Friday, November 29, 2013

The X-Man In Name Only


Since What If? #31 is split between two alternate reality stories, the one dealing with Wolverine killing the Hulk doesn't have a lot of breathing room to tell its tale, and so has to cram a great deal into just twenty pages in order for everything to be resolved by the end. As a result, you might come away from this story with the impression that there really wasn't much to it--but is that really so surprising? After all, taken at face value, there normally wouldn't be much follow-up material available to make into a story, would there?

Let's look at it this way. Wolverine was sent in to take out both the Wendigo and the Hulk--and Wolverine doesn't seem like the type of operative that his superiors would want to turn loose on such a mission with the idea of tying his hands in any way. And so, in pitched battle, rather than capturing the Hulk in accordance with his original directive, he's forced to use deadly force against him. That's probably no skin off the military's nose--and when the Hulk is dead, then what? Wolverine returns to base and waits for new orders, that's what. Is anyone really going to miss the Hulk's rampages? Are the Avengers even going to avenge him, given the circumstances and abruptness of his departure from the team? There will be those few who mourn the tragedy of the event, such as Betty Ross and anyone who knew Bruce Banner--but for the most part, Wolverine's Dept. H will clamp the lid on the whole thing in terms of Wolverine's involvement, and it'll be case closed.

So, at first, there's no real development to be found with Wolverine from that point, while the book is easily closed on the Hulk. To us, of course, the death of the Hulk is something more of a jaw-dropper:



The real pivotal event that this story now depends on can be found in a bar on the outskirts of Quebec, where Wolverine is celebrating his victory (even if no one else is privy to that information):




His murder of a civilian sends Wolverine hurrying back to base to get the help of his friend and immediate superior, James Hudson. You'll notice that Wolverine is still attempting to fight his killer instinct. We know that, later, he would come to terms with his nature and develop more of a moral code to live by:



That rationale would have effectively ended this story before it began. Instead, Wolverine considers himself a fugitive after he gets no help from Hudson:



So with Wolverine out of options, and with all the groundwork essentially laid, the story picks up speed and begins to throw developments at us at a breakneck pace.



First, Wolverine is taken notice of by Magneto, who recruits him for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants:



And before you can say "danger room," Magneto has Wolverine inserted into the X-Men as a mole who will pave the way for the Brotherhood's attack:



Now that Wolverine is with the X-Men, you can probably guess the chain of events that will now take place. To begin with, Wolverine proves himself to be a valuable member of the team, though he's beginning to have second thoughts about his mission:



In fact, how odd it seems that a former government agent like Wolverine would align himself with the likes of Magneto. Regardless, Wolverine later sabotages Cerebro, so that Magneto's approach can't trigger an alarm. Though Wolverine's mission is further complicated with his growing feelings toward Jean Grey, to the point of making her safety a dealbreaker with Magneto:



To salvage his relationship with Wolverine, Magneto tells his agent that he really means the X-Men no harm, and only wishes to bring them into the fold of his Brotherhood. But when he launches his attack, his true colors begin to show, and Wolverine switches sides after an attempt on Jean's life:




With just a few pages before the story's end, Wolverine then joins the team in fighting back, and all that remains is the big battle with Magneto and the Brotherhood. Mastermind, Unus, and Lorelei are dealt with by the regular X-Men, now that the Brotherhood no longer have the element of surprise, and Wolverine takes out the Blob:



That leaves just Magneto. And in true What If? fashion, it's here that Wolverine "pays" (in Marvel coin) for his earlier encounter with the Hulk:





Magneto also slumps to his death, and the story ends as many of these What If? tales do:  leaving us to pick up the pieces, some of them involving the Hulk. (You remember--that big green guy who took up most of this issue's cover space?) For instance, the story has no room to account for Marie Cartier and Georges Baptiste, who played such a crucial role in the original Wendigo story (and, in fact, interrupted Wolverine's assault before it could presumably reach the point it did here). Also, a later revelation of the Hulk having a healing factor of his own would have prevented his demise in this story, as it did in other Hulk/Wolverine clashes; in fact, who's to say it didn't do so in the original story? How else was the Hulk surviving relentless slashes by adamantium claws?

In effect, the story took the quickest path to reach the point where Wolverine lies bleeding out on the floor, a hero to the X-Men--brushing aside the fact that Wolverine followed Magneto's orders of his own free will, and only changed his mind when the woman he was falling for was threatened with harm. Maybe it was really the Hulk we should all have been rooting for.

3 comments:

Joseph said...

Despite its many plot holes, I was always fond of this What If issue. It was actually the issue that hooked me on Wolverine some 30 years ago. That said, the story is pretty ridiculous.

Murray said...

Plot holes the Blob could stroll thru!

I doubt the Avengers would feel any great passion to avenge the Hulk's death...but the Defenders might. He was very active "non-member" at that time. And Dr. Strange's mystic skills would pierce any Dept. H cover-up easily enough.

At least the universe didn't end, like 92% of "What If" stories did.

Samuel said...

The Magneto/X-Men part of the story is basically the first arc of Ultimate X-Men.

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