Elseworlds is the publication imprint for comic books produced by DC Comics which take place outside the company's canon. The Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel, featuring Batman, is considered to be the first official Elseworlds story.
The "Elseworlds" name was trademarked in 1989, the same year as the first Elseworlds publication, and the concept supplanted the Imaginary Stories series that employed the same premise.
Unlike its Marvel Comics counterpart What If...?, which contains stories based on a single point of divergence from the regular continuity, most Elseworlds stories take place in entirely self-contained continuities, with the only connection to the DC canon being the presence of familiar DC characters.
Different interpretations of characters have been known to emerge in graphic novels. In Going Sane written by J.M. DeMatteis, Batman questioned the validity of solving conflicts through violence. Gene Colan and Gerry Conway's novel, The Nightmare in Crimson, was focused far more on the creatures inhabiting the shadows and the dark fog that encompassed Gotham City at night. From 1942 to the mid-1980s, particularly during the 1960s, the Silver Age of Comic Books era, DC Comics began to make a distinction between the "real" continuity of the most popular characters and the stories with plots that did not fit that continuity. These out-of-continuity stories eventually came to be called Imaginary Stories, with the very first being "Superman, Cartoon Hero!".
The title page of a slightly altered reprint version stated that the story was "Our first imaginary story", and continued to say, "In 1942, a series of Superman shorts started showing throughout the U.S.! So, with tongue firmly in cheek, the DC team turned out this story of what might have happened if Lois Lane had decided to see... Superman, Cartoon Hero!". The original printing was worded differently and gave no impression that the story was any more or less than a "real" Superman story. The rewrite gave readers a clearer indication of changing editorial policy.[original research?]
"Superman, Cartoon Hero!" opens with Lois determined to learn Superman's secret identity and going to the theater to see the Max Fleisher Superman short "Mad Scientist" in hopes of seeing the animated Man of Steel reveal his true self. In addition to other things, when the opening credits roll and state that the cartoons are based on DC Comics, Lois Lane states that she has never heard of DC Comics. Clark Kent then wonders if the people there are clairvoyant. In the final panel, Clark Kent exchanges a knowing wink with the image of himself as Superman on the movie screen.
Craig Shutt, author of the Comics Buyer's Guide column called "Ask Mr. Silver Age", states that true imaginary stories differed from stories that were dreams and hoaxes. Dreams and hoaxes were "gyps" on account of "not having happened" whilst true imaginary stories were canonical at least unto themselves. Also notes Shutt, since they were "just" imaginary and thus had no bearing on the characters’ regular stories, they could show things like people dying and the victory of evil. In the optimistic and hopeful Silver Age of Comics, such stories usually could never be told; this was hinted with writers telling readers how such an Imaginary Story often reassured the readers that it didn't really happen.[original research?]
Most of these Imaginary Stories featured alternate histories of characters, such as "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman Blue!". There, readers saw possible pasts that could have happened, but did not happen. One such story has Superman being raised by apes in imitation of Tarzan, an idea that would be recycled into a later Elseworlds, wherein Tarzan and Superman were switched at birth. Possible present times were shown, such as one story wherein Jonathan and Martha Kent, touched by pity, adopt a recently orphaned Bruce Wayne and raise him along with their own son, Clark. Thus, the present shows Superman and Batman as brothers, with Clark protecting Gotham and working for the Gotham Gazette instead of living in Metropolis, and Batman inviting his foster parents, the Kents, to live with him in Wayne Manor. In keeping with the fact that these Imaginary Stories allowed for much grimmer stories that usual, the story ended with Lex Luthor killing the Kents and Batman trying to murder him in revenge.
|“||This Super-Wedding is REAL!
The marriage is not a HOAX!
The bride and groom are not ROBOTS!
This romance is not a DREAM of LOIS LANE or SUPERMAN!
—Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #15 (Feb. 1960)
Possible futures that "could very well happen" (and in fact ultimately did) were explored, such as Clark Kent revealing to Lois his secret identity and marrying her. Futures that "perhaps never will" happen were also examined such as the permanent death of Superman. Imaginary Stories appeared often enough that sometimes comics, such as Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #15 (February 1960)—the cover of which appeared to depict Superman marrying Lois Lane—had to assure readers that their contents were not "imaginary".
A few Imaginary Stories appeared in other DC publications. Batman editor Jack Schiff, for example, supervised stories in which the Dark Knight started a family or lost his identity; though these were revealed at the end of the story to be stories written by Alfred. Schiff's stories are notable for the first appearance of the original Bruce Wayne Junior. Writer/editor Robert Kanigher supervised Wonder Woman's own series of stories called Impossible Tales which featured the same principle. There, Wonder Woman appeared along with her younger selves, Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot. However, the majority of Imaginary Stories were published in various Superman comics under the guidance of Superman editor Mort Weisinger, the "King of Imaginary Stories". This was in part because, according to Shutt, he aimed for younger audiences and went for the heart. Later editors like Julius Schwartz went for the head and rarely used the concept.
Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" two-part story in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 in 1986 was the last pre-Crisis story to use the Imaginary Stories label.
The first Elseworlds title was Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (1989), written by Brian Augustyn and drawn by Mike Mignola, which featured a Victorian Age version of the superhero Batman hunting Jack the Ripper, who had come to Gotham City. The title was not originally published as an Elseworlds comic, but its success led to the creation of the Elseworlds imprint and this title was retroactively declared the first Elseworlds. The first book to feature the Elseworlds logo was Batman: Holy Terror. In 1994, the Elseworlds imprint was used as the theme for the annual edition comic books of that summer.
DC sporadically published various Elseworlds titles from 1989 to 2003. Around the time of the release of Batman: Detective No. 27 in 2003, editor Mike Carlin noted that DC had scaled back the production of Elseworlds books in order to "put the luster back on them." Several titles that were announced as Elseworlds books prior to this, such as Generations 4 and The Teen Titans Swingin' Elseworlds Special, were cancelled. The planned Teen Titans tale was eventually released in January 2008 as the Teen Titans Lost Annual.
In a September 2009 interview, Dan DiDio hinted at the return of the Elseworlds imprint as a series of Prestige Format books and lamented the stagnation of the Elseworlds concept which he felt had become simply transplanting the characters into different settings. The intended approach was to take the classic origin and mythology of the DC characters and twist them in interesting ways. The only new Elseworlds story released under this initiative was the three-issue mini-series Superman: The Last Family of Krypton, published from August to October 2010, which told the story of baby Kal-El reaching Earth with his mother and father and how the world handles the emergence of a super-powered family.
Relationship to DC continuity
Although Elseworlds was created to be separate from the regular continuity, there have been specific examples where Elseworlds stories and concepts have been placed into DC continuity.
The The Kingdom mini-series brought the Kingdom Come mini-series into DC continuity as part of a series of alternate timelines known as Hypertime. However, a later editorial edict removed the concept of Hypertime from DC continuity.
The new Multiverse was introduced at the conclusion of the 52 weekly series and expanded on in the pages of the Countdown weekly series. Some of the alternate worlds depicted in various Elseworlds titles were reintroduced as alternate Earths that make up the new Multiverse.
- List of Elseworlds publications
- Canon (fiction)
- Multiverse (DC Comics)
- What If...?, a similar concept at Marvel Comics
- Intercompany crossovers
- "Batman: Gotham by Gaslight Comics". IGN. Retrieved 2015-04-06.
- Superboy vol. 1 #183 and #188 (1972)
- Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle
- World's Finest #172
- "Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent", Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane, #19, 1960.
- "The Death of Superman", Superman #149, 1961.
- "CHICAGO DAY 2: New 'Challengers of the Unknown,' Richard Corben Monthly Announced, DC Teams with Aspen". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
- "Teen Titans: The Lost Annual Review". IGN. 2008-01-09. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
- Rogers, Vaneta. "20 Answers & 1 Question with Dan Didio". Newsarama.com. Newsarama. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
- "Superman: The Last Family of Krypton Comics". IGN. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
- Countdown #51-0 (May 2007 - May 2008)
- Countdown: Arena #1 (December 2007)