Spoiler Alert: Nothing as exciting as the cover happens inside this issue.
I'm not gonna lie to you. As I drink and read this, I am simultaneously watching cartoons AND playing video games. I know, that seems unfair. But seriously, this issue's concept? I just am not thrilled with where this thing is going. I get it, it was 1979, Star Wars was huge, and they wanted to do a Star Wars thing (Even though Marvel already had the license to make Star Wars comics. No, that's not a joke.). But when on page 1 Uatu explains that "In this parallel reality space is divided into Alpha and Beta sectors... one on either side of the sun... just as your own Earth was divided into Eastern and Western fronts during your own World War II...!" I'm just... ugh. This is gonna get stupid real fuggin' fast. World War II, but in space, almost as if it was a.... "Space Battles"? No, that's not quite right, is it?
Marvel! You literally made 107 issues of this stuff! You were actively making the two books at the same time!
So, in this universe, in 1941, Space Station Pearl (ugh) is attacked by alien monstrosities who are the Japanese in this universe, and I feel really racist for having typed that. Nick Fury and Red Hargrove are astronaut solider dudes in green jumpsuits in this universe, and they fight the invading Japaliens, and space Capt Sam Sawyer (Tommy Lee Jones in Captain America, remember him?) shows up just in time to be killed in a laser fight. Then for reasons that are meant to justify this story's existence, but are mostly just silly, we spend two pages explaining that the reason technology is so much more advanced in this universe is because in our universe Leonardo da Vinci was too lazy to actually build any of his insane devices. This is seriously a thing that happens in this comic.
Man, our universe's da Vinci was a lazy shit, huh?
Anyway, later on, Space Sgt. Fury has formed his space Howlin' Commandos, only that doesn't make any sense, but whatever. They're fighting space robots, who aren't at all related to the Japaliens, so I guess they are Robonazis? Or Synthetitalians? Whatever. Dino has a picture of some hot chick back home with red skin, which seems to have nothing to do with the red aliens we see later (I peeked, sorry. And the Japaliens are orange, so she's just some random girl with red skin or something? Oy. This comic, I tell you...), and then Fury finds out that the Robonazis are- GASP!- controlled by some sort of computerizing machine!AND IT'S ALIVE! (I guess?)
So, RoboHitler (I don't actually think that's his name, as he is basically a steel box on wheels that can talk, but without further context, I'm just going with it) can emit a paralyzing space gas that freezes space commandos right in their tracks, and wow, this is just so dumb you guys. *takes another drink* Wait, wait... I think it's actually supposed to be Happy Sam's brain in a robot body? Making them do drills without telling them they're just drills? They won't say yet (I haven't peeked that far), but he's ordering Fury around like Happy Sam did, so that's my new bet. Robo-Sam tells the Commandos that they're on 24-hour call, because he expects a Betan Invasion, except for Red Hargrove, because he's got a secret mission for him to pilot. Whatever. Robo-Sam shoots Fury in the ass with a laser beam (yes, really) to tell him that he'll be watching, and I have never been so embarrassed for Nick Fury in my life.
He is always watching you, Sgt. Fury. Even when you poop.
We're halfway done, and I really can not stress how silly all of this is. This is not a What If. This is "let's have random space adventures but we're too lazy to create new characters" or something. It's a glorified Elseworlds, "Nick Fury... innn.. Spaaaace....". Honestly, if they'd focused more on their flimsy excuse, "What If Leonardo da Vinci Wasn't Such a Lazy Ass?" I'd probably be more willing to go with it. But whatever. Let's pretend that World War II was in space and millions of lives weren't lost during the conflict. That's in no way offensive, of course not.
We're introduced to Red-Alien-Lizard-Hitler, who's ordering Betan soldiers to butcher all non-lizard men that they encounter. Wait, no, he's Red-Alien-Lizard-Hirohito, because they're still Japaliens, because he's sending his minions to take Midway, which is a pretty unsubtle reference to an actual Marine battle. Oh, and then, look, it's Space Baron Strucker, who's a Betan spy posing as an Alpha Admiral, giving them secret info! We're not supposed to know it's space Strucker yet, but his baldness, sinisterness, and the fact that this is supposed to be a Howlin' Commandos story give him away. The Alienazi's even refer to him as "Herr". It'd be cute, if it wasn't so stupid and vaguely offensive.
Remember kids, the difference between the Japanese and Lizard Aliens is there is no difference.
Oy vey. Direct quote time from Space Strucker: "The Betan is as much a fool as any of the Amerikaners to believe that they are not prepared for his approaching fleet. In fact, it was I who let the word leak of the imminent invasion. Ach! My plan is perfect. For it is inevitable that the Betan invaders will be totally defeated by the retaliating Terran ships... While Earth's forces will be severely weakened, thereby making it that much easier for my repressed HOMELAND... to RETURN to it's rightful place as RULING CLASS ON EARTH."
So, if I've got this right, the Japaliens are a threat, but Space Nazis are using them to weaken Earth's defenses so that they can take over once the Japaliens are defeated. Right. Whatever.
Red Hargrove flies a space ship that is totally not an X-Wing for a while. It is the most boring thing imaginable.
The riveting, pulse pounding action that only What If? can deliver.
Fury and his Commandos are on duty in case their ship gets boarded, but it doesn't. Space-Hirohito realizes his spy has betrayed him, which is what you get for working with Space Nazis. Robo-Sam reveals to Fury that the Admiral in charge is a Space Nazi/Space Strucker, and if Robo-Sam knew that all along, why did he wait until the middle of a space battle to reveal this?
When Fury asks Strucker what's his deal, he basically says that he wants Space Nazism to rule the universe, and we'll all pretend this makes sense. So as space ships blow up around them, the Howlin' Commandos start doing what they do best: Punching Nazis. Fury pushes Strucker out of an airlock, so at least we get our "Punch Nazis out of airplanes" quota filled for the day. The Americans... oh, I mean the Alphans defeat the Betans, Lizard-Hirohito dies, ra ra ra, democracy. Robo-Sam admits he is, in fact, Robo-Sam, and Uatu shows up in the last panel to try and convince me this wasn't a waste of my time. It was.
"Oh god! I had this terrible dream that I was in the worst 'Star Wars' rip-off ever!"
This issue is just dumb. Really, really dumb. The concept is crazy, and while I love crazy concepts, there's nothing about the execution that I can say is "good". Like, they don't try to be silly, or funny, or interesting. Its just a boring attempt to cash in on Star Wars. And also to say that Japanese people are Lizard-aliens, or something.
Next time, on What If Wednesday! What if Four Different People Became Nova? Umm... I assume he'd be less powerful, or something? Shit, that means that next time I'm going to have to explain Nova to everyone. God damn it....