Elseworlds is the DC Universe without any boundaries. Anything can happen. Batman doesn’t have to live in Gotham City. Heck, he doesn’t even have to live in the present era. Superman could be a villain, or maybe he died as an infant. Anything goes. In an Elseworlds story, there are no rules, which leads to surprises on every page.

Now that the imprint is making a comeback, we thought this would be a good time to explore our Elseworlds atlas and spotlight some of our favorite existing stories. How is reality in each of these remarkable books different from the DC Universe as we know it? Sometimes the difference is as small as one fateful nail. Other times, it’s something as big as Jack the Ripper becoming ruler of British Empire.

Let’s leave the world as we know it behind and discover six of DC’s most exciting Elseworlds stories…

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Creative team: Written by Brian Augustyn and penciled by Mike Mignola

This is the story that inspired DC to launch the Elseworlds imprint! Batman: Gotham by Gaslight places the Dark Knight in the late 19th century as he tracks down Jack the Ripper in a Victorian era Gotham City. Things take a turn when Bruce Wayne is framed for Jack the Ripper’s murders, and a judge sentences him to hang. Can Batman solve this mystery before his execution?

As you read Gotham by Gaslight, it’s easy to see why DC wanted to publish more Elseworld stories. Placing Batman in the late 19th century allowed Augustyn and Mignola to experiment and have fun. We get an interesting new costume for Batman, and fun takes on existing Gotham characters. This story inspired a sequel, Batman: Master of the Future, and a third entry titled Batman: Gotham by Gaslight – The Kryptonian Age, which debuted this month. We can debate whether Gotham by Gaslight is the all-time best Elseworlds series, but it’s definitely one of the most impactful.

Wonder Woman: Amazonia

Creative team: Written by William Messner-Loebs and penciled by Phil Winslade

Wonder Woman: Amazonia takes place in the early 20th century, as Diana Prince fights to take down a tyrannical government. Amazonia is more than an alternate reality, it’s an alternate history and it just so happens to be the second Elseworlds book to feature Jack the Ripper (we promise that’s not a running theme—though Jack did also feature in TV’s Pennyworth, which felt like an Elseworlds TV show).

In this dark tale, history diverged in the late 19th century when Jack the Ripper killed Queen Victoria and the Royal Family. Jack then passes himself off as a distant cousin, claiming the throne for himself. Under Jack’s leadership, the British Empire becomes more tyrannical, and women are stripped of their rights.

In other words, it’s a world ruled by patriarchy, which means Wonder Woman needs to kick some butt. Diana was brought to our world as a prisoner, but no man can keep Wonder Woman in chains for long. Amazonia is a story about a brutal Wonder Woman in an even more brutal world.

JLA: Destiny

Creative team: Written by John Arcudi and penciled by Scot Eaton and Tom Mandrake

JLA: Destiny explores what the DC Universe would look like without Superman or Batman. In this reality, Bruce Wayne and his mother Martha were killed during an evening mugging, leaving Thomas Wayne as the only survivor. Seeking to avenge his family and protect the world from crime, Thomas puts together his own version of the Justice League. This team is filled with familiar heroes such as Wonder Woman and Flash, and new takes on other heroes such as Captain Thunder (an African-American Shazam) and Triumph (a revamped version of Captain Triumph).

The premise may be straightforward, but this Elseworlds limited series offers a fun look at another version of the DC Universe—one that features plenty of surprises. For example, you’ll never guess what Lex Luthor’s sinister secret is.

Kingdom Come

Creative team: Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross

It’s possible that Kingdom Come is the most famous Elseworlds tale of all—and there’s a good reason for that. This storyline is set in the near future, where idealism has been replaced with cynicism. Heroes like Superman have been supplanted by a new generation of vigilantes who aren’t afraid to get lethal. When a hero named Magog loses control, it’s up to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the original DC heroes to bring the world back to the light.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the artwork, which is one of the best things about this storyline. Every page from Alex Ross has the beauty of a painting. It elevates Mark Waid’s script, creating some of the most iconic images ever to appear in a DC comic.

Superman: Red Son

Creative team: Written by Mark Millar and penciled by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett

Superman: Red Son is set in a reality where baby Kal-El landed in the Cold War era Soviet Union, rather than rural Kansas. As a result, Superman grows up in the USSR, quickly becoming the country’s champion. What does this mean for the United States, and how can they hope to combat someone like Superman?

This Elseworlds storyline spans decades, taking place throughout the later 20th century. It also reinforces how important Jonathan and Martha Kent are to the Man of Steel. What does Superman look like when he isn’t raised by the Kents? Superman: Red Son explores that tragic answer.

Justice League: The Nail

Creative team: Written and illustrated by Alan Davis

Justice League: The Nail is set in a world where the appearance of a single nail changed the course of history. How can one nail do all that? Well, it punctures Jonathan and Martha Kent’s tire, preventing them from finding baby Kal-El’s rocket. Decades later, the DC Universe doesn’t have a Superman. Without Superman, what does that mean for Lex Luthor, Perry White and the rest of the Justice League? And whatever happened to baby Kal-El?

Speaking personally, Justice League: The Nail is one of my all-time favorite comics from the Elseworlds imprint. A lot of that has to do with the stunning artwork from Alan Davis. Plus, like all good Elseworlds books, it makes you think about how much can be changed by sheer simple circumstance. How much of our potential has been changed by flat tires, missed trains and badly timed rainstorms?

This is all just the beginning. DC’s vast Elseworlds atlas is huge and is about to get a whole lot bigger. If you’re new to Elseworlds and want to take a deeper dive into the stories that have come before, make sure you check out DC UNIVERSE INFINITE’s curated Elseworlds section. You’ve never experienced the DC Universe quite like this, and there’s always a new surprise waiting for you.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight – The Kryptonian Age #1 by Andy Diggle, Leandro Fernandez and Dave Stewart is now available in print and as a digital comic book.

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 or Warner Bros. Discovery, nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.