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Welcome back superhero enthusiasts, comic book collectors, 1990s culture enthusiasts and fans of Marvel Comics! Before starting this newest retro comic book review, I should state that I really like Marvel’s way of exploring the unexplored scenarios related to the stories they published. Back in the 1980s, Marvel made its decision to have their icon Spider-Man – in his civilian form as Peter Parker – get married with Mary Jane Watson. Unsurprisingly, such an event added a whole lot of new elements into the life of the literary Spider-Man with regards to his struggle on balancing his life between superhero acts, domestic living and being attentive to his wife. If you really want to read about the wedding, I suggest searching for a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987).
Imagine what would have happened had Spider-Man not married Mary Jane? That very scenario was explored in an issue of the What If monthly series (Volume 2) back in the early 1990s. We can find out more together in this look back at What If #20, published by Marvel Comics in 1990 with a story written by Danny Fingeroth and drawn by Jim Valentino.
The story begins with the Watcher narrating key events in the life of Spider-Man. It is recalled how much pain Spider-Man endured when his beloved Gwen Stacy died during his conflict with the Green Goblin. Subsequently Peter Parker resumed his relationship with Mary Jane. When Mary Jane became absent, he got involved with Felicia Hardy/Black Cat who turned out to be too wild and reckless for him. Eventually, Peter married Mary Jane.
By pointing out that there are other realities, the Watcher then begins to explore another scenario in which Spider-Man realizes is far from being all right with him. During the wedding ceremony, Peter turns down Mary Jane which shocks the guests who were present. He tells her privately that even though he loves her, she will be in danger all the time as a wife. She walks away from him, still wearing her wedding dress.
Some hours later, Spider-Man swings around New York and strikes the criminals really hard…
To be clear, this comic book shows a Spider-Man who not only rejected marriage, but is also a tortured soul whose inner pain started even before the failed wedding ceremony. Silver Sable, who is often focused on missions, notices Spider-Man being too angry and careless with his performance with them taking on the bad guys. The old and frail Aunt May is deeply worried over Peter and hopes he would not harden his heart to the possibility of loving someone.
The thing about this story is that the writing done by Danny Fingeroth is pretty good as he captured Spider-Man’s essence while successfully steering him pretty close to the edge, almost blurring the boundary the separates the good and evil in him. The story moved with a nice pace and there is a good amount of suspense that will keep you wondering if Spider-Man can climb out of the deep hole of darkness he’s in.
More on the plot, I also enjoyed this comic book’s connection with Kraven’s Last Hunt and the early encounter with Venom. If there is any weak point with this story, it is the fact that it served as build-up of something set to happen in the next issue.
When it comes to the art, Jim Valentino did a good job bringing the script to life and that includes framing the character development scenes and the spectacle scenes in interesting ways. I personally enjoyed his take on Venom and Kraven.
What If #20 (1990) is indeed a solid, alternate story about Spider-Man. It was gripping right from the start but it lacked a solid conclusion as its last few pages started to build up anticipation for the following issue. In short, this is not a standalone story and to fully enjoy what it started, you have to read What If #21. Still, I love the way Spider-Man is portrayed here and there are some characters involved that long-time fans will enjoy.
If you are seriously planning to buy an existing hard copy of What If #20 (1990), be aware that as of this writing, MileHighComics.com shows that the near-mint copy of the regular edition costs $53 while the respective near-mint copies of the newsstand edition and the signed edition both cost $105.
Overall, What If #20 (1990) is recommended.
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