Comics/Graphic Novels

11 of the Best Marvel What If…? Comics

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Chris M. Arnone

Senior Contributor

The son of a librarian, Chris M. Arnone's love of books was as inevitable as gravity. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri - Kansas City. His novel, The Hermes Protocol, was published by Castle Bridge Media in 2023 and the next book in that series is due out in winter 2024. His work can also be found in Adelaide Literary Magazine and FEED Lit Mag. You can find him writing more books, poetry, and acting in Kansas City. You can also follow him on social media (Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, website).

As a kid riding his bicycle to the comic book store, my pockets stuffed with lawn-mowing money, Marvel’s What If…? comics always held a special fascination. Seeing Storm wield Mjolnir or Wolverine become a vampire meant that my friends and I sat around, reading these comics, and then spitballing our own “what if?” scenarios. None of them were any good, I’m sure. Many of them involved dreaming up our ultimate superhero teams, giving our favorite characters outsized roles, and lots of imagining different characters swapping powers.

Sure, those mutant-focused issues still ring through the years in my memory, but then I started to wonder, what are the best What If…? comics? For me, the memories of childhood can render everything through rose-colored glasses. After all, I really got into comics in the early ’90s, which was a wild time of astronomically high sales and a lot of middling storytelling. So instead of relying on my recollections, I grabbed my iPad and my Marvel Unlimited account to dig through decades of What If…? stories.

Some of these go way back before I started reading comics. Others are much more recent, playing with multiverses like the Disney+ show of the same name, and making me wonder how non-canonical they really are. For my money, here are the best What If…? comics that you should absolutely read.

cover of What If Annihilation Had Reached Earth

What If…? Annihilation Reached Earth by David Hine, Mico Suayan, Rafael Kayanan

This book is part of a more recent series that reimagined the events of some major Marvel crossovers. In the original Annihilation, Annihilus invades our universe. The fighting is big and epic and stays in the furthest reaches of space. In this story, the invasion reaches Earth in the midst of the Civil War event, and the loss of life is pretty catastrophic.

cover of What If Avengers Had Become Pawns of Korvac

What if the Avengers Had Become Pawns of Korvac? by Mark Gruenwald, Peter Sanderson, Greg LaRocque, Glynis Wein

Here’s a classic. In the original Korvac saga, a man named Michael Korvac becomes basically a god, but through his own humanity, ends his threat and undoes the terrible destruction he wrought. In this What If…?, things don’t go the same way at all. Korvac kills the Avengers and then resurrects them as tools. This story spins quickly out of control and is a heartbreaking story of ultimate power and destruction.

Cover of What If Bullseye Had Not Killed Elektra

What if Elektra Had Lived? by Frank Miller

Let’s go the opposite direction with this next classic and another one of the best What If…? comics. In Miller’s original tale, Bullseye killed Elektra because Kingpin put out a hit on her. In this version, Elektra survives because Matt and Elektra flee New York City to hide and create new lives.

cover of What If Dark Reign

What if…? Dark Reign by Jason Henderson, Sana Takeda

The original Dark Reign story followed Secret Invasion and depicted Norman Osborn rising to power in the vacuum that inevitably followed. In this What If…?, however, Hawkeye decides that Norman needs to die, and things take an even darker turn than in the original story.

Disclosure: Jason Henderson is one of my publishers at Castle Bridge Media

cover of What If The Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Powers

What if The Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their SuperPowers? by John Byrne

Here’s another classic What If…? from the legendary John Byrne. The story is just what you would expect, that the First Family of Marvel didn’t get their powers, but they’re heroes nonetheless. In fact, they fight Giganto just like in the first issue of Fantastic Four, and still manage to beat it with teamwork and ingenuity.

cover of What If Men Behind the Mask

What if…? The Men Behind The Mask by Lysa Hawkins, Eric Battle

This is a fun story from the late ’90s, back when Peter and Felicia (Black Cat) were together. Sort of like, um, right now, actually. Anyway, when Felicia accidentally endangers Flash Thompson, she sees the only way to fix the issue is to unmask Spider-Man as Peter Parker. See how What If…? and canon can get so mixed up over the years?

cover of What If Miles Morales Became Captain America

What if Miles Morales Became Captain America? by Cody Ziglar, Paco Medina, Sara Pichelli

A very recent miniseries reimagined Miles Morales as a different Marvel superhero with each issue. My favorite of the bunch imagined him as Captain America. There’s something about the quippy, flippant nature of Miles donning the shield that is hilarious.

Cover of What If The Phoenix Had Not Died

What if The Phoenix Had Not Died? by Mary Joe Duffy, Joe Bingham

In the original Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean eventually sacrificed herself to stop the Phoenix Force from overwhelming her and consuming, well, everything. In this alternative version, Jean was resurrected. While she starts well, stopping Galactus, the Phoenix Force is just too much, and things end even more tragically than in the original story.

cover of What If Spider-Man The Other

What if…? Spider-Man: The Other by Peter David, Khoi Pham

Here, one of my favorite comic book writers reimagines the Spider-Man: The Other storyline. Instead of Peter embracing his spider side and returning from the dead, Peter rejects it, though that means that when he emerges from his cocoon, something even more bestial emerges.

cover of What If Spider-Man's Uncle Ben Had Lived

What if Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben Had Lived? by Peter Gillis, Ron Frenz

You may have noticed a trend in the old What If…? comics by now. They either end tragically or reinforce that heroes are always heroes, no matter the circumstances. This is another of the latter. Since Uncle Ben doesn’t die, those origin events unfold in a very different way, but of course, Peter finds his way to understanding the responsibility of his powers.

cover of What If Wolverine Had Killed The Hulk

What if Wolverine Had Killed The Hulk? by Rick Margopoulos, Bob Budiansky

Wolverine was actually introduced as a one-off Hulk villain charged with capturing Big Green. In this classic, Wolverine disobeys orders and actually kills Hulk. On the run, Wolverine is initially picked up by Magneto and the Brotherhood and sent to infiltrate the X-Men. He, of course, falls for Jean while undercover, and you can guess how the rest of this goes.

I’ve certainly left off some of your favorite What If…? comics. What are they? Have any of them wound up closer to canon than not as the years have gone on? How excited are you for season two of the Disney+ series?