When you think about Batman and Superman, some scenarios instantly come to mind: twentieth-century cities, fraught with violence, where extraordinary men disguise themselves as ordinary to do the right thing, fight for the good ones and protect the innocents. However, everything in those scenarios hangs by a delicate time-thread, and things could have been very different if our beloved superheroes had been born in a different time. Here is a list of some of the best Superman and Batman Elseworlds stories out there, most of them for adults.
Before the Elseworlds idea had a logo, the first Batman story to sport a different timeline was Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, written by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola (with inks by P. Craig Russell). The book is set a hundred years before its release date–1889. Jack the Ripper is in Gotham City, and one of the prime suspects is eccentric millionaire Bruce Wayne. Following the dark detective stories of the time, the story will unfold with good pace and a demonstration of an excellent Sherlock Holmes type of language.
Two years later (1991)–now with the Elseworlds logo on the cover–came Batman: Holy Terror, written by Alan Brennert and illustrated by Norm Breyfogle. The story is set in a world where Oliver Cromwell lived ten years longer. The United States of America is now a commonwealth nation run by a corrupt theocratic government. Reverend Bruce Wayne of Gotham, a catholic priest, will discover (with the help of Inquisitor James Gordon) that the state ordered the death of his parents. He then will dress himself as the Batman to take down the government responsible for murdering them after discovering the atrocities it has performed in a number of citizens, including the ones with special powers: the superheroes of our universe. It?s a very grim story, but interesting nonetheless, that reflects on the (possibly) terrible consequences of a politically different America driven to the extreme. Since then the Elseworlds have featured a series of dystopian worlds that invite the reader to explore how our main heroes will react in different environments.
A fun Batman trilogy of the same time, with more humor than angst, is the Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, Bloodstorm and Crimsom Mist series of graphic novels, written by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones. Sporting mysterious murders of Gotham?s homeless, they will ultimately face Batman with Dracula?s minions. Just to see the two radically different “bats” engaged in a fight is worth the read.
Superman has its own Elseworlds stories. (Superman: Kal being a particular example of the not too good ones. Kal-el arrives in a different time, the Middle-Ages, becomes a blacksmith and faces Baron Luthor with terrible consequences).
However, Superman: Red Son is something else entirely; written by Mark Millar and first published in 2003, it follows the premise of what would have happened to the world if Kal-El would have been discovered in a field by Russian peasants during the Soviet Revolution. The consequences are very interesting indeed, with Stalin naming him his “Son of Steel” (a play of words on the literal meaning of Stalin’s name, man of steel, an idea that was first proposed by Terry Pratchett in the eighties).
Best of all, at least for me, is Superman: Speeding Bullets, written in 1993 by J.M. DeMatteis with artwork by Eduardo Barreto. In this universe, when the space-cradle lands, it?s discovered by the Waynes, who were heirless. Kal-El is then raised at Wayne Manor, with Alfred as his caring mentor. Finding himself unable to prevent the murder of his parents when he is nine-years old–an event that triggers his powers but that remains a secret until he is ready to use them for good–the young man is ridden by guilt and is haunted by his super-ability to hear every cry of help around him. In this world, Superman becomes Batman in an ultimate mash-up that showcases very well why violence and vengeance don?t mix well with Kal-El?s personality.
In the end, what counts in the Elseworlds series are the superheroes and the way familiar characters interact within unfamiliar territories. Whether it is a new city (there is a Superman: Metropolis based in the movie by the same name, and another one based on Batman: Nosferatu), a new era (Batman: Thrillkiller shows a Batgirl who is part of the 1960s counterculture), or an old tale made new (Superman: War of the Worlds mixes the story with H.G. Wells), Elseworlds will take you elsewhere: to a new story, in completely new and entertaining universes.
Featured image by Dan Brereton, Photo courtesy DC Comics