Worlds’ Finest: The Best Elseworlds Stories
Jonah Puskar ‘20 / Emertainment Monthly Comic Books Editor
In honor of the recent CW crossover event for Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl titled ‘Elseworlds’, we take a look at some of DC Comics’ best Elseworlds imprint titles.
For those that don’t know, ‘Elseworlds’ titles are stories in which popular DC Comics characters are placed in alternate timelines or realities, with these tales taking place outside of the DC Universe canon. There are plenty of great and innovative stories, and here are some of the best:
Gotham by Gaslight
Gotham by Gaslight is a one-shot written by Brian Augustyn and with art by Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame). Gotham by Gaslight is considered to be the first Elseworlds story, because while the imprint hadn’t been created yet in 1989, this was the first story of its kind and kicked off the trend from the publisher. In printings since then the title has been given the official Elseworlds logo.
The story revolves around a 19th century version of Bruce Wayne, making his debut as Batman in Gotham City after returning from Europe. Readers meet 1800s versions of James Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, and the Joker, as well as being introduced to a new spin on Jack the Ripper. The Ripper proves to be a worthy foe for Batman and presents a whole new kind of challenge for the hero to face. The story’s steampunk feel has been praised by readers and critics alike.
The steampunk Earth from Gotham by Gaslight was later placed in DC’s multiverse as Earth-19. Gotham by Gaslight proved to be such a popular story it spawned a sequel, Batman: Master of the Future, and was adapted to an animated movie Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. The steampunk Batman costume has been used as a character skin for the Batman: Arkham Origins and Injustice: Gods Among Us video games.
Kingdom Come is published as a four-issue miniseries written by Mark Waid and Alex Ross and art by painted by Ross. The art for this story is actually unique and beautiful, each page painted with gouache.
The story is set in a darker future, with a growing schism between “traditional” superheroes and a generation of irresponsible new vigilantes. The story is very much about the differences between parents and children, and what it means to be a hero. Even the older generation is split, with Batman and Superman juxtaposed in their stances on how to handle these reckless new metahumans. Superman favors direct force, while Batman wants to be strategic and tactical. With a looming new threat in the form of the powerful vigilante Magog, the story tells a different kind of DC history.
Kingdom Come was a hit story at the time, and spawned a sequel miniseries, The Kingdom. The Kingdom Come Earth was added to DC’s multiverse as Earth-22, and various characters were introduced into the mainstream DC continuity.
Superman: Red Son
Superman: Red Son is a three issue mini series published in 2003. The story was crafted by acclaimed comic writer Mark Millar and received praise and a nomination for the 2004 Eisner Award for best limited series. While the Superman we know fights for “truth, justice, and the American way”, this Superman is an agent of the Soviet Union.
In Superman: Red Son, the Man of Steel’s rocket lands on a Ukrainian farm as opposed to the one in beloved Smallville, Kansas. The rationale behind this difference is that in this timeline the rocket left Krypton at a slightly different time, and the Earth’s rotation put Ukraine in the ship’s trajectory instead. This Superman is described as “the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.” This Soviet Superman eventually takes control of the Soviet Union, charms a diplomatic Wonder Woman, and fights a Russian Batman.
The Earth portrayed in Superman: Red Son is later listed by DC as Earth-30 in their multiverse. Outside of comics, aspects of Red Son have appeared in media. The video game Injustice: Gods Among Us has missions that are based on the Red Son storyline and features DLC costumes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Solomon Grundy, Green Lantern, Batman, and Deathstroke. In Injustice 2 Superman’s Red Son outfit appears as a costume variant and the Red Son version of Batman appears in Green Arrow’s ending for the game. And, the Batman: Arkham Origins video game has the Red Son Batman skin in the game’s DLC.
JLA: The Nail
JLA: The Nail is a three issue mini series written and drawn by Alan Davis and published in 1998. The story takes place in a parallel universe in which Jonathan and Martha Kent never discover the Kryptonian spaceship containing young Superman due to their tire being punctured by a nail. The series follows a world with the Justice League, but no Superman.
In JLA: The Nail, the Justice League consists of Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkwoman, and the Atom. They are forced to contend with anti-metahuman rhetoric from the mayor of Metropolis, Lex Luthor, and his deputy mayor Jimmy Olsen. After a devastating attack from Amazo, and the betrayal of a now paralyzed Oliver Queen, this JLA faces deadly challenges all without the help of Superman. And all this because of one little nail.
JLA: The Nail spawned a sequel, appropriately titled JLA: Another Nail. In 1999, JLA: The Nail was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Limited Series
Batman: Leatherwing is a story originally published in Detective Comics Annual #7 in 1994 written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Enrique Alcatena. This story features a version of Batman who is a pirate during the early 1700s.
Leatherwing follows the titular Captain Leatherwing, a privateer employed by King James II of England to pillage rivaling countries’ ships. Using his ship the Flying Fox, he attacks ships on behalf of the king, but also keeps a share for himself and his men. He wears his costume to protect his family name. Other Batman analogues in the story include Alfredo (Alfred Pennyworth), Robin Redblade (Robin), The Laughing Man (The Joker), and Capitana Felina (Catwoman).
A sequel to the story was published in Batman Chronicles #11 titled The Bride of Leatherwing. The Leatherwing version of Batman appeared in the animated show Batman: The Brave and the Bold and in the animated movie Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League – Cosmic Clash, Batman uses an Leatherwing-esque pirate outfit.
Superman & Batman: Generations
Superman & Batman: Generations is the umbrella title of three limited series written and illustrated by John Byrne between 1999 and 2004. The series has a solid and singular timeline which is used to follow Superman, Batman and other DC characters. Generations follows the characters aging and being replaced by their descendants and adopted kin.
In the first Superman & Batman: Generations series, each issue has two stories and each story takes place ten years after the previous ones. This series takes place between 1929 and 1999, with an epilogue story set in 2919. Superman & Batman: Generations II uses time jumps of 11 years ranging from 1942 and 2019, and each issue contains two stories, one following the lineage of Batman and Superman, and the other following the exploits of other DC characters. Superman & Batman: Generations III follows various DC characters and their involvement in the legacies of Superman and Batman. This series uses century leaps in its stories, and eventually goes full circle to the beginning of the story told in the first Generations series.
Generations was created as John Byrne’s contribution to celebrate the 60th anniversaries of the two characters.The series takes place on Earth-3839 of the DC Multiverse.
Justice Riders is a one-shot story written by Chuck Dixon with art by J.H. Williams III that was initially published in 1997. The story places the Justice League of America in the Wild West, with old-timey dialogues for each character.
The main character of the story is Diana Prince, a U.S. marshall who teams up with various Western versions of familiar DC heroes to take down the villainous railroad baron Maxwell Lord. Readers are also introduced to Booster Gold as a gambler and gunman, Wally West as a sharpshooting falsely-accused outlaw, Ted Kord as a genius inventor, Guy Gardner as a Pinkerton detective, Hawkman as a Native American with artificial “wings” and Martian Manhunter who is a refuge from Mars living in the old-west.
This Earth is designated in the Multiverse as Earth-18, with its characters later appearing in DC’s 2015 event, Convergence.
Batman & Dracula Trilogy
The Batman & Dracula trilogy is a group of three graphic novels written by Doug Moench and penciled by Kelley Jones. The stories include Batman & Dracula: Red Rain (1991), Bloodstorm (1994), and Crimson Mist (1998). The trilogy follows Batman discovering that Count Dracula and his vampire minions have come to Gotham City and are using the homeless population as a source of blood. To combat Dracula and his followers, Batman chooses to become a vampire.
The stories in the trilogy each follow Batman’s struggle against the vampiric horde. After Batman’s defeat of Dracula in Red Rain, Bloodstorm features the Dark Knight and his allies fending off Joker and his squad of remaining vampires, and Crimson Mist concludes with villains working with the Gotham City Police Department to fend off a blood-crazed Batman.
The Batman & Dracula trilogy continues to be one of the most successful and popular Elseworlds stories. Follow-up stories were told in Infinite Halloween Special #1, Countdown to Final Crisis, and Convergence. The animated film The Batman vs. Dracula drew some inspiration from the trilogy, and the vampiric Batman is playable in the 2013 online multiplayer video game Infinite Crisis.