Sunday, May 15, 2011

31 Days of Comics #15

What If #6: What If The X-Men Lost Inferno
By Danny Fingeroth and Ron Lim

The What If stories are a nice idea, but are often undermined by a lacklustre editorial effort and frequently average creators. While there have certainly been odd gems published by Marvel under the What If? banner over the years, they are frequently little more than average.

What If The X-Men Lost Inferno? was the sixth issue in the late eighties revival of the title, and at first glance it looks like another exercise in mediocrity. It’s written by Danny Fingeroth, who somehow built a writing career on little more than annual-filler stories, and drawn by Ron Lim. Lim had not yet found his shiny niche on the Silver Surfer, and his perfectly average pencils are not the greatest at selling Hell on Earth, although he does draw a mean demonic Wolverine.

But despite these early harbingers of boring, this What If remains one of my favourites. Partly this is because I fell hard for the whole Inferno crossover as a rabid 13-year-old Marvel zombie – I still rate comics like the Daredevil issues very highly – but there are other reasons.

There is nothing duller than a What If that ends with all the main characters getting slaughtered, but this is one of those comics that starts with that idea and takes things from there. By page four things are literally as bad as they get, with the earth devastated by demonic forces and humanity rounded up for labour and food.

There are still a few heroes left to fight the good fight, but when the comic opens with Wolverine feasting on a newborn baby – something that was genuinely shocking in 1989 still has some power in the gore-saturated superhero comics of the 21st century – and when characters like Captain America, Thor and Spider-Man are swiftly and brutally executed, things aren’t looking good.

There is more pain and suffering to come, but the thing I always liked most about this particular timeline is that it starts at the darkest of places and gets progressively more grim, until it ends on a surprising up-note. This isn’t the story of everything going horribly wrong, it’s already as bad as it gets, and the fact that anybody makes it out alive , and that humanity isn’t wiped out is a nice factor.

In particular, it’s about the only time Rachel Summers got something close to a happy ending. Of all the Marvel universe characters, she had the shittiest upbringing, got fatally wounded by Wolverine when she tried to murder a murderess, was highjacked by Mojo and had to run around Excalibur with the most uncomfortable-looking uniform in history (all those spikes).

So to see Rachel freed of her phoenix curse and become one of the few left who start humanity all over again is surprisingly touching. When the world plunges into an Inferno, any bright spot shines all the greater, and the usual misery of any given What If can still have some hope.

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