RED ALERT: SPOILERS ARE IN THE FACILITY. REPEAT, RED ALERT!



This one's a two-fer, kids--not one, but TWO WHOLE fantastic WHAT IF? stories! Our first spellbinding and not-at-all Satanic tale is entitled:

Title: What If The Ghost Rider Were Separated From Johnny Blaze?
Release Date: August 1981
Script: Michael Fleisher
Art: Tom Sutton
Good Guys: Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider
Bad Guys: Azaziah, centuries-old mage

So what happens?

The Watcher, looking rather like Marlon Brando, introduces this tale by reminding us that back in Ghost Rider #43-44, the ancient scrawny pissed-off wizard Azaziah made a ploy to boost his waning powers by separating stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze (seen here in a fabulous skintight black spandex shirt cut low to expose his Fabio-like cleavage) from his demonic alter ego, the Ghost Rider. Az turned the now unfettered Rider loose on the world of men to wreak massive property damage, but Blaze realized that both he and the Rider were weakening. Their mystic bond kept them both alive, and if they remained separate they would die--just like Captain Kirk's good and bad selves in "The Enemy Within"!

Man, Star Trek rules.

Blaze defeated Azaziah by shattering his magic orb with a rock, then played chicken with the Ghost Rider over a pentagram. The resulting collision united them once again.

But in an alternate reality...

Blaze's hurled rock misses the orb and Az stuns Blaze with an energy bolt! Free to complete his evil spell, the ancient wizard magically becomes one with the Ghost Rider himself. Forming a motorcycle from hellfire, he announces that he is off to seize the "pearl of Christendom" and roars off across the Atlantic Ocean. Blaze staggers to his feet and collects his wits enough to recall that in the Middle Ages, this cryptic phrase referred to the Papal throne. Good Lord! The hell-spawned Ghost Rider is bound for the Vatican!

Sure enough, GR is already popping wheelies outside the Coliseum and taunting the cops. Quickly growing bored with terrorizing the populace he uses the Uffizi Palace as a ramp and jumps half of Rome by way of a shortcut.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a weaponless Johnny Blaze manages to hijack a small plane just by ordering the pilot to take him to the Vatican. (Um...seeing as how this is a hijacking, shouldn't you have a gun or something, sir?) This might cause one to give up on the story in disgust...except in the NEXT panel, we see Ghost Rider in his full glory, ripping apart the Papal residence and scaring the crap out of the pantaloon-and-ruff-clad Swiss Guard. "You may pray as much as you wish foolish mortal!" he shrieks. "But I represent a realm far removed from Heaven!" The guards valiantly try to hold him off with their pikes, but GR imprisons them in a ring of fire and busts down the Pope's door. He informs the startled pontiff that he intends to sacrifice him at the moon's zenith in an unholy rite that will make him master of the civilized world!

Dude, this is TOTALLY like a Sabbath song I heard once.

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Johnny Blaze arrives in Rome, though how he managed to wrap up the whole hijacking thing and evade the authorities remains a mystery to the reader. He's got a puzzle of his own to solve: what the heck does Azaziah have to gain by kidnapping the Pope? Not being a thinking type, Blaze beats up an Italian guy, steals his cycle, and jumps the wall of flame that's sprung up around Vatican City. He clears the flames but wipes out on the other side, injuring his leg and passing out. At that moment the Ghost Rider cries out as pain jolts his leg. Azaziah realizes that Blaze must be nearby and that their psychic link is not completely severed. He finds the unconscious cyclist and bears him down to the dungeons beneath the Vatican.

The moon reaches its zenith! Johnny Blaze, chained to the wall, watches helplessly as Azaziah (changed back to his elderly wizard self) summons the scimitar of Ra-Mon-Beth from the netherworld in order to sacrifice the Pope who is bound to an altar. Blaze suddenly gets it: whereas a modern-day villain might target the White House or the United Nations, Azaziah--a product of the Middle Ages--views the Vatican as the center of civilization. Sacrificing the Pope in this ritual will give the dark mage control over the entire Christian population of Earth! (Even Protestants? The theological implications, though staggering, are not explored.)

Blaze manages to rip the chains from the wall with a mighty heave. He grabs the scimitar, cuts the Pope loose, and confronts Azaziah--who turns back into the Ghost Rider! Blaze hesitates for a moment. If he kills the Ghost Rider, what will that do to him? But the moment of indecision quickly passes and he plunges the blade deep into Ghost Rider's gut. The demon turns back into the wizard, who expires. A moment later, Johnny Blaze also clutches his chest and falls over dead, having sacrificed himself to save the Pope and the world.

Spider-Man says, "It's fun to play 7-Eleven's new SUPER SLURPEE FUN GAME." Just buy a Slurpee in a Marvel superhero cup, and you could win a $7,500 scholarship, a $1,000 shopping spree at the store of your choice, an Electronic Fun Center, a bike, or...a t-shirt. Which honestly seems the most likely. But the cups are way cool.

Cool moments! The Ghost Rider's melodramatic rants are always cool: "Men call me the Ghost Rider, your Holiness, for I am a fiery demon of vengeance spawned in the brimstone pits of Hell."


Well, True Believers, that was quite a ride. But if you thought that was the end, think again! There's more Mighty Marvel Mayhem to come in this issue's second stupendous story...

Title: Matt Murdock, Agent Of...S.H.I.E.L.D.
Release Date: August 1981
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Co-plotter and penciller: Frank Miller
Inker: Klaus Janson
Good Guys: Matt Murdock, Tony Stark, Nick Fury
Bad Guys: HYDRA

So what happens?

The Watcher, still looking very much like Marlon Brando, somberly poses the musical question: what if Matt Murdock had never become the masked adventurer known as Daredevil? We learn that Murdock grew up in New York's Hell's Kitchen, the son of boxer Battlin' Jack Murdock. Jack promised Matt's mother before she died that he would make sure Matt got an education so he would have a chance at a better life. Matt studied hard, but also trained as an athlete in secret. While he was in high school he saved a blind man from being hit by a truck gone out of control--but in the process was exposed to its radioactive cargo. It left Matt blind but somehow heightened his other senses to an incredible degree. Matt grew up to become a lawyer by day but fought crime by night using his athletic ability and super-senses.

But let's say that the owner of that fateful cargo had decided to follow the truck that day. What would have happened had millionaire weapons designer Tony Stark been on the scene of the accident?

Stark has his men load Matt into his car, which transforms into a flying vehicle and jets off...while an agent of the worldwide terrorist organization HYDRA (who's been tailing Stark) radios his superiors to inform them of the incident. Stark takes Matt to the Helicarrier headquarters of the newly-created espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. for treatment, much to the chagrin of its leader Nick Fury who feels he has enough worries as it is. When Matt regains consciousness he is in a sensory deprivation tank. He is suspended in water, his eyes and ears covered, with electrodes attached to his body. The sounds of his own hearbeat and breathing are nearly deafening.

Outside the tank, top scientist Dr. Frost explains to Fury and Stark that Matt's senses have been heightened to a superhuman degree. Fury immediately sees an opportunity to turn the boy into possibly the greatest secret agent in the world. Stark is wary, but Fury insists that if S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't get him, HYDRA will.

Meanwhile, Jack Murdock is alone in Fogwell's Gym late at night, training alone with the punching bag and worrying about Matt who hasn't come home yet. He hears footsetps and turns to see his son--who lashes out with tremendous speed and strength and knocks Jack unconscious! "Matt" is revealed to be a HYDRA Life Model Decoy, an android who contacts HYDRA Head requesting pickup for itself and its captive.

Back at the helicarrier, Dr. Frost removes the bandages from Matt's eyes. To his horror, Matt finds that he is blind! Nick Fury assures him that they will help him come to grips with his disability, and hints that the situation may not be as bad as Matt thinks. Sure enough, we next see Matt hurtling through a dangerous obstacle course at top speed, escaping injury by a hair's breadth. In the observation area Frost tells Fury that they've learned that Matt also gained a sort of personal radar from his accident. Fury acknowledges that Matt would make the best field op they've ever had but is wary of the kid's cockiness and risk-taking.

Nevertheless Fury makes his recruitment pitch as Matt fights a seven-armed combat training robot. It sounds like a sweet deal--S.H.I.E.L.D. will train him, pay for his college education, and will take care of Matt and his dad for the rest of their lives. Matt says he'll have to ask his father. Fury knows that HYDRA has kidnapped the elder Murdock, but not wanting to worry Matt he tries to hide the truth. But no lie can get past Matt Murdock now! He hears Fury's heart beating more rapidly as he prevaricates and realizes he's been given a built-in lie detector. He angrily refuses Fury's offer and stalks off.

Valerius the fighter, Grimslade the magic user, and Indel the elf (a wee fellow with a pointy cap) find a secret door. Passing through it into a maze of corridors, they enter a room and are confronted by a shambling, evil-smelling monster like a pile of rotting swamp weeds. The quick-thinking wizard stops the creature in its tracks with a "Hold Monster" charm, but the light it sheds reveals another menace--the walls are covered in hideous green slime, certain death to any who touch it! "LOOK OUT! IT'S DRIPPING!" Indel screams.

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By the way, that D&D ad? Worst art I have ever seen between the pages of a comic book.

So have I mentioned yet that Dr. Frost is female and hot? Well, it didn't seem relevant at the time but it does now. Matt admits his frustration at not being able to help his father to the sexy, sexy scientist. She sticks her boobs out and hints that she may be able to take Matt to him. Frost, it turns out, is a double agent! When night falls, he and Frost overpower two guards and steal a helicopter. Two jumpjets appear and ensnare the 'copter in a net. Without thinking, Matt bails out and plummets toward earth, saved only by Nick Fury's flying skills.

Fury gives Matt a royal chewing out, and tells him that they had just located his father and were going to spring him that night. Matt offers Fury a deal: he is willing to join S.H.I.E.L.D. if Fury lets him be the agent to go in and save Murdock. "Kid," Fury steams, "you shoulda been a lawyer." GET IT? Because in OUR universe, he DID become a lawyer! So...eh...heh. Anyway.

We next see two figures in SCUBA gear (one with long blonde hair like Dr. Frost) swim toward an underwater HYDRA base hidden beneath an offshore oil derrick. The airlock opens and two HYDRA agents swim out meet them. Just as they start to get an inkling something's fishy, "Frost" deflates. Matt whips out a pistol and kung-fus the agents unconscious. Using his S.H.I.E.L.D. training and his super-sensitive touch, the black-clad and blindfolded Matt easily opens the inner lock and bounds into a room full of HYDRA agents! He takes out two of them, and before the rest can regroup, shoots out the lights and slips out as his panicky foes fire randomly in the dark.

Matt finds his pop manacled to a wall and swiftly picks the locks. Just then the lights turn on and the pair find themselves surrounded by gun-toting and highly unamused HYDRA operatives. "Surrender, Murdock--and we'll let the old man live!" they snarl. Au contraire, Matt says cheerfully. He has them surrounded. Oh yeah? Him and what army?

Every mother-lovin' S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in the neighborhood, that's what army! Nick Fury and his boys blow a hole in the HYDRA base and pour in, clearing the way with knockout gas. Matt straps on a mask and hands one to his dad, but a HYDRA agent grabs his father's mask and puts a gun to his head. Battlin' Jack turns around and lays the guy out with a powerful right cross.

After the base is secured, Matt Murdock, Jack, and Nick Fury talk about the future. With S.H.I.E.L.D. supporting the Murdocks, Jack won't have to sign with the Fixer--a mobster and crooked boxing promoter who in our reality killed Jack when he refused to throw a fight. And Jack will be keeping his promise to Matt's mother: Matt will grow up to be someone important, someone who fights for freedom all over the world as code name...Daredevil.

Cool moments!

  • Matt Murdock, especially when decked out in his stealth gear, makes a bitchin' secret agent.
  • Unleashing the madness on a group of HYDRA agents: "Hiya, guys! Can my dad come out and play?"
  • Okay, so this one time Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin were making a joint appearance at my local comics shop the summer after I graduated from high school. During the signing I made a joke to my friend about getting rich by creating Life Model Decoys of Miller and Chaykin and sending them out on tour. "That's it!" Howard Chaykin yelled. "It's Life Model DECOYS!" Apparently they'd been arguing over what the blasted things were called. Frank Miller was amused to learn that I only knew the term from reading this issue of WHAT IF?, which he of course co-created. Yeah, That was a cool moment.

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