The DC Multiverse is about to get a whole lot bigger. Elseworlds is returning, and if you’re familiar with the highly imaginative line of out-of-continuity comics, then you know how exciting this announcement is. But don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with Elseworlds. In fact, you’ve come to the right place! What is this imprint, and why is its return such a big deal? Allow us to fill you in. Here is everything you need to know about Elseworlds…
What is Elseworlds?
Elseworlds is a DC imprint that puts your favorite heroes and villains in new and exciting settings. An Elseworlds story takes place outside of continuity, allowing DC writers and artists to explore concepts like Batman fighting Jack the Ripper in the 19th century, or the Justice League protecting feudal Japan.
Not only does this allow creators to experiment with classic characters, but it also gives new readers a great entry point. Since Elseworlds comics take place outside of traditional continuity, you don’t need to know anything about the DC Universe before reading!
What’s the difference between an Elseworlds story and a regular multiverse story?
If you want to get technical about it, there really is no difference between an Elseworlds story and any story that takes place on another world in the multiverse. DCeased could have been an Elseworlds story. Same with Dark Knights of Steel. In fact, the latter soon will return under the Elseworlds line with a new miniseries called Dark Knights of Steel: Allwinter. The spirit of Elseworlds has remained alive at DC through imaginative, out of continuity projects, so it feels only suiting that DC is bringing back the imprint that got that ball rolling.
What it suggests is that DC is more committed to these kinds of stories than ever before. Over the past few decades, you may have been expected to see Elseworlds-like stories come up every now and then. But with the return of the imprint, you can likely expect several each year.
What was the first Elseworlds story?
There are a few ways to answer this. If you want to be technical, DC has been playing with the concept of out-of-continuity tales since 1942’s Superman #19. The issue contained a story called “Superman, Matinee Idol,” where Clark and Lois go to a theater to see an episode of the Fleischer Superman cartoon series. The story was tongue-in-cheek, and clearly not meant to be in continuity. Although DC had published stories where the character’s adventures were revealed to be dreams, this was the first explicit case of a story that was written to take place outside of canon. When it was reprinted in 1966’s Superman #183, it was referred to as DC’s first “imaginary story.”
Imaginary Stories were the precursor to Elseworlds. Throughout the Silver Age, DC published a variety of Imaginary Stories, which saw their heroes go through unusual status quo changes. One of the most notable was “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue,” published in 1963’s Superman #162. The story had Superman splitting into two separate heroes, who went on to solve most of the Man of Steel’s problems.
Everything changed in 1989 with Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. The one-shot placed the Dark Knight in Victorian times as he matched wits with Jack the Ripper. The success of the story inspired DC to create the Elseworlds imprint. When Gotham by Gaslight was reprinted, it was given the Elseworlds label, which technically makes it the first Elseworlds title. The first comic to feature the Elseworlds logo was Batman: Holy Terror, published in 1991. The graphic novel features Bruce Wayne as a reverend in an alternate version of America.
What are some other notable Elseworlds stories?
Some of DC’s greatest stories came from the Elseworlds imprint. It would be impossible to fit all of the highlights here, but here is a nice sample.
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross – An alternate future of the DC Universe, featuring some of the best Alex Ross artwork you’ll ever lay your eyes on. Not only is it one of the best Elseworlds stories, it’s also one of the best DC stories ever published!
Justice League: The Nail by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer – How different might the DC Universe be due to just one nail? Very different, if that nail gave Jonathan and Martha Kent a flat tire, preventing them from finding baby Kal-El’s rocket. Decades later and the DC Universe is a world without a Superman.
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett – Taking things one step further, Superman: Red Son asks, what if Superman’s rocket had landed in Soviet-era Ukraine and he had grown up to become the U.S.S.R.’s champion?
The Golden Age by James Robinson and Paul Smith – A reimaging of DC’s Golden Age heroes. This story was so popular that elements of it were incorporated into mainstream continuity.
Superman: Speeding Bullets by J.M. DeMatteis and Eduardo Barreto – What if baby Kal-El had been found by Thomas and Martha Wayne? (As you can probably tell, Superman’s rocket landing elsewhere is a popular story engine)
Didn’t the Arrowverse have an Elseworlds storyline?
If you’re a fan of DCTV, then you might remember the name “Elseworlds” as the title of the Arrowverse’s 2018 crossover event. During the crossover, an Arkham psychiatrist named John Deegan uses the Book of Destiny to rewrite reality. This creates some insanity, like Oliver Queen having the Flash’s powers. The crossover event is canon to the Arrowverse, so it’s not technically an Elseworlds. However, Deegan did reshape the world, so the title isn’t completely off.
By the way, Superman & Lois fans should note that this crossover featured the debut of Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane.
Didn’t I hear something about James Gunn and Peter Safran incorporating Elseworlds into their DC Studios film slate?
By now you’ve probably heard about James Gunn and Peter Safran’s big plans for DC Studios. The co-CEOs will be developing an entire universe that spans film, television, video games and more. But where does that leave other projects like Joker: Foile a Deux, Max’s Harley Quinn, or Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
According to Safran and Gunn, any DC media project that takes place outside of their new universe will be given an Elseworlds label. This will help viewers distinguish which stories are set in which continuity without making things confusing. Plus, thanks to Elseworlds, we’ll have a wider variety of DC media content, which is always a good thing!
What kind of titles will be in the first wave of the Elseworlds revival?
The first wave of new Elseworlds titles includes…
Gotham by Gaslight: The Kryptonian Age by Andy Diggle and Leandro Fernandez – This series will revisit the Victorian era DC Universe introduced in Gotham by Gaslight. We’ll see Gaslight versions of other heroes, who will come together to form a 19th century Justice League.
Batman the Barbarian by Greg Smallwood – It’s Batman in a swords-and-sorcery fantasy on a medieval Earth, what more could you want?
Dark Knights of Steel: Allwinter by Jay Kristoff and Tirso Cons – A sequel to Tom Taylor’s Dark Knights of Steel, which places DC’s heroes in a Lord of the Rings-like fantasy realm.
Green Lantern Dark by Tate Brombal and Werther Dell’Edera – A female Green Lantern fights alone on a post-apocalyptic Earth.
Batman: Nightfire by Clay and Seth Mann – A mind-expanding mystery that finds Batman traveling to the past to rectify a devastating tragedy.
DC vs. Vampires: World War V by Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt – The latest chapter in the ongoing DC vs. Vampires storyline. The sun is back, but the threat is far from over.
Does any of that sound exciting? Brace yourself, because with an infinite number of worlds in the multiverse, there are tons of Elseworlds stories to tell. Elseworlds is back, and there’s no predicting where it might take us. Strap in and enjoy the ride.
Explore dozens of Elseworlds comics right now on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.