What If? #20 is a comic book that evokes strong memories for me. I purchased it at Dandy Dan's in DeQuincy, which was a store that held a quasi-mystical status for me. You see, whoever did magazines there couldn't be bothered to pull the comics in a timely fashion. It also seemed to be the place where comics that were distributed nowhere else in the area wound up. I would later buy the last issues of both Captain Carrot and Mighty Crusaders off Dandy Dan's racks, months after they disappeared elsewhere and their ultimate cancellation. I also found my Myron Fass-published magazine Star Force at Dandy Dan's.
What If? #20 was the first issue of that series I ever picked up. I had been following both The Avengers and Marvel Super Action (which reprinted old Avengers stories), so the cover caught my eye. I was especially intrigued by the Avengers logo, which was identical to the one used on MSA. I reasoned that meant the story must take place in the same general timeframe. And you know, I was pretty much on the money.
What If #20 was my introduction to the Kree-Skrull War, one of the more famous Marvel epic storylines. It is severely condensed, and lacks the sheer bravura creativity that marked the original. Still, it was my first glimpse at those events, and it prepared me for the day when I'd get the chance to read the real thing.
I sort of get the idea that this particular story more than others in this series was meant to "fix" the original and make it more impressive. I can understand the sentiment, since the ending of that cosmic war left many cold. And admittedly, the assembling of Earth's heroes and the legions of Asgard to confront the aliens is pretty damn thrilling. I can't fault the story for ambition.
However, I also can't ignore the fact that there is some painfully bad dialogue in this story. Yes, even by the standards of the times, it hurts. I'm not even going to reproduce any of it - I flipped to some random pages and each one had at least one terrible line. This didn't bother me as much when I was 7, but today, well, they should have known better.
Another maddening aspect of this story which I don't think I noticed when I was a kid is a gratuitous change from the regular continuity, just for the sake of being different. It is especially jarring and artificial, since it seems to come out of left field and is only spelled out via caption. I seriously question why it was shoehorned into the story, unless somebody just didn't like that particular subplot.
The art is pretty nice all around. I remember liking it back then, and I still do today. Alan Kupperberg had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Sal Buscema. Well, he's not going to make you forget any of those men, but he does yeoman-like work in cramming a lot of characters into a limited number of pages.
I don't regret re-reading this comic book after all these years, but it's definitely not the same anymore. It was my gateway to new and exciting aspects of the Marvel Universe when I was a kid, and I gobbled it up. Today, it is an ultimately flawed and unsatisfying variation on a classic story, albeit one with decent art. Sometimes, you just can't go home again.
Oh, and Dandy Dan's? The building is still there - in fact, I stopped there on Monday to fill up my car with gasoline. But it hasn't been Dandy Dan's in many years. It doesn't even have magazines now. Yeah, you just can't go home again.