web stats

CSBG Archive

The Greatest Elseworlds Stories Ever Told!

1 2
« Previous

5. Gotham by Gaslight: An Alternative History of the Batman

Written by Brian Augustyn with stunning artwork by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell, this is the story that launched the whole line of Elseworlds comics! It features Bruce Wayne in the time of Jack the Ripper deciding to become the Batman to stop the nefarious serial killer.

4. Superman: Red Son

Simply put, what if Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States? That’s the question that Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong try to answer in this Elseworlds mini-series that also sees a Soviet version of Batman and also a taste of what Lex Luthor would be like if the rest of the United States was actually on his side!

3. JLA: The Nail

Simply put, what if the Kents had a nail in their tire and never discovered baby Kal-El? The title, of course, is a reference to the famous proverbial rhyme “For Want of a Nail…” about how the smallest changes can have major consequences (chaos theory, essentially). Alan Davis follows this idea to its logical conclusion in this fascinating adventure with amazing artwork from Davis and Mark Farmer.

2. The Golden Age

James Robinson burst on to the mainstream comics scene with this lush, evocative tale of what happened to the Justice Society after World War II ended. As one voter put it (I’m paraphrasing here), one of the most intelligent comics ever written where they plot could be boiled down to “They saved Hitler’s brain!” Paul Smith was already quite well known before this series, but he was even more appreciated after it finished as he did a marvelous job handling the character-driven work that Robinson was going for with this volume.

1. Kingdom Come

Alex Ross and Mark Waid deliver this story of a future where superheroes are barely differentiated in their behavior from supervillains. Superman is called out of retirement to put an end to this behavior, but is it too late for him to change things? And is he even the right (Super)man for the job anymore? The handling of the trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman highlights this story, along with, of course, Alex Ross’ brilliant painted artwork.

1 2
« Previous

76 Comments

Kingdom Come is of course a bit obvious, but two of my favorites are The Golden Age and The Nail, so I’m glad to see them so high.

i was going to be surprised if not only the nail and the golden age did not make the list some how. but also kingdom come since it shows that even when time has changed in the dcu its heros at least try and stay true to their core.plus loved how alex uses the Spectre

There were 2 sequels to Generations? Great! I enjoyed those books, and now there’s undiscovered content waiting for me out there. Hooray!

Worth nothing on the Generations front: The Batman/Captain America prestige format one-shot also fits in that universe. While Superman does not show up, Bruce and Cap fight side by side in WWII, and it is Batman’s successor from Generations that thaws Captain America out at the end of the book.

I missed voting for this. I would have voted for Holy Terror, Gotham By Gas Light, Generations I and II, maybe The Nail, Golden Age, Superman Metropolis, and Superman War Of The Worlds. Never been a big fan of Kingdom Come.

None of the Elseworlds Annuals made it. I guess the L.E.G.I.O.N. annual with the Dick Sprang telling of Womanman’s origin was 11th.

The Nail is very pretty, but I found the story lacking – I didn’t like Red Rain much either.

On the bright side it’s great to see The Golden Age at #2 (which is where I put it).

I’m surprised Red Son didn’t make the top 3. It was my #1.

>Alan Davis follows this idea to its logical conclusion

Somehow “logical conclusion” involved “evil Jimmy Olsen with super powers and a guest appearance by Ultra the Multi-Alien.” I don’t know if the explanation for what happened to Superman is logical, but it is extremely clever.

Franck Martini

April 16, 2013 at 7:58 am

Did not vote for this… too bad… I agree that some of the Elseworlds annuals (Actions Comics or Man of Steel, the Flash…) were very good… Very pleased to see Speeding Bullets in the top 10, it would fit in my top 5…

Great list overrall

I loved Byrne’s first and second Generations minis but wasnt as fond of the 3rd one. Still, the fact that his Batman/Captain America Elseworlds meshed with the Generations saga was pretty great.

A really solid list, even though only four of my personal favorites made it here; there’s just so many to choose from. In fact, I think this could have just as easily been broken down into ‘Greatest Batman Elseworlds Stories Ever Told,’ ‘Greatest Superman Elseworlds Stories Ever Told’ and then everything else, and we still would have ended up with three lists of great stories.

Darius Washington

April 16, 2013 at 8:13 am

Didn’t know about teh voting so too late on that score, but as much as I liked some of the choices here, kinda bummed not to see DC: The New Frontier on here or the first Elseworlds comic (though technically not since it didn’t bear the actual imprint), The Dark Knight Returns. The Golden Age sounds like an interesting premise though so I’ll have to check it out some time.

Very pleased to see Speeding Bullets in the top 10, it would fit in my top 5…

It didn’t make the Top 10. It literally was #11, though!

Didn’t know about teh voting so too late on that score, but as much as I liked some of the choices here, kinda bummed not to see DC: The New Frontier on here or the first Elseworlds comic (though technically not since it didn’t bear the actual imprint), The Dark Knight Returns. The Golden Age sounds like an interesting premise though so I’ll have to check it out some time.

DC: The New Frontier wasn’t an Elseworlds. If it was, it would definitely be high on the list, I am sure.

Found some of these dreary at the time (Generations) and find some dreary now (Red Son, Holy Terror.) World’s Funnest is of course the greatest comic book every created; that and The Nail are the only ones of these I still reread. Loved Kingdom Come and Golden Age at the time, but I’ve lost interest in them, not least because of the attempts to force them into continuity.

Darkest Knight holds up well, though: a simple and straightforward application of the Elseworlds idea, not too ambitious but perfectly successful at what it tries to do.

Pleased not to see the boring Elseworlds that’s been ongoing since August 2011 place on the list.

Wow… almost my entire Top 10 made THIS Top 10, and my Top 3 was THIS Top 3… also, I just pulled out my volumes of DC New Frontier, and it IS an Elseworlds. Are you sure you aren’t incorrect Brian?

The entire first half of this list in a surprise. And I never expected The Nail to rank so high. I had no idea that was so popular.

I just pulled out my volumes of DC New Frontier, and it IS an Elseworlds.

I’m looking at the cover(s) right now and I don’t see the Elseworlds logo anywhere, so I’m pretty sure that this is false.

Well, now I think we’re splitting hairs. The idea of an “Elseworld” is that it’s a story set outside mainstream continuity. I realize that even THAT definition has gotten a bit jumbled, since the early “Hypertime” concept and the post-Infinite Crisis 52 Earths included the Elseworlds universes. (In other words, first they were “stories that didn’t happen,” and now they’re “stories that did happen, but on an alternate Earth, and anyway there’s only 52 of them.) My recollection is that Gotham by Gaslight does NOT have the Elseworlds lable, but is considered the “first” Elseworld retroactively. Holy Terror was the first story to carry the Elseworld label. And here’s another outlier–“The Dark Knight Strikes Again” was published under the Elseworlds imprint, even though its predecessor was not, and I don’t think anyone considers “The Dark Knight Returns” to be an Elseworld–the “first” honor has always gone to Gotham by Gaslight.

And then there’s books like Kingdom Come and the Golden Age, which while Elseworlds, both had a number of elements from those stories popping up all over the DCU. Particularly Kingdom Come–over the next 5 years, DC started shifting characters to their KC appearances, introducing characters who were only in that story (Gog, the Brain Trust), etc.

I can’t figure out why DC didn’t apply the Elseworlds label to “New Frontier,” since as far as I can tell, they were still using it at that time. (I guess Red Son is the closest publication in time to that story.) There’s no reason we shouldn’t apply that label to the story other than, well, DC didn’t.

Yes, deciding what is and what isn’t an Elseworlds can be difficult. If only someone had thought to provide a list of eligible titles when the voting started so that people wouldn’t still be debating what is and what isn’t an Elseworlds after the voting ended. If only…

I read an interesting piece on Chad Nevitt’s blog where he and somebody else I can’t remember right now talked about the merits and faults of Kingdom Come, and a pretty compelling case is made for why it’s not very good. I personally love it, but it can all be boiled down to, “These new comics suck! Remember when comics were good? Yeah that stuff I grew up with was great, why can’t comics always be like that?” It’s also essentially a rip-off of Alan Moore’s Twilight proposal; if you take away the my-nostalgia-is-the-objective-standard-of-good-comics message, it is a watered down Twilight of the Gods, which just makes me want to see DC adapt Twilight all the more.

1) It’s not about 90s comics being “bad”, it’s about 90s style superheroes lacking context for the way they act(ed) or even to exist in the first place, and 2) it’s nothing like Alan Moore’s Twilight of the Super-Heroes proposal at all.

Uh, where do we vote on the Superman stories?

@Brian–

Dangit, I meant to add “Good think Brian supplied the Wikipedia link” at the end of my post. Really!

@Anonymous

You know, I don’t get the fascination with “Twilight.” I really don’t. One, anybody who wants to complain that KC ripped of Twilight needs to be prepared to discuss how that story wasn’t a rip-off of Mark Gruenwald’s “Squadron Supreme.” Two, ok, so it had an epic collision of super-hero forces. It also had Billy Batson (sort of)* and his sister in an incestuous relationship, Billy visiting prostitutes, Batman mutilating one of the Metal Men, and everybody generally acting NOT acting like super heroes would. At least KC had the premise that the characters were *trying* to be heroes and took it too far. Twilight was just…depressing. Who the hell wants to read that?

* – I realize that the common defense is, “Well, that wasn’t really Billy.” OK, fine. You still had Mary Batson working under the assumption that she was hooking up with her brother. Really, just because it’s from the mind of Alan Moore doesn’t mean it should be published.

golden age is soooo much better than Kingdom Come, where everybody is so freaking sanctimonious it hurts my brain.

Twilight comes off much closer to Super-Folks than Kingdom Come does to Twilight.
The sequence in Kingdom Come where Batman apparently punches Captain Marvel in the jaw is one of my favorite moments in it.
While I’m not a Byrne fan, damn, Generations was fun. There’s no question when he wants to mimic someone else’s style or an era’s style, Byrne can get it spot on–and I don’t mean that as snark, when you’re doing a book like this it’s a must.
Holy Terror annoys like most theocratic alternate histories. The assumption that without the Reformation/Luther’s theses/whatever turning point theocracy would never again lose its grip is a strain–and the more history I read, the harder it is to swallow. Though that aside, the story was excellent, as Brennert usually is.

Disappointed Speeding Bullets, In Darkest Knight and all of the DC Elseworlds Annuals missed the cut. I enjoyed and voted for The Super Seven two-part story.

I wonder how close any of the Elseworlds annuals came to cracking the top 10?

Five of my picks made it, including the top three. I’m not a big fan of most elseworlds stories so I can’t say I’m disappointed about anything that was excluded. My heart wasn’t really in this one.

While I admire Kingdom Come given how much influence it had on the DC universe, despite being an Elseworlds offering, I find myself wishing that it was less imitated.

It seems as if innovative texts such as Watchmen, TDK, and Kingdom Come have waves of influence that their creators never intended.

Kingdom Come and Red Son where my personal favs in this. The Nail was good too.

I love Kingdom Come. I wish the people running the current DCU were keeping its lessons in mind, as the New 52 DCU seems to be dangerously close to the problems in the KC world.

It seems as if innovative texts such as Watchmen, TDK, and Kingdom Come have waves of influence that their creators never intended.

This X infinity.

the New 52 DCU seems to be dangerously close to the problems in the KC world.

That’s what happens when you let one of the 90s Image guys reboot your entire universe. New 52 is basically DC’s equivalent of Heroes Reborn.

“Neither Dark Knight Returns nor New Frontier were on the list of eligible titles.”

Well, that explains it.

Just a nitpick, but The Whistling Skull would be the second sequel to The Liberty File, not the third. It’s the third series. And technically it isn’t even a proper sequel, it just exists in that reality.

My main problem with Red Son is that Superman’s personality isn’t different enough from normal, despite growing up in vastly different circumstances. In fact, that’s my criticism of a lot of Elseworlds. Like the one where Kal-El becomes Batman: Luthor becomes the Joker – for no good reason. It’s like they’re uncomfortable with departing *too* much from standard continuity.

There’s a late sixties/early seventies imaginary story that I like precisely because it goes so completely off the beaten track: Jor-El is a maniac who blows up Krypton, then flees to Earth with his son Lex-El. Lex grows up to become Superman, while Clark Kent is the son of two Bonnie and Clyde style bank bandits. Gloriously nuts.

I completely disagree about Red Son. I thought Supes’ personality was too different from normal.

Red Son’s ending is too melodramatic. I think communist Superman was even bawling because of that Luthor letter…

“A really solid list, even though only four of my personal favorites made it here; there’s just so many to choose from. In fact, I think this could have just as easily been broken down into ‘Greatest Batman Elseworlds Stories Ever Told,’ ‘Greatest Superman Elseworlds Stories Ever Told’ and then everything else, and we still would have ended up with three lists of great stories.”

Very much agreed.

“>Alan Davis follows this idea to its logical conclusion

Somehow “logical conclusion” involved “evil Jimmy Olsen with super powers and a guest appearance by Ultra the Multi-Alien.” I don’t know if the explanation for what happened to Superman is logical, but it is extremely clever.”

I think the “logical conclusion” is that Superman appeared at the end and saved the day becoming the hero he was fated to be.

The Steel Annual and Adventures of Superman/Superboy crossovers made my list. If I’d remembered it, the Action Comics annual probably would have been on my list too. I’m a sucker for Kelley Jones, so I also had The Wild on my list.

Generations did nothing for me. I didn’t even look at the follow ups to it. I appreciate Byrne’s art, but his writing is always a little too dry for me.

Where did EARTH 2 rank in the voting? Can’t believe a Morrison/Quitely book didn’t make top ten. And it’s one of their better respective outings.

It’s a shame that DC has abandoned the Elseworlds line as an independent, stand-alone branch. This list contains a LOT of my favorite stories and story lines. Probably my most favorite is Superman & Batman: Generations by John Byrne. The high points for me far outweigh the low points. One of the things I had a problem with was all three series he tried to bring it back around full circle. The other thing was he tried to make the two of them immortal. I would have liked to see a fourth mini-series. I would have liked to see more details of the post-Golden Age, Silver and Bronze Age. I particularly liked his take on the “Teen Titans”. Plus, I liked his choice of grand villain for the whole piece.

Nice to see KC top the list. It’s good to see a story that ends up on top about hope and let’s face it, it is seminal.

Earth 2 was always part of the main line continuity. It was never labeled as an Elseworlds.

I hated Red Son. The characters’ behaviors make no sense within the context of the story. Unless you know what the “real” versions of the caracters are like, their actions have no impact. It’s my prime example in Mark Millar’s failures as a writer. All shock, no substance.

@Paul

Earth 2 was not an Elseworlds story.

I’ve said it elsewhere, but there were a number of things I hated about Red Son:
– It couldn’t decide if it was a “What If…?” (Superman’s rocket lands elsewhere) or an “Elseworld” (for some reason, Batman, Pete Ross, and Lana Lang are now Soviets).
– It would have benefited from those brackets to show which characters were speaking Russian. There’s a part where Superman says “Pardon me, but I just learned English 20 minutes ago.” I was like, wait, what the heck have you been speaking all this time?
– The “surprise ending” added nothing to the story.
– The rocket landing in 1938 made no sense if Superman debuted in 1953.
– Plot points are never really developed. (Pete Ross’ jealousy of Superman; he apparently murders Stalin, but nothing happens with that; Wonder Woman turns old, then is forgotten; etc.)

Seriously, I’d like to hear why people like it. I’m a relativist on matters of taste, but Red Son never clicked with me as a “good story,” much less a seminal Elseworld.

@Adam, I’m guessing people who love Red Son tend to exclusively read and prefer relatively modern comics. Coming out when it did, it may well have been one of the first major comics they read. And it being a slick and, you know, “totally badass, brah” comic featuring Superman of all characters has helped it remain popular. Red Son is far from the only beloved comic that is all style and no (or little, anyway) substance, as the careers of Mark Millar and way too many other comics pros prove.

I’m very surprised that Thrillkiller: Batgirl & Robin did not make the list. That tale was superlative.

THE NAIL! Forgot that one.

So: surprised THAT didn’t make GREATEST SUPES list, given a number of other ensemble cast stories that did make it. Dommage, I would have voted for it.

My list:
1. The Golden Age
2. Batman: Thrillkiller
3. Batman and Dracula: Red Rain
4. Batman: Gotham By Gaslight
5. JSA: The Liberty Files
6. Superman: Red Son
7. Batman: Masque
8. Batman: Scar of the Bat
9. Batman: Book of the Dead
10. Legacy (Action Comics Annual #6)

I left off Kingdom Come since I knew it would easily land in the #1 slot without my vote, which let me include one of the Elseworlds annuals. There were some really good stories in those; a few trades collecting them would be most welcome.

It’s a good thing there’s no *Worst* [blank] Stories Ever Told. If I could get away with it, I’d put down Act of God, with no other choice. I should keep that in mind if I come across a poll on another site.

I guess no one else likes Paul Pope… I put Batman Year 100 and the Berlin Batman from Batman Chronicles 11 (also reprinted in the Year 100 trade) as my 1 and 2.

I also included several of the Kingdom one shots, as it seems to follow logically that a sequel to an Elseworlds should be an Elseworlds. (And I didn’t vote KC, because it just never did anything for me, other than the back matter/how the kids grew up/the stuff that’s not the focus of the story)

Gotham by Gaslight and Red Son were the ones I picked that made it here.

It’s been a while since I read Red Son, but I thought it was decent. I think I voted for it more because I either hadn’t read some Elseworlds or the ones I read were…bad, let’s say. IIRC, Red Son was an interesting look at what might have happened if a Soviet Superman had existed. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it is entertaining and the art is purty.

I really liked “Batman: Holy Terror” when it came out. I now realized it borrowed some ideas from “V is for Vendetta” but I thought it was a grim-but-interesting tale. I would’ve loved to see what happened next to Batman.

Well, now I think we’re splitting hairs. The idea of an “Elseworld” is that it’s a story set outside mainstream continuity.

Elseworlds is more than that. It’s about taking DCU characters and making some tweak (baby Kal-El lands in Russia) or changing the setting (Batman in Victorian times).

Really The Golden Age shouldn’t have had the title – and Robinson originally intended it to be in-continuity. I’m not convinced Kingdom Come should ever have had the label either.

I guess no one else likes Paul Pope… I put Batman Year 100 and the Berlin Batman from Batman Chronicles 11 (also reprinted in the Year 100 trade) as my 1 and 2.

I voted for Year 100 as well – but actually I’m not convinced I should have. I don’t think it ever actually had the label.

Hmm, I don’t see it on the cover scans I’m looking at at GCD, but the story certainly suggests that it’s one, since it’s supposed to be taking place as if it’s 100 years since Batman started. Then again, DKR would sorta kinda fit that too, huh? Maybe that’s why it didn’t make the list!

@DanCJ–

Well, yeah, you have that “either/or” split of what an “Elseworld” is. It’s generally “what happens if you drop character A into setting B?” That would largely cover your Gotham by Gaslight, Superman Monster, Blue Amazon, etc–let’s stick Batman in the Old West, Superman in Camelot, etc.

But that’s not a perfect definition, because we also have a lot of stories which were basically premised on Marvel’s “What If…?” concept: “What if event A happened to a DC character instead of event B?” That’s where you get the Kents running over a nail and missing Kal’s rocket, Abin Sur choosing Bruce Wayne instead of Hal Jordan, or Martians invading right as Superman debuts in 1938. Even then, I feel like a lot of the “What If…?” stories weren’t premised on the main DCU, but were really a universe unto themselves. I think Red Son is a good example of this–if it were strictly a What If…?, then Batman, Lana Lang, and Pete Ross would have still been in the U.S. instead of Russia.

And you’re right, stuff like Kingdom Come and The Golden Age basically reflected then-current DC Continuity, and the reverse started to happen once those series became popular. Still, just because they were similar to the main DCU doesn’t mean that they were. They were still “out of continuity,” which I think is what basically binds the three types of Elseworlds under the banner.

I liked Speeding Bullets. I would have thought All-Star Superman was considered.

I don’t think James Robinson intended Golden Age to be an Elseworlds story but DC insisted.

I didn’t get around to voting, but the Top 10 was pretty close to my list. I’d have put Scar of the Bat or Superman: Metropolis in place of one or two. The only story I would not have voted for was Kingdom Come. Nice art, but I don’t care for the story. The ending didn’t work for me. I think the superhero war at the climax proved that Luthor’s fears had merit and that Superman looked like a fool throughout the series.

Mike, James Robinson has said he definitely intended Golden Age to be continuity.

This is a FANTASTIC list. This is the type of thing that makes me excited about comics.

I loved Batman: Reign of Terror, if only for the absolutely gorgeous artwork by Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez.

“Kingdom Come” is an unsurprising #1, but (in my opinion) deserving. I finally read “Golden Age” within the past year, and was glad to see it was as good as everyone said. I have “Gotham by Gaslight” sitting in my room to read, and I really need to finally check out “The Nail”, being the Alan Davis super-fan I am.

Great list – simply for the fact that Holy Terror, The Nail, Generations and The Golden Age are in it. And Kingdom Come of course ;)

Travis Stephens

April 19, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Always surprised about the criticism of those who do not like Kingdom Come. I guess tse 90’s T&A comics whose genre it put to an end area missed by some people. Also surprised by those who did not have the chance to read Golden Age.

My votes included Thrillkiller, Superboy’s Legion, the book of the dead, True Brit, Masque and the super seven

Can’t argue too much with the top 3. I will say, simply because it was an Elseworlds, and yet used a starting place so utterly faithful to the Silver Age of the Justice League, the Nail was my favorite of the bunch.

Happy to see Holy Terror make it. I still think it’s one of the ones that actually went for a whole new set-up instead of just transplanting the hero and enemies; for that reason, I just can’t get into the GL/Batman elseworld; Sinestro Joker? Really?.

It is a shame about the annuals. A lot of them had interesting premises, and they made for solid reads. Thrillkiller was solid as well, and I liked JLA/Authority. But there’s just a ton to pick from.

I just noticed this… too bad! Obviously KC had to be #1. I’m surprised no Thrillkiller.. that would have been #2 for me.

Nothing from the year all the annuals were elseworlds, either.. so great stories there. The post-apocalytipic one that spanned a few of the issues was really good.

I was like, oh no, maybe theyre not gonna put kingdom come first. Then I realized, how could they not?

They could have realised that Red Son and The Golden Age are better, but alas no.

The One and Only

May 1, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Although not officially an Elseworlds’ title. The HYPERTENSION storyline in Superboy#59-64 written by Karl Kesel and drawn by Tom Grummet where he bounces from one Elseworld to another to learn what happened to another version of himself that appeared to him warning of an oncoming darkness before expiring.

the New 52 DCU seems to be dangerously close to the problems in the KC world.

That’s what happens when you let one of the 90s Image guys reboot your entire universe.

Holy crap, that just about sums up the New 52 perfectly. They have become what they hated.

The Elseworld Annuals had some good stories. As for Batman related Elseworlds, the Robin Annual in which he is a samurai who avenges a Bat-Ninja was pretty cool. Leatherwing was impressive to me.

They completely neglected to include Gotham Noir and Thrillkiller which are legit contenders.

Honorable mentions include Hollywood Knight, which contained a pretty original and interesting premise, The Order of Beasts, Year 100, Batman: Nosferatu, The Doom That Came to Gotham, Detective No. 27, Dark Joker: The Wild, and The Devil’s Workshop.

Most of the top grade Elseworlds are already on this list.

As per Superman Elseworlds, I enjoyed Superman’s Metropolis, Superman- War of the Worlds, and A Nation Divided.

The Elseworlds were something I was attracted to back in 1993 as a sixth grader and I’ve read plenty of them. I’m actually trying to re-collect all the Elseworlds trades and one shots. I prefer them to the mainstream DC canonical storylines as they are self contained in some respect. They are my preferred DC Universe as the New 52 is just horrendous.

I’d love to see some Elseworlds stories adapted into full length DC Animated features. Hell, a whole DC Elseworlds Animated Universe would be quite superb.

[…] Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike […]

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives