Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 August 2008

What If?: Civil War

Collects: What If?: Civil War, What If?: Planet Hulk, What If?: Annihilation, What If?: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire, What If?: Spider-Man vs. Wolverine (2007-8)

Released: June 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785130369

First of all, What If?: Civil War is a misleading title. A more accurate title would be What If?: Recent Events / Crossovers. An even more accurate title would be What If?: We Changed Recent Events to Kill More Heroes.

Second: merely asking What If? isn’t good enough. You have to have an interesting answer.

What If?: Civil War cover To be fair, I have not read most of the events this book uses as springboards. I didn’t care enough about Civil War, Annihilation, Planet Hulk, or (especially) The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire to read the originals, but I know enough about them that only Shi’ar Empire was slightly confusing. I have read Spider-Man vs. Wolverine, but that was from the mid ‘80s.

So I’m not the ideal audience. Still, I’ve read enough comics to know good ones when I’m given one for free, and this isn’t it. (Although it was free. Thanks, Diamond!) The main Civil War and Planet Hulk stories feature one of the most common What If? tropes: one thing changes, everybody dies. The body count in Annihilation is much lower, but so much is crammed into the story that it stops being a story — it’s more a retelling of fictional history. I’m not objective about Shi'ar Empire; the extension of Ed Brubaker’s massive retcon (no, the other one, the one without Bucky) leaves me cold. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of bloodshed in that one, with heroes dying (and Polaris being reduced to a pile of green hair) in a consequence-free environment.

The best of the lot was Spider-Man vs. Wolverine. I don’t believe Spider-Man would drift into the spy world, but at least it’s a full story, a real story, with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s competently told, with recognizeable motivations and characters. It works, in What If? terms, and writers Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin deserve a lot of credit for not succumbing to the temptation to ramp up the body count and change everything.

The backups are also not bad; the Civil War one works for no other reason than it serves as a rebuke to the stupidity of Civil War. Greg Pak — who wrote all the Planet Hulk stories — does well with his two low-key backups. The first has Banner and Hulk squabbling over the peaceful planet the Hulk was supposed to land upon; the second, a one-page joke with Fred Hembeck art, made me chuckle.

As for the whole package, it’s less than the sum of its parts. Different writers, different artists, characterizations (intentionally, to be fair) all over the place … I don’t think this could satisfy the casual reader. I’m not sure a casual reader would even pick this up, though.

Rating: Marvel symbol (1 of 5)

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