Elseworlds was the publication imprint for American comic books produced by DC Comics for stories that took place outside the DC Universe canon. Elseworlds publications are set in alternate realities that deviate from the established continuity of DC’s regular comics. The "Elseworlds" name was trademarked in 1989, the same year as the first Elseworlds publication.
The original Elseworlds imprint was scaled back in 2003 due to DC wanting to "put the luster back on them", before quietly dying in 2005. There were plans to revive the Elseworlds brand in 2010, but those plans would quickly fall apart, with the only publication under the revived label being the four issue mini-series Superman: The Last Family of Krypton.
Although the label itself has been dead, the spirit of Elseworlds lives on and stories that take place outside of the canon DC Universe are still made to this day, either under the main DC brand or under DC Black Label (founded in 2018), which acts as a Spiritual Successor to the imprint.
The Elseworlds name and logo would soon be used again in marketing for the Arrowverse Crisis Crossover, Elseworlds (2018). Beginning in 2023, the name will also be used by DC Studios as a way to distinguish their standalone films and franchises from films set in the DC Extended Universe.
List of Elseworlds
- The first Elseworlds story is the criminally under-appreciated Gotham by Gaslight, in which Bruce Wayne is a young American plutocrat recently returned to Gotham in 1889, and ends up fighting (and is suspected of being) Jack the Ripper, who now has new stomping grounds.
- Kingdom Come, a beautifully painted and surprisingly cerebral graphic novel set a few decades into the future after Superman retired and a new generation of superheroes has since arisen.
- Superman: Red Son, the trope picture for Elseworld, is a miniseries about what Superman would have been like if he had landed in the Soviet Union (specifically Ukraine, which seems to be the closest the writers could find to a Soviet version of Kansas) instead of the United States; he ends up a Knight Templar Big-Brother figure. President Lex Luthor defends the United States from the Red Menace with Superman's Rogues Gallery and Green Lanterns. Batman has a very sexy hat.
- Superman: At Earth's End is a particularly infamous one-shot, that involves an aged Superman with a Santa Claus beard who fights cyborgs before going to Gotham After the End and battling twin clones of Adolf Hitler. The cover shows him wielding a gigantic gun. Which he uses against the aforementioned Hitler clones. Naturally, it's been subject to Memetic Mutation thanks to the likes of Linkara.
- I, Joker is a one-shot about a dystopian future version of Gotham where people worship the current Batman (who is also called "The Bruce", but is NOT Bruce Wayne) as a god. It's told from the point of view of The Joker. Or rather, a person who believes himself to be the Joker. This world's Batman likes to take enemies of the state, mind-wipe them, and turn them into carbon-copies of past Batman villains with implanted memories; he then uses them in a yearly bloodsport where the entire city dresses up as Batmen/girls/women and attempts to kill one of the villains so as to get a chance to fight him for the right to become the new Batman. However, after an act of rebellion from his personal doctor/surgeon who converts the rebels into faux villains, this year's Joker gradually regains his memories and, after discovering the original Batcave, defeats the wannabe Bat-god and takes up the mantle of the Bat. He also rescues his girlfriend, who had had her vocal cords removed as punishment for being a rebel; she becomes his Robin.
- Batman: Year 100 imagines a world where Batman operated first in 1939 (the year he debuted in comics) and yet is still active 100 years later somehow, fighting corrupt government agencies.
- Superman: Speeding Bullets has Kal-El fall to Earth near Gotham City, to be discovered and raised as their own by the Wayne family. Or, "What if Superman was Batman?"
- A similar one is Batman: In Darkest Night. In this one, Bruce Wayne, not Hal Jordan, receives the ring from Abin Sur; in effect, this one is, "What if Batman was Green Lantern?"
- In the three-issue miniseries Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham, Bruce Wayne and his proteges Dick, Jason, and Tim face off against eldritch abominations straight out of H. P. Lovecraft in a time between the World Wars.
- JLA: Act of God was a notorious one that involved all the people with inherent superpowers losing them.
- Another one is Ame-Comi Girls, an Animesque world that features the company's female superheroes and villains (and sometimes Distaff Counterparts in place of male ones).
- JLA: Created Equal sees all men on Earth apart from Superman and Lex Luthor being killed by a strange spatial phenomenon that infects all other men with a lethal virus (Superman being naturally immune and Luthor sealing himself away before he could be infected), and the subsequent efforts to rebuild the world.
- JLA: The Nail takes place in a world where Kal-El is found by an Amish couple instead of the Kents because of a flat tire, and as a result, doesn't become Superman. While there's still a Justice League, they face xenophobia and Jimmy Olsen is a super villain.
- The Batman Vampire trilogy is one of them, as the premise is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Batman becoming a vampire.
- Superman: True Brit is a semi-parodic take on the idea of Kal-El's rocket landing in Britain rather than America.
- In Batman: Holy Terror, Oliver Cromwell's rebellion lasted much longer and spread out all over the world, creating the Commonwealth, a theocratic dictatorship where non-Christians are persecuted. Batman is a Badass Preacher who rebels after learning that the Commonwealth had his parents assassinated for serving in La Résistance.
- Catwoman: Guardian of Gotham is set in an alternate universe where Selina Kyle, not Bruce Wayne, became a masked vigilante superhero after her wealthy parents were murdered in front of her.
- Injustice: Gods Among Us (the prequel to the video game) takes place in an alternate universe where the Joker tricked Superman into killing Lois and their unborn child, along with nuking Metropolis, causing Superman to throw his Thou Shalt Not Kill code out the window and eventually declare a dictatorship over the entire Earth to (ideally) eliminate all further crime and bloodshed.
- DC Comics Bombshells takes place in the 1940s and features some of DC's biggest superheroines (and a few of its female supervillains) during World War II. It spun off of a series of 40's-style pinup statues and comic cover variants.
- Gotham City Garage followed DC Comics Bombshells in being spun off a series of pin-up statues that depicted female DC heroes and villains as sexy bikers. It's set in an Apunkalyptic alternate universe in which the sole surviving city on Earth is ruled as a techno-dystopia by Lex Luthor, with an irredeemably evil version of Bruce Wayne/Batman as his chief enforcer, while various mostly-female DC characters ride motorbikes around the Desert Punk-styled "Freescape" as the sole opposition to him.
- Superman & Batman: Generations, an Elseworlds story, that shows what might happen if Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne weren't subjected to Comic-Book Time, thus showing the casts of both series aging in real time, including the two having adventures in World War II. The Batman & Captain America crossover that's the source of the image in Even Evil Has Standards (where the Joker terminates a partnership with the Red Skull upon realizing that the Skull is legitimately a Nazi and not faking it) is also part of the same universe, with The Manhattan Project being called "The Gotham Project".
- Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl takes place in a universe in which Bruce Wayne was never Batman, and the infant Kal-El did not survive long enough to become Superman. The orphaned Barbara Gordon becomes Batgirl, Gotham's near-dictatorial protector, and Kara Zor-El alias Supergirl teams with a Justice Society backed by Luthor.
- Nightwing: The New Order takes place in a Bad Future where Dick Grayson leads a government task force to depower metahumans and put the ones their tech can't depower in stasis until they can after Bruce is accidentally killed by a meta with poor control. He starts questioning his betrayal of his former friends and allies when his son develops powers that would require him to be put in stasis.
- Batman: Thrillkiller places the Batman mythos in the early 1960's.
- DCeased is a take on the Zombie Apocalypse genre using a technological virus.
- The Golden Age imagines an alternate universe where the Justice Society of America became persecuted by a group of second-stringers like Mister America, Johnny Thunder, and the original Robotman, who all joined the HUAC to gain power and influence. It's essentially an attempt to give the JSA the Watchmen treatment.
- Batman: Castle of the Bat, a Frankenstein pastiche, which puts our favorite brooding bat-themed hero in the shoes of a young scientist who discovers his father's brain has been donated to science and decides to make a brand-new body for Thomas, and to try out his new bat-serum on it, because if you have a bat-serum, you might as well.
- Batman Masque, a Phantom of the Opera pastiche in which the Batman becomes involved with a dancer at the local opera house.
- Batman: Two Faces, a Jekyll and Hyde pastiche, in which a 19th century batman believes he's found a chemical solution which will restore his friend Harvey Dent to sanity. But why not test it on himself first?
- Batman/Houdini: The Devil's Workshop, Batman and Harry Houdini team up to fight vampires.
- The Blue, the Grey and the Bat has Batman protecting a vital gold shipment for President Lincoln in 1863. It includes Redbird, who is Expy of both Robin and Tonto.
The Elseworlds imprint provides examples of:
- Adaptational Nationality: A number of DC Elseworlds do this, either as the central point (Superman: Red Son is "What if Superman was Russian?") or as part of the set-up (Batman: Castle of the Bat is "What if Bruce Wayne was Victor Frankenstein?", so relocates him to Bavaria).
- Alternate Reality Episode: DC Comics pretty much specialized in this form of storytelling, publishing dozens of stories from the 1950s onwards where, either as a one-off "change of pace" storyline or as a back-up story "filler" (common in the days when some issues ran for 80-100 pages without ads in some cases, and needed to be filled). In the 1980s, DC launched its "Elseworlds" line, with followed the same concept, except usually with more serious stories.