Everyone thinks it: What if? What if I didn’t make the same decisions? How would my life have changed? What would happen if I had actually gone up and talked to that girl/guy? Would I be happy now if I did something differently? Would my life be worse?
It’s so common that there are whole sections in bookstores on alternate histories, and the majority of sci-fi stories are based on trying to decide that same question. Although there are so many varied alternate histories and scenarios, we keep getting sucked in again and again because there’s something magical about those stories. We’re all interested in how things could have turned out, and comic fans are no exception.
Having a story become “imaginary” or out of continuity sets the character free. These stories are allowed to “break the rules that kept their characters in the limbo known as the status quo. Superman doesn’t have to be good; he can now be a villain. Hell, Luke Cage can now be a woman. The character doesn’t even have to be human any longer if the writer doesn’t want him to be. The stories can be about anything. They can change something fundamental in the character and it doesn’t change who the original character is because it “doesn’t really count.” Ben Parker could still be alive, Peter could become a greedy celebrity who couldn’t care less about his family, let alone saving the world, and we would still want to read about it.
Even though it doesn’t matter it’s still interesting because change is allowed to happen. The main character could actually die and stay dead! That never happens! Licensing doesn’t matter. What happens in Hollywood doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except the story the creators want to tell. The stories end up being somehow “purer” because of the ability to change and grow. And unlike the rest of the tales from a popular franchise, these stories can actually end!
Some of my favorite stories are imaginary stories and say as much in the comics themselves. We’ll start with one you’re all most likely familiar with, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. This was basically Alan Moore’s version of Superman: The End, and it really is a fitting tribute to the Man of Steel. It’s actually a favorite of Young Shane’s and throughout the synopsis we’ll flash back to see his reaction. It’s a story where everything you ever thought couldn’t actually happen in a Superman comic actually comes true.
The story opens with a reporter interviewing Lois Lane-Elliot and her family about Superman’s last days.
Lois then tells a story where Superman’s secret identity is revealed, supervillains start trying to assassinate his loved ones (Pete Ross is killed by Toyman and The Prankster on Live TV!), Bizarro destroys his own world and commits suicide and Brainiac takes over Luthor’s body due to Luthor’s lust for power.
Young Shane’s mind has just been taken on his first trip into an imaginary world where anything can happen. This is like drugs for Young Shane. He’s kind of quiet right now because he’s in shock.
Oh, but this comic wasn’t done, not by a long shot. Superman takes all his friends to The Fortress of Solitude to protect them, and ends up having a once-and-for-all knock-down, drag-out battle against Brainiac and his forces, which include the Legion of Super-Villains! Superman is not without assistance as Krypto, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Supergirl all show up to help in their own ways, which is good, because the rest of Earth’s heroes are trapped by Brainiac’s impenetrable force field! That’s when you know it’s all going to come to a head.
A wide-eyed young Shane surely thought, “How is Superman going to get out of this one?” as he eagerly turned the page for more.
Superman’s friends end up showing why they’re Superman’s pals when Jimmy (as Elastic Lad) successfully shuts down the force field, and Lana (as the Insect Queen) breaks Luthor’s neck after he begs her to kill him! They pay the ultimate price for their friendship as the Legion of Super-Villains kills them.
“Jimmy can’t die!” yelled Young Shane. “Comics don’t work this way! “
Jimmy isn’t the only one who dies, though. Soon Superman’s dog Krypto joins Jimmy in the afterlife after sacrificing himself to take out The Kryptonite Man. Loyal to the bitter end.
At this point Young Shane actually had to take a moment and wipe tears from his eyes.
In the end it all turned out to be a plot by Mr. Mxyzptlk … because he was bored! Superman ends up turning the Phantom Zone projector on Mxyzptlk. As Mxyzptlk says his name backward to return to his own dimension and get away, Superman activates the projector, tearing the imp in half!
“Holy word my mom better not have heard!” says Young Shane. “Superman doesn’t kill!”
Since Superman never kills he voluntarily enters a chamber containing a chunk of Gold Kryptonite (which takes away his powers permanently), and walks out into the artic never to be seen again.
Barely audible sniffles can be heard from Young Shane.
The final panel is of Jordan Elliot, the family we see at the beginning (shhhh… dont’tell anyone it’s Kent) delivering a wink to the reader, as he and Lois prepare to “just live happily ever after.”
Young Shane smiles, knowing that his hero is alive and living out his years the way he should be.
Young Shane went on to read many other comics, some Imaginary, some not. He enjoyed most of them, but this was his first imaginary comic and he fell in love with them that day.
What If Superman and Batman had Sons? What If Lana Lang Married Superman? What If Bruce Wayne Became Green Lantern? What if Nick Fury Fought WW2 in Space? I’ve read and loved just about all of them, but stories don’t have to be labeled as imaginary to think of them that way.
What if D-Man Was An Avenger? What If Maxwell Lord Killed Blue Beetle? OK, these stories aren’t technically imaginary stories, but I like to think of them as such. That’s the beauty of the concept for the fan: Ultimately we can say what’s imaginary or not. We ignore things we don’t like; we make up timelines in our head. For me, the Gwen Stay/Norman Osborn story that happened in Amazing Spider-Man a while back, well … that didn’t happen. It’s almost like having your own personal Choose Your Own Adventure storyline. If you don’t like a story, just take it out of your collection and choose “the other path.” If later on you come to enjoy the story, just file it back in your collection. It’s like going back to choose “page 23” instead of “page 28” that ends with your character ruined or dead.
Comics aren’t real. They don’t have to work like the real world does. They can be imaginary. They can be magic. They can open a young kids eyes to wonder when he needs to believe in another world for just a few moments. That’s why I ♥ comics, and that’s why I ♥ imaginary stories.