I often have to wonder, what if we had more “What If” stories?
‘THE ROAD NOT TRAVELLED’
We just can’t help it! We have to ask ourselves sometimes if we made the best choice. Did we do the right thing breaking up with that person? Should we have chosen another job or turned down that work offer? Should we have zigged when we zagged?
I suppose if we didn’t have the capacity to wonder like this that our lives might be a lot less complicated. “It is what it is,” the saying goes. But still, we wonder.
That same conflict arises in our reading of comics. What if the Phoenix hadn’t turned Dark? What if Batman’s parents had not died that night in Crime Alley? The possibilities are endless!
Every so often, a comic goes in a direction we have to question. Should Batman have married Catwoman back in issue #50? is my latest wonder. There was a huge buildup to it, but then they just turned their separate directions and faded into the night. Personally, I would have liked to see Bruce Wayne get hitched.
Hey, it worked for Clark Kent, right?
Should we have more stories that explore what might have happened?
DC did this a lot for quite a while. They used to call them “Imaginary Stories.” Of course, a lot of my friends used to ask, “Aren’t they ALL imaginary stories?” Good point!
Some of these “Imaginary Stories” have been great reading. For instance, way back in Superman #162 in July of 1963, the original Superman-Red and Superman-Blue tale was presented. In an attempt to increase his intelligence, Superman accidentally split himself into twin Supermen. One wears a red costume, the other blue.
Each proceeds to move forward with different plans to resolve problems they face. For instance, they create an “anti-evil” ray that stops villains and others from performing evil deeds across the planet.
Eventually, Superman-Red proposes to Lois Lane and moves to New Krypton with her, no longer super-powered and raising his “normal” family. On the other hand, Superman-Blue proposes to Lana Lang and remains on Earth to raise a super-powered family and continues to right the wrongs of the galaxy.
There have been other Superman-Red and Superman-Blue stories, but that one remains my favorite. It was fun for me as a fan to see how the Man of Steel might have fixed those pesky problems of crime and relationships. As a kid, I loved it!
I also enjoyed Gotham by Gaslight, a story that explored Batman in an earlier era. It was an interesting story that was eventually turned into an animated film.
One Imaginary Story that I still think about took place in Worlds Finest #172 back in October of 1967. When Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, he is adopted by… of all people… Jonathan and Martha Kent. This makes Bruce and Clark adopted brothers.
When Bruce goes on patrol in his Bat-costume one time, Clark’s super-hearing detects him coming home late at night. The two vow to work together to stop the kind of crimes that made Bruce an orphan.
Interestingly enough, even this idyllic home life can’t save Bruce. He eventually has to go into the future to fight crime because he’s still so haunted by his past. That was an odd way to resolve the story, I still feel, but even Batman needs a “happy” ending once in a while.
With the coming of “Infinite Frontier,” well, everything might be an Imaginary Story but still part of DC’s continuity. The new question might be Why Not? instead of What If?
Marvel, back in those same days, was also interested in exploring how differently things might have unfolded if certain pivotal moments in its history happened differently.
Instead of one-shots, the House of Ideas at first had an ongoing What If? series that explored this concept.
For instance, the very first issue asked, “What if Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” This eventually would take place in Marvel, but at that time, it was a question a lot of fans wondered about.
That would happen a lot in this comic series. For instance, the book would soon ask, “What if the Hulk had the brain of Bruce Banner?” Yes, that would eventually happen with the character. Another wondered, “What if the world knew Daredevil was blind?” Also, “What If Jane Foster had found the hammer of Thor?” That also would eventually happen in regular Marvel continuity.
My biggest problem with the What If? books had to do with the way they resolved. It was almost as if the higher-ups at the House of Ideas wanted everyone to understand that the way the stories were told in Marvel continuity was the BEST way it could have happened. I felt like I was reading a story that could have been subtitled, “You think it was bad the way this story ended? Well, it could have been MUCH WORSE!” The book would then proceed to show us just how terribly stories might have actually ended.
Maybe I wasn’t the only one to detect this pattern because those stories faded away eventually.
Hopefully, this new “What If?” mini-series will not show us just how awful everything and everyone would have become if the alien symbiote hadn’t jumped hosts eventually. Shades of grey here might be a cool change of pace.
THE POSSIBILITIES TRULY ARE ENDLESS
I’ve mentioned before in this column that some comics fans really want continuity to be king. If something happened once 10 years ago, it should not be contradicted in a comic released today.
I don’t adhere to that concept. What matters most to me is a good story. Does it make sense within itself? Is it consistent with the characters? And, of course—does it make for a compelling and interesting story?
Other than that, I’m not married to the importance of continuity. I brought up the concept of Batman marrying Catwoman here because I truly would enjoy exploring that taking place today. Granted, the Batman on Earth-2 married Catwoman and died terribly (so he wasn’t going to be confused with “our” Batman any longer), but I think there are a lot of things that could make for interesting stories along those lines.
I’m enjoying Tom King’s current Batman Catwoman DC Black Label comics, and that book often considers that they DID marry eventually. I LIKE that!
I’ve told my continuity friends, If you don’t want that to happen, don’t buy the book! Really!
I’ll be fascinated to see how this What If? Spidey story resolves. Of course, they could have wrapped up the tale in one issue (as if ANY comic does that these days). But four issues give Chip Zdarsky the ability to flesh out what could have happened. And that intrigues me!
Anybody else interested in more Imaginary Stories/What If? tales? I know I’m on board with it! As long as it’s a good story, I’ll buy it!