These alternative versions of Marvel’s stories swerve all over the place in terms of quality, some surprisingly good, others astonishingly poor, and not necessarily the creative teams expected delivering the goods.

As the stories become more original, though, they hinge on situations and characters possibly unknown to readers under the age of fifty. Does anyone know who Dazzler is now? If you’re among them, her becoming Herald to Galactus is better than you might imagine, Danny Fingeroth and Mike Vosburg emphasising the horror of what Galactus does as seen through human eyes. Vosburg’s also good on an otherwise so-so Nova story. How many years have passed since Bullseye killing Elektra in Frank Miller’s classic Daredevil? Is it still a Marvel landmark? Miller provides a good alternative version here. Recognition is certainly a factor in the fast-paced parody issue, and a Bing Crosby joke represents several now decades beyond their sell-by date. However, the hit rate remains high, if not always politically correct. Not every idea needs even ten pages, and here nothing extends beyond a single page, many presented as just the single panel, like Mark Gruenwald asking ‘What If Cyclops’ Energy Beams Came Out of His Ears?’

There’s a meta-quality to John Byrne presenting the Fantastic Four as adventurers without super powers, given their similarity to Jack Kirby’s earlier Challengers of the Unknown, but their subsequent meeting with the Mole Man never really sparks. That also applies to most of the later stories, in which some nice ideas – Bill Foster joining the FF – are lost in ordinary material, or worse still, sequences that readers had seen before, and have many times since. Alan Weiss bucks the trend with some great art and a neat solution on a story about the Beast continuing to mutate, while Vosburg isn’t on such great form for David Anthony Kraft’s twisted Silver Surfer story

Issue themes come into play at the end, and the final selections all glimpse into the future. The first concerns Vision and Thor not ageing when all other Avengers do, but it lays on the melodrama too thickly, and Captain America and family is a pretty standard adventure complete with the Red Skull. Alan Kupperberg closes the volume with plenty of Miller homages on a story of geriatric Black Widow and Daredevil in action. They’ll be feeling it in the morning after throwing themselves around like that, and there’s the Kingpin, still monologuing all those years in the future of 2013.

Overall, the quality here is front ended, and while the occasional Marvel superstar did find time to contribute to What If?, most of this volume is by creators who aren’t as fondly remembered. These stories were later repackaged over Vol. 3 and 4 of What If?: The Complete Classic Collection. The latter also includes Vol. 7, finishing this series.