Jul 3, 2019
3 awesome DC Elseworlds stories that need to be movies
So I’ve talked before about DC screwing around with their classic characters by throwing them into new settings that range from “plausible” to “this writer is clearly having a nervous breakdown, please get them help.” One of the best sandboxes for DC writers to play in while re-imagining their biggest icons was the Elseworlds imprint, which tended to be rather hit-and-miss with their alternative universe stories. Sometimes you got Gotham By Gaslight; other times you got Whom Gods Destroy.
However, DC occasionally managed to prove that not all creative thinking had been stifled in their desperate shuffle to cram out a dozen comic books a week. Here, I’ll be looking at three Elseworlds stories that deserve better than languishing in obscurity in some forgotten comic shop that used to be a burnt-out Sizzler.
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1. Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham
Gotham City is basically already the kind of setting H.P. Lovecraft would write about, not to mention that the name of Arkham Asylum is lifted directly from his stories about Arkham, the only city in horror fiction even shittier than Gotham. Really, the only thing that’s missing from making Batman comics purely Lovecraftian is an intense fear of fish and interracial marriage, and the mind-crushing horror of the cosmos bearing down on our miserable little planet.
So in 2000, DC hired Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, to just skip to the point and Cthulhu the hell out of Batman.
Set in the 1920s, The Doom that Came to Gotham is stuffed to the gills (hah!) with Lovecraft references, though they cut out most of the shameless eugenics fantasies. While the basics are still there, Bruce Wayne is orphaned as a child, swears vengeance, he is the night, you know the drill, and pretty much everything else is eldritch horrors. Just out of the gate, we get a massive nod to The Mountains of Madness as Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, is the leader of a disastrous expedition to the Antarctic who goes insane after discovering a frozen abomination in the ice, and decides to just live naked among the mutant penguins from now on.
Another member of the expedition becomes the local version of Mr. Freeze because his body has just plain given up on functioning properly, and he requires constant freezing temperatures so he wont rot into a pile of McNuggets sludge (in a nod to the short story “Cool Air”).
This pretty much sets the tone for the whole story, as familiar characters are twisted into macabre, terrifying Lovecraftian mirrors of themselves. The main villain, aside from the cosmic monstrosity he’s screwing around with like an idiot, is Ra’s al Ghul, reimagined as an immortal cult leader. Okay, so it’s not exactly a hard reboot of the guy, but in this version, the cult isn’t just about worshiping himself. Al Ghul’s biggest desire is to summon the Lurker on the Threshold into normal reality, a plan that dates back millennia, and is mixed up in the history of both Gotham and the Wayne family. Assisting him is, unsurprisingly, his daughter Talia, and somewhat more surprising, Killer Croc, in this version a European sorcerer turned hideous mutant. So a lot like the regular Croc, sans the dialogue that sounds like he’s chewing on a rope toy.
The changes to the heroes are slightly less drastic, though they’re all still pretty screwed up in the classic Lovecraftian mold. While Batman is mostly unchanged, that can’t be said for Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, who’s been turned into a delusional crusader who thinks he’s destined to defeat the evil that lurks within Gotham (hint: he’s not). Though thankfully, getting killed like a useless idiot does free up a vital weapon for Batman to use. Somehow, it’s not surprising that the most helpful thing Green Arrow does in a Lovecraft-esque story is die horribly.
The story does end on a bit more of a positive note than your average Lovecraft story, despite the double-digit death count, when the main villains are conclusively defeated, even if the only characters left standing by the end are Batman and Tim Drake. If it was actually written by Lovecraft, everyone would either die, or go insane because they found out their family wasn’t 100% white. It’s a great story both for Lovecraft fans, and for people who just enjoy seeing disturbing horror versions of iconic superheroes.
2. Superman & Batman: Generations
A recurring problem for superhero fans is that no matter how much time passes, Superman, Batman, and everyone else will always have been around for about 5-10 years or so in-universe, even if they started their careers punching Nazis. No one ever retires for long, and unless they die, you can forget about replacements. This means rewriting more and more of the past to maintain the termite-ridden Jenga tower that is this continuity. Or you can do what Generations did, and just give us a world where time isn’t restarted every other month to sell more variant covers.
Our story begins at the 1939 World’s Fair in Metropolis, where rumors of a mad scientist’s plot has drawn the attention of two newly debuted vigilantes, Batman and Superman. This is the start of a saga spanning a millennium, and includes almost every major DC superhero who’s ever been published. It begins with the birth of what would one day become the DC Universe, and builds from there, with Superman and Batman marrying, having kids, grandkids, and a frankly Kafka-esque amount of tragedy. See, the series also doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of, say, a lifelong blood feud between arch-enemies. The endless battles with the Joker and Lex Luthor end up being extremely costly, with Superman eventually losing both his wife and his kids. On a side note, Lex Luthor in this version is not the real Luthor, but is in reality the Ultra-Humanite, the very first Superman villain, having taken over the original Luthor’s body after the World’s Fair fight in 1939 ruined his body and left Luthor brain-dead, which is an interesting reference to the Golden Age comics.
Despite the series’ high body count, it also put focus on new generations of heroes taking over as the older ones retired (instead of just taking over until the next reboot). In this version, since Batman and Superman were founding members of the Justice Society in the ’40s, the Justice League is instead formed by the various kids and successors of the original Society, such as Bruce Wayne Jr. (the son of Batman and his original love interest, Julie Madison) as Robin II, and Kara, the daughter of Superman and Lois Lane, and Wonder Girl, the daughter of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor.
The villains don’t get as much focus, with the obvious exception of Luthor/Humanite, but what we do see is a hell of a twist. The Joker finally succeeds in killing Batman in 1969 (though unbeknownst to him, it’s actually Dick Grayson at this point) by posing as his own son Joker Jr., but is cheated out of his victory when Bruce Wayne Jr. switches costumes with the body, and claims Joker only managed to kill Robin, which is like an Xbox achievement in DC comics. The Joker eventually dies of old age, with Batman III basically telling him to go fuck himself on his deathbed.
The first series concluded in the year 2919, in a distant galaxy where Superman and a now nearly immortal Batman reunite after several centuries, and was followed by Generations II, which gives more detail to the other heroes like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, and Generations III, which revolves around a complex time travel story involving Darkseid trying to conquer the universe. So if Generations got made into a movie, that’s already two sequels right there, though the latter might be tough to greenlight thanks to basically being a Terminator fanfic.
3. The Golden Age
Everyone knows about the superheroes that went on to become modern day legends, but only the most hardcore fan will remember that back in the ’40s, there were more superheroes around than just Superman and Batman. Sure, we have the original Green Lantern and the Flash as well, but when people talk about the Flash, they generally don’t mean the guy running around with a soup bowl on his head.
In 1993, DC published an Elseworlds miniseries set in the 1950s during the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. And if you think Joseph McCarthy was a jerk to actors and writers in the real world, you can probably guess he wasn’t thrilled about super-powered people in tights, either. The series features many long-forgotten superheroes from the Golden Age and explores their lives in the post-war United States (spoiler: it wasnt great). Tex Thompson AKA the Americommando returned from war as a hero and used his fame to launch a political career, while the original Manhunter also returned but is suffering from mysterious memory loss. Captain Triumph is trying to put his superhero life behind him but is constantly harassed by the ghost of his brother, and Starman suffered a nervous breakdown when he realized his scientific work was used in the creation of the atomic bomb. Also experiencing rough times is Daniel Dunbar, AKA Dynaman.
As it turns out, people freaking out about imaginary communists is the least of America’s problems, once Manhunter has his lost memories restored, and it’s revealed that Tex Thompson never returned from Europe. His body was stolen by the Ultra-Humanite, who had been working for the Nazis as one of their scientists. Whats worse, he didn’t return from Europe alone. At the end of the war, Tex brought Adolf Hitler’s brain with him, which he proceeds to put into the body of Dynaman. So basically, the U.S. ends up with two super-powered Nazis in high ranking positions in the government. And you thought the election process in real life was broken.
Despite the heroes rallying to stop Dynaman in Washington, Hitler having traded up to a super-powered body presents a bit of an issue, and the situation isn’t helped by the fact that another Golden Age hero, the original Robotman, has also joined forces with Hitler and the Humanite. Not because they switched his brain with anyone; he just sort of lost interest in being a hero. Not really the most riveting super-villain origin, but there you go.
The heroes barely manage to squeak out a victory, though you have to wonder why characters like Red Bee or Sportsmaster even bothered to show up for the fight, unless they were hoping Dynaman would get sore knuckles while punching them into corned beef. The climax also features the debut of the first Silver Age superhero: Captain Comet, one of the few costumed crime-fighters who debuted during the years when everyone thought superheroes turned kids into motorcycle-riding hooligans for some reason.