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What If (Vol. 1) #3
”What if the Avengers had never been?”
Written by Jim Shooter
Pencilled by Gil Kane
Inked by Klaus Janson
Published by Marvel Comics

I find it slightly odd that one of my favourite Avengers story (available in both the recent What If trade paperback and the Marvel Visionaries: Gil Kane volume) is not in continuity. Draw what conclusions you will. But make no mistake; this is how superhero comics are supposed to be made. All of the creators involved show a passion for their craft and display the real secret of superhero comics; if you do it right, you never have to acknowledge how silly it is. It’s just a good story, and you can enjoy it for that.

The story takes place in earliest days of the Avengers, when the Hulk departs the team. In normal Marvel continuity, this lead to the Avengers becoming a close-knit team. However, in an alternate reality, this initial fracture effectively ends the team, leaving a desperate Iron Man to face the collective wrath of the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk alone. And this is all communicated to the reader on the cover. When was the last time that a comic book cover actually told you useful information about the plot? The issue devotes itself to a frustrated and weary Tony Stark who fails in plan after plan to find a way to triumph. His final solution, and its ultimate cost, is creative and moving.

Jim Shooter’s script work on this issue is wonderfully over the top, full of the high drama (and occasional melodrama) that worked so well for the characters when Stan Lee created them. Even though the very nature of an alternate reality story implies that the story is non-essential, Shooter’s story is full of enthusiasm. While he does indulge in his habit for plot deus ex machina, these can be largely forgiven for the energy he delivers, and his rock solid ability to bring these outlandish characters down to earth. Shooter manages to make me sympathize with Iron Man (a character I genuinely dislike) by highlighting the key paradox in his original creation: that his human heart was his greatest, not weakest, character trait.

Gil Kane and Klaus Janson complement each other nicely in this story, creating a sense of power and majesty even in throwaway panels, such as a generic shot of Thor fighting a troll. One simple panel on page 7, showing a devastated Iron Man, communicates this emotion through some simple shading and body language to compensate for the lack of any expression on the featureless metal mask. Kane and Janson also have a lot of fun, whether it is depicting the light comedy of Stark’s initial “solution”, or bringing the energy, chaos, and devastation to the climatic final showdown. The final page, showing the price of victory, conveys a sense of loss and heroic nobility that the well-intentioned but wrong-headed Avengers Finale could not hope to duplicate. Even though this story “doesn’t count,” the images on that page are simply unforgettable.

This is an Avengers comic worth your time and effort. ‘Nuff said. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Michael Paciocco



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