Thursday, July 26, 2007

The What If? Top 5: What If Spider-Man Had Never Become A Crimefighter?

Welcome to the What If? Top Five, a look at my personal favorite issues of Marvel's long-running What If? series.

This time around, we're talking about number two in our countdown, What If?#19 by Peter B. Gillis and Pat Broderick:

The pivotal moment of divergence in What If Spider-Man Had Never Become A Crimefighter? comes when Spider-Man Stops the burglar from stealing the box office receipts in the first place. He does it for the wrong reason, however, and the publicity launches his show business career. You know how in pretty much every sitcom ever produced, there's always one episode where the lead character gets an acting gig and "goes Hollywood", suddenly wearing shades, calling everyone "dahling" and generally being a jerk until their big break bottoms out and they learn an important lesson about humility? That's pretty much what happens here. Spider-Man decides to climb the showbiz ladder, becoming a producer and rapidly signing up every superhero in New York for movie deals.

J. Jonah Jameson still hates Spider-Man, and devotes just as much page space to bashing the wall-crawling celebrity as he does in the regular books. In the original stories, Spider-Man rescued Jonah's son, John from a plummeting space capsule, but in this parallel reality, he's guest hosting the Tonight Show while John dies in re-entry. Jonah is crushed, and wonders aloud why the real heroes have to die. He continues turning up the heat on Spidey, first learning, then revealing his Peter Parker identity to the world. Parker is outraged, but this is a meaner, cannier Spider-Man who does some does some investigating of his own and discovers Daily Bugle staffer Fred Foswell's double life as the Big Man. Parker hands the scoop over to the Daily Globe, on the condition that he dictates the headline. The next morning the headline on the Globe reads:" CRIME SYNDICATE RUN FROM BUGLE OFFICES", and Jameson is ruined. Having a criminal operation run under his nose is enough to get him fired. With the loss of his son and his career, Jonah is contemplating what to do next when he gets a call from Foswell. The two meet at prison and start to plot their revenge on Spider-Man.

Months pass, and Parker is fully into production of a new Spider-Man movie. He's filming a fight with a robot monster called Dragoom, when a charge from the monster's tail downs him. By this point, he has taken on Daredevil as a client, and the hero rescues him before he can hit the ground.

Parker continues on, unconcerned with the danger, but it becomes increasingly obvious that he is a target. Finally, a staff meeting turns into an ambush when Parker and Daredevil are confronted with the Sinister Six. A mysterious hooded figure has assembled them to destroy Spider-Man, and they've been on staff for months in disguise. This reality's version of Spider-Man has never fought in a real battle, and cowers as Daredevil defends him. Daredevil gets beaten down by the villains, and only then does Spider-Man find his spine. Tearing into the crooks, Parker pulls them away from Daredevil, but it's too late, the hero is dying. Furious, grieving, Parker seizes the hooded man to reveal...J. Jonah Jameson. Faced with a broken man and a dead hero, Peter finally learns that with great power comes great responsibility.

Once again, Gillis delivers the goods. This is another great tale where the divergence is more in a character's personality than anything external. The vapid, blow-dried, Hollywood Peter seen in this story is barely recognizable, but in the end, he may yet be on the path to heroism.

Tomorrow: Number one! What could it possibly be?


Anonymous said...

Actually, the book says Daredevil NEARLY dies.
So, less bad overall.

Sir a1! said...

That's the Comic Code donchyaknow. (Of course now that they're gone, it's full tilt raping and killing.)