In eighth grade, maybe one Saturday a month, my friend’s mom would drive us into the city of Rochester to a store called Comics Etc. There I’d find one of my first speculative fiction loves, a monthly comic called What If? that tweaked some event from Marvel’s past and explored the consequences, e.g. “What if Kraven the Hunter killed Spider-Man?” (spoiler: Spidey’s girlfriend was sad), “What if the Hulk killed Wolverine?” (spoiler: Wolverine’s friends were sad), and “What if Captain America led an army of super soldiers in WWII?” (spoiler: Nazis used the ballot box to take over the U.S. Hmm….)
In retrospect it sounds like a one-note tune, i.e. “What if a character too commercially profitable to ever kill off actually died?”, but at 12 I fell in love with the concept. The Choose Your Own Adventure books had been some of my favorites as a child. The tales we love as children become the ghosts that haunt us the rest of our lives. What If? was a gift: here were adults who could write and draw showcasing the far reaches of the imagination. I was hooked.
For a kid whose curiosities and relationship with the unknown and the ineffable often ran into tensions with their family’s relationship with the Bible and church, reading about heroes and villains who could do the impossible, all the while saddled with relatable human weaknesses and struggles, approximated the kinds of questions and thinking that weren’t usually welcome in Sunday School. I wanted to understand the stories I learned in church, but the parts that seemed the most meaningful were often frustratingly unaddressed. I wanted to know the divine in the human and the human in the divine, because the greatest mysteries I could fathom were God and me. Continue reading