|"What If? X-Men: The Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire|
The enduring appeal of "What If?" comics, which follow the road not taken in classic Marvel Comics stories, is that anything can happen; that no character is safe. Though the series had lapsed toward the end of the 1990s, a successful revival in 2004 showed that fans were still eager to see alternate takes on major events in heroes' lives. With this year's "What If?" titles -- focused on "Civil War," "Planet Hulk," "Annihilation," and "X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire" -- wrapping up, CBR News had the chance to chat with series editor and industry veteran Justin Gabrie about the world of "What If?"
"I wasn't around for it, but my understanding is that credit for bringing 'What If?' back for the 21st Century belongs to one C.B. Cebulski," Justin Gabrie told CBR News. "Ceebs wanted to see the return of the classic 'What Ifs' and the cool factor the original series in the late '70s and early '80s had. They used to have a bi-monthly schedule and each issue seemed special."
As longtime fans of "What If?" might remember, the original title took the form of a consecutively numbered ongoing series. Now, though, fans are greeted with several individually numbered "What If?" specials released in fairly quick succession; an annual mini-event of alternate reality stories.
|Pages from "What If? X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire"|
The first two years of the revitalized "What If?" saw a bit of experimentation. The 2004 series reintroduced the concept of "What If?" by examining what might have happened if Karen Page (killed by Bullseye during Kevin Smith's "Daredevil" run) had survived, or what Spider-Man's life would look like had Aunt May died instead of Uncle Ben. But the follow-up in 2005 was something quite different.
"When editor Mark Paniccia took over the 'What Ifs?' in 2005, he took the books in a bold new direction," Gabrie said. "These were tied to a theme which concentrated on the stories of Earth 717, seen through the eyes of a computer whiz who hacked into the Watcher's files."
|"What If? Annihilation"|
Gabrie said that alternate timeline stories will not return to "What If?" but suggested that fans of the style should look to the Marvel Knights imprints, which is now focusing this type of story with titles including Spider-man: Reign," "Silver Surfer: Requiem," and "Captain America: The Chosen." Similarly, some of the more famous, large-scale alternate history universes have warranted occasional return visit, with "Age of Apocalypse," Onslaught, and "House of M" garnering new stories long after each original epic had concluded. Gabrie sees these events as closer kin to the "What If?" specials than the "Earth 717" one-shots and the newer Marvel Knights titles.
"When you really think about it, 'Age of Apocalypse' and 'House of M' are 'What If' stories, at least at the core-i.e., What If Legion killed Charles Xavier? And What If the Scarlet Witch remade the world in Magneto's vision?, respectively," Gabrie said. "As we've learned in the Marvel U's version of the multiverse/omniverse, once a divergence is created, it exists for the Exiles to visit."
|Pages from "What If? Annihilation"|
For Gabrie, editing the "What If?" books at Marvel is the latest adventure in a long career in comics."It's surprising to me at times to think that I've been working in the comics industry for over 16 years," Gabrie said. "I actually started at Marvel as an intern back in 1991 when Tom DeFalco was the Chief. I freelanced as the regular colorist on the Ghost Rider segment of 'Marvel Comics Presents' and even got a shot at penciling the Ghost Rider/Cage arc ('MCP' #131-136). While doing that, I got on staff with the Reproduction & International Licensing Dept. I moved on to Manufacturing before ending up with Don Daley as his Assistant Editor on the 'Punisher' run of books in the mid-'90s.
|"What If? Planet Hulk"|
Throughout this extensive history in comics, Gabrie has had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects-including the famous curiosity, "Archie Meets the Punisher." Of course, he has a long list of his own favorites. "The projects that stick to my head: 'Punisher: Circle of Blood' by the great Joe Kubert; 'Punisher: Year One' by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Dale Eaglesham & Scott Koblish; and the inter-company crossovers 'Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights' by Chuck Dixon, John Romita, Jr & Klaus Janson and 'Punisher Meets Archie' by Batton Lash with legendary artists John Buscema, Stan Goldberg and Tom Palmer."
|"What If? Planet Hulk"|
|"What If? Civil War"|
As "What If?" stories come out towards the end of the year, Gabrie has yet to determine 2008's offerings. But with nearly 70 years of stories to choose from, it would seem there is limitless source material for Marvel's hypothetical histories. Sifting through the major turning points for each character, looking for new twists and turns on fan-favorite classics, can be difficult work, and here too the direction of "What If?" has varied through the years. "In the past, the choice of stories always depended on the editors and creators involved. They pretty much had the entirety of the Marvel Universe to play with in that respect," Gabrie said.
|Pages from "What If? Civil War"|
Explained Gabrie, "I wanted to go back to the concept of the original 'What If?' that Roy Thomas set in motion: to concentrate on the decision made or not made, the second in time that zigs instead of zags. This was best exemplified in the movie 'Mr. Destiny' with Jim Belushi, Linda Hamilton and Michael Caine. If he hit the home run or didn't changed everything. I always thought those type of stories were the best 'What Ifs.' Finding that moment in the stories we wanted to tell -- therein laid the challenge."
Determining that perfect moment for divergence depends on what sort of story is being told, and what the dramatic conclusion should be. "What we did was ask the question first and then looked for the moment in time that would spark that kind of outcome," the editor said. "The specifics of the story come from that moment chosen."
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