The basis of the "What If?" series is to give Marvel fans a glimpse into the road less travelled by their favorite and not-so-favorite heroes with mild to moderate success. It's also worth noting that, ninety percent of the time, "What If?" stories don't have a happy ending.
It's the first issue of the first volume of "What If?", and what better question to explore than "What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four"?
The book begins with Uatu, the Watcher and some would say star of "What If?" explaining what the series is about, including a bunch of cameos of other Marvel characters and a certain Kryptonian's arm. As the long-winded Watcher goes on, we eventually reach the point when we get to the background of the story. At things happened in the normal Marvel continuity, Peter Parker went to the Fantastic Four in search of a job utilizing his spider-skills, only to be shot down after defeating the Fantasic Four. A brief interlude occurs as Uatu illustrates the nature of cause of effect, then it's back to the story where Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl, has a change of heart and shouts to Spider-Man to come back to the Baxter Building.
Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic), at the behest of Sue, begins to think aloud about the pros of hiring Spider-Man, while Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (the Thing) try to prove Reed's points wrong. The Fantastic Four come to a decision: Spider-Man can join, if he reveals his secret identity. Will he do it? Well, considering the name of the story...
After Spider-Man unmasks, he goes to tell Aunt May the good news that he's gotten a job with odd hours. She's a bit anxious about it, but pleased that her nephew is such a good boy, unlike "that evil Spider-Person the Daily Bugle keeps talking about!" That evening at a hurriedly convened press conference, the Fantastic Four announce that there is no longer a Fantastic Four! At a cue from Reed, the team takes the "4" symbol off to reveal a "5", and the press immediately asks who the fifth wheel is. At that, Spider-Man leaps out with a "5" on his chest as well.
Of course, while most of the press is intrigued and confused, one man is outraged: J. Jonah Jameson! However, as the esteemed publisher rants and raves, Mister Fantastic comes to Spider-Man's defense, and the wind is immediately blown out of Jonah's sails. He immediately steps onto the stage to publicly forgive Spider-Man for the nasty things that were printed in the Bugle about him, and announce that the paper endorses the web-slinger. However, Jonah bemoans the fact that you just can't get good news photographers these days.
Elsewhere, the Chameleon learns of Spider-Man's new team affiliation and innocence, and the poor villian lapses into obscurity. The Vulture's crime spree, however, is already in full swing, but screeches to a halt when the old bird is defeated by the Fantastic Five. Several days later, the team decides to win the space race for the United States and land on the moon! However, only four can go, and Sue Storm is the odd woman out, and stays behind to monitor their journey.
Of course, upon the moon, the team encounters the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes as well as Uatu himself. After a brief skirmish, the Super Apes and the Fantastic Four return to Earth, where a plot is afoot to lure them from the heights of space to the depths of the ocean! Prince Namor summons the Invisible Girl to him, and she willingly obliges. Once she arrives, however, the Sub-Mariner uses an odd fish to hypnotize and carry her back to Namor's undersea domain as the sinister Puppet Master watches on and rants about how his plan is going well.
The rest of the Fantastic Five are testing the Thing's strength, but suddenly the Sub-Mariner pays them a visit. After their attacks on him prove futile, the mental projection of Namor announces that he has Sue captive in his undersea realm. Reed is furious, and soon the team is on their way to face Namor and rescue Sue. Once again, however, the Puppet Master watches on and gloats.
The team reaches Namor only to find that Sue is trapped in a bubble inside of a tank with the world's mightiest Octopus within it. Reed thinks something is fishy, however, as Namor loves Sue and would never harm her. One by one, the Fantastic Five rush at Namor, and fail miserably in any attempt to defeat him. Soon, only Mister Fantastic is left, and boy, is he mad. However, his rage overcomes his common sense, and soon he's at the mercy of Namor. Luckily, Spider-Man comes to Reed's aid, and then everyone remembers Sue and the mighty octopus. The Thing saves her the only way he can: punching stuff.
At this point, the Puppet Master is desperate to defeat his foes, even if it means the death of his pawn. Thanks to a witty comment by Spider-Man, however, Mister Fantastic realizes who's behind the whole mess. No one really cares, though, and the Fantastic Five rush to beat the Sub-Mariner's face in. Sue steps in to stop them, and a moment later, the octopus smashes through the undersea dome of the Sub-Mariner. Luckily, the octopus hits the submarine of the Puppet Master, which frees Namor from his spell and defeats the Puppet Master in one fell swoop. There's still the matter of the undersea dome being smashed, but Spider-Man and the Human Torch quickly remedy this problem.
Then Reed and Namor decide to end their fight for Sue, once and for all! Once again, the Invisible Girl steps in and says that only she can make such a decision. She thinks that Reed and the Fantastic Five no longer need her, and chooses Namor. Reed tries to win her back through the logical assumption that she'd perish underwater, but Namor is prepared. He puts her into a shell- device that should make her an amphibious member of the Atlantean. She enters to the chagrin of her teammates, but as she exits, all of them discover that she can't breath! Namor realizes that the only Atlantean that's amphibious is he, and he angrily hurls the device through the dome, smashing it once again. The Fantastic Four choose this moment to leave, and Namor says he will make Sue forget Reed.
Meanwhile, Reed is trying to rationalize Sue's sudden departure and Spider-Man is bemoaning the fact that he feels responsible for Sue's choice. Johnny tells him that if he had never joined the FF, things would have probably worked out the same, and Spidey agrees, feeling a little bit better. Poor misguided wall- crawler.
The first thing that comes to mind after reading "What If V1 #1" is how many words are in the book. There's a whole lot of them, but thankfully the story they make up is a spiffy and interesting look at an alternate universe. The characters acted in their normal manner, from the rivalry between Spider-Man and the Human Torch to Reed trying to think his way out of feeling sad about the loss of Sue. The art, meanwhile, is par for the course. All in all, an enjoyable if wordy read.
This otherwise excellent book loses half a web because Ben Grimm doesn't look like he did at the time the story takes place.
Poor Spider-Man. Even in a story that should have a happy ending, it's sad basically because of him.