For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the knight was lost
For want of a knight the battle was lost
So it was a kingdom was lost
All for want of a nail
In this universe, Martha and Jonathan Kent's truck has a tire puncture caused by a nail. This prevents them from discovering the spaceship containing the baby Kal-El, and so, there's no Superman. There is, however, still a Justice League of America, consisting of Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash (Barry Allen), Hawkwoman, the Atom (Ray Palmer), Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). There's also a great degree of xenophobia for the "metahumans," fueled by anti-metahuman propaganda from Perry White and backed by Metropolis mayor Lex Luthor; slowly metahumans begin to disappear as other issues arise requiring the attention of the publicly disliked JLA.
The story was later followed up by a sequel in JLA: Another Nail which ties into the original story and wrapped up several loose ends.
Dark Horse Comics also has an unrelated short series called The Nail, about a wrestler nicknamed The Nail protecting his family from demons.
This works contains examples of the following tropes:
- A God Am I: Jimmy Olsen when beating the crap out of Batman specifically calls himself one and demands that Batman do the same.
- A God I Am Not: Batman implies this is the case with Kal-El. The man had every bit as much power as Olsen did, yet chose to live among the Amish. That unlike Jimmy who desperately sought power, Kal-El would give up all his in an instant if it would bring his parents back to life.
- A House Divided: The Justice League suffers from this a little bit since Superman was never there to be the even head that guided them.
- Adaptational Job Change: Due to Commissioner Gordon's death, Harvey Bullock succeeded him as commissioner.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: Sort of. Harvey Bullock usually doesn't get along with Batman, but here, he becomes a supporter and refuses to condemn Batman for supposedly killing the staff and inmates of Arkham. Still doesn't make him any less rude.
- Adaptational Villainy: A relatively minor example in the case of Perry White, who is just reporting the available facts due to metahumans lacking a clear positive 'role model' such as Superman, but taken to greater extremes in the form of Jimmy Olsen — no, really — whose augmentation with Kryptonian DNA has driven him insane as he sets out to rebuild Krypton on Earth.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Being forced on his knees, Batman pleads for the Joker to spare Robin and Batgirl. But it did him (nor his partners) no good.
- All Women Are Lustful: Invoked by Martha Kent. After the Kents' truck gets a flat tire (thus missing Kal-El), Martha says she doesn't mind, saying she's in the mood to stay home while acting flirtatious toward Jonathan.Jonathan: (smirking) Martha Kent, you're shameless.
- Alternate Continuity: While the story acts as a What If? tale, this universe is very different compared with DC's main Earth. This Earth is more of a mish-mash between Earth-One and the Post-Crisis Universe, the only elements of the latter depicted are the JSA being part of this Earth's history and The Man of Steel Krypton. Notable Silver Age elements are:
- The Hawkman and Hawkgirl who joined the Justice League are Katar and Shayera, instead of Carter and Shiera who were retconned in their place. Oddly enough, Carter and Shiera weren't shown in the photo of the JSA, and Katar (as Carter) is explicitly stated to have cofounded the Midway City Museum.
- Catwoman's psychiatric files include photos of her in previous costumes, including one from the Golden Age.
- Jimmy Olsen gaining various superpowered alter-egos as a cub reporter, including Turtle Boy. He considers them embarrassing, which contributed to his descend to villainy.
- In Another Nail, it is stated that Shadow Thief got his suit from Xarapion. In Post-Crisis canon, it was given to him by Byth.
- Another Nail even reveals that this world exists in a Multiverse very similar to Pre-Crisis.
- Anyone Can Die: It's an Elseworld, so there's no harm done to the Post-Crisis continuity.
- Badass Pacifist: The Kents, in this universe. They become the Team Parents for the metahumans, with the help of Dr. Lana Lang.
- Badass Normal: Batman and Catwoman. The latter is especially noteworthy as she manages to take down a bunch of other Batman villains single-handed when the Joker pits them all against each-other.
- Battle Couple: Batman and Catwoman again.
- Bittersweet Ending: Kal becomes Superman and manages to turn the world's view of metahumans around. But not without losing the parents who raised him and having to renounce his peaceful life afterwards.
- Batman actually retiring from the JLA, despite being acquitted from having killed the Joker.
- For worse/better/whatever, it's not over: see Another Nail.
- Beware the Superman: Ironically, it's a result of there being no "Superman".
- Body Horror: Happens when Jimmy Olsen's body starts to reject its new Kryptonian DNA during his climactic fight with Superman.
- Broken Pedestal: Jimmy Olsen has this in spades concerning super-heroes. Come The Reveal, we see just how bad it really is
- The Commissioner Gordon: Harvey Bullock is the new commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department.
- Conspiracy Theorist: This world's version of Green Arrow, on top of him being crippled and ultra bitter after the incident that left him like that and killed Hawkman.
- Dating Catwoman: Aside from the Trope Namer, Green Lantern and Star Sapphire's relationship has shades of this.
- Death Glare: Batman gives one to Robin when he's about to complain about being forced to stay outside the barrier surrounding Arkham.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The whole metahuman witch hunt thing.
- Driven to Madness: Jimmy Olsen, courtesy of being exposed to Kryptonian DNA.
- Elite Mooks: Played straight with the Liberators initially, but ultimately subverted when they're revealed to be Glass Cannons.
- Evil All Along: Jimmy Olsen
- Faceless Goons: The Liberators, save one moment where Hal unmasks one and exposes them as Bizarro-type clones of Kal-El.
- Famous Last Words: A gut-punching last sentence from the Big Bad: "We should have been friends."
- Fat Bastard: This version of Lex Luthor seems to have put on a few pounds.
- For Want of a Nail: Inspired by the Trope Namer.
- Forced to Watch: The Joker uses his newly bestowed energy powers to capture Robin and Batgirl, and then make Batman watch while he rips them apart.
- Foreshadowing: While Lois is driving to the Kent farm, an Amish carriage pass by. We later discover that Kal-El was raised in an Amish village.
- Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Alfred and Selina have to team-up to give an effective one to Batman.
- Glass Cannon: The Liberators/Bizarros; they're powerful when they have superior numbers and surprise on their side, but take away those advantages and they fall fairly quickly once they sustain clear damage.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Poor, poor Robin and Batgirl.
- HeelFace Turn: Selina Kyle, upon her transition from Catwoman to Batwoman.
- Heroic BSoD: Batman has truly massive one after the Joker kills Batgirl and Robin and even worse when he utterly snaps and kills the Joker right then and there.
- Amish!Kal-El has another when his parents are brutally murdered by Jimmy.
- Heroic Bystander: Kal-El's Amish parents raise him to ignore world affairs. However he just couldn't ignore his calling any longer.
- Humans Are Bastards:Jimmy: Did you not see how easily I turned mankind against you? They really are not worth saving.
- Humble Hero: Superman was raised Amish. It doesn't get more humble than that.
- I Just Want to Be Special: Jimmy Olsen
- Intrepid Reporter: Lois Lane as always
- Involuntary Battle to the Death: Joker forced the Arkham inmates to fight each other to the death. Clayface (Preston Payne) and Killer Croc are shown to be dead.
- Ironic Last Words: Superman finally fights the Big Bad, who currently has Kryptonian DNA melded into his body. However, the stress of the fight causes the DNA to begin breaking down, killing him. His last words ("We should have been friends") are painfully ironic in light of The Reveal: the Big Bad was this universe's version of Jimmy Olsen, who had gone insane thanks to the continual experimentation on him and the lack of Superman's presence as a hero.
- Joker Immunity: Averted, as the Joker ends up having his neck snapped by Batman going into full Papa Wolf mode. On live television.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Robin and Batgirl. It gets them killed.
- Love Redeems: Selina goes straight specifically to be with Bruce.
- The Man Behind the Man: Lex Luthor (believed by the Justice League to be the Big Bad) is implied to be manipulated by Starro until it's revealed that "Starro" is actually a mutated Krypto. The real Big Bad is none other than... Jimmy Olsen.
- My Greatest Failure:Wonder Woman: My mission was to promote justice and freedom for all. I have failed.
- Mythology Gag:
- Selina's Batwoman costume is identical to Kathy Kane. It's never revealed if Kathy exists in this universe too.
- After Joker murders Robin and Batgirl in a particularly gruesome manner, he makes a reference to Francis Bacon, calling to mind the art museum scene in Batman (1989), where one of Bacon's paintings is spared due to the Joker's personal liking of it.
- The Outsiders discover a hidden base with its doorway on a cliff resembling the Silver Age Fortress of Solitude.
- Not Helping Your Case: Batman seen killing the Joker on live television only added further xenophobia and mistrust towards metahumans and vigilantes.
- Not So Stoic: The SpectreSpectre: ...mankind has always been destined to spread out amongst the stars.
Doctor Fate: If they survive.
Spectre: (worried) If!
- Papa Wolf: Batman. This is one of the few universes in which he breaks his Thou Shall Not Kill oath, and he does so after the Joker brutally murders Batgirl and Robin.
- Person of Mass Destruction: Jimmy Olsen and Kal-El. Their fight is even described as apocalyptic by other characters.
- The Reveal: Jimmy Olsen is the Big Bad and has Kryptonian powers.
- Sanity Slippage: This version of Oliver Queen, who had previously lost an arm, an eye, and the use of his legs to AMAZO.
- Jimmy Olsen is also revealed to have suffered from this a great deal.
- Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Witnessing the escalating anti-alien feeling against herself and Hawkman, Hawkwoman briefly prepares to leave Earth, to the point of rendezvousing with her old spaceship... only to fly back to save two children from a fire, with everyone in the surrounding street moving in her defence when the police try to arrest her.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Likely as a means of showing how integral Superman is to the DCU, this world (and story) lean just a bit more towards the cynical side of the spectrum than the usual portrayal of the DCU. That said, the ending is a (mostly) happy one.
- Speak Ill of the Dead: Subverted with Hawkman. The news reports barely mentioned his death in the hands of Amazo, if at all. Though "alien scum" is written on the plaque of the Hawksuit display.
- Technical Pacifist: Kal-El, having been raised by an Amish couple, is opposed to violence. This does not stop him from going to town on a Kryptonian Jimmy Olsen.
- That Man Is Dead: "The Jimmy Olsen you knew no longer exists."
- Unstoppable Rage: Batman turns utterly murderous after Joker kills his sidekicks, which concludes with him breaking his Thou Shalt Not Kill rule and snapping the Joker's neck.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: What happens to Jimmy Olsen as a result of his exposure to Kryptonian DNA.
- Would Hurt a Child: The Joker shows this to horrific extremes when he murders Robin and Batgirl.
Tropes associating with Another Nail
- Adaptational Heroism: Star Sapphire
- Adaptational Villainy: Power Girl and Black Orchid, normally heroes in the DCU, are first seen helping Star Sapphire steal the body of the android Amazo from Will Magnus, fighting the Metal Men in the process. Later they kidnap Niles Caulder. Subverted when it is later revealed that they, along with Black Canary, were securing Amazo's body in a risky bid to transplant Green Arrow's brain into a new healthy body, and that Niles had accompanied them willingly to perform the operation.
- All Your Powers Combined: A Green Lantern ring chooses Barda as its new wielder and then merges with her Mother Box, allowing it to project Mister Miracle's consciousness (after he 'downloaded' himself into the Mother Box to escape being tortured by Darkseid), creating a far more adaptive ring than usual
- Badass Normal: Lois can handle Eclipso no problem. Jonathan Kent even gives him a good whack on the head with a shovel.
- Battle Couple: In addition to Batman and Catwoman, we now have Mister Miracle and Barda.
- Big "NO!": Batman screams this after waking up from a nightmare of the Joker killing Robin and Batgirl.
- The Cameo: Hawk and Dove, Blackhawk, Jonah Hex, The Inferior Five...If you can name a DC character who showed up in the '60s and '70s, odds are that they'll appear somewhere in this book.
- There's a single frame cameo by the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, the rights for whom were owned by DC at the time this book was published.
- Catapult Nightmare: Batman, upon waking up at the moment the Joker forced his eyes open to see him kill Robin and Batgirl.
- Clark Kenting: Lampshaded. When Lois suggests a "less is more" approach to disguising Kal El so he can go out as a civilian, the end result resembles the classic Clark Kent we all know and love. Kal asks Lois, "You really think this will fool anyone?"
- Eldritch Abomination: The Limbo Cell.
- Empathic Weapon: Somewhat with a particular Green Lantern ring. Its wielder was killed while trying to save some of the slaves on Apokolips. The ring fled before the killer could take it. It chose Big Barda as the new wielder since she's the only native of Apokolips worthy of such a weapon. It let the Guardians know about this "in a tone and authority that surprised" them. It also merged with a Mother Box and bonded with Mister Miracle, with Highfather's approval.
- Evil Counterpart / Mirror Universe: At one point, Flash and Atom find themselves in the alternate universe home of the Crime Syndicate of America.
- Exactly What I Aimed At: After she receives a Green Lantern ring, Barda confronts Darkseid, but when she fires her ring at him she misses by a country mile. Darkseid gloats that living on Earth has made her soft, until it's revealed that her first attack was really a GL construct of Mr. Miracle (whose mind now inhabits Barda's Mother Box), leaving him free to disrupt Darkseid's machinery, causing it to overload and ultimately destroy him."A distraction. The first principle of any clever illusion...or a really sneaky attack. Barda didn't miss you, she was positioning me where I could do the most harm!"
- Heroic Sacrifice: Green Arrow, who rescued Superman when his attempt at one failed.
- It's All My Fault: Before his sacrifice, the now-sane Green Arrow apologises to Hawkwoman as he blames himself for Hawkman's death, believing that his efforts to prove himself equal to more powerful heroes led to Hawkman putting himself in harm's way and taking a fatal blow from Amazo to protect Green Arrow; Hawkwoman assures GA that Hawkman always saw him as a friend.
- Kitchen Sink Included: One is seen floating during the dimensional disturbances.
- Mythology Gag:
- Neutral No Longer: The Guardians and the Corps don't get involved in the eternal war between New Genesis and Apokolips, until it began to escalate beyond its borders.
- At first the Corps only act to evacuate planets that are caught in the crossfire. When one Lantern sees some parademons unearthing a component of Darkseid's doomsday weapon and sending it through a boom tube, the Guardians and Highfather inform the Corps of Darkseid's plot and permit them to join forces with New Genesis to take the fight to Apokalips.
- Power Perversion Potential: Early in the story, Mister Miracle wills his body to die and transfers his mind into the Mother Box circuitry incorporated into his wife Big Barda's armor, to escape DeSaad's torturing him. Later, it is implied that he enjoys the situation, as while his mind is in her armor he is in constant contact with her body.
- Race Lift:
- Halo, a blond Caucasian in the main DCU, is an Africa-American in this story. Though it could be inhabiting a different person entirely.
- Zatanna appears to be Asian (her eyes look slanted, but it just may be the art).
- Sexy Shirt Switch: Lois is seen wearing a large shirt and walking barefoot while staying with Kal at the Kent Farm.
- Spacetime Eater: The Limbo Cell
- Taking You with Me: To prevent a now-demonic Joker from dragging Selina into Hell with him, Batman is more than prepared to drag Joker into Hell himself, to make sure that he never escapes.
- Those Two Guys: Flash and Atom, who is always on his shoulder.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Superman can never return to the Amish village that's been his home, due to keeping it from further danger and believing he's no longer welcomed there for rejecting their lifestyle by using his powers to help the world.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After donning the armor, Darkseid killed all his followers (except Desaad, who created the armor).