In a Nutshell
Three stories examine alternate outcomes to the Cyclops & Jean Grey romance
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Pencils: Ron Randall
Inks: Art Nichols
Letterer: Bob Sharen
Colorist: Janice Chiang
Editor: Rob Tokar
Caterer-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
As the guest arrive for the wedding of Cyclops & Jean Grey, the Watcher observes a reality in which the couple decide to get married much earlier, at the same time Beast leaves the X-Men for the Brand Corporation. This prompts the rest of the X-Men to go out on their own as well, to better spread Professor Xavier's views on human/mutant relations. However, whenever Xavier senses the awakening of Krakoa, he decides to accompany his still raw-team of new X-Men, leading him to be captured along with the rest of the mutants. While the Avengers & Sunfire eventually defeat Krakoa, it's too late to prevent the deaths of Xavier and the new X-Men.
Later, as Warren Worthington expresses his happiness for Scott & Jean, the Watcher observes a reality in which Jean fell in love with Warren, not Scott, upon joining the X-Men, which leads to an increasingly isolated and bitter Cyclops to leave the team and fall in with Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Finally, as Jubilee laments the absence of Wolverine at the wedding, the Watcher watches a reality in which the Phoenix, in the form of Jean Grey, falls in love with Wolverine. But without the calming influence & abiding love of Cyclops, it grows out of control, and, unwilling to sacrifice itself, eventually consumes the universe. As the wedding of Scott & Jean concludes, the Watcher admits he doesn't know what the future holds for them, but whatever it is, he'll be...watching.
Firsts and Other Notables
What If? is Marvel's "alternate reality" series, in which each issue presents a different "what if?" scenario culled from Marvel's past, such as "What if Phoenix hadn't died?" or "What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?", and then explores the answer to the question posed in the title in the course of the story. The main throughline for all these stories is the Watcher, the alien being tasked with keeping an eye on Earth's development, who presents each story as a glimpse into an alternate reality created at the divergence point in question. In theory, the series presented fascinating looks at paths not taken and alternate story ideas, in the process altering, somewhat, our understanding of the original stories/scenarios. In practice, the vast majority of What If? stories answer the question inherent to the title with either "after a few different twists & turns, everything turns out mostly the same as in the "main" reality" or "everyone dies".
This issue is actually part of the second volume of What If?; the first started in the late seventies and ran into the mid 80s, and was, generally, more concept-driven, asking questions like "What if the Avengers had never formed?" or "What if Captain America became president?" This second volume launched in 1989 and ran until 1998 (the concept has been revived periodically since then, usually in short-run or "five week month" situations), and is much more storyline-focused, asking things like "what if the X-Men lost Inferno" or "what if the Avengers lost Operation: Galactic Storm" alongside the more concept/character based scenarios.
This particular issue is styled as a special wedding album, tying in to the Cyclops/Jean Grey wedding, and presents three alternate scenarios: what if Cyclops & Jean married earlier (circa the team's post-Silver Age, pre-All New reprint era), what if Jean fell in love with Angel instead of Cyclops, and what if Phoenix chose Wolverine over Cyclops. In true What If? fashion, the first and third scenarios end with large chunks of characters dead (the entire universe, in the case of the last story).
Generally speaking, I've never reviewed issues of What If? before, despite a decent number featuring alternate X-Men scenarios, because they are, by definition, not part of the overall X-narrative, and have no bearing on the ongoing development of the characters, their internal universe, and the X-books as a publishing entity (which are the things I'm chiefly concerned with). I'm breaking that trend with this issue, in part because it features a framing sequence set in the main "616" reality, showing some additional scenes of the wedding not featured in X-Men #30 (including the X-Men greeting arriving guests), but also because it's the first issue of What If? I ever bought, specifically because of its tie-in to the wedding (from here, I would go on to buy additional X-Men-related issues of What If? until the end of this volume).
I'm not planning on reviewing any additional What If? issues, but if people are interested, I could certainly consider past and future X-centric issues as possible Retro X-aminations/fill-in fodder when I need to make a last minute change.
Kurt Busiek, in the process of becoming a household name on the success of Marvels (this issue was on sale between issues #3 and #4 of that series) writes this issue, which is notable in part because he's the fan who gave John Byrne the idea for the loophole which allowed him to bring Jean Grey back from the dead, creating the notion that Phoenix was a wholly separate entity from Jean. And with this issue, he writes an abbreviated, alternate version of the "Dark Phoenix Saga", with the full acknowledgement that the Phoenix therein is just a copy of Jean, the very idea he brought about as a fan.
A Work in Progress
The first story references Cyclops and Marvel Girl's brief jobs as a radio DJ & fashion model, from X-Men #48, as they depart the school to live civilian lives.
After they leave, Angel is appointed the new deputy leader of the X-Men.
Eventually, Professor X recruits a new team of X-Men, this one including Northstar, Aurora (of Alpha Flight) and Catseye (of the Hellions), though I'm not sure how the original X-Men leaving early in this reality led to Professor X finding Catseye before the White Queen (butterfly effect, I suppose).
And, of course, in the end, that entire team of X-Men, including Professor X, is killed by Krakoa.
The second story presents an alternate look at the first dozen or so issues of the series, in which Cyclops gets increasingly pissed off at everyone (the result of Jean immediately becoming smitten with Angel instead of him), including his inability to enjoy that weird televised track meet Toad used to trap the X-Men in issue #5.
He is also later much more (justifiably) angry when Xavier reveals his whole "I was faking the loss of my powers to test you!" ruse.
In this reality, Beast is named deputy leader when Xavier leaves to seek out Lucifer, which is the straw that leads to Cyclops quitting outright.
This leads to him falling in with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, which is where the story ends.
Hinted at in X-Men #30, this issue confirms that Wolverine was on the grounds, out-of-sight, for the wedding.
In another 616-framing scene, Archangel affirms that he's a-ok with Cyclops & Jean getting married, despite being the third leg of a love triangle with them for much of the series' earliest issues.
In the third story, Phoenix gives in to her temptations for Wolverine, which ultimately leads to the entire universe being destroyed when their bond (and Wolverine's temperament) isn't enough to convince the entity to sacrifice itself at the end of "The Dark Phoenix Saga".
The first story suggests that with the original X-Men leaving Xavier's school sooner (following Beast, Cyclops & Marvel Girl's example), human/mutant relations improve, with the graduated X-Men acting as ambassador's of Xavier's philosophy in a context outside of superhero battles.
One of the big flaws in the various What If? series (aside from the frequent repetition in the ways the central question gets answered) is that one issue's worth of pages are often not enough to fully flesh out the alternate scenario and fully explore its ramifications. That flaw certainly isn't helped here by this issue presenting three alternate scenarios, such that the middle one ends just as it's really getting interesting (with Cyclops throwing in with Magneto), and is never really about Jean picking Angel over Cyclops (she does, and then the rest of the story is just Cyclops spinning out as a result), while the third one is basically just a brief summation of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" with a worse ending. That leaves the first story as the sole standout, one which manages to present an alternate scenario that is both better (the fully graduated and independent X-Men seem to genuinely improve human/mutant relations) and worse (Professor X and the alternate New X-Men all die on Krakoa) than the "main" reality.
All of that said, this is an entirely harmless and fun way to celebrate Cyclops and Jean's wedding. The art is nothing great, but Busiek comes up with some fun twists, and his focus on the X-Men's Silver Age (setting two of the three stories in that era) is appreciated (as is the fact that the "Jean ends up with Wolverine" alteration turns out to be the one that leads to the destruction of all existence). It can't quite overcome the inherent limitations of the series', and this particular issue's, format, but is otherwise perfectly fine as these things go.
Next week, "Child's Play" concludes in New Warriors #45 and Cable teams up with the Acolytes in Cable #10.