The basis of the "What If?" series is to give Marvel fans a glimpse into the road less travelled by their favorite and not-so-favorite heroes with mild to moderate success. It's also worth noting that most issues of "What If?" do not have a happy ending.
At some point, the Jackal implanted a hypnotic suggestion in Spider-Man in order to have him kill Mary Jane. In normal Marvel continuity, Spider-Man was stopped by remembering all those he has cared for over the years, leaving the Scarlet Spider to take over the Spider-Man duties. This issue asks the question, "What If the Scarlet Spider Killed Spider-Man?"
tOur story begins in a hospital room where Mary Jane Watson-Parker is giving birth to her child. The delivery is a success and we see Peter Parker glad that his child has been born. He hands the baby to Mary Jane who names the child May, but as Mary Jane comments that May has those "Reilly baby-blues, your father's eyes", Peter seems sad and oddly apprehensive.
We then cut to a sinister figure inside of a warehouse with odd things floating in man-sized tubes. The warehouse has many monitors, which a shadowed hand turns on, revealing the former home of the Parkers, their new home, the Parkers themselves, various rooms in their house, and the Daily Bugle. We see the shadow of the body that holds the hand, and then we see a figure that looks mysteriously like Peter Parker, floating in a tube.
Some time earlier, we see Spider-Man swinging onto the top of a taxi that holds Mary Jane as an occupant. He's knocked off of it by the Scarlet Spider, and the two Spiders begin to battle. Things look grim for the Scarlet Spider until the timely intervention of the New Warriors. The team is no match for the veteran Spider-Man, however, and he lands on top of Mary Jane's taxi once again, tearing off its roof. Once again, the Scarlet Spider knocks him off of the taxi and into a power plant. Firestar flies up and is about to join them, but another member of the New Warriors tells her not to.
Inside the plant, the two Spiders are engaged in a battle royale, where Peter blames Ben for the situation they're currently in. Peter begs Ben not to let him hurt Mary Jane, and so the Scarlet Spider brings down a ton of machinery on top of Spider-Man, killing him. Then the power plant explodes and the Scarlet Spider washes up on shore down the river where no one notices his costume.
Ben Reilly wakes up in a hospital room later to see all of Peter's important friends and co-workers standing over him. Ben is bandaged up like a mummy, and after the crowd leaves, he expects Mary Jane to "drop the worried spouse routine". However, she thinks that the clone is actually her husband, Peter Parker!
Some other time or something, Mary Jane and Ben are at the hospital with May, where the young lass has been diagnosed with blood poisoning. The hospital can treat it, but there's no cure.
It then shows Spider-Ben fighting what he dubs "Maximum Carnage". He uses a sonic gun to tear the villain in half. For money, Ben goes to the aftermath of superhero battles and takes pictures for the Daily Bugle.
Then it cuts to Ben looking at a monitor, then talking to Michael Morbius about May's blood poisoning. However, it was just a dream! Ben wakes up next to Mary Jane, revealing that it's been three years since May was born. The dream did give Ben the idea of asking Morbius for help on May's condition, but as he goes to get his Spider-suit out of the closet, Mary Jane calls out to him. When Ben turns to her, he sees her in the Scarlet Spider outfit! However, that was just a dream, too. He wakes up next to Mary Jane again, who asks him what was wrong.
Ben then goes to check on May, but she's been kidnapped! He goes out to find the culprit after suiting up, only to discover that it was the Green Goblin that took May. The pair arrive at a bridge, where the Green Goblin rants for a bit and reveals that he needs May's blood for some reason. Ben freaks out at this and begins punching the Green Goblin, but the Goblin tosses a pumpkin bomb towards May and the explosion knocks her off of the support she was on. Ben fires impact webbing that manages to catch the child, then falls into the water with the Goblin. The two are submerged for a bit, then Spider-Ben rises to the surface with the Goblin's mask and May's blood in hand.
Ben returns to the bridge, where Mary Jane and May are waiting for him. Ben flashes the serum the Goblin was carrying, claiming that it could help May. Mary Jane, however, now knows the secret Ben has been keeping from her for over three years. Mary Jane tells Ben that she would like to hear what happened to Peter one day, and thanks Ben for what he did, but he needs to find his own path in life now. Then it shows Ben, looking very sad.
No one wants to remember the Clone Saga or Terry Kavanagh. This issue of "What If?" however, has both. However, the first time I read this, I enjoyed it a bit. It was a "What If?" after all, just a story. However, now that I read it with a more critical eye, several things become strikingly apparent to me.
The first is the random jumps. It's nearly impossible to tell when things happen in relation to the story. We jump from the birth of May, to some guy in a warehouse with more Parker clones, to the end of "Time Bomb" and Peter's death. The only thing we know for sure is that the conclusion takes place three years after the start of the story. The several dream sequences do not help matter at all. I think Kavanaugh saw the finale for "Newheart" and decided, "If people like a guy waking up from a dream sequence once, they'll love it twice!" I suppose I should be thankful the whole book wasn't Ben waking up from dream sequences.
There's also the matter of the shadowy figure in the warehouse. All evidence points to it being the Green Goblin, though this is never made totally clear. The Green Goblin is a whole can of worms on his own, however. We never know who he really is (most likely Norman), why he's using two little hoverdiscs instead of a glider, and what the serum he's carrying is. It would have also been nice to know it was a serum when he first held it up. I had assumed it was May's blood, mysteriously green.
Next on the list is Ben Reilly. In this book, he may have killed two people: Peter Parker and Maximum Carnage. Well, he definitely killed Peter. I'm not sure about Carnage, however, though it looks like the poor sucker is being torn apart. Ben would never kill Peter, no matter how much he begged, even in a "What If?". Also, he should have realized that Mary Jane would have thought that he was Peter. The man was wrapped up like a mummy, for God's sake. I also don't think it would have taken Mary Jane three years to figure out Ben wasn't Peter, and Ben wouldn't have put up the charade like that, no matter how much it hurt. It's part of the whole "responsibility" thing.
Several minor problems I had with this issue were the lack of cars on the bridge at the climax and Ben's decision to only take pictures of the aftermath of super-battles. In New York, there's always a little traffic, and people would rather see pictures of Thor and Hulk slugging it out, not what an apartment building looked like after.
The only strong point about this issue was the art, though there were far too many shadows for my liking. Other than that, the art was nifty.
Shoddy writing, gaping plotholes, and characters not acting how they're supposed to. The only saving grace is the art, which wasn't the cat's meow or anything, but enough to raise it a web.
It'll make you appreciate the actual Clone Saga, perhaps, and make you dislike Kavanaugh's writing that much more.