In 1987, before his split from DC Comics, Alan Moore proposed a dark comics crossover called Twilight of the Superheroes.note While the story was never published, the original proposal was leaked online and gained popularity as a "might have been" story penned by one of comicdom's biggest stars.
The background as outlined stems from Moore's ideas about Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Post-Crisis world. He noted that while it could resolve continuity problems in the short run, eventually they would run into the same issues again in the future and that in many ways, the loose many-worlds alternate-universe division between Golden Age and Silver Age Batman and Superman gave more options for writers. Moore's solution was inspired by Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which he noted gave Batman an ending and finally raised him to the level of myth and also settled continuity issues by proving that it's such a good story it doesn't matter finally what its position in the continuity is. Moore stated that without the element of time, comic books can never become true legends since the nature of Comic-Book Time, Status Quo Is God and Failure Is the Only Option prevented the characters from growing old, having the final battles and betrayals common to the Norse Myths, Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes stories that ultimately defined those characters. He proposed a Crisis Crossover that was structured in such a way that it left room for writers to either add/subtract or ignore altogether and free up many issues of writing in continuity while at the same time adding a level of myth and purpose to the entire DC Universe.
The story's Framing Device features a future version of John Constantine traveling back in time to warn everyone of an impending disaster. As he explains to his younger self in a bar, the world will eventually become a dystopia ruled by a number of superhero dynasties, such as the House of Justice and the House of Titans. Superman and Captain Marvel — rulers of the most powerful dynasties, the House of Steel and the House of Thunder — arrange a political wedding between their children to combine their power. Since the union threatens to destroy the status quo, the other houses begin planning to crash the wedding and seize power for themselves. But little does anyone realize that the future Constantine has his own plans for the wedding, and they're all playing right into his hands...
It's worth noting that a number of the concepts used in the proposal, such as the restoration of the DC Multiverse and DC characters living in a dystopian future, would go on to be used in other DC stories.
The proposal can be read online.
- After the End: According to Moore's proposal, the superheroes didn't intentionally take over the world—they were just the only source of law and order left after most of American society collapsed in on itself from within. By the time the story takes place, there are apparently few functioning governments left in the world, if any.
- Alternate Universe: The proposal makes it very clear that this future is a "What If" as opposed to a surefire Grand Finale of the DC Universe. Makes sense considering this story was directly inspired by the similarly Elseworldy The Dark Knight Returns, which (in Moore's eyes) served as a potential finale for the Batman mythos.
- Alien Invasion: An alliance between the Green Lanterns, Rannians, Thanagarians and Martians is one of the factions vying for control of Earth. They end up being the biggest threat out of all of them.
- Author Appeal: Sex? In an Alan Moore story? Who would've thunk.
- Back-to-Back Badasses: Subverted. Superman and Captain Marvel face off against the Alien Invasion this way, only for Captain Marvel to reveal himself as Martian Manhunter in disguise.
- Bittersweet Ending: Constantine was able to prevent the dark future from happening, at the cost of his own chance for true love.
- BrotherSister Incest: Double-subverted. Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel are married, but it's for political and power purposes so they can oppose/marry into the House of Steel. Then they have a daughter.
- The Chessmaster: John Constantine basically runs the entire conflict from behind the scenes.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Constantine ends up manipulating and betraying almost everyone. Including his past self.
- Dead to Begin With: Captain Marvel.
- Dead Person Impersonation: Captain Marvel has actually been dead since before the story started. Martian Manhunter has been impersonating him.
- Deconstruction Crossover: Of the DC Universe.
- Future Me Scares Me: John Constantine takes this to some pretty extreme levels. Upon learning that he was manipulated into helping create a dystopian future, he's so angry at his future self that he deliberately sabotages a chance at true love just to get back at himself.
- Gambit Pileup: First you've got the Houses of Steel and Thunder, who are trying to combine their powers via a political marriage. Then you've got the Houses of Justice, Titans and Secrets, who have all teamed up to wipe out the Houses of Steel and Thunder and take control for themselves. Then there's the House of Lanterns and their various alien allies, who want to take over Earth to prevent a potential intergalactic empire. Then there's an underground cabal run by Batman and various other pulp heroes, who want to take down the houses and put humanity back in control of Earth. And finally there's John Constantine, who's manipulating everyone else and trying to prevent this dark future from ever happening. Except he's actually loyal to Batman's crew.
- Götterdämmerung: Explicitly intended to be this, but replacing the gods with superheroes.
- Grey-and-Grey Morality: None of the warring factions are really that much great, and even the worst of them has a Token Good Teammate.
- How We Got Here: Part of the Framing Device.
- Humans Are Warriors: This is the main reason the aliens want control of Earth. They're afraid that if the various houses stop fighting each other, then humanity could spread out into space and threaten their power.
- I Have Many Names: One plot point was apparently going to involve Changeling (formerly "Beast Boy") of the House of Titans (formerly the Teen Titans) taking the name "Chimera" after losing control of his shapeshifting powers.
- Kill and Replace: Martian Manhunter poses as a call girl to lure Billy Batson into an S&M session, and then kills the boy and steals his identity.
- Kill 'Em All: Most of the cast ends up dead by the end of the climactic brawl.
- Last Stand: Superman dies this way, fighting against a massive Alien Invasion singlehandedly before finally dying at the hands of Sodam Yat.
- Legion of Doom: The House of Secrets is made up of the world's remaining supervillains. Despite this, they're not any better or worse than the hero-run houses.
- Locked Room Mystery: One of these serves as as subplot. The victim and murderer are Captain Marvel and Martian Manhunter, respectively.
- Love at First Sight: John Constantine meets a girl in a bar, asking him for a light. He takes one look at her and sees she's the kind of girl he could fall in love with and would want to spend the rest of his life with her. Then it dawned on him, he would do anything for her.
- Love Makes You Crazy: To the point of causing the dark future to happen, just for the one special girl.
- The One That Got Away: The girl John Constantine meets at a bar.
- Meaningful Rename: Wonder Woman changed her name to Superwoman due to her marriage to Superman.
- Mythology Gag: Among the eight superhero dynasties, there's a dynasty founded by the world's magical heroes called "The House of Mysteries", and another formed by the remnants of the Legion of Doom called "The House of Secrets". House of Mystery and House of Secrets were the titles of two classic DC horror anthologies from the Silver Age.
- Never Grew Up: Though he is an adult in his Captain Marvel form, Billy Batson is still a young boy whenever he transforms back into a human. This causes him serious emotional problems, as he still has the mind and sex drive of an adult even when a child. This proves to be his undoing, as he ends up being killed while trying to engage in bondage sex with a hooker that turns out to be Martian Manhunter in disguise. Because of his size, the people who find his body just assume that he was a dwarf, allowing J'onn's deception to go undiscovered.
- The Purge: Twice in the backstory.
- Most of the supervillains were exterminated by the superheroes. The only survivors either reformed or joined the House of Secrets.
- Most aliens living on Earth were purged, leading to the death of Starfire and the House of Lanterns being forced off-world.
- Rule of Seven: At the time of the story, there are seven active superhero dynasties on Earth (excluding the House of Lanterns, which was exiled into space). The House of Steel, the House of Thunder, the House of Justice, the House of Titans, the House of Mysteries, the House of Secrets, and the House of Tomorrow. Seven has historically been a recurring number in the DC Universe.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: John Constantine travels back to the present DC Universe to prevent this future from ever happening. Except not really. He's actually trying to guarantee it comes to pass.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: During the final showdown, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel and Supergirl decide to leave Earth and find new home elsewhere.
- Sidekick Graduations Stick: Wonder Girl has become the new Wonder Woman, Kid Flash has become the new Flash, and Aqualad has become the new Aquaman.
- Stuffed in the Fridge: Nightwing has become a grimmer and deadlier version of Batman, due to the death of his love interest Starfire in the backstory.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Everybody. Some because of the power they obtained, others because they're doing what needs to be done.
- Wedding Smashers: The wedding between Superboy and Mary Marvel, Jr. gets interrupted by a climactic showdown between the other factions.
- Whole Episode Flashback: The Framing Device begins with John Constantine in a bar when a girl asks him for a light, we then flashback to the main story. It turns out Constantine's future self tricked him, and realize the girl is the catalyst of it. We return to the present, and Constantine said he doesn't. Then she left the bar, leaving Constantine alone and heartbroken.