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Elseworlds logo.

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.[citation needed]

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.[1][better source needed]

Unlike its Marvel Comics counterpart What If...?, who base their stories 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.


Imaginary Stories[edit]

From the beginning of the comic book medium, 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, 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 even wilder flights of fancy which did not need to fit that continuity.[citation needed] These out-of-continuity stories eventually came to be called Imaginary Stories,[citation needed] with the very first being "Superman, Cartoon Hero!".[2]

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.[citation needed]

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 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 much more 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.[3]

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,[4] an idea that would be recycled into a later Elseworlds, wherein Tarzan and Superman were switched at birth.[5] 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 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, it ended with Lex Luthor killing the Kents and Batman trying to murder him in revenge.[6]

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.[7] Futures that "perhaps never will" happen were also examined such as the permanent death of Superman.[8] 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".[9]

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.[3]

Though Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (Superman #423 and Action Comics #583) in 1986 was the last pre-Crisis story to use the Imaginary Story label it was later retconned as happening on another Earth in Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Absolute Edition. Though originally started when DC officially had only one Earth and one timeline, the Elseworlds series of self-contained stories were set on other Earths; Gotham by Gaslight was set on Earth-1889, for example.

Elseworlds imprint[edit]

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 continuity, the majority of intercompany crossovers are not considered Elseworlds, but take place in their own self-contained continuity. The 1996 one-shot Batman/Captain America was a Marvel/DC crossover book and cited as an "Elseworlds" but that was because of 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."[citation needed] Several titles that were announced as Elseworlds books prior to this were cancelled, such as Generations 4,[citation needed] Superboy's Legion 2,[citation needed] and The Teen Titans Swingin' Elseworlds Special.[citation needed] This last title was finally released in January 2008 as the Teen Titans Lost Annual.[citation needed]

In a September 2009 interview, Dan DiDio hinted at a return of the Elseworlds imprint as a series of Prestige Format books and lamented the stagnation of the Elseworlds concept when he felt had become simply transplanting the characters into different settings. The approach being aimed for was to take the classic origin and mythology of the DC characters and twist in interesting ways.[10] The only new Elseworlds story told under this initiative was the Superman: The Last Family of Krypton, three-issue mini-series that was 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.[citation needed]

Except when otherwise noted, most of the stories in the monthly series Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight are considered canon,[citation needed] 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.

Relationship to DC continuity[edit]

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 from 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 weekly series and expanded on in the pages of the Countdown weekly 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.[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Members and Users (2012). "Elseworlds". Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Superman #19 (1942), by Jerry Siegel (Script), Joe Shuster (Layouts), Ed Dobrotk
  3. ^ a b 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. 
  4. ^ Superboy vol. 1 #183 and #188 (1972)
  5. ^ Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle
  6. ^ World's Finest" #172
  7. ^ "Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent", Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane, #19, 1960.
  8. ^ "The Death of Superman", Superman #149, 1961.
  9. ^ Martin O'Hearn. "Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #15". Grand Comics Database. Grand Comics Database. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Rogers, Vaneta. "20 Answers & 1 Question with Dan Didio". Newsarama.com. Newsarama. Retrieved 10 January 2015. 
  11. ^ Countdown #51-0 (May 2007 - May 2008)
  12. ^ Countdown: Arena #1 (December 2007)

External links[edit]