Artists: Jim Mahfood, Shaughn Struble (c)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
It’s impossible to dissect all of the many madcap “What... If?” story tales on offer in this issue, and would probably ruin a lot of the fun of the book to do so. However, if you’re looking for evidence that Marvel can take itself less than seriously and isn’t afraid to poke fun at some of the sillier conventions of comic books and the comics scene at large, then you’ll likely enjoy this book. Despite the inflated cover price, this is one of the most unpretentiously enjoyable individual issues I’ve read in a few months, and the sheer breadth of silly story ideas ensures that there should be something here for everyone to laugh at, even if some of the jokes are a bit weak and it feels as though there’s a bit of filler packed in here and there.
Jim Mahfood’s zany art is one of the main draws of this book, and the many and varied little visual gags that he throws in makes what would otherwise be a shallow throwaway book worthy of multiple reads. He also adds a hilarious edge to some of the more serious characters in the Marvel Universe, showing a great gift for slapstick and silly, exaggerated physical humour. He turns many a clunky gag into a laugh-out-loud moment, and shows an aptitude for the parody of certain visual styles to a comedic end. The “What if the Punisher was a bleeding heart?” strip was a standout for me through a combination of Mahfood’s dark artwork, which manages a good imitation of a typical Punisher envrionment (albeit with a cartoonish bent) and some hilarious deadpan writing: Mark Millar’s interior monologue is only one DNA strand away from that of the regular Punisher, but the change makes for fun reading for anyone who’s ever sighed their way through another grittier-than-thou Punisher appearance.
Another great story was “What if Black Panther were actually white?”, which showed up the tokenistic way that characters are conceived in mainstream comic books, as well as allowing for some hilarious conversations explaining why certain characters are Avengers and exactly what purpose they serve on the team. A combination of wilfully iconoclastic writing and silly, funny art (Iron Man is drawn hilariously in every scene) made this strip particularly memorable, and it’s nice to see that Marvel isn’t afraid to poke fun at some of its most iconic characters.
Strangely, when it comes to mocking targets outside of Marvel, the book isn’t quite as on-the-ball. Gags about Crossgen’s collapse or DC not agreeing to publish a Daredevil/Batman miniseries just don’t hit the same mark as the in-house mockery, and a parody of Identity Crisis (reputedly a possible reason for this book’s delay) is too little too late, as only the fun that’s had with that DC series’ multiple captions and overly sombre narration really elicit anything more than mild amusement. What’s more, there’s an occasional reliance on industry in-jokes which seem as though they’ve been put in for the amusement of the writers and no-one else. However, for all the bad there’s just as much good, as a throw-everything-and-see-what-sticks approach does allow for some fairly fun one-panel gags (What if Emma Frost could read my mind? and What if the Avengers all had beards? both tickled me, for some reason).
This isn’t going to go down in history as the medium’s finest moment, and it likely won’t be remembered as a classic “What If?” issue, let alone a great comic book, but if you’re happy to plonk down $3.99 to read some wilfully puerile and silly humour, then you’re sure to derive some enjoyment from this. I did.
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