‘Lost in the Longbox’ Episode 20: “What If?” #6

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What If…? Vol. 2 #6
(Marvel Comics, 1989)

Writer – Danny Fingeroth
Penciler – Ron Lim
Inker – Keith Williams
Colorist – Tom Vincent
Letterer – Gary Fields

Greetings from the Wasteland!

I discovered Marvel’s What If…? series with this issue. It spawned a love of the Watcher, the most benign character in the Marvel U. These books took the main plotlines in the Marvel Universe and retold them with another, usually darker, ending. And this story is no different. The alternate reality storylines captured my imagination.

In issue 6, the question is posed. “What if the X-Men had lost Inferno?” The Inferno plot spanned most of the Marvel universe and was my first introduction to multi-comic crossover stories, and completely captured my imagination. The fact that something that was happening in the X-Men comic that I loved was also happening to Spider-Man and Daredevil made my brain melt. It so effected me that in the past year I decided that I wanted the whole run, and have gotten so close that I have only a couple issues left. (Soon I must swallow my pride and buy three issues of Power Pack.)

But the issue in question was a favorite from the moment I slapped my buck and a quarter onto the glass countertop, and still remains one of the most treasured comics in my collection.

In the Inferno crisis, N’Astirh, a demon, tricks Ilyana Rasputin, Colossus’ sister and member of the New Mutants, to use her power to open a rift between Earth and Limbo. The demons living there invaded Earth, and with the strong influence of demon power even the most mundane of things, mailboxes, phone booths, became possessed and began eating people. There came then a horde of villains with which the heroes of Earth had to do battle. Mr. Sinister, Dormammu, the Goblin Queen, and Sym, all fought to keep the rift open. It ended when N’astirh was defeated and the Goblin Queen killed.

Not so in What If…? #6.

In this world Sym and the Goblin Queen are allies and at the crucial moment in the reality we know, they killed Jean Grey and left Wolverine alive as a pet. As time has gone on the demonic energy has completely overtaken him. (He eats a baby.) Dr. Strange is at the center of the resistance, the remaining super-humans left on Earth. Spider-Man, Thor, She-Hulk, The Human Torch, The Captain, and Shadowcat have all resisted the demon magic, but they are attacked and all that survive are Strange, Shadowcat, Human Torch, and Baron Karl Mordo. They find Rachel Summers, Phoenix of Excalibur and daughter of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, stuck as a mannequin in a storefront window and return her to life.

The key to their defense is to summon the Phoenix force and have Rachel use it to wipe out all traces of limbo on Earth. As it is coming the heroes are attacked again. This is complicated, so I’ll lay it out in short sentences, mostly so I can get a handle on the action as well as explain it. The Human Torch is slain. Baron Mordo has betrayed them all and thrown in his lot with Sym. Wolverine, in the act of stalking Dr. Strange, is knocked over by Kitty Pryde. He lashes out and kills her. Then Mordo kills Sym. Then Wolverine kills Mordo, who bathes the little runt in mystic fire that burns away all but his adamantium claws and skeleton. The Goblin Queen still stands as the Phoenix force arrives, and as she claims it the spirit of Sym, controlling the skeleton of Wolverine, stabs her in the back and picks up the soulsword, Ilyana’s original connection with Limbo. Rachel vaporizes both, and the Phoenix force consumes Earth, reverting it to a primal state. The book ends with the birth of Jonathan Storm Jr.

I haven’t read this book through in probably ten years, and it still holds up. The battle scenes are busy but engrossing. I found myself excited at the same parts, and hopeful at the end, just as I was when I first read it. This is masterful storytelling, and I love What If…? for exactly these kinds of stories.

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Follow Brad Gischia on Twitter:  @comicwasteland

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