This has been one of the more difficult reviews to write. There is so much source material to choose from, yet I must limit it to three issues if I’m going to write anything concise and palatable without delving into madness. In the What If series, our protagonists are often either presented with varying degrees of differing circumstances or they make a separate choice at a critical moment in their lives that causes a divergence from the base 616 universe. Sometimes these circumstances or choices can lead to a would be hero going down a villainous path or a would be villain finding a redeemable path. I chose to review “What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?,” “What If Miles Morales Became Captain America?,” and “What If Storm Had Remained a Thief?” These stories each focus on characters with strong and unique personalities and convictions. Can any set of circumstances or choices change who Wolverine, Miles, or Storm are fundamentally at their core?
In “What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?” we see Wolverine tasked with capturing Hulk and the Wendigo just like in Wolverine’s first appearance, Hulk #181. However, this time Logan decides accepting a draw with the big green behemoth is not acceptable. He decides to go against his orders and slay the Hulk. This act certainly seems like foreshadowing for Wolverine to take a darker path than in the 616 continuity.
The Hulk’s death also brings about surprising changes in General Ross. Despite him having dedicated much of his time to stopping the Hulk, he realizes the pain this causes his daughter. Would he have had this same revelation had he been the one to deal the fatal blow, or would he have been prone to let his ego justify it?
Wolverine’s choice to kill the Hulk sends him down a dark path where he is more reckless with his abilities. We see him spiraling down into self loathing and desperation, especially after killing a civilian in a bar fight.
This ultimately leads toward Magneto rather than Xavier. He feels he has nowhere else left to turn, especially after Vindicator refuses to help him (no surprise there). Vindicator always put his loyalty to his job over his loyalty to his friends. This is no exception in this divergent reality.
This betrayal certainly set the stage for Magneto to take advantage. Keep in mind this well before Magneto demonstrated really any redeemable qualities and was an over the top, grandiose villain. Surely such an alliance can’t last, can it?
There is a saying that priorities change, but values do not. Wolverine for all his flaws has always been a man of principle. The question is: are those values ingrained enough to take over and right his ship regardless of how far he has fallen at this point. We get to see Wolverine being internally torn about with cognitive dissonance. You’ll need to read the book to find out whether his conscience is enough to veer Logan back on the right path.
I would also like to point out that this issue is loaded with easter eggs including having Wolverine don both his original mask with whiskers and his more iconic cowl. We also see hints of Jean becoming the Phoenix, Magneto’s use of his powers on Wolverine, and the subtle suggestions of the rivalry between Logan and Scott. Overall, it is a fun read that helps you learn more about who Wolverine really is.
In “What if Miles Morales Became Captain America,” we are immediately presented with the core similarities between Miles and Steve. Both hate bullies and are determined to stand up for the little guy. However, in this tale, Steve dies defending freedom, inspiring Miles to continue his legacy.
Instead of being bitten by a genetically engineered spider, Miles takes the Super Soldier serum and gains the powers of Captain America. He and his uncle Aaron also have a similar relationship to that of Peter Parker and Uncle Ben with a similar tragedy with Aaron’s “death.”
Also, much like Steve after he has been thawed out, Miles has to get accustomed to teamwork. Just like Steve, he has the Falcon as a “side kick;” just don’t let her hear you call her that. They work well together despite their competitiveness. Neither wants to admit they need the other while they clearly do.
Miles has to deal with several other parallel’s to Steve’s Captain America. He has to work with Shield and has to face a skull themed villain. Much like the Red Skull, the Gray Skull is seeking to use an object of immense power, similar to the cosmic cube, to achieve his goals. He’s even injected himself with the super soldier serum as well.
However, unlike the Red Skull, the Grey Skull is less patient and has different motivations. Rather than being determined to bring about a New World Order, Grey Skull seems to be only motivated by money. He’s a sloppier version and this may be intentional. It would be a mismatch to have Miles face off against a mastermind like the Red Skull initially.
It’s important to note that Miles’ family dynamics are similar to the 616 arc in which he is Spider-Man. He has a lot of support from his family, but also finds out that his Uncle Aaron is really the Prowler in this reality as well.
The biggest variables to this story are Miles’ inspirations and the origins of his power set. Will this alone be enough to change him at the core? Could any other scenarios change him? Afterall, this isn’t the only reality in which Miles dons a different name and suit. If you enjoy this book, be sure to explore more of the multiverse of Miles Morales.
“What if Storm Had Remained a Thief?” is probably one of the most philosophical of the “What If” stories. I know I’ve been guilty of pondering several choices I’ve made in my life and wondering what would have happened had a I chose a different career path, taken a different offer, or stuck with a hobby that I had abandoned. Uatu the Watcher has us contemplate these variables on the first page to get into the mindset appropriate to follow Ororo on her alternate journey. I’m also partial to this issue since my friend, the great Deryl Skelton, worked on it.
In this tale, Storm meets an elderly thief as a child who takes her in. In this case it’s not the Shadow King, but the much more benevolent Herman Hassel who believes in honor among theives. He mentors her to only steal from the wealthy and never take someone’s last dollar. He teaches her to look after her fellow theives and preaches thievery as a means of survival in a corrupt dog-eat-dog world rather than as a means to get rich. Although this is a much different path than the one Xavier puts her on in 616, it is benign enough to entice the young Ororo and appeal to her innate moral compass.
When she does finally meet the X-Men, as fate would have it, she views them through a much different lens. She’s not able to relate to them or even contemplate that she could be anything like them including being a mutant. She sees their luxurious mansion and views them as defenders of the rich. She believes they do not care what happens to the poor and doesn’t even consider that mutantkind itself is oppressed.
It is no surprise that Ororo feels the way she does. She has seen an ugly side of the world where the wealthy take advantage of the poor and the poor in turn learn to return the favor. When she views the world through this dichotomy, she’s unable to see where their interests are aligned. How could she believe the X-Men have good intentions when they have even more wealth than the police who are supposed to protect and serve her community? When Ororo pick pockets a wealthy man, he attempts to rape her and may have succeeded if not for help from another “undesirable.” However, when the police come, we see everyone arrested except for the attempted rapist. She also learns that the cops can be bought.
Whether it be Wolverine, Miles, or Storm, their varying circumstances and decisions had a significant impact on the outcome of their lives. Yet, they still find their lives intertwined with those closest to them in these divergent timelines. Logan and Ororo both eventually find themselves engaged with the X-Men and Miles is once again caught up with the Prowler. The question I pose to you is this: did the events of any of these alternate paths change who any of these three were at their core? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and share my conclusions as well.