What If? #1, 1977, Marvel Comics, Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott.
The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its celebration and examination of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the Seventies, a decade when readers still bought comics on squeaky spinner racks, and Marvel created a series featuring imaginary stories, called What If?
Their Distinguished Competition had been doing popular Imaginary Stories for decades, and Marvel finally got around to doing the same, supposedly spurred on by letters to the editor, asking “What if” this or “What if” that.
The stories would be hosted and narrated by Uatu, one of the alien race of Watchers that observe key events in the Marvel universe. Apparently the Watchers also have the ability to observe events from parallel universes as well, an ability previously unknown, but conveniently created for this series.
Each story would explore a point of divergence, when an event in our reality takes a different turn, resulting in a new, fascinating, and unexpected chain of events. Anything could happen, and often did.
The point of divergence in What If? #1 is the moment when Spider-Man, desperately in need of money, approached the Fantastic Four and asked/demanded to be made a member, only to swing away in disgust when he found out the FF was a non-profit org and its members didn’t get paid.
This time, a quick-thinking Invisible Girl yelled a plea for him to come back. And this time, since he “always was a sucker for a pretty girl” Spider-Man makes a u-turn, and an arrangement is made, despite half of the team’s objections. Soon, the team is doing the unthinkable…changing the 4 on their uniforms to a 5.
The cover design uses the old trope of heroes bursting through the surface of the comic, exploding out toward the reader. In this case, the cover surface is a black and white page from a pre-divergence scene in the issue's interior story, making the comic title logo and full-color heroes really pop. Why the art from the original story wasn’t used as the background here is a mystery; it would have been an appropriate “before & after” visual metaphor representing the divergence.
George Perez creates an iconic arrangement of poses, and puts an awkward 5 in Spider-Man’s chest symbol, for a POP Retro Cover Of The Week that served as the beginning to an imaginative and entertaining series. What If? has been rebooted several times over the last few decades, and an animated What If? tv series is currently in production for Disney Plus.
Next week: A cover from the Bronze ‘80s!