What If…? started it’s publishing history waaaaay back in 1977, featuring the story: “What If Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four?”. This brilliant one-and-done issue took us to a world where Spider-Man got his wish from Amazing Spider-Man #1 and was allowed to join the Fantastic Four. How did this change FF history? You can now read this and few other startling issues, including the book that became cannon: “What if the Invaders had stayed together after World War II?”
What If…? continued until October 1984. The book, being mostly an impulse purchase for comic book readers and with the rise of the comic book store and “pull lists”, had dropped in sales, hence it’s cancellation.
Naturally there was some backlash from Marvellites, and Marvel decided to try and bring back the semi-popular mag. They published a one-off special: “What if Iron Man had been a traitor?”, which was an interesting story along the lines of the Manchurian Candidate (I have the issue). This was popular enough that Marvel Comics decided to bring back the book for a second volume that ran from July 1989 to November 1998. This series was, in my opinion, not as strongly written or drawn as the original, and a lot of experimentation was tried that didn’t always work, including dropping the overall “What If…?” question from the title (e.g., “What if Captain America hadn’t disappeared after World War II?” and adopted What If…? as a brand and lazily just put the name of the featured character on the cover.
However, I do have to throw them one bone… an idea from long-time Marvel writer/editor, Tom DeFalco, was not only great, but had serious legs. His idea was, “What if the Marvel characters had aged with the decades since they were first published?” and introduced Peter Parker’s teenaged daughter, May (May-Day) Parker, who took on his Spider-Hero mantle as Spider-Girl. This proved such a popular concept, that DeFalco was able to write more stories about the other kids of the Marvel heroes, and started the MC2 line of comics.
After 1998, What If…? took a longer hiatus, and has since come back primarily in one-shots, each taking it’s own volume. Most of these have followed major events, like Annihilation, Civil War, and Planet Hulk. Though volume 4, which was likely inspired by Neil Gaiman’s 1602 and DC’s Elseworlds, featured an entire volume of Marvel heroes thrown into different historical events.
Marvel has continued to publish What Ifs for each of its events, and has even announced volume 10: What If…?: Avengers Vs X-Men, for which my fellow podcasters have finished the question: “What If Avengers Vs X-Men WAS GOOD?” So yeah, it’s still being published, but it feels like the hey-day is long since over, and perhaps the series truly should have ended in 1984… though MC2 might not have happened, which is another comic book line I miss… but then that’s another story…