Comics : What If? (Vol. 2) #20

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: What If, Whenever, Wherever...

This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

Well to be honest the One More Day storyline in which Mephisto alters history and annuls Peter and Mary Jane's marriage prompted me to pull out this two parter that touches on the same subject. In this alternate time line Peter Parker forgoes getting married to Mary Jane for reasons that will be revealed.

In Detail...

"What if Spider-Man had not married Mary Jane?"
What If? (Vol. 2) #20
Dec 1990 : SM Guest
Summary: Branch: ASM Ann #21
Editor:  Craig Anderson
Writer:  Danny Fingeroth
Pencils:  Jim Valentino
Inker:  Chris Ivy
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Articles: Silver Sable

The Watcher greets the reader as is the custom of this series. He explains that while he does observe the Earth of the official Marvel Universe, he is also able to observe the multiverse. There is a reason that the "real" Marvel Earth has the designation 616. The alternate Earth that he observes in this story is one in which Peter Parker – by choice – does not marry Mary Jane Watson.

The Watcher recaps the events that have transpired in the life of the Earth 616 Spider-Man to illustrate where this Earth diverges. Peter's first girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, died at the hands of the Green Goblin. After some time had past, Peter and Mary Jane Watson began a serious relationship. Peter eventually proposed to Mary Jane, but she turned him down. Unknown to Peter, she had several family issues to work through in addition to accepting the fact that Peter was Spider-Man. She eventually left to pursue a lucrative modeling career.

During her absence Spider-Man began a relationship with the Black Cat, a criminal obsessed with Spider-Man. While exciting and new, this proved to be an unstable relationship due to her reckless tendencies. Despite his optimistic outlook, he eventually had to end their relationship as she was more interested in Spider-Man than "Peter Parker".

Mary Jane ultimately returned and they tried to maintain a platonic relationship, but their mutual love was always just below the surface. She eventually confessed that she knew he was Spider-Man and their relationship deepened. Peter eventually proposed to Mary Jane for the second time. As fate would have it she would be forced to confront her greatest fears at the same time. Her abusive long-lost father returned and she was able to confront Peter's life as Spider-Man head on by helping him defeat Alistaire Smythe's spider-slayer. She realizes that not all marriages will turn out like her parents and that Peter is the right match for her. She accepts his proposal.

However, on this Earth, Mary Jane was injured by Smythe's newest spider-slayer while Peter was momentarily incapacitated. She is hospitalized for one to two weeks (assumed, not specified). During one of Peter's visits, she accepts Peter's proposal. That night Peter has a nightmare in which he relives the Green Goblin kills Gwen Stacy. In Gwen's place however is Mary Jane. He awakens in a cold sweat and tries to convince himself that everything is - and will be - fine.

He tries to convince himself everything is fine up to the day of the wedding and during the exchange of vows. It is at this point he tells MJ and all those in attendance that he can't marry her. Peter pulls her aside and tearfully explains that "for her own good" he can't put her through another experience like the one with Smythe. Mary Jane composes herself as best she can, given the circumstances, and tells Peter that she respects his decision. She walks away in tears and disappears into the crowd still wearing her wedding dress. Peter tries to convince himself that he's done the right thing.

For the next several nights, Peter vents all his frustrations against every criminal he encounters. When he runs out of common criminals, he and Sandman are contracted by Silver Sable to hunt down international terrorists. Silver notices his aggressive attitude and correctly guesses the cause of his problem. She sets aside her concern for him and tries to keep under control as best she can.

Several days later, Peter makes his way to Aunt May's house in Forrest Hills to visit her. They haven't spoken since the near-wedding. As she opens the door, Peter attempts to explain, but May stops him. She doesn't want to pry and assumes that he had a good reason for this decision. May continues by telling Peter she wishes that he could find someone to share his life with.

The next day Peter sends a letter to the last known address of Felicia Hardy aka The Black Cat. Two weeks later Peter answers a knock on the door of his Chelsea Street apartment. It's Felicia - in costume - reciting MJ's famous opening line: "Face It, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot". As they kiss in the doorway, Ms. Muggins observes from a distance. She disapproves of the "punk rock airhead" in favor of his previous girlfriend (MJ).

Once they have rekindled their romance, Peter and Felicia go out on patrol as Spider-Man and the Black Cat. After they stop a simple bank robbery, Felicia goes too far when she cuts one of the thieves with her claws just for fun. Spider-Man grabs her and swings away. On a nearby rooftop, Peter has to remind her that they don't use excessive force or hit defenseless criminals. She tells him that they reminded her of her past and will try to restrain herself in the future. This is what she says; the look in her eyes as they embrace says otherwise.

As it occurred on Earth 616, Kraven returns. His obsession with Spider-Man has driven him insane causing him to believe his has disgraced his family name. Obsessed with restoring his lost honor, Kraven drugs Spider-Man and buries him alive while he takes his place. This is part of a revenge scheme to prove that he is the superior warrior.

Unlike other Earths, this Spider-Man has someone with the resources to track down her missing boyfriend. As Kraven stands over Spider-Man's grave reveling in his final triumph over his greatest enemy, Felicia attacks him. With a coating of curare on her gloves, she kills him in cold blood and frantically digs Spider-Man out. His first words bring her to tears, but not in the way she expected. He mistakenly calls her "Mary Jane". She convinces herself that the drugs Kraven used made him say that. Nothing else.

Later on they are able to bring down Electro as well as a new villain by the name of Venom. Felicia subdues him with Reed Richards' sonic blaster and must once again be restrained from killing him with the device.

Spider-Man and the Black Cat make the front page of the Daily Bugle. When Mary Jane calls Peter's apartment for some answers, Felicia answers. Her chilly reception does little to improve her mood. Several minutes later, Mary Jane leaves her apartment wondering what motivated her to call Peter. Before she makes it to the bottom step, the Black Cat appears wearing an engagement ring. Black Cat announces that "she's going to be Spider-Man's wife" and rubs her nose in the fact Peter left her at the altar.

While a stunned MJ tries to process what just happen, a stranger who has overheard their exchange conversation does the same. The opportunistic man recognizes MJ, knows she was engaged to Peter Parker, and now has some information worth millions.

In General...

This is a well thought-out story interweaving existing elements of continuity with a new reality. The story follows a clear path that one can believe would occur if Peter had decided to forgo marrying MJ.

Felicia is the most logical candidate for rebound girlfriend. It is obvious that she is still exhibiting some of the impulsiveness that caused Peter to break up with her in the first place. Sometimes that behavior is good. Case in point: Kraven. Sometimes that behavior is bad. Case in point: rubbing MJ's face in her engagement to Peter and accidentally revealing his secret identity to a greedy eavesdropper. Peter's apparently willing to take the bad with the good. We'll see what happens as a result of this development next issue.

Overall Rating...

Despite some minor issues this was a very enjoyable read.

  • Peter's last minute decision to call off the wedding borders on the ridiculous. I don't see him as the type of person to stand any woman up at the altar. A movie maybe, but not their wedding.
  • Felicia would never use the "Face it, Tiger" line.
  • Felicia is always shown in costume throughout the story. I'm thinking that their reunion in the doorway would compromise his secret identity. However it was Ms. Muggins that saw them. She doesn't come across as a "current events" person and I'm thinking that Peter would do the grocery shopping.
  • One event happened out of sequence. Spider-Man is shown working with Sandman and Silver Sable to capture terrorists. They actually worked together to bring in Neo-Nazis after Kraven and Venom, not before. This is rather picky as it doesn't detract from the story, but I'm just surprised that this was altered.

Jim Valentino's artwork is virtually flawless. Nothing flashy, just good composition and a reasonable level of detail. It works perfectly with the story.

Footnote...

This is a lot of continuity to fit into an alternate history. That's what impresses me the most.