Thanks to DC’s Elseworlds imprint, fans can read stories about alternate versions of their favorite characters. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classic characters, but there’s something to be gained from observing how they function in different environments.
Just because Batman is a hero on Earth Prime doesn’t mean he is going to be a hero everywhere in the DC Universe. Elseworlds allows some of the best talent in comics to come together and come up with a radically different identity for established characters. Not all of the versions stick, but it’s always interesting to see how things can be re-imagined. The Elseworlds imprint was such a success that Marvel even started publishing similar “What If?” stories to keep up with popular demand for new versions of older characters.
So whether you’re a DC veteran or someone just looking for new stories to enjoy, hit Next to learn about the 6 best Elseworlds stories!
6. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
While it wasn’t officially called an Elseworlds story when it was first released, this is the book that started it all. Instead of the 20th or 21st century, this story sees Bruce Wayne pick up the Bat-mantle at the end of the 19th century. Oh, and did I mention it is illustrated by Mike Mignola? That’s right, the Hellboy creator is on art duties here and he delivers some of the best work of his career.
After returning home from his trip across Europe, Bruce Wayne is informed of gang activity by Inspector Gordon. He hears a gruesome story about someone who poisoned his wife and tried killing himself only to be left with a permanent smile on his face and decides to become Batman in order to fight crime.
Around the same time, Jack the Ripper begins to strike in Gotham City. He plants a bloody knife in Wayne Manor so he is suspected of being the murderer. After being convicted for murder, Bruce has to break out of prison and track down the Ripper once and for all. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but there is a very nice twist at the end that ties Jack the Rippers identity in with the Batman mythos in a really clever way. If you’re a fan of stories placed inside the industrial era and about serial killers, then this is definitely a one-shot you need to get a hold of.
5. Green Lantern: Ring of Evil
This was one of the first Green Lantern stories I ever read and I have to admit I was probably too young to really get it. But now this story sits near the top of my favorite ever Green Lantern stories.
Instead of being a group of galactic cops, the Green Lanterns are the organization in charge of the resistance. After the Nazis summoned and bound a demon to a special yellow power ring, the Germans were able to easily win World War II and occupy the United States. The Nazis turn to Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner to help solidify their control and wipe out any remaining pockets of resistance.
It’s up to John Stewart, the leader of the Green Lanterns, to evade and fight off Guy and the rest of the Nazi forces. There really aren’t enough stories that focus on John and I’m really happy that he is the star in this one. Stewart isn’t a perfect man, he’s responsible for countless deaths himself, but he always tries to do the right thing. Seeing Stewart, a regular person with a heart of gold at the head of the resistance, represents how we all have the power to stare evil in the face and try to get in their way.
Plus, as a big history nerd, I like seeing stories that feature Nazis but don’t include Hitler. Heinrich Himmler, one of Hitler’s main assistants who helped develop some of the Nazi’s most brutal policies, is the main Nazi representative we get to see. For me, focusing on people other than Hitler in a story about Nazis shows that some of the most destructive and atrocious acts were decided and committed by people other than the Chancellor himself.
4. Batman: Detective No. 27
This is another Elseworlds story that re-imagines Batman as a character in the 19th century running around and interacting with real historical figures.
Instead of adapting the mantle of the Bat, Bruce Wayne joins an organization called the Secret Society of Detectives that formed right after the Civil War. The international organization’s members range from Theodore Roosevelt to Alfred himself and there’s no crime too big for them. Bruce stumbles upon a conspiracy that dates back decades and threatens the entire city. I don’t want to spoil anything because this is a book that works best when the reader has no idea what’s coming next. When the villain pulling the strings is finally revealed, readers are in for a fun surprise that adds new layers to the Bat mythos,.
Michael Uslan, who wrote the story, has produced every Batman movie since Tim Burton’s 1989 classic. He even worked on Batman Begins, another story that features an evil organization trying to poison Gotham with a fear-inducing drug. So, while this might be an Elseworlds tale, it feels like a classic Batman story chopped full of Easter eggs about the history of DC.
3. The Golden Age
The best Elseworlds stories feature DC characters at unique points in history.
The Golden Age examines what happens to the Justice Society of America during the era of McCarthyism. Some of them return to the US as war heroes while others are black listed from society. Tex Thompson, the former hero known as Americommando, uses him fame to pursue a career in politics and becomes a US Senator. As the forces of censorship and control swirl around, Thompson establishes a new superhero group that will adhere to the standards of the government. Despite his pure appearance, he represents the cruelness of the Cold War as he oversees nasty experiments that grant people new abilities.
The rest of the JSA is shattered and has to come together once again to stop the unseen threat. Green Lantern has been blacklisted, Johnny Quick and Liberty Bell have gone through a divorce and Starman has suffered a nervous breakdown due to the fact that his research inadvertently led to the development of the atom bomb. After the hero formerly knwon as Miss America discovers Thompson’s personal diary, she is able to rally the old heroes together for a confrontation with the twisted Senator.
The story ends with a ceremonial passing of the torch that cements the generational aspect of the DC Universe. As the heroes who represented the Golden Age of comics slowly retreat back into retirement, the Silver Age comes roaring forward.The powers of control and censorship are no match for the values of DC’s finest.
2. Superman: Red Son
Similar to how The Golden Age examines the US during the Cold War, Red Son looks at Soviet society. Instead of landing in Kansas, Kal-El crashes in Ukraine. Instead of learning small-town American values, Superman is raised in a harsh society that authorizes gulags and food shortages in times of crisis. There is no Clark Kent because his secret identity is a state secret that only those at the top of the Soviet government are privy to.
The story reimagines the entire Superman mythos to fit the change made to the central character. Jimmy Olsen is now a CIA agent who must try and team up with Lex Luthor to destroy the anti-American hero. Lex has many plans to stop this twisted Superman that include teaming up with alternate versions of Batman and Green Lantern. With Superman on their side, the Soviet Union has no need to over spend on military goods. As a result, it is the US that slowly collapses in the 70s and 80s instead of the USSR. Due to the dire economic conditions, Lex Luthor is able to convince the American people that he is the right leader for the free world in their mission against communism.
At its core, Red Son is a story about control. Stalin thinks he can use Superman to control the world just like Lex thinks he can control his surroundings. After everything he’s seen, and all the deeds he’s done in the name of the Soviet system, it falls to Kal-El in the end to decide what type of person he wants to be. Is he someone who is willing to subjugate other’s to his whims or will he step back and allow others an opportunity to guide society forward?
1. Kingdom Come
If you consider yourself a comic book fan but you haven’t read Kingdom Come yet, I only have one piece of advice for you. Drop everything you’re doing and go read it right now.
Not only is Kingdom Come an amazing Elseworlds story, but it is easily one of the best comics DC has ever published. Both writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross turn in some amazing work and it is likely this will be the book both legendary creators are best remembered for at the end of their careers.
Kingdom Come takes a look at what the DC Universe is like about 20 years into the future. At the heart of the story is a conversation about generational conflict. After Magog, the leader of the new group of dangerous vigilantes, murders the Joker in cold blood, everything changes. We follow classic superheroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as they try and live their lives in a new world. Now vigilantes who are prone to violence and even murder are considered heroes and they’re not too keen to listen to older heroes tell them how to behave.
As the heroes slowly build towards conflict, Lex Luthor and his “Mankind Liberation Front” made up of classic villains like Catwoman and Vandal Savage try to take control of the world since everyone is thoroughly distracted. This is a story that shows all of the DC characters in their purest forms as they struggle and fight to shape the world in the image of their morals. Plus, it has one of my all time favorite DC brawls. There’s nothing quite like seeing Superman and Captain Marvel come to blows, especially when one of them is clearly being manipulated by evil.
Did your favorite Elseworlds story not make the list? Well hit the comment section and let the Heroic Hollywood community know which ones are your favorites!