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Elseworlds is the publication imprint for a group of comic books produced by DC Comics that takes place outside the company's canon. The imprint presents narratives in which existing characters or storylines are introduced to an entirely new idea or concept and often put into alternate timelines or realities. Gotham by Gaslight, featuring Batman, is considered to be the first Elseworlds story.
Unlike its Marvel Comics counterpart What If...?, which bases its stories on a single point of divergence from the regular continuity, most Elseworlds stories instead take place in entirely self-contained continuities, with the only connection to the canon DC continuity being the presence of familiar DC characters.
From the beginnings of the comic book format, adventure story characters such as Batman and Superman have been presented in different interpretations. Sometimes as humorous cartoons with very little logic to the story and sometimes as more substantial works of fantasy fiction where continuity matters. From 1942 to the mid-1980s, particularly during the 1960s 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 even wilder flights of fancy which did not need to fit that continuity. These latter were called Imaginary Stories and the very first was "Superman, Cartoon Hero!"
The title page of a slightly altered reprint version states that the story is "Our first imaginary story", and continues 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 is worded differently and gives no impression that the story is any more or less than a "real" Superman story. The rewrite gives us a clear indication of changing editorial policy.
It 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 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, "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 much more optimistic and hopeful Silver Age of Comics, such stories usually could never be told; this is hinted with how writers telling such an Imaginary Story often reassured readers that it didn't really happen.
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 Ma and Pa Kent, touched by pity, adopted a recently orphaned Bruce Wayne and raised him along their own son, Clark. Thus, the present shows Superman and Batman as brothers, Clark protecting Gotham and working for the Gotham Gazette instead of living in Metropolis, and Batman inviting his 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, it 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
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.
Though its status as a truly imaginary story (dealing as it does with the finale of the Earth-1 Superman) is debatable, the last official Imaginary Story ever published — "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" — was written by Alan Moore and appeared in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 (both September 1986). The Elseworlds series of self-contained stories are essentially Imaginary Stories under a newer label and a wider scope of possibilities. The chance to see anything happen at the same time know that those stories are "real" if only for that one issue gives Imaginary Stories and Elsweorlds their power. Shutt states, "It all counts, it all matters, it all is deeply fault, at least for that one story. That's really all a reader could want, isn't it?"
The first Elseworlds title was Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (1989), by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, and edited by Mark Waid, which featured a Victorian Age version of the superhero Batman hunting Jack the Ripper, who had come to Gotham City. This title was not originally published as an Elseworlds comic, but its success led to the Elseworlds concept and this title was retroactively declared the first Elseworlds. The first book to feature the Elseworlds logo was Batman: Holy Terror.
Even though they do not take place within the continuity, the majority of intercompany crossovers are not considered Elseworlds, but take place in their own, for the most part self-contained, continuity. The 1996 one-shot "Batman/Captain America" was a Marvel/DC crossover book and cited as an "Elseworlds" but that was due to the plot, which imagined the two heroes co-existing in 1945.
DC sporadically published various Elseworlds titles up to 2005. Around the time of the release of Batman Detective No. 27, 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 have yet to see publication, such as Generations 4 (announced by John Byrne, but possibly placed on the back-burner due to lack of good press for and low fan response to Generations 3), Superboy's Legion 2 (rumored sequel by Alan Davis; presumably planned after he finished JLA: Another Nail) and The Teen Titans Swingin' Elseworlds Special (cancelled, possibly due to controversial material concerning John F. Kennedy). This last title was finally released in January 2008 as the Teen Titans Lost Annual.
In a September 2009 interview, Dan DiDio hinted at a return of Elseworlds books in a series of Prestige Format books. He laments at the stagnation of the Elseworlds concept when he felt it became simply transplanting the characters in different settings. The approach being aimed for is to take the classic origin and mythology of the DC characters and twist in interesting ways.
The first—and to date, only—new Elseworlds to be told under this initiative is titled "Superman: The Last Family of Krypton" which tells 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.
Other Elseworlds titles include:
- Batman: Castle of the Bat, in 1819 a troubled young Dr. Bruce Wayne revives his father from the dead into an avenging Bat-Man to discover who killed his parents. The story is loosely based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Frankenstein classic black-and-white movie featuring Boris Karloff.
- Batman: Leatherwing, this story features Batman as a pirate of the high seas in the employ of the British crown. A sequel to the story was published in Batman Chronicles #11.
- JLA: The Nail, which theorizes a world without Superman, in which the Justice League of America has still been formed, but chaos reigns without a proper champion of the world's ideals.
- Superman's Metropolis, a trilogy, based on German Expressionism cinema, written by Jean-Marc Lofficier, Randy Lofficier and illustrated by Ted McKeever.
- Superman: Last Son of Earth and Superman: Last Stand on Krypton by Steve Gerber and Doug Wheatley presents a tale of fascism and xenophobia when scientist Jonathan Kent sends his son to Krypton to save him from an impending disaster on Earth. Jor-El rescues him and gives him a bodysuit, and he later finds a Green Lantern power ring, which initially saves Krypton from destruction. Learning of his origins, he returns to Earth to help them against a fascist state run by Lex Luthor, but is sent back to Krypton because Abin Sur is Green Lantern for Earth's sector. In the sequel, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and others go to Krypton, where Jor-El and Lara have rebelled against Krypton's xenophobia and Lex Luthor mutates Clark into a Hulk-like powerhouse with Red Kryptonite as Krypton's core is returned to its path of self-destruction.
- Batman: I, Joker, where a futuristic Gotham City is led by a cult that follows Batman's descendant, a self-proclaimed god known only as "The Bruce".
- Flashpoint, where Barry (The Flash) Allen takes a bullet meant for John F. Kennedy, paralyzing him from the neck down.
- In Thrillkiller, Batgirl and Robin fight a female Joker in the 1960s, while Bruce Wayne is a detective who is on the hunt for the Dynamic Duo.
- Superman: Speeding Bullets re-imagines the story of Kal-El as his ship crashes at Wayne Manor in Gotham City instead of Smallville, essentially creating a Batman with the powers of Superman.
- Batman: In Darkest Knight re-imagines the story of Bruce Wayne as the power ring of Abin Sur selects him to be the next Green Lantern of Sector 2814 instead of Hal Jordan, thus making him Green Lantern instead of Batman.
- Batman: Gotham by Gaslight Batman, in 1889, fights Jack the Ripper when the serial killer comes to Gotham City.
- Superman: Red Son ponders Superman growing up in the Soviet Union and later succeeding Stalin as Soviet Premier.
- "Batman/Captain America", a DC/Marvel crossover shows the two heroes working in 1945 to stop the Joker and the Red Skull.
- The Batman & Dracula trilogy, written by Doug Moench with Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, in which the infamous vampire lord comes to Gotham City and is confronted by Batman, who subsequently becomes a vampire himself.
- Kingdom Come, a miniseries in which a new, violent generation of superheroes replaces the aging idealism of DC's classic heroes, and the conflict between the two groups ignites an apocalyptic battle. The Kingdom is the sequel to Kingdom Come.
Except when otherwise noted, most of the stories in the monthly series Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight are considered canon, even though some have tales of Batman in the future, which are deemed non-canonical. In 1994, DC Comics Elseworlds collaborated with the DC yearly summer annual edition comic books. Batman: Year 100 published in 2006, is considered an Elseworlds story, despite not having the logo. The latest Elseworlds story to be published is Superman: The Last Family of Krypton, a 3-issue series first published in August 2010.
Relationship to DC continuity
Although Elseworlds was created to be separate from the "regular continuity", there have been specific examples where Elseworld stories have been placed into continuity.
The series of specials The Kingdom brought the previous Elseworlds Kingdom Come into DC continuity as an alternate timeline. However, a later editorial edict removed the concept of Hypertime established in the specials and presumably Kingdom Come. This was reinforced in the JSA "Thy Kingdom Come" storyline where the Kingdom Come Superman (Earth-22) theorizes that Gog somehow viewed his Earth rather than having come from it.[clarification needed]
The new Multiverse was introduced at the conclusion of the 52 finite series and expanded on in the pages of the Countdown weekly limited series. Some of the alternate worlds depicted in various Elseworlds titles have been reintroduced as alternate Earths that make up the new Multiverse; however, this was not limited to the said series.
- List of Elseworlds publications
- Canon (fiction)
- Multiverse (DC Comics)
- What If...?, a similar concept at Marvel Comics
- Intercompany crossovers
- Members and Users (2012). "Elseworlds". Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
- ‘’Superman’’ #19 (1942), by Jerry Siegel (Script), Joe Shuster (Layouts), Ed Dobrotk
- Shutt, Craig (2005). DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories: 11 Tales You Never Expected to See!. New York: DC Comics. ISBN 978-1-4012-0534-8.
- 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.
- Martin O'Hearn (Unknown). "Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #15". Grand Comics Database. Grand Comics Database. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
- Vaneta Rogers (14). "20 Answers & 1 Question With DAN DIDIO 9-14-09". Newsarama.com. TechMediaNetwork.com. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
- Countdown #51-0 (May 2007 - May 2008)
- Countdown: Arena #1 (December 2007)
- Elseworlds at the Comic Book DB