What If Wednesday #5: What If Captain America Hadn’t Vanished During World War II?
On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.
Okay, so right off the bat, I promise that THIS WEEK I won’t fill up this article with a bunch of Greek Mythology nonsense. That said, I haven’t read this week’s issue yet, so we’ll see if I can keep that promise. Onward! (Editor’s Note: He actually keeps his promise!)
Short version? Personally, I really kinda liked this issue. But, realistically? This story is so burdened down with continuity, that no one who doesn’t get all of the history, PLUS respect the fucked up nature of comics’ “sliding time scale” could really make heads or tails out of it. This issue works, as long as you’re cool with saying that all Marvel comics started 20 years after WWII. But when you start thinking of history as, you know, literal history? It all falls apart.
EVEN SHORTER VERSION: I liked it. But a lot of people probably won’t get it.
Okay, so page one, at least they acknowledge that this week’s story is similar to the last issue, so that’s something. They also say that it “isn’t” that similar to the last issue, so we’ll see. So, (Jesus) after ANOTHER recount of Avengers #4, we get to see what happened in this universe. This time, Cap manages to take over the missile’s systems, he and Bucky get to safety as the plane/rocket/bomb/whatever goes off, Zemo escapes to the safety of Nazi Occupied France, and all is well for the moment.
Zemo returns to his master, the Red Skull, who quickly kills him for being the douche that he is. The Skull realizes his plans (whatever they were) are bullshit, and that Captain America and Bucky will soon arrive to kick ass, so he flees in the name of not getting his ass handed to him. His men are all pissed off about being abandoned, but then Cap and Bucky show up and basically pound the shit out of all these Nazi scum. Say what you will about the Red Skull, but stupid he is not. The Red Skull rants about some secret weapon involving Zemo... and well see if that matters later.
Anyway, after 1945 WWII ends (duh), and Cap and Bucky (who now insists on being called ‘Buck’, whatever) quit fighting Nazis and start fighting communists. Which, frankly, is ironic if you’re a student of history (cuz, you know, the communists seriously helped defeat Hitler more than everyone else), but if you’re a student of COMIC BOOK HISTORY like me, you just accept it without any feeling of irony. Sod off, historical irony!
So, anyway, in this universe, Nick Fury dies in the Korean War or something, and Cap and Buck(y) keep fighting the good fight. But by 1965ish, things have changed. So, here’s the lowdown- just like in the regular Marvel universe, a bunch of former Nazi big bads have formed a terrorist organization called Hydra (complete with their own big bad, named Supreme Hydra). And, just like in the Marvel Universe, the former allies/UN have formed a new spy organization called S.H.I.E.L.D.. But with Nick Fury long dead, LBJ asks Captain America to lead this new effort!!!
Except, Cap refuses, and suggests Buck(y) for the job. He accepts, and it goes okay. It’s all well and good, for a few years. But one day, Captain America and Bucky are hanging out, when suddenly the Hulk shows up to wreck up the joint. (This apparently parallels some issue of Cap from years ago, but whatever.) Captain America is injured, and as the Hulk destroys the building, Bucky saves Hulk’s best friend Rick Jones from being killed under all the ruble. The Hulk is an assholeish friend, you guys. And seriously, we’re like 2/3rds the way through this issue, and nothing comes close to last issues Hitler-frying. I’M JUST SAYING.
So, after all that nonsense, Cap (meaning Steve Rogers) feels guilty over Rick Jones being injured by the Hulk. Does this really make sense, since Rick hangs out with the Hulk constantly, despite him being a raging madman? No, not really. But Cap feels guilty anyway. But then, suddenly! As Steve is feeling bad about Rick being in the hospital, who is he confronted with? None other than Captain America! Or, at least, Bucky in Cap’s costume. Bucky’s all like “Cap, it’s been over 20 years, you’re too old to be Captain America!” and Cap’s like “No I’m not, cuz the Super Solider Serum is awesome!” and Bucky’s like “You are too!” and then he goes “Hey, Rick, how’d you like to be my new sidekick and be the new Bucky?” and Rick’s like “WOULD I!?!?!?!”
So, Steve Rogers keeps fighting the good fight, basically taking over for Bucky as head of SHIELD (which he was trying to avoid in the first place, remember?), but Bucky (as Cap) still gets the girl (Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter, Cap’s girlfriend in normal continuity), and Hydra still isn’t beaten. In what is apparently the final push to stop Hydra, Steve Rogers, Agent of SHIELD, Bucky as Cap, and Rick as new Bucky are all captured, and (no real surprise here) the new head of HYDRA turns out to be Baron Zemo after all these years (How Zemo wasn’t killed earlier? Not really explained). Zemo is so crazy these days that he doesn’t realize that Rogers is the original Cap (despite unmasking him decades earlier), so he needs to... kill... Bucky? I guess? Honestly, the motive here is rather unclear. Anyway, Steve punches Zemo out, and everybody makes with the grand escape...
… Which sort of... honesty, I’m not sure. Zemo suddenly realizes Rogers is the original Captain America. Then Zemo gets killed. And then Dum Dum Dugan shows up to be awesome, but then Bucky Cap dies for freaking no damn reason (see Fear Itself, modern comics readers (just sayin’)). Anyway, after the funeral, turns out Sharon blames Steve for Bucky’s death. Like, majorly. But as Steve feels sorry for himself, Rick shows up in full Bucky costume, and despite Steve being 50 to 60 years old, he convinces Steve to be Captain America once again! Thus ends this issue!
So... Ok, upfront, I know way too much about Cap history to view a Bucky/Sharon relationship as anything other than icky. But still, this issue at least isn’t boring! And honestly, more than any of the previous issues, this mostly rings true. If Cap didn’t get frozen, (and remember, the original Marvel universe started only 15 years after WWII ended), I can totally see this being the world we would have lived in (in Marvel Comics). And that’s mostly pretty great, I must say. So fuck the haters who gotta hate, I liked it.
Next time! What if the Fantastic Four Had Different Super Powers? I... I assume that things would have been vaguely different? I guess? (SPOILER: I know how it ends, and it is awesome. Don’t miss it!)