Imaginary and counterfactual stories have been a staple of the world of the comic book superhero since its inception. That final panel proclaiming that “it was only a dream” opened up endless creative possibilities: main characters could marry, murder, or even die without ruining established continuity.
Eventually, dreams and hoaxes wore thin as literary devices and storytellers shifted this style of tale to alternate universes, parallel Earths, worlds of What If.
That shift provided places to tuck away inconvenient scraps of history from the floating timelines (which allow characters who began fighting crime in the early 1960s, for example, to remain young and fit for today’s adventures). It also struck a chord with readers eager to explore the kinds of stories that could not otherwise be told.
Bullet Points employs this convention to produce nothing less than a re-imagining of the entire Marvel Universe. Bullets, hence the title, mark the point where the paths diverge: Dr. Erskine, en route to deliver the super-soldier formula, is murdered along with his guard, MP Ben Parker.
As a direct result of those bullets, 4F recruit Steve Rogers volunteers for an alternate World War II-era means of augmenting fighting capability—the Iron Man project—instead of becoming Captain America.
Years later, a gifted but troubled Peter Parker, who never knew his Uncle Ben, inadvertently wanders onto a gamma bomb testing range (as any aficionado of superhero tales can tell you, catching a face-full of gamma radiation when a nearby bomb explodes is a good way to get yourself empowered with superhuman strength). So rather than becoming Spider-Man and learning that with great power comes great responsibility, Parker becomes a rampaging Hulk.
It’s an interesting exploration of familiar characters playing one another’s roles. The moments in which the story works best are those in which fundamental character traits shine through despite their changed circumstances.
Steve Rogers, though physically frail outside of his armor, is still a relentless battlefield presence, commanding confidence in all around him. Peter Parker’s love for Aunt May endures despite his otherwise directionless anger and angst.
The strangest shuffling of roles in this alternate history of the Marvel Universe occurs when the rocket carrying Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue and Johnny Storm is sabotaged. Only Reed survives. He loses an eye, gains no super-powers, and ends up being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. That seemed a bit of a stretch.
Once the major players (including Bruce Banner, bitten by a radioactive spider) are in place, the Silver Surfer swoops in from the stars to announce the imminence of the planet’s destruction.
The arrival of Galactus marks the ultimate test for this crop of heroes and provides a kind of poetic undertone of fate: no matter what strange roads were taken by anyone anywhere on Earth, the Devourer of Worlds inevitably closed in. The only questions were how and by whom he would be met.
Bullet Points exhibits much of the same flavor and sense of intrigue that made the canonical Marvel Universe so popular in its early years. The heroes show heart despite their flaws and their words and actions stay consistent with their characters.
More, there’s a kind of Silver Age charm to both the story and the art. That lends a kind of nostalgic sheen for older fans (there was something nice about the simplicity of the Marvel U way back when before the characters all married one another’s girlfriends who later turned out to be Skrulls before their children came back from a future timeline in a pocket universe to prevent the clones who were really the heroes we thought we knew all along from mutating further, wasn’t there?).
Listen: any kid, comic book in the back pocket or no, knows how to play imagine if. But fleshing out an imaginary landscape so convincingly that it emerges eerily familiar to the world it reflects takes a little something extra.
Whatever you choose to call that something extra, Bullet Points has it.