Characters Appearing: Ast (Time-Keeper), Ast (Time-Twister), Immortus, Tempus, Uatu the Watcher, Vort (Time-Keeper), Vort (Time-Twister), Zanth (Time-Keeper), Zanth (Time-Twister)
What If? #35-39
Issue(s): What If? #35, What If? #36, What If? #37, What If? #38, What If? #39
The story starts as most issues of What If do, with the Watcher giving us some background. But instead of introducing us to a world where events from a Marvel story happened slightly differently, he's explaining that there are certain beings in the multiverse that are Nexus beings, or Nexi. Sise-Neg, Merlin, and Kang were all Nexi.
And so was Leonard Tippit, who appeared in the "Five dooms to save tomorrow!" in Avengers #101. The Watcher took it upon himself to remove that Nexus from play, and he says that the Time Variance Authority also play that role. And Scarlet Witch was also a Nexus, but she rejected the power and it went to Immortus, who the Time Keepers kept immobile but still performing a role protecting the timestream. Prior to that, Immortus was seen destroying various alternate realities, and the reason why, we learn, is that each contained a Nexus that the Time Keepers thought would threaten the multi-verse. The problem is that he didn't complete his mission by the time he tried to take control of the Scarlet Witch, and there are now four Nexi that still need to be destroyed. The Watcher has learned about this, and the Time Keepers have noticed his snooping and invite him to watch them.
So that set-up will allow us to visit (actually, in most cases, re-visit) What If worlds for the first four parts of this story. The Time Keepers have identified a Nexus that needs to be destroyed. But someone is working against them, empowering people in that universe to protect the Nexus.
The first Nexus is in a world where Spider-Man has joined the Fantastic Four, and the Invisible Girl is about to give birth to Franklin Richards. In fact, Franklin is the Nexus. Events are playing out just as they did in the real world, with Mr. Fantastic needing what will turn out to be Annihilus' Cosmic Control Rod to prevent a miscarriage.
The Time Keepers can't interfere directly, so they work through agents to ensure the death of the Nexi. In this case that means working through Dr. Doom, who shows up to take the Control Rod after the FF get it from Annihilus.
But then Doom is contacted by a mysterious figure that is opposing the Time Keepers.
The figure convinces Doom that if Franklin Richards were to die, Mr. Fantastic would go mad and eventually drive the world to nuclear destruction. So Doom returns the Rod to Mr. Fantastic. At the end, we see the mystery figure pulling Doom out of this universe. The Watcher is aware of this, but the Time Keepers are not.
And that's basically how it plays out for the next few issues. In the second part, the Korvac saga is basically circumvented when the Time Keepers prevent Korvac from absorbing the powers of Galactus. He instead time travels to a future where the Vision has taken over the world. The story involves the Guardians of the Galaxy and a John Fury Jr., leader of the Space Commandos, who goes so far in emulating his ancestor that he wears a fake eyepatch.
The Vision is the Nexus, and John Fury is contacted by the mystery figure.
But Korvac is able to kill the Vision. The Cosmic Avengers are subsequently able to stop Korvac, but the Utopian world that the Vision was shepherding will inevitably decline, according to the Time Keepers.
And more to the point, they've managed to destroy one of the four Nexus beings, so the score is 1 win and 1 loss so far.
Perhaps because Fury failed, the mystery figure pulls the Iron Man analogue Irondroid at the end of the issue.
The next world is one in which Wolverine was Lord of the Vampires and turned all mutants into vampires as well. And therefore this world's version of Inferno involved Mr. Sinister trying to access the Darkhold so that he could get the Montesi Formula and wipe out all vampires, since they were interfering with his own plans. This issue is, appropriately enough, illustrated by Mark Pacella.
Dormammu decides to get involved, unleashing the Mindless Ones.
Mr. Sinister convinces the X-Men to agree to be exiled to Dormammu's Dark Dimension instead of being wiped out.
The Nexus being in this world is Jean Grey. The mystery figure convinces her to become the Phoenix to avoid getting destroyed by the Goblin Queen, who is allied with Dormammu.
Yes, Pacella went sideways for that third panel.
After Phoenix defeats the Goblin Queen and Dormammu, the mystery figure takes Wolverine like he took Dr. Doom and Irondroid. And even though Jean Grey is exiled to the Dark Dimension, Mr. Sinister intends to create a new clone of her on Earth, so this still counts as a loss for the Time Keepers. One of them disappears. And these events draw the attention of the Time Variance Authority.
What's funny is that not even the Watcher (or Roy Thomas) knows which Time Keeper is which.
A second Time Keeper disappears while setting up for the fourth story.
The final Nexus is Odin, in a world where Set's forces have conquered Asgard. The remaining Earth pantheons, and Mephisto, get together and plan a counterattack that the Watcher realizes will destroy the world (which would serve the Time Keepers just fine). But instead, the three beings that the mystery figure has plucked from the three previous universes are sent to rescue Thor.
Thor and the other three champions of the mystery figure then go to rescue Odin. The remaining Time Keeper sends a Protectdroid to try to stop them.
But they're able to overcome that and Set's forces and Loki, and rescue Odin. The mystery figure turns out to be Immortus.
Immortus' final sentence is cut off in the scan above. It ends with "the one true master of tiiiiiime" as he flies off, leaving his former champions behind. So it turns out that maybe the Time Keepers were really on the right track. Now it's feared that Immortus will wipe out more timelines in an "Immortus Wave" to consolidate power for himself.
The way things have worked out results in some finger pointing at the TVA, but the literally faceless bureaucrats are unable to come up with any original ideas about how to set things right.
So, for the final issue, the Watcher is invited to the TVA.
Note that all cosmic oaths, including the Watcher's oath of non-interference, has been lifted due to the crisis. After all, the title of the final issue is "What if the Watcher saved the universe?" (per the cover; the titles are always slightly different in the interior). Can't do that if you're not allowed to act.
It turns out that the creator of the Time Keepers (and the Time Twisters) was/will be the last TVA supervisor.
The joke continues to be that the TVA is incapable of doing anything.
The most effective decision is in sending Immortus' former dupes (Irondroid, Vampire Wolverine, etc..) to Limbo to face Immortus.
But the characters wind up stuck in a time loop, repeatedly fighting Tempus and the Space Phantoms and the other inhabitants of Limbo, including Dire Wraiths.
The Watcher therefore suggests dealing with Immortus before he becomes Immortus. The story threw me for a loop briefly when it seemed to be said that Nathaniel Richards, Mr. Fantastic's father, became Rama-Tut (who became Kang and Immortus).
But the next page confirms that the Richards from the year 3000 that became Kang is another Nathaniel, who just happened to have the same name as his ancestor.
The TVA suggest utilizing the "Saturnyne symbiont", which weakens an organism's natural resistance to time energy, and in this case would make it impossible for Nathaniel/Immortus to store Nexus energy.
To implant this energy, the TVA send a variant of the Fantastic Four.
They arrive not long after Nathaniel has discovered the time machine that will lead to him becoming Rama-Tut. They fail to convince Nathaniel to agree to being injected with the symbiont, and wind up getting defeated by the defense systems for the time machine, which are activated by Nathaniel. So the TVA send another alternate version of the FF, this time chosen by the Watcher. This group does not have any powers. And they are able to convince him to accept the symbiont. This causes Immortus in the present day (?) to explode.
It also causes the Time Keepers to re-appear, but then they are met by a second trio. It turns out the three that we've been seeing for most of this story were really the Time Twisters. They were trying to alter reality so that their timeline, which had been averted by Thor in Thor #245, would come back. And it seems like they've been posing as the time Keepers since Avengers West Coast #62.
At the very end, the TVA's Timezone Manager returns from vacation.
This is a fun romp through various What If worlds, and the jokes at the expense of the TVA's bureaucracy are cute (i don't know if they're meant as commentary on anything going on in the Marvel offices). As far as this really having any impact on the real Marvel universe, that's not really the case, but it is nice to have a little event going on in this book.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 178,300. Single issue closest to filing date = 147,000.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
"Simonwalt" scale..? Cute ;)
Posted by: Piotr W | February 15, 2016 6:05 PM
Peter Sanderson didn't like the idea that Nathaniel didn't know who the alt-FF were since he had watched history-holograms of them, so he suggested Nathaniel was deceiving them and really knew who they were in Citizen Kang.
Posted by: Michael | February 15, 2016 8:26 PM
fnord, was Mr. Mobius one of the TVA staffers in this story? If so, he should be tagged?
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 15, 2016 10:25 PM
The one thing that always makes my brain hurt about this story: You'd think the one thing the TVA wouldn't be able to know the future of is themselves.
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 15, 2016 10:29 PM
Not sure how you'd even want to tackle it but wouldn't the Nathaniel Richards appearance count as a Kang/Rama-Tut appearance?
Posted by: AF | February 16, 2016 3:08 AM
Also possibly Space Phantom?
Posted by: AF | February 16, 2016 3:57 AM
Dude, that Mark Pacella art is FAN-TASTIC. Day-umm, I need to get some What If?s!!!! That splash page is totally a direct descendent of the Kirby approach the way the X-Men are leaping out of the page... dude, not trying to fan flames but only a snob or something could deny that? This storyline looks epic I didn't know Roy Thomas had it in him because those West Coast Avengers look kinda hit and miss.. I had no idea Wolverine was ever Lord of the Vampires and probably would never had known so I am very glad you posted this fnord!!!!
Posted by: Brimstone | February 16, 2016 5:21 AM
The splash page looks ridiculous! Look at the tiny pointed feet on Wolverine and Colossus! And both of their heads appear to be shrunken, because they're not in proportion to their bodies. And Iceman's ice bridge seems to originate from Colossus back, because it doesn't continue on his left side like it should. And Rogue's waist is smaller than her breasts, and so on...
Still, that splash is better than the second one by Pacella that Fnord posted, where Colossus' head is even more ridiculously tiny, Wolverine's legs are missing below his thighs, Colossus foot is conveniently obscured by brown mist so Pacella doesn't have to draw it, etc. I'm not the biggest fan of Kirby's art, but he would never have drawn splash pages as lazy and amateurish as these.
Posted by: Tuomas | February 16, 2016 6:16 AM
Ok well if I'm putting on my big boy serious comic nerd hat, let me respond to that with a sincere kinda wondering why and where all comic fans demanded completely realistic art complete with perfect anatomy? this is a comic book, bruh. it's cartooning. they can take some liberties with how muscles look, aint ANY of it realistic LOL! the point is, the set up of the page, the dynamic STORYTELLIG that Pacella is a master of, the way the characters are leaping out at the reader- that is what I am talking about. I don't think any comic artists do perfect anatomy and wouldn't that be kinda flat and bland? I thought comics were supposed to be over the top
Posted by: Brimstone | February 16, 2016 6:21 AM
Of course there can be exaggeration in cartooning, but if it goes beyond a certain limit, it doesn't feel like the artist did it for artistic effect anymore, it looks like he was simply too lazy or incompetent to care about how certain body parts work. Superhero comics aren't Looney Tunes cartoons, they still require a certain amount of realism, otherwise the results just look silly. Or do you honestly think Colossus' shrunken head or Wolverine's teeny tiny feet look cool on that splash page?
Posted by: Tuomas | February 16, 2016 8:28 AM
Regarding character appearances:
Unless i missed it (and nearly all of the TVA scenes have been included as scans), no one is named Mr. Mobius. I don't know if he is also Mr. Deputy Secretary or something like that. But since we know that the TVA employees can take vacations, i don't want to assume that he's here.
Tagging time-travelers like Kang is always problematic since it's not guaranteed that they're appearing chronologically from their perspective. But this is definitely a case where we are in Kang's "past" from the perspective of the character that i usually tag. The MCP is more suited to this sort of thing since they list the appearances from the perspective of each character. If i were to tag Kang here it would look like he reverted to his Nathanial Richards form after his appearance in Fantastic Four #325, and that would be weird.
As for the Space Phantoms, i did wonder about tagging the Space Phantom, but a narration panel says "the Space Phantom's people" which i took to mean that the actual Space Phantom wasn't there.
All three are tricky, and i can definitely see the argument for listing Mr. Mobius and Space Phantom. At least it wouldn't cause any harm to their character chronologies. But i'd prefer to not do it unless i saw confirmation that they were actually appearing.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 16, 2016 8:32 AM
Also, creating flashy-looking splash pages is not story-telling, it's poster art. Based on the examples seen here and in the Wolverine solo series entry, Pacella isn't very good at the panel-to-panel transitions that are the meat and potatoes of comic book storytelling. The movements in his action sequences are hard to follow, he doesn't care about image-counterimage positioning (for example, on the page where Sinister and Wolverine are talking, Sinister's face should be looking left, not right, to create the effect of the two facing each other), that sideways panel is a sheer nuisance to the reader that breaks rhythm of the page, and so on...
Posted by: Tuomas | February 16, 2016 8:40 AM
The issue (#34) preceding this was the humour issue, is that correct? I lost interest in What If around this point due to the dearth of quality art and the lack of clear storytelling. The points of divergence seemed to be less clear and the stories seemed more like alternate universe/alternate histories rather than divergences. I definitely checked in with the series after this (What if Storm remained a thief and What if the Punisher became Captain America), but this and the Phoenix storyline before it were where I stopped making it a must-buy. I think by the end of 1992, I was only reading Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the two X-Men titles regularly. What is nuts is that I had a full run of the first ten issues of Stormwatch so my tastes weren't that discerning.
Posted by: Mark Black | February 16, 2016 9:41 AM
What If had this weird trend were the good ideas were usually done badly (What If Spider-Man Married Black Cat?, What If Spider-Man Kept his Black Suit) and the uninteresting ideas were usually the good issues (What If The Avengers Were Pawns of Korvac, What If Atlantis Attacks).
Posted by: AF | February 16, 2016 10:17 AM
@AF - totally agreed. The ideas that seemed to have the most gravitas were usually pretty ho-hum. I did love What if the X-Men had lost Inferno. The Ron Lim art was pretty great and the random superheroes and beings that survived and allied together (Baron Mordo, Steve Rogers as the Captain) were somewhat interesting. A fun little series when done right.
Posted by: Mark Black | February 16, 2016 10:28 AM
Confirming that issue #34 was an all comedy issue.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 16, 2016 10:31 AM
On a nerdier note, the Whisperer's mark to John Fury, "....to you shattering body go..." is a typically Thomasian appropriation of the title of the Philip José Farmer novel, "To Your Scattered Bodies Go", which is itself taken from a John Donne sonnet.
Posted by: Andrew | February 16, 2016 4:29 PM
One of my favorite What If issues from the 1990s was "What if the Fantastic Four fought Doctor Doom before they got their powers?" It had an interesting twist ending. Reed Richards fixes the flaws in Doom's calculations and is able to rescue Doom's mother from Mephisto's netherworld. However, even with his mother back in his life, Doom *still* goes bad, because his monumental ego cannot deal with the fact that Richards solved a problem that thwarted him.
Posted by: Ben Herman | February 19, 2016 3:33 PM
Does anybody know when Marvel started using the term "multiverse"? I know it existed long before DC, but I always think of it as a DC term and for a long time (pre-Crisis) was one of the biggest differences between the two companies.
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 13, 2016 1:20 PM
I get the feeling that it would be Gruenwald.
I checked What If #1 and the term isn't used once. Nor is it used in What If #32 which is by Gruenwald and has a bit where it REALLY invites using the term "Multiverse".
Posted by: AF | March 13, 2016 2:20 PM
Around the time Gruenwald started working at Marvel he was also editor of a fanzine called Omniverse. On the editorial masthead, the magazine defined the terms universe, multiverse, and omniverse. (The Omniverse, in this case, being basically the totality of multiverses of all the various publishers.) So I have feeling, yes, it was Gruenwald who used the term so often informally that other writers didn't realize it wasn't established in print. Curiously, when Alan Moore christened "our" Marvel universe the "616" universe in Captain Britain, he ALSO called the totality of Marvel dimensions the "Omniverse" (of which Saturnyne was the Omniversal Majestrix), which was almost certainly the first time that term was used in a Marvel comic. So "multiverse" is sort of a step backward...
Posted by: Andrew | March 13, 2016 4:15 PM
For what it's worth, the earliest time i've noted the word "multiverse" was in Secret Wars II #8. The Beyonder says, "Ever since I discovered that this stupid multiverse existed I've been unhappy." That doesn't mean it's the first occurrence of the word, since i wasn't deliberately trying to track it.
Also, in the lettercol responses to questions regarding Quasar #30-31 (where Quasar visits the New Universe), a distinction is made between the "multiverse", which contains all of the dimensions that comprise the greater Marvel universe (e.g. all the What If realms), and the "omniverse", which also includes the New Universe (where, in the Quasar story, there was no Watcher and Quasar was cut off from the quantum force, etc). So the multiverse is a subset of the omniverse. My way of looking at it was that the multiverse contains the things that we'd generally consider canon, and the omniverse is something that allows everything, even the stuff that wasn't intended to be canon like the New Universe, to be canon if we really want it to be. But Andrew's note about Captain Britain calls my interpretation into question a bit.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 14, 2016 8:57 AM
Here's how Marvel defines it, and for what it's worth, IDW has adopted the same definitions in their current line of Transformers comics:
Multiverse refers to a set of universes that are related by having the same sets of physics, differing by how events turn out from one to another. So the various What If universes are all part of the main Marvel Multiverse.
Megaverse refers to a set of multiverses that can be radically different from each other; i.e., the New Universe which doesn't contain a Quantum Zone (unlike all the universes of the main Marvel Multiverse) and which the Living Tribunal has no jurisdiction over. Nevertheless, they tend to clump together because the rights to them are owned by the same people (Marvel owns the New Universe).
Omniverse refers to everything that has ever existed everywhere and everywhen and will ever exist. Marvel, DC, DBZ, D&D, from the biggest franchises in the world to the airport paperbacks that you forget as soon as your flight lands, and even our universe that we live in now.
Posted by: Thanos6 | March 14, 2016 11:07 AM
FWIW, Hickman's Avengers run clearly makes the New Universe part of the multiverse. Omniverse isn't mentioned per se, but the Beyonders appear to come from somewhere outside the multiverse, because they don't need it to exist.
Posted by: Tuomas | March 14, 2016 11:10 AM
In Secret Wars 1, Galactus comments that the Beyonder is from outside the multiverse.
Posted by: Michael | March 14, 2016 9:46 PM
I could be wrong (there is a lot of text above here) but the TVA seem to be modeled after Mark Gruenwald. I cant't check on the device I am using but I'm pretty sure that the ponytail/mustache combo was his look at this time (no pun intended!).
Posted by: MOCK! | June 29, 2016 8:46 AM
And a quick Google search on my phone seems to bear me out!
Posted by: MOCK! | June 29, 2016 8:50 AM
Walter Simonson did indeed model the management of the TVA after Mark Gruenwald.
Posted by: Ben Herman | June 29, 2016 9:44 PM
Here's a link that contains some info on the relationship between the TVA and the Time-Keepers:
Posted by: D09 | September 30, 2016 2:11 AM
I was really into What If (all volumes) at the time, but I knew in real time that Timequake would have no historical significance, like most early 1990s junk. Due to the artwork and no marketing of What If, no one paid attention to it. I'm pretty sure if Kurt Busiek did a mini-series years after this, it would have registered a blip on fandom's radar.
Posted by: Damian | January 16, 2017 8:40 AM
Reading the comments I thought Brimstone was sarcastic about thr art but from his other comments it's clear he likes Liefeld etc. Nothing wrong about that, different ppl, different tastes. It would be a boring world if we all shared the same preferences.
Posted by: Multiple Manu | December 16, 2017 8:28 AM
Yup, TVA agents are definitely based on Gru.
Posted by: Multiple Manu | December 16, 2017 8:32 AM
Unlike "omniverse," "multiverse" is not strictly a comic-book or science-fiction term, in modern usage. 99% sure that the term "multiverse" was originally coined by theoretical physicist Erwin Scrodinger:
'In Dublin in 1952, Erwin Schrödinger gave a lecture in which he jocularly warned his audience that what he was about to say might "seem lunatic". He said that, when his Nobel equations seemed to describe several different histories, these were "not alternatives, but all really happen simultaneously". That is earliest known reference to the multiverse.
The American philosopher and psychologist William James used the term multiverse in 1895, but in a different context.'
Posted by: Holt | December 16, 2017 2:31 PM
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