While Marvel has made history with an interconnected cinematic universe, it’s become more and more obvious that DC films aren’t able to do the same thing. Their stories might have a much better case for standalone franchises, or even, as is the case with the new Joker film, one-off, out-of-continuity movies. This concept is very reminiscent of DC’s Elseworlds banner.
From 1989 to roughly 2003, Elseworlds branded stories took classic DC concepts and used them for wildly imaginative interpretations set outside regular DC continuity. Over 100 Elseworlds stories were published over the years, and we think these 7 remain the cream of the crop.
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (1996)
Over twenty years since its publication, Kingdom Come remains arguably the most beloved Elseworlds tale of all. Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by painter Alex Ross, this story is set years in the future, following Superman’s forced retirement. It’s world of far more violent heroes, who fight each other as much as they fight villains. A horrible tragedy in the American heartland forces Superman out of hiding, but the question of whether his mild mannered brand of heroism can exist in this violent new world is very much in question. And when Batman and Wonder Woman enter into the equation, things get literally apocalyptic.
Justice League of America: The Nail by Alan Davis (1998)
What does the DC Universe look like without a Superman? In this mini-series, a random nail on the road gives Ma and Pa Kent a flat tire on the fateful day when baby Kal-El landed in Smallville, meaning there was never a Superman to lead the charge of superheroes in this DC universe. This creates a vastly different world than the ones readers are used to, with a very different Justice League. And if Ma and Pa Kent didn’t find Kal-El’s ship, then who the heck did? Written and illustrated by Alan Davis, this one features nearly every character in the DCU.
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett (2003)
Another “what if?” scenario involving Kal-El’s rocketship, this story gives us a world where Superman’s ship crashed landed in Russia, and instead of “truth, justice and the American way,” we get a superhuman tool of the Soviet Union who fights for “Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.” This story also gives us cool, Cold War versions of other iconic DC characters. Easily the best and most celebrated of the Superman Elseworlds stories, and one of the last Mark Millar stories ever written for DC Comics.
Tales of the Multiverse: Batman: Vampire by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones (1991-1998)
Batman is a creature of the night, and vampires are creatures of the night who turn into bats. So, how did it take so many decades to do a good vampire Batman story? Well, in the ’90s it finally happened. Actually, the Batman vampire saga is composed of three separate graphic novels — Batman & Dracula: Red Rain (1991), Bloodstorm (1994), and Crimson Mist (1998) — all which feature Batman becoming a vampire in order to defeat Dracula, who has set his sights on Gotham City. Doug Moench’s writing with Kelley Jones creepy art style made this one of the most popular Elseworlds titles of all.
Wonder Woman: Amazonia (1997)
by William Messner-Loebs, Paul Kupperberg and Phil Winslade
Sadly, there are very few Wonder Woman Elseworlds stories, but Amazonia is probably the best one. This one-shot is set in a steampunk style late Victorian era London, where history diverged when the entire British royal family is murdered in 1888. This new England is then ruled by an oppressive patriarchal regime, which comes into conflict with the newly arrived Amazon hero Wonder Woman, who leads a resistance against their brutal, misogynistic kingdom.
Batman: In Darkest Knight by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham (1994)
Batman is a hero whose greatest weapon is fear, and the Green Lantern Corps are beings without fear. The two concepts should be oil and water, but this Elseworlds tale explore what would happen if Bruce Wayne were the one chosen to bear Green Lantern Abin Sur’s emerald ring instead of Hal Jordan, just as he’s beginning his career as a vigilante. This superhero mash-up also has fun twists to the overall Batman and Green Lantern mythos, like Catwoman becoming a Star Sapphire, and Sinestro mind melding with Joe Chill, the criminal who murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham by Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, and Troy Nixey (2001)
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola started the whole Elseworlds thing with 1989’s Gotham By Gaslight, which presented a Victorian era Batman fighting Jack the Ripper. As a follow up, Mignola, along with collaborators Richard Pace and Troy Nixey, took Batman several decades forward, in order to tell this tale of the Dark Knight during the Roaring 20s. This Bruce Wayne who takes on supernatural evil very much in the vein of writer H.P. Lovecraft, and the comics’ main villain is the Lovecrafitan styled The Lurker on the Threshold.
Images: DC Comics