A Look Back at What If #21 (1991)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from reading the comic book and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Welcome back superhero enthusiasts, 1990s arts and culture enthusiasts, Marvel Comics fans and comic book collectors! Today we go back to the year 1993 and explore a part of Marvel Comics’ universe through the re-imagined tales emphasized in the What If monthly series.

Some time ago, I reviewed What If #20 (1990) which explored what would have happened had Peter Parker/Spider-Man did not marry Mary Jane Watson. While that comic book’s story and visuals were engaging, the narrative weakened before the end and it turns out the tales was not really designed as standalone What If story. That being said, the story continues on in the 21st issue of the What If series that I just reviewed.

With those details laid down, here is a look back at What If #21, published in 1991 by Marvel Comics with a story written by Danny Fingeroth and drawn by Jim Valentino.

The cover.

Early story

The story begins with a man – who overheard the talk between Black Cat and Mary Jane Watson during the end of issue #20 – who calls someone and starts a negotiation. The unseen person on the other end of the call is not seen but the man knows about the other person’s history of attempts to kill Spider-Man.

Within the City of New York, the romantically bonded Spider-Man and Black Cat work as a crime-fighting duo bringing crooks down. Shortly after, they get married in a private ceremony in Niagara Falls, New York using fake names (Peter Parker as Peter Palmer, and Felicia Hardy as Felina Marvey). During their first night together as husband and wife, Felicia gets out of bed surprising Peter. It turns out, Felicia is in the mood for crime-fighting. This brings them back to New York City where they resume their anti-crime crusade as Spider-Man and Black Cat.

Peter Parker notices something with his new wife. No matter what she says as Black Cat, she is still in love with his Spider-Man identity and only tolerates his true, civilian identity. He wonders if Felicia will come to accept the real him…


The Vulture attacks Spider-Man’s wife Black Cat.

To begin with, this comic book has a much stronger story, deeper character development, solid twists and a very intriguing conclusion that also happens to be a lot more satisfying compared with issue #20.

For one thing, the team of Fingeroth-Valentino really ramped up their imaginative creations and took this tale to more daring directions. The core concept of Spider-Man and Black Cat being married is deeply explored which resulted in a tale that is intriguing for most of the time. Their marriage also raises questions as to how Spider-Man and Black Cat perceive each other both as civilians and as costumed crime fighters. Also explored nicely was how they handled their secret identities while struggling with their own emotions deep inside. To say the least, seeing Spider-Man and Black Cat as a married couple as well as a dynamic duo of crime fighters makes a solid reading experience.

I should also state that there is a lot of story and characterization-development pay-offs that reflect not only what was built up in this comic book but also in issue #20. To really enjoy and experience this issue, you must read the previous issue as well.


Spider-Man and Black Cat as the married couple and duo of crime fighters.

What If #21 (1991) is a very captivating read. To put it short, it exceeds issue #20 on just about everything and the conclusion is a lot more satisfying and intriguing to read. The Fingeroth-Valentino team created an in-depth look at an alternate married life of Spider-Man as well as what would happen once the webslinger and Black Cat work together in fighting criminals while managing their personal secrets and the stress that comes with marriage. I should also state that the twists within the story are much more satisfying than in issue #20. This is truly a must-read not just for Spider-Man fans but for any superhero enthusiast!

Overall, What If #21 (1991) is highly recommended!


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