Things DC can do with its “Elseworlds” Films

Joe Meola ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

On January 31, DC Films co-CEO James Gunn announced plans for a new shared universe of interconnected films and television series based on DC Comics’ iconic pantheon of characters. However, this does not mean that only one take of these characters will exist on screen (as it is currently with most projects released based on DC’s competitor Marvel Studios), as Gunn announced that standalone projects will still be released under the “Elseworlds” label. The examples Gunn cited of future “Elseworlds” projects are the upcoming sequels to Joker and The Batman, in addition to the ongoing Cartoon Network animated series Teen Titans Go!, but it is apparent that these will not be the only projects released under the label.

The term “Elseworlds” originated as a way of labeling standalone, alternate universe DC Comics stories. The first of these stories was Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, a story in which Batman exists in the Victorian era and goes head to head against Jack the Ripper, and other popular stories from this label include Superman: Red Sun and Kingdom Come. This label was used to tell stories that clearly did not fit into the mainstream DC Comics continuity due to inclusion of elements like a steampunk Batman or a Soviet Superman. Gunn seems to intend to use this label a little differently and apply it to any major DC film or television project that is set in a continuity separate from his new on-screen “DC Universe,” although it is a possibility that some wilder stories along the lines of classic Elseworlds comics will be told under this label.

This announcement gives hope for certain projects and ideas to exist despite the existence of a shared universe, especially projects that have already generated excitement amongst fans such as sequels and spinoffs of The Batman. It gives hope that previously-announced projects have not been entirely axed by the studio because of a change in plans. For example, Constantine 2 starring Keanu Reeves is reportedly still in the works as an Elseworlds project, so who knows what else may come?

One particular project that fans would hate to see scrapped that could be repurposed as an Elseworlds film is the unnamed Superman film produced by filmmaker J.J. Abrams and written by political author Ta-Nehesi Coates. The film is notably supposed to star a black actor as Superman (Yes, it will be the traditional Kal-El/Clark Kent version of the hero, and it should totally be Winston Duke! Come on, DC!) and has been rumored to be based on the 2019-2020 comic book Superman Smashes the Klan, written by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Gurihiru. Based on the sixteen-part story “Clan of the Fiery Cross” from the 1946 radio series Adventures of Superman, the comic entails the Man of Steel squaring off against the Ku Klux Klan, while also focusing on the struggles of the Lee family as Asian-Americans living urban life in the 1940s. If this film is in fact intended to be based on this story, it would be an incredibly powerful tale to see spun on the big screen, and the potential of a black man playing Superman would add a whole new level to the profoundness of the story.

Other potential projects that could be saved from the cutting-room floor by the Elseworlds label are the previously-announced Static and Val-Zod Superman projects (both with Michael B. Jordan at the helm), which could bring some cult-classic favorites into the forefront, as well as the heavily-rumored Lex Luthor solo film. The former of these three aforementioned projects especially deserves to see the light of day. Static is an iconic hero originating from DC’s Milestone Media imprint, created by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. Milestone’s characters typically operate in their own world outside of the main DCU, providing the perfect justification for a standalone Static film to be released as an Elseworlds project. However, such a project could be released as a part of the larger interconnected DC Universe that James Gunn is trying to build, as there have been instances of the character existing in the main DCU, such as in the Static Shock animated series, for example. Furthermore, Val-Zod and Lex Luthor standalone projects could finally provide Superman and his corner of DC with a much-needed boost in public attention (Batman has dominated DC’s publishing line for too long!).

DC could also use this label to release more theatrical animated projects like 2022’s DC League of Super-pets (but this time with characters that aren’t animals). For example, an adaptation of Green Lantern: Legacy or another swing at the Super-Sons would make phenomenal animated features geared towards younger audiences on the big screen, due to their appeal to audiences of all ages. DC could use this label to put some wilder concepts as well, like live-action adaptations of some of the classic Elseworlds comics (people have been clamoring for a live-action adaptation of Superman: Red Son and Kingdom Come for a long time, and now is the perfect time to do it).

The concept of “Elseworlds” on television and film is ripe with potential, and if DC keeps the release of such projects consistent, wider audiences can be exposed to a multitude of interpretations of DC characters.

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