“What If?” comics have always been the absolute guiltiest of pleasures. I can say quite confidently that there’s never been a single “What If?” issue that you can truly call a must read, but that’s not to say there isn’t something brainlessly entertaining about them. This one-shot presents two alternate versions of the events of World War Hulk and, by the low standards set by “What If” issues past, they’re actually not that bad.
The first story shows a minor decision by Tony Stark unleashing a chain of events that culminates, not very believably, in the world ending. Personally, these are my favorite “What If?” stories – the ones where the tiniest of changes leads to all the Marvel Heroes dying and the world coming to an end, ignoring all credibility to tell a fun story. The climax of the story even suggests a new take on the Hulk that could probably carry a “What If?” issue all of its own, to be honest.
It’s the artwork, however, that makes the short worth reading. The gorgeous painted visuals of Lucio Parillo translate the epic scale of the story perfectly. The art has all the usual flaws of painted visuals, in that attention to detail tends to override other storytelling considerations, but when every panel looks good enough to frame and hang on a wall, it’s easy to forgive.
The second story in the issue presents a rare occurrence, indeed: a “What If?” story where things arguably work out better than in the original. It’s unusual to see an alternate presentation of events that doesn’t go for scale, and instead goes for a slightly more realistic interpretation of character mechanics. It’s not bad for doing that, of course, but the lack of bombast makes it a little less entertaining than the former. As it turns out, it’s largely an excuse for a Thor Vs. Hulk fight, and worse still, it seems that even in the pages of “What If?,” you can’t get a decent answer to the question of who would win that battle as, once again, the fight ends in stalemate.
The artwork in the second piece is more conventional than the opener, and not quite as impressive, but it’s still very solid in its depiction of superheroic action. If the purpose of books like “What If?” is to give lesser-known creators a place to try out their work, Marvel has, if nothing else, uncovered a decent pair of artists.
“What If? World War Hulk” isn’t going to be the kind of comic you come back to again and again, nor is it going to be hailed as a classic. But if you’re really itching for a follow-up, of sorts, to the events of World War Hulk then it does, at least, deliver on that level.