed as the “deus ex machina” for that conflict’s conclusion.  The alternative action which includes an armada of heroes joining the fracas could have been explored more thoroughly.  But Alan Kupperberg’s art is better than expected, and the way the story deftly hits on original keynotes of the epic is admirable.  Hard to believe that this enjoyable “imaginary” diversion was somehow the impetus for the morass that was Avengers #200.

Avengers #169 (March 1978)
"If We Should Fail... the World Dies Tonight!"
Marv Wolfman-Sal Buscema/Dave Hunt

This fill in issue pits Iron Man, Cap, and the Panther against a megalomaniac with a weak heart and a diabolical plan. The story devolves into a Justice Society like adventure as each Avenger explores the globe searching for a portion of a world destroying bomb. The plot is weak as the heroes confront men and beasts in their time hindered quest. The story includes rather stereotypical antagonists and a penchant for melodrama. The real star is Sal Buscema with some incredibly clean lines and spot on Avenger action. And who can resist the crossword drama of the opening splash?


Anonymous said...

I don't understand - if it's a What If then why are the alternative FF fighting the ordinary FF ? Are the other FF supposed to be evil ? An interesting story would have been What If The FF Had Each Other's Powers (although Sue does seem to have Reed's powers in this story) so Reed or Sue might have been the Thing - it would be interesting to see how they'd deal with that. I wish I'd read "What If Gwen Stacy Had Not Died" because on the cover it says something like "Whatever you do, Spider-Man, don't save her !!" which just leaves me thinking why ? why ?? what happens ??!!

Martinex1 said...

Colin, the cover to that FF What If is misleading. It is an "imaginary" cover on an "imaginary" tale. The repurposed FF never meet the original FF and they surely never battle. The only appearance of the originals is in flashback to that initial space flight. Most of the story centers around their battle with Doctor Doom who conspires to capture Big Brain. There are some brief mentions of other FF foes but the main plot focuses on Big Brain's struggle to relate and Doom's plot to defeat the FF.

Humanbelly said...

Wow, I have all four of these comics, too! I'm not sure I've read those What If-?(s) since they first saw print, but those earlier issues in the run have stuck in my memory pretty well. Generally agreeing w/ MX1's assessment, too. The FF issue was enjoyable enough-- but suffered from a strong aura of the characters being, well, imitations of themselves rather that REALLY themselves-- which is a hard thing to convey. (Hmm- sort of like the distressed farmer's wife in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. . . ). What I immediately noticed at this point is that Marvel- in its eternal quest to NEVER let a codename's rights lapse and possibly fall into competitors' hands- has used ALL of these alternative codenames at some point down the road. Mandroids are familiar exo-skeletons; Dragonfly has been both a pseudo-monster and a mutant, I believe; Big Brain was Reed again in the M2 Universe; and UltraWoman was. . . something still associated with Sue, yes?

The Spidey alternatives were indeed lame. As I recall, the Watcher's whole point had something to do with the fact that Pete was clearly the "right" fella destined to be Spiderman the whole time.

Great capsules once again, partner-- a pleasure to peruse!


Anonymous said...

OK, thanks Martinex !

Martinex1 said...

HB, the one aspect I did like in the FF story, that I did not have room in 100 words to mention, is that Ben was more confident and outwardly a more heroic leader. His appearance, despite the wings, was "human". It was Johnny and Reed that had to contend with being outsiders. I thought that was an interesting aspect. In fact, the "Grand Funk Railroad" line I quote comes from Johnny. Not only does he have the appearance of Colossus, but he can manipulate electronics. While visiting a stereo store, some other youngsters are staring and making comments; Mandroid cranks up the decibels in an act of rebellion. Even though What If was in a larger page count format; I think some of these chapters may have benefitted from a continuing arc. Hard to put all of the FF's history and character development in one issue, particularly if part of the page count had to be dedicated to recapping the normal history.

Regarding the names, yes I doubt there is an adjective or noun that Marvel has not considered trademarking. Still waiting for the Somnambulistic Steamboat.

And Colin, that Gwen Stacy What If was actually quite good from what I remember. I may have to dig that one out.

Redartz said...

Nice job on the reviews, Martinex! Like HB, I haven't read any of them since the day they were purchased. In fact, none of them remain in my collection as "What If" generally left me cool; so they were among the first to go when I started selling off books. Do recall the first issue fondly, and seems like the Conan issue in the modern world was pretty good...

Edo Bosnar said...

Great job on the reviews, Martinex, and I like the emphasis on What Ifs. I was an on-again, off-again reader of that title, so I didn't have the first two, but I vividly recall the Avengers one you highlight. That was the actually my first exposure to the Kree-Skrull War - I only later read the original saga in those reprints that came out a few years later. The What If story is pretty good, I think.
And that issue of Avengers - yes, it was a pretty by-the-numbers fill-in story right smack dab in the middle of the Korvac saga, but I still like it for some reason. And yes, that opening splash page is really quite funny: they're all so grim and pensive as they help Iron Man finish his crossword puzzle...

Humanbelly said...

The Conan-out-of-time issue was indeed a high-point, Redartz-- and IIRC it was purposely kept ambiguous as to whether it really was a "What If?" or not. The later sequel definitely was, though.

For me, the finest issue of the series was #41 or 42-- "What if the Invisible Girl Had Died?" It is a deeply effective and painful depiction of grief and one of the few issues that lives up to WHAT IF's supposed mission statement: to gain understanding of what "is" through observing "what might have been" (I paraphrase). I think it gives us more insight into the mind and soul of Reed Richards (up to that point) than any other story ever could. So many brilliant moments throughout that issue. . . (Hmm-- maybe I should get my behind involved w/ a 100-word review as well. . . so lazy, SO lazy!)


Doug said...

I've often considered purchasing the What If? Classic series of trades, but each time I end up putting them back on the shelf. That book typifies my perceived decline in the quality of art that I often associate with the period right as I was getting out of regular comics buying. I guess whenever I think of Marvel's second- and third-tier artists, the creators who would have occupied those spots in the early 1980s seem a step below anyone who would have occupied such a status (again, my perceptions) in the 1960s and -70s.


Martinex1 said...

Edo, I always wondered if that dialogue for the first page on the Avengers issue was a Marv Wolfman joke. In the days of the Marvel method, I wonder if Sal had something more dramatic planned for that page. They seem so grim and serious that the juxtaposition of the captions and script seem ludicrous. It is one of my favorites though, and another example of where I learned something in Marvel comics. Surely "Sudoriferous" has to be the word of the day.

Doug, I couldn't agree more with you on the art of this era. At the same time we were getting Byrne and Perez, the glut of new books had a bevy of second tier art. But in reviewing these issues, I have to say I like them more than most of the current fare. That is probably me being crotchety, but honestly the splash of the "other" FF is nice as is the moon behind Spider Girl. There were some nice touches throughout, and in retrospect it all looked better than I remembered. Some of the sequential storytelling is weak though. Almost nobody got the Watcher's head right; it morphed and changed in size almost every issue. And because they tried to cram so much story into these What If issues, it seemed like the panels tended to be smaller and that was not favorable for the color process at the time. And the secondary inkers did not help that much.

Anonymous said...

I love What If...? unreservedly. Good issues, bad issues, original flavor or '90s (I have less patience for the 2000s editions, although there were some good ones). While the FF and Spider-Man issues weren't my favorites, I still found them somewhat entertaining. The Kree-Skrull War issue was a good one. My favorites were the Conan stories and the hilarious "What If Rick Jones had been the Hulk?" Don Glut had the Green Goliath using a combination of Hulk-speak and beatnik slang.

The late great Herb Trimpe drew a few What Ifs, including two of the most gonzo issues. "What If Sgt. Fury Fought WWII in Outer Space?" was a bit lackluster but the concept and Steranko cover went a long way. Even weirder was "What If the Hulk had Bruce Banner's Brain?" Banner in Hulk's body talks & reasons his way out of most of his problems, then has to fight Galactus with Reed Richards & Prof. X in a most nonsensical manner. The sights of happy Hulk lounging around at home with Betty, not to mention the wtf Galactus scene, make the issue worth tangling with.

I just discovered this blog thanks to Greg Hatcher linking to it from Comics Should Be Good, and I'm looking forward to reading older posts.

- Mike Loughlin

Doug said...

Welcome aboard, Mike! There are almost 1800 posts awaiting your discovery.

Don't be a stranger in our comments section - dive right in!


Edo Bosnar said...

Mike (Loughlin - man, we're getting a lot of Mikes commenting here), I share your love for What If, at least the original series. Even the 'bad' issues were still readable, and when it was good it rocked - e.g. the Avengers story in ish #3, the Conan stories (#s 13, 39 and 43), the Shang Chi issue (#16), the Gwen surviving story (#24), the two Daredevil stories by Miller (#s 28 and 35), the humor issue (#34), and the FF without powers story by Byrne (#36).

Anonymous said...

Well, here's another Mike chiming in! I don't remember these particular What Ifs, but I may have had the Spidey one. I'm sure I had the Gwen issue and I had "What If Spider-Man's Clone Had Lived?" (how's that for prescience?); I also remember having the last issue..."What If Loki Had Found Thor's Hammer?"

Mike Wilson

pfgavigan said...


Pretty much in agreement with our reviewer regarding the "What If" title selections. At best a pleasant few minutes diversion from reality.

Does anybody know how the What If title was regarded by those working at Marvel at the time? Sometimes it seemed like a break in book where new talent could work with older pros, sometimes like an opportunity for the established writer or artist to pick up a couple extra bucks by pounding out a go no where story.

On the other hand, Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four/Original Marvel Bullpen crossover was a joyous madcap hoot that still makes me smile!

As a side note, out of curiosity I used an internet site to calculate what Herb Trimpe's starting salary at Marvel translated into 2015 dollars. I'm not certain of it's accuracy, but apparently $135 a week then works out to just shy of $1000 dollars today.

Yours and feeling very old just looking at that last paragraph,


Martinex1 said...

Thanks all for commenting on my reviews.

Welcome Mike L. There must have been a ton of us Mikes in our generation. The more the merrier.

pfgavigan I think you are correct on both counts on the creative teams for What If. Sometimes it seems like it was startup or fill in work for new artists; I suspect the page count may have had something to do with it as few could keep up with a regular schedule of king sized issues. But there are also pet projects for some key creators who seemed to want to tell a special story ala the Conan issue or the Bullpen issue. I really like What If and own most issues, but I think it may have benefitted to follow the Marvel Premiere format. The stories and characters could have been better fleshed out over a few issue arc and creative teams could have stayed together. I also think the higher concept issues (Conan in Modern Times, Fury in Space) were better than the simple "different power" issues.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the welcome, everyone! I should've known I wouldn't be the only Mike. I've NEVER been the only Mike.

Re What If art: as noted by Martinex1, it wasn't all bad. Miller drew Daredevil issues, John Buscema tackled the 1st Conan issue, Kane and Colan showed up, etc. Most of the later issues were by newer talent; I think the Loki issue was Kelly Jones' first published work and Butch Guice drew a Baron Mordo story when he was going through a Michael Golden phase. At least the vol. 1 artists told the stories clearly, and some issues had awesome Bill Sienkiewicz covers. In vol. 2, the art was often handled by people who never made names for themselves, often with good reason. I bought every issue I could find regardless.

- Mike Loughlin

Dr. Oyola said...

Cool reviews!

What Ifs were the kind of thing I loved as a kid, but have found disappointing in returning to them. Sure there are a couple of classics (the Conan one), but mostly I find the art and writing to be sub-par.

P.S. I have one 100-word ready to go, but want to send out a bunch at once - one day the busyness of the semester will calm.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the BAB community Mike Loughlin! One can never have too many Mikes around here!

Great set of reviews here Martinex1 aka Mike S! The What If? series allowed writers to cut loose with storylines which didn't have to follow established canon, so you could have other people being bitten by that radioactive spider or someone else finding Thor's hammer. If nothing else, it allowed readers to indulge in their fantasies about alternate storylines featuring their favourite superheroes.

As for this alternate FF being more in sync with their personalities, I thought the 'real' FF was already like that in terms of Reed's flexible intellect, Johnny's hotheadedness, Sue's hidden qualities and Ben's solidness. However, I think Stan simply created their powers to reflect the ancient Jewish classical elements of earth, air, fire and water!

- 'Yes I'm another Mike too!' Mike from Trinidad & Tobago.

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