Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Truth in advertising: I did not gasp once at the fate of Colonel John Jameson! USAF!
Marvel’s costumed web-swinger is presently being surrounded by a throng of his interdimensional lookalikes courtesy of something called a “Spider-Verse,” one of those limitless comics events which establishes that the scope and range of God’s limitless shore of reality is a swirling cacophony of endless possibilities but it only primarily manifests itself as your favorite superhero wearing a different pair of socks.

Spider-Man, of course, has always proven replicable, spawning not only a plethora of like-powered, spider-themed baddies and a dozen or so assorted Spider-Women and Spider-Girls, but selves from different time periods and what basically amounts to a Muppet version, being Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham.

But more than that, Spider-Man has been replicated across the Marvel multiverse in a very early issue of the original run of What If (No.7, “What If Someone ELSE Besides Spider-Man Had Been Bitten by the Radioactive Spider,” February 1978) wherein not only do members of his supporting cast acquire Peter Parker’s spider-powers, they also get uninspired knockoffs of the Spider-Man uniform of their very own!

You can't tell because of how the panel is framed.
First out of the gate is Peter Parker’s jock nemesis Flash (ah-ahh!) Thompson, a character who has enjoyed a turn as a genuine Spider-Man-themed superhero in mainstream continuity as “Agent Venom.” Prior to that – and on another universe’s Earth, I suppose it’s fair to mention – Flash shoves Parker out of his coveted front-row seat at the science exhibition where Parker had historically received his powers, receiving the fateful bite himself.

If Flash (ah-ahh!) were half the aggro dickhead he’d typically been portrayed as in comics, then a spider-powered Flash (ah-ahh!) would probably have just graduated to murder. What happens instead is he walks straight through Spider-Man’s origin up to and including the red-and-blue spider-costume (snatched from a costume shop, which implies that Peter Parker swiped someone’s intellectual property when he designed his outfit).

Making sure to leave his flowing red locks visible from the top of his mask, Flash (ah-ahh) exerts his intellect and creativity to their fullest,  dubbing himself “Captain Spider.” Speaking of intellect, whatever his other virtues, Thompson  lacks the smarts needed to make web-shooters, which is why he ends up splattered on the ground after a fight with the Vulture.

In a slightly less fatal vein is the adventure of Marvel’s original Spider-Girl. Testing credulity and coincidence by having J.Jonah Jameson and his secretary Betty Brant showing up at the same science experiment as Parker long before they met, the second story gives spider-powers to Peter’s future flame. With the two colluding on a costumed identity and a crimefighting career, Betty gains the benefit of Parker’s patented web-shooters. Unfortunately, she also suffers his ability to pick names and his skills as a costume designer (Betty does the sewing, but … well …)

Imagine your favorite super-hero's head on a half-naked
woman's body. Imagine Batman. The Hulk. Imagine it.
Debuting as “Spider-Girl,” Betty’s look is a one-piece swimsuit accessorized with Spider-Man’s boots, gloves and mask. Somehow, webs stretch from the sides of her torso to her naked arms, but I’m already upset enough about the weird look involved with her Spider-Man head and basically naked boobs. No comic character has ever simultaneously so resembled their own Internet Rules 63 AND 34 before now. (Extra points for a panel wherein shutterbug Peter Parker, collecting staged photos of Spider-Girl in action, leeringly enthuses about the extra cash publisher Jameson will pay for the photos considering the, uh, “leg art angle.” Parker, that’s your genderbent equivalent from a parallel universe! She’s practically your SISTER!)

(It’s worth mentioning that, with Roy Thomas at the conceptual helm of this story, Betty’s costumed identity is apparently a conscious call-back to a little-known Golden Age heroine named Spider-Lady, who sported webshooters and wall-crawling without Spider-Man’s tremendous strength, mirrored here by the fact that Betty doesn’t like to use her physical powers for fear of hurting someone. I mention all this just to keep from getting pilloried in the comments,  yes I know who Spider-Lady is, she’s in the book)

Ultimately, coincidence retains its death grip on Spider-Girl’s career, as she too manages to fail to save Peter’s uncle from a murderous burglar. She even throws her costume in a trashcan in the famous Spider-Man No More model, which is cast into the best context ever as Peter stares back thoughtfully at the costume. Yes Peter, perhaps you can adopt the mantle of Spider-Girl! It’s 2014 and the gender binary is a lie, be who you want to be!

Lastly, the third tale involves sometimes-wolf-headed-space-god John Jameson, astronaut son of publisher J.Jonah Jameson, being bitten by the dad-gummed spider and developing super-powers which – in this ironic universe – his father chooses to exploit for publicity and acclaim.  Don’t worry, irony always works out well.

Adopting the name “Spider-Jameson, the Super-Astronaut,” the high-flying hero outpaces his inevitable Japanese knockoff by coming up with a more unwieldy name than they ever could. “Super-Space Creampuff Magic Gem Girl Spider-Astronaut … aw fuck it, I give up,” cries the frustrated Japanese anime producer, “Let the Americans have him.”

Jameson’s shy on web-shooters but he picks up a jet pack, so as to better emulate a spider’s ability to fly at rocket-like speeds. Turns out the absence of Spidey’s trademark gimmick spells doom for Spider-Jameson, just as it did for Spider-Flash (ah ahh!) though, as he ends up underneath a plummeting space capsule and snuffs it.

Apparently the finale to all three episodes is the same – Peter Parker keeps the radioactive spider to study later, and manages to extract a juice from it which gives him spider-powers, letting him pick up his own mantle. I’m sure that’s a first, it’s like Red Son for Spider-Man except fewer commies and nothing gets put in a bottle.

As a neat addendum to the issue, the letters page runs a few dozen possible What If stories past the readers, asking for their feedback on which ones will make the cut for future issues. A few do indeed make it in later – Jane Foster becoming Thor, Rick Jones becomes the Hulk, the 1950s Avengers, everyone knows Daredevil is blind. There are also a surprising number of Howard the Duck related ones, including “What if a human being fell into Howard the Duck’s world” and “Howard the Duck joined the Avengers” which never came to fruition.

Possibly the one which amused me most was “What if … Nova was a girl?” which I cannot read without imagining a voice of unconscionable terror screaming it like a warning. Then again, there’s also this one:

Well, they’d fuck. 


Sir Alvin said...

It's notable that theme generally of all the early WHAT IFs was that the mainstream Marvel was "right" and all these alternative universes were "wrong" i.e. everybody dies mostly. I think they had more fun later into the run when that stopped being a mandate like when Daredevil became a SHIELD agent or Conan was stranded in the 20th century.

Calamity Jon said...

I've written something very much about that same topic over on one of my other comic blogs, in regards to what the What If...? books represented, you might find it interesting.

Comic Club USA - What If...?

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