What If #4 is among my all-time favorite comic books. It dropped in the midst of The Invaders run by the same team which was then producing the comic, and unlike most all of the other stories in the series was intended from the get-go to be canonical. (It should be included in every collection, which it is in the most recent two-volume version I see.) It seeks to solve a problem only comic book nerds would perceive or feel needed a solution - specifically the timeline of Captain America. Being one of those aforementioned comic book nerds, I lapped it up with glee.
The problem began at the very beginning of Cap's Marvel career when the powers that were decided to reach into the freezer of legacy heroes and grab out a "Capsicle". The decision to have had Cap on ice (literally) since the end of World War II seemed straightforward enough for fans who because of their youth were unaware of the large tapestry of Timely-Atlas-Marvel which had featured the Living Legend off and on for a few decades. Stan and Jack had a great idea and its drama speaks to everyone, as Cap was made into a modern-day Rip Van Winkle so as to offset his noble but seemingly naive beliefs against the urbane modern world. If you think Cap is an utter fool, then perhaps your worldview is in need of adjustment.
But that aside, there was the problem of the Captain America of the 1950's when Atlas wanted to revive its superheros. If Cap was on ice then how could he be a professor along with Bucky in 1953? The answer was devised and presented by Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema in Captain America #153-156, four of the best Cap stories I ever read in my life. My pulse quickened as this clash between the Caps unfolded.
But that solution left out the post-war Captain America seen in issues of his own self-titled comic and other places such as All Winners. In fact Cap and Bucky had been part of the All-Winners Squad with two documented adventures. How could that be?
What If #4 had the answer.
We begin with a scene first shown in Avengers #4 and later expanded in Avengers #56 in which Cap and Bucky confront the hooded Nazi, Baron Zemo.
|Roy Thomas and John Buscema - Avengers #56 1968|
|Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins - What If #4 1977|
|Stan Lee and Jack Kirby - The Avengers #4 1964|
|Stan Lee and Jack Kirby - Captain America #112 1969|
|Captain America I|
|Captain America II|
Later, after the war the Liberty Legion disbands and Miss America and Whizzer join the ranks of the team which is renamed "The All-Winners Squad" since "The Invaders" makes even less sense than it did before. Later still the team breaks up and the members go their separate ways, no less committed to righting wrongs.
|(Note the "No Strings" line. First time?)|
|Captain America III|
|Captain America IV|
This is whopper of tale, rendered with gusto and glee by Roy Thomas, Frank Robbins and Frank Springer. A story which kites through the years with aplomb and which opens up the history of the Marvel Universe in fresh and exciting ways.
What was a problem became an opportunity and What If #4 seized that opportunity.