Saturday, July 30, 2016

Guest Review - "Only a Mutant Like Ourselves Could Have Destroyed the Hulk!" What If? 31

Doug: Once again we welcome Thomas F. to the scribe's chair. Today he's sharing thoughts on a magazine that was a late-Bronze Age staple for many of us - What If? And lurking within the issue Thomas has chosen is a question stemming from the early 1970s -- What if Wolverine had killed the Hulk? Why wait? Read on!

What If? #31 (February 1982)

“What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?”

Rich Margopoulos-Bob Budiansky/Mike Esposito/Bob Sharen

Thomas F.: The “What If” comics were an intriguing concept: as fans are aware, they presented hypothetical tales of an alternate reality. Usually based on a significant event in the Marvel Universe, they tried to show the direction history would have taken if things had unfolded differently—sometimes very differently. Some of the stories have unsettling and tragic outcomes, which will make the reader feel relieved that they are just imaginary. The narrator of the story is, as usual, the Watcher.

This invented tale features Wolverine. But in these early times, little was known about Wolverine. Still, a few facts were established:

(1) Wolverine, aka Logan, had been a Canadian field agent employed by the Canadian military;

(2) Wolverine was a mutant with an incredible healing factor;

(3) Wolverine had a skeleton constructed of adamantium, a virtually unbreakable metal;

(4) Wolverine had three razor-sharp, retractable claws on the back of each hand, which he used as offensive weapons;

(5) Wolverine had an extremely powerful sense of smell; and

(6) Wolverine possessed the savage instincts of an animalistic killer and had undergone drug therapy and “psycho-training” to curb these wild impulses of his.

BACKGROUND: To evade the American military, the Hulk made his way into Canada and fought a giant, Yeti-like cannibal beast in the woods of Quebec known as the Wendigo. Alerted to the ferocious creatures destroying the forest in the Canadian North Woods, the Canadian Armed Forces sent a special adamantium-clawed field agent with a six-hour deadline to capture the Hulk. Wolverine proved unsuccessful—he was unable to defeat the Hulk in combat, and the Canadian military intervened, sending a “crack-squad of specially-trained commandos” to finish the job. They use a soporific gas against the Hulk, which worked, but when the Green Goliath awakened, he easily broke free and escaped. (These incidents took place in The Incredible Hulk #s180-182, before the events of Giant-Size X-Men #1, where Wolverine abruptly resigned his Canadian commission and left with Professor X to join the new X-Men, who were introduced in X-Men #94).

300-WORD SYNOPSIS: This time around, Wolverine first incapacitates the Wendigo, then engages the Hulk in a fight to the finish. No quarter is given. Wolverine pits his tenacity, speed, and “diamond-hard” adamantium claws against the overwhelming strength of the Hulk. Caught up in the escalating intensity of the clash, Wolverine disregards the instructions of his superiors to apprehend the Hulk and decides to kill him instead. In a savage spate of fury, Wolverine repeatedly slashes away at the Hulk’s neck and succeeds in killing him.

Later, after a barroom brawl during which he loses control of himself, Wolverine is charged with murdering a civilian, and he deserts the Canadian Forces. Almost immediately afterward, Wolverine—now out of options and pursued by the law—is enlisted into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants by the powerful Magneto, Master of Magnetism. Magneto tasks Wolverine with infiltrating the X-Men as a mole.

Over several weeks, Wolverine becomes a trusted member of the X-Men, training with the team in the Danger Room and helping to defeat the Sentinels. Wolverine is still committed to betray the X-Men for Magneto, although he does so with a troubled conscience, because he now considers the X-Men his friends. According to a prearranged plan, Wolverine disables Cerebro’s “proximity fuse,” which allows Magneto and his followers to break into X-Men headquarters without warning.

When Magneto and his mutant cronies—the Blob, Unus the Untouchable, Lorelei, and Mastermind—breach Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, they overwhelm the X-Men. But when Magneto tries to kill Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, for whom Wolverine feels affection, Wolverine turns on Magneto. Both inflict lethal injuries on one another: Wolverine slashes Magneto to death, and in his final moments, Magneto uses the power of magnetism to cause Wolverine to pierce himself in the throat with his own metal claws.
Before reading this issue, I’d never heard of Rich Margopoulos. After looking him up, I discovered that he’d written for Warren Publishing, which produced the monster/horror comics Hunter the Demon Killer and Vampirella. Margopoulos also wrote over at MLJ, now known as Archie Comics, and wrote at least one more What If? story for Marvel (issue #38). His influences were Steve Englehart and Roy Thomas.

As for Bob Budiansky’s artwork, it’s average, in my opinion. Passable, but not extraordinary, though he is a good storyteller. Certainly not a big name, Budiansky is best known for writing The Transformers and penciling issues of Ghost Rider near the end of its run. Personally, I would have liked to see Herb Trimpe pencil this issue.

I thought I’d mention that as a Canadian myself, I have an affinity for heroes of Canadian origin, and appreciate it whenever Marvel or DC create Canadian characters, even if they’re almost invariably depicted as British replicas.

I love the scenes where Wolverine does the Hulk in. Wolverine’s relentless viciousness really makes an impact here.
Although it wasn’t known at the time of The Incredible Hulk #181, it was established years later that Wolverine’s metal claws did lacerate the Hulk’s tough skin, but the Hulk healed so quickly that he appeared to be uninjured.

The Hulk’s passing made a personal impact on at least two people, General “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter Betty. The general has mixed feelings of part relief and part regret now that his long-time nemesis has perished. As for Betty, she is immensely saddened because although she was certainly aware that the Hulk was very dangerous, she loved Bruce Banner, the man inside the monster. The rest of the world is understandably astounded to when they hear of the Hulk’s death on a news broadcast.

I found it neat how the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Magneto, have their version of a “Danger Room” at their headquarters where they train, just like the X-Men do. Supervillains have to keep in shape too!
Wolverine’s tendency to succumb to a berserk rage is an appealing quirk of his. Unfortunately for him, this time it led to tragedy—when a barfly pulled a gun on him, Wolverine acted instinctively and skewered him like a shish-kebab.

This also happened after Magneto tried to kill Jean Grey—Wolverine flew into a rage and butchered him.
The final page where the dying Magneto managed to summon enough power to carry out a final offensive, killing Wolverine, is shocking. Like some movies, the actually impalement occurred off-screen (in this case, off-panel).
Overall, this was an intriguing issue that I was glad to finally get my hands on. Just wish that “bigger” names had been involved in the production of this series, though Frank Miller did write and pencil two excellent What If? Daredevil stories: What If? #28 (“Matt Murdock … Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and What If? #35 (“What If Bullseye had Not killed Elektra?”). If you’re a Daredevil and/or Miller fan, be sure to check those out.


William Preston said...

Thanks for the review! This came out after I'd stopped collecting. (My patience with What-If? had long since run out, given the relative weakness of those who tended to handle the art.)

Anyone else think that, on the cover, the Hulk's face has been touched up by John Romita? I can't get a good enough view of the interior art to see whether it matches, but that face on the cover has telltale Romita touches.

Redartz said...

Thanks for the focus on this story, Thomas. I too had stopped buying the title by that time, and thereby missed this one. You're quite right, the artwork is decent, but not outstanding. As noted by Wiliam, the title did have a rather pedestrian run. Some interesting stories, though. Nothing wrong with some 'imaginary stories' (they got DC through the Silver Age, after all). My fave is the issue with Conan in the 20th. Century...

Anonymous said...

What If was a great series. Used to pick it up at the local gas station, when they used to sell comics there, and refused to sell me beer, back in the dark ages when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
So many great issues...that Korvac issue comes to mind. And who doesn't wanna see Captain America fight Conan the Barbarian? Every decent American wants to see that.
That said, I just can't stand mutants. Not sure why, maybe there was too much of a soap opera feel about the whole thing. I just couldn't get into it.
Maybe being an annoying teenager myself, I just didn't wanna read about other annoying teenagers, whatever their weird powers were. I kept waiting for Marvel to bring Warlock and Thanos back. Then when they finally did, I wished they hadn't. what was my point again?

Unknown said...

M.P, I was also not a fan of the X-books growing up (late 80s). I didn't relate to the bizarre mutant characters, which kept constantly changing. Only now am I getting into some of the X-Men comics, primarily the ones during the Claremont/Byrne run.

The "original" new team—featuring Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler—is the one I prefer, though the Silver Age old team (which later became the X-Factor) had its quaint charm when penned by Stan Lee.

Like Preston and Redartz, I feel the What If? series did suffer from rather lackluster artwork. Still, there was the odd issue drawn by Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Rich Buckler, John Byrne, and Frank Miller, so there were some bright spots.

P.S. This is What If? #31, not #39 …

Thomas F.

Martinex1 said...

I too liked What If and I agree it was hindered by the art. In the panel you shared with the evil mutant danger room, the perspective seems off. Magneto and Lorelei look like Giants rather than just being in the foreground. And how does she stand on that crazy contraption? I like your suggestion Thomas that Trimpe should have drawn this issue; that would have been fun. I used to have this issue and have forgotten most of it. I find it interesting that Wolvie teamed with the original X-Men rather than the popular at the time All New All Different set. It would have been entertaining if they made Logan a teenager here as the creators originally intended with his first appearance.

Regarding What If, I really enjoyed the series including the alternative FF, the 50s Avengers, and the rewritten Kree Skrull war. But as said before, the art was the weak spot.

Nice recap Thomas. Cheers.

Edo Bosnar said...

Aw, man, I hate working weekends, esp. in summer. Leaves me with no energy for the important things, like leaving comments on BAB...

Thanks for the review Thomas. Never had this issue, even though I was reading What If? pretty regularly at this point (and M.P., don't exaggerate: there weren't any dinosaurs roaming around back then - sabertooth tigers and mastodons, yes, but no dinosaurs. That's just silly...).
As for a general assessment of What If, I generally agree with M.P.: it was a great series. In fact, I think that run of the first 30 or so issues was pretty solid, with more hits than misses, and even after that I recall some gems, like the aforementioned Daredevil story with Elektra, the FF as Challengers of the Unknown by Byrne, and, of course, the now almost legendary all-comedy issue (#34). Yes, sometimes the art was a bit on the bland side, but that generally didn't take away from the stories.

Ward Hill Terry said...

This would have been around the time that I was already getting fed up with Wolverine and Mutant comics, so I did not buy this. I'm glad. The story is a cheat. What if Wolverine killed the Hulk? Nothing. No consequences. Betty is sad. Wolverine isn't punished, or morally conflicted, and nothing changes in the Marvel Universe with the absence of the Hulk. This book feels like an excuse to show some gratuitous murder with an X-Men story.

Doug said...

Thanks again for the review, Thomas.

Not much to add here. I'll echo those who have said that the concept of What If? was usually fun, while the execution often left a bit to be desired. Never a top tier book artwise, which has caused me on several occasions to pick up volumes of What If? Classic and then return them to the shelf at the LCS. I just can't pull the trigger on those trades, even though I really do often leaf through them.


Unknown said...


The death of Magneto would have significant ramifications for the mutant world, as the extreme faction of mutants would be, at least for a time, leaderless. Also, the loss of Dr. Bruce Banner to the scientific community would be relevant. The Hulk has also been an occasional ally for other heroes as part of the Avengers and a full partner with the Defenders, and his death and would be felt by his teammates, particularly when the Hulk's tremendous strength would be needed when faced with a major adversary. These points weren't covered in the story but would certainly exist.

Thomas F.

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