Books I Read: What If? Dark Avengers

I'm a great fan of the "What If?" concept; I own all 7 volumes (so far) of "What If? Classic". But the end-of-year "What If?" specials from the last few years haven't impressed me much, with the exception of the Jessica Jones one where her "What If?" life was actually better than her real life at the time. The 2010 batch has just been collected, so let's see if they did a better job this year.

I was excited for "What If Tony Stark Had Become Doctor Doom" because it's written by the old school team of David Micheline & Bob Layton, but I was disappointed. The change in the timeline didn't have enough basis for me, and I didn't think the story made sense internally: Why would Doom-as-Tony design an Iron Man style armor instead of a Doom style armor and vice versa? It's great to see Batman artist Graham Nolan back in the game, though.

Better for me was "What If Wolverine Had Raised Daken?" by Rob Willams and Greg Tocchini. The story results from a little tweak to the original, which I like, there's some suspense to how Daken is going to turn out, and it's got the classic "What If?" tragic twist.

"What If Spider-Man Killed Kraven The Hunter?" is one of the best looking stories in the book, drawn by regular Spider-Man artist Paul Azaceta. Writer Mark Sable wisely turns the story on a single split-second decision, but Peter spirals out of control so fast that it strains credibility. This one probably would have worked a little better with a few more pages.

"What If Hawkeye Killed Norman Osborn?" is the best plotted story in the book. Jason Henderson's story has room to breathe, nobody's out of character, and events proceed logically but surprisingly. There's a bit with Clint's middle name that I particularly like. On the downside, the dialogue isn't great ("You can't hide from the Spider, buddy.") and Sana Takeda's art is a touch too much towards anime for this story.

"What If Venom Possessed Deadpool?" was the backup story in the individual issues, so it feels like it goes on forever when put together here. It's not nearly as funny as Rick Remender seems to think it is, unfortunately, though I laughed at the Billy Ocean and Highlander jokes. (Which may say more about me than about the story, come to think of it.)

I was looking forward to "What If Norman Osborn Won the Siege of Asgard?" because it sounds like an interesting idea and Marc Guggenheim is one of my favorite writers, but it turns out this is one of those cases where the flip side of the "real" story is not that interesting. Basically, Norman wins and a lot of people get killed. There's nothing wrong with the writing, it's just that for me the premise didn't go anywhere. Dave Wilkins' art is good, but I thought the coloring made it look too garish instead of giving the painted look I think they were going for.

Stan Lee's "What If the Watcher Killed Galactus?" is surprisingly serious, given the goofy takes he's been doing on his characters lately, and it works. Former FF penciller Dale Eaglesham does a great job, as you'd expect. His two-page spread of the council of Watchers is especially nice.

The bonus features are well tailored to a fan like me: an interview with Roy Thomas about how "What If?" was created, a list of some favorite "What If?" stories by Marvel creators, a reprint of one of their favorites: Frank Miller's "What If Elektra Had Lived?" (in which the Watcher is kind of a dick, I discovered upon rereading), a complete cover gallery of all 200 issues, and some of Dale Eaglesham's pencils from the Watcher story.

A mixed bag, to be sure, but overall I liked this better than previous years' offerings.


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