Review by Frank Plowright
Over the two previous volumes What If?: The Complete Classic Collection started with good intentions, but rapidly sunk into mediocrity, with imagination stunted and execution mundane. With this selection, though, there’s fun to be had, although often dependent on familiarity with what were considered landmark stories in the early 1980s, but which superhero fans under fifty may not know. The death of Phoenix (Mary Jo Duffy and Jerry Bingham), the death of Elektra (Frank Miller) and Korvac almost defeating the entire Avengers roster single handedly (Mark Gruenwald and Greg LaRocque) are revisited, and all the variations still entertain.
Even more dependent on long memories is an issue entirely devoted to parody. In memorable single panels Fred Hembeck recasts the Fantastic Four as bananas, Bob Budiansky has Ghost Rider running a fast food franchise and Mark Gruenwald has Cyclops’ beams emerging from his ears. Good single pagers are Mary Jo Duffy and Terry Austin having Watchers watching Watchers watching Watchers…, Frank Miller presenting a deaf Daredevil, and Roger Stern and Austin’s Blondie and Dagwood pastiche with the Hulk, that now a reference almost as dated as the Bing Crosby and Conan joke. Despite that, the comedy hit rate is high overall.
After the opening stories, there’s a policy shift, and it’s more frequently the case that stories run under thirty pages, which is sensible enough as it’s been noticeable that inclusions in previous volumes and early on here are padded to fit the page count. There’s some phenomenal Gil Kane art on Tony Isabella’s story revisiting the death of Gwen Stacy, but beyond her survival standard Spider-Man plays out. The largely unknown Bill Flanagan writes a better Spider-Man story about his clone surviving, the neat touch being the clone only having memories of Spider-Man’s earliest adventures. A good use of the shorter page count is the Dazzler being appointed the Herald of Galactus by Danny Fingeroth and Mike Vosburg. It sounds a joke premise, and is partially dependent on people actually remembering who Dazzler is, but there’s a tragic emphasis on what Galactus actually does as seen through human eyes.
Kane, Miller and the under-rated Bingham are the standout artists in a collection not offering much for art fans, but that applies to the series as a whole. Too many pages lack any kind of imagination, even when the concept is there on a plate for the artist to exploit. Iron Man in Camelot ought to be a visual treat, but Don Perlin sucks any joy from the idea. If you can put up with unimaginative art, there’s more to recommend this selection than either Vol. 1 or Vol. 2, and it offers hope for Vol. 4.