“In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist.” This was how DC chose to brand those strange new worlds fans hungered for. Originally dubbed “Imaginary Stories,” these stories were flights of fancy, unbound by the continuity of the mainstream universe.
At least, that’s how it was until 2005, when a supplemental book in the Absolute Edition of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” decided to catalogue and canonize many of these Elseworlds tales. With Earths ranging from 1 to 3839 catalogued, these “what if” stories were suddenly canonical chronicles of alternate worlds. Here, we look at 15 DC Earths you might have forgotten, limiting ourselves to universes catalogued in the Crisis Compendium, and excluding those still prominent in the collective consciousness (“Kingdom Come”, “Red Son”, etc.).
15. EARTH-C: THE ZOO CREW
Once a staple of the comic book medium, the “funny animals” genre of anthropomorphic critters was already on its last legs when “Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew” premiered in the pages of “The New Teen Titans” #16. Their solo series lasted less than 30 issues, but anyone whose childhood comic store had a bargain bin remembers taking a trip to Follywood, Califurnia. If that garnered a groan, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.
The adventures of Rubberduck, Yankee Poodle, Little Cheese and the titular Captain Carrot involved tussling with a shadowy organization that goes by the acrostic A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C, a spoof of the DC android Amazo known as, what else, Amazoo. They once even took on the actual Gorilla Grodd alongside Beast Boy. Though the anthropomorphic animal schtick may have seemed like a relic in the ’80s, in the wake of films like “Zootopia” and “Sing,” maybe it’s time to revisit the adventures of the “amazing” Zoo Crew.
14. EARTH 162: THE SPLIT SUPERMEN
We all remember where we were when DC Comics dropped the Sword of Damocles we never knew was dangling over the Man of Steel’s head. Most of us, try as we might, still remember those odd directions the newly resurrected Superman took thereafter, including the “Electric Blue” era of the late ’90s. During that time, Superman adopted energy-based powers, and eventually split into both a red and blue version of himself. But what you might not know is that this is not the first time the Man of Steel became more than one.
On Earth- 162 (as depicted in “Superman” #162), in order to rebuild Krypton and eradicate all evil within six months, Superman uses a machine to split himself into two; one red, the other blue. The machine increases both Supermen’s intelligence tenfold, allowing them to build a new home for the Kandorians, as well as concoct an “anti-evil” ray to use not only on Lex Luthor, but also Kruschev and Castro. After eradicating evil, the two Supermen decide to retire and settle down, with one of them marrying Lois and the other Lana Lang! Geez, Archie Andrews may wanna look into Earth-162.
13. EARTH 494: LEATHERWING
Those who read CBR’s countdown of the 15 Best Pirates in Comics will recall this Blackbeard-esque Batman, but for others, this Gotham on the high seas is likely lost in the annals of DC Annuals past. That’s a shame, because such swashbuckling superheroism as displayed in “Detective Comics Annual” #7 is so riveting, it not only should be remembered, it should be remade on the big screen Hey, if we got a Lego Batman movie, we can dream, right?
Drawing as much from the classics of Eroll Flynn as traditional pirate lore, Earth 494 thrives its reinventions: the Joker is a rival pirate known as The Laughing Man, Leatherwing’s loyal man-servant is an Italian named Alfredo, and the femme fatale, Captain Felina, bears more than a striking resemblance to a certain cat-eared criminal. However, the richness of Enrique Alcatena’s redesigns, including one of the most haunting Jokers in any of the 3000+ universes, is truly something special, in this or any other reality!
12. EARTH 3839: AMERICAN ICONS
Earth 3839, as primarily depicted in “Superman & Batman: Generations,” shows a world where the two titular heroes begin their crime-fighting careers in real time, siring heirs to their titles to carry on their work through the decades once they themselves have grown too old. And yet, the most interesting event in the history of Earth 3839 took place during the lifetime of the original Bruce Wayne, specifically during a John Byrne-penned crossover comic.
Set during World War II, the Joker teams up with a certain nefarious Nazi with a scarlet skull, leading Batman to join forces with an army officer by the name of Steve Rogers, who may perhaps don a costume of his own. Yes, thanks to Earth 3839, not only is Captain America technically part of both the DC and Marvel universes, but the Star Spangled Man teamed up with the Caped Crusader to stick it to the goose-stepping goons from Berlin.
11. EARTH TWENTY-SEVEN: THE MANY LIVES OF ANIMAL MAN
By this point, Grant Morrison’s done more for comic book characters interacting with our reality than anyone since the band A-ha. His work with “Animal Man” pushed the boundaries of what could be done with comics, becoming an exploration of the nature, not only of Buddy Baker’s animal powers, but of the medium of fiction itself. Morrison took Baker through a myriad of realities, from a would-be Wile E. Coyote as a Christ-like figure for his cartoon realm, through Comic Limbo, where forgotten characters wait to be resurrected. He even invited him to Morrison’s own doorstep, where the scribe devotes his entire final issue to musing about the nature of narrative to the very character whose narrative he controls.
Yet, the most mind bending world Buddy Baker ever tackled came immediately after that interaction, when new writer Peter Milligan had Animal Man awake from a shock-induced coma into a world identical to our own, but for slight differences. Those differences were both personal (his once-faithful wife is cheating on him) and historical (Hitler hanged at Nuremberg, Tom Eagleton becoming President), and in this world, he must team up with the Burroughs-bellowing Nowhere Man to protect the president from villains like the newspaper-skinned Front Page and the barely-extant Notional Man.
10. EARTH 1890: THE JUSTICE RIDERS
One of the rare Elseworld titles not to revolve around Batman or Superman, Chuck Dixon (who also wrote the world of Leatherwing) shows an earth stuck in the old West, where a corrupt Maxwell Lord destroys the town of Paradise, much to the outrage of the town’s sheriff, Diana Prince. She recruits a posse to her cause, including the Native American Katar Johnson (Hawkman), and the town bouncer Wallace West (Kid Flash), who is being pursued by bounty hunter Kid Baltimore (Guy Gardiner) for the death of Barry Allen.
While DC has never shied away from the Western genre in the past, with characters like Jonah Hex and Nighthawk in their Earth 1 stable, the world of Earth 1890 allows its author to examine the nature of storytelling and American myth-making. It not only cuts to the heart of its main character, Wonder Woman, but to the brave lawmen and evil criminals that rolled like tumbleweeds from the dimestore novels of yesteryear to the comic books we read today.
9. EARTH 395: THE ONCE AND FUTURE KRYPTONIAN
On Earth 395, the mythical kingdom of Camelot shares a map with Lexford, a kingdom ruled over by the ruthless Baron Luthor, and the mysterious Arkham Abbey. In this land, the valiant Bruce of Waynesmoor faces off against not only the immortal R’as Al Ghul, but also Morgana LaFey and her spawn Mordred of Arthurian legend. Meanwhile Kal, a blacksmith apprentice under his friend Jamie’s father Ol, tries to win the hand of Lady Loisse from the wicked Baron Luthor and his glowing rock from the heavens that causes Kal to fall ill.
Of the two works to visit this world, “Batman: Dark Knight of the Round Table” and “Superman: Kal,” it is the latter, written by “Watchmen” artist Dave Gibbons, that deals beautifully with various aspects of English folklore and provides a suitably supernatural origin for the legendary sword Excalibur. It did so well, in fact, and proved so memorable that Kal would later appear in the late ’90s Superboy series.
8. EARTH 61: BATGIRL & ROBIN
“We tend to define our lives by the decades,” posits the opening of Howard Chaykin and Dan Brereton’s “Batman: Thrillkillers.” Just like the 1961 Gotham the story is set in exhibits neither the hallmarks of the swinging ’60s nor the wholesome ’50s we tend to think exist as isolated islands of time, neither does it contain many of the notable traits we tend to associate with its famous inhabitants, be they good or evil.
Dick Grayson is still the Robin of the dynamic duo, but the leader of the team is Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl (as well as Grayson’s lover). Of course, she has eyes for her father’s friend, hardboiled GCPD detective Bruce Wayne. Instead of duking it out with bank robbers, the new dynamic duo sets out to stop corrupt GCPD officers from shaking down underground gay clubs. Instead of Two-Face and the Clown Prince of Crime, they face off against Detective Duell and the androgynous, green-haired, white-faced Bianca Steeplechase. The world of Earth 61 exists eternal on the precipice of a changing time, and rests precariously on the powder keg of “the new frontier.”
7. EARTH TWELVE: THE INFERIOR FIVE
Earth Twelve is primarily home to a super team known as The Inferior Five, a goofy group of poorly-powered heroes, some of whom… lets just say they haven’t aged terribly well (we’re looking at you, Dumb Bunny). These were the adventures of the cowardly marksman, White Feather; the bumbling Batman-lookalike, Awkwardman; the bulbous Blimp; the aforementioned object of oggling, Dumb Bunny; and most significantly of all, their leader, the Woody Allen-esque Merryman. They were fun spoofs on teams like the Fantastic Four and the JLA, a progenitor to works like “Freakazoid” and “The Tick,” and the characters remained favorites of future DC creators, with Merryman even appearing in Comic Limbo to guide Grant Morrison’s Animal Man to the author’s doorstep.
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about Earth Twelve, however, is that the “Crisis Compendium” lists that world as encompassing not only DC’s “Inferior Five” series, but also their “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Adventures of Bob Hope” and “Adventures of Jerry Lewis” series. That’s right, not only are Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis canonical characters in the DC multiverse, but those beloved comedy icons were likely obliterated by the Anti-Monitor.
6. EARTH 1938: THE MARTIAN INVASION
Decades before there was ever a Kal-El of Krypton, the most famous aliens to touch down on Earth appeared in the pages of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Five years after Superman first lifted that fateful car, those foul creatures of Wells’ seemed to come alive as Orson Welles gave his infamous radio broadcast. In one decade, fantasies of two very different figures falling from the skies captured the national imagination, but what if both of them really had landed on Earth?
Earth 1938 is one in which WWII never occurred once Hitler was killed by Martian invaders, where the Depression looms as ominously above the American people as that devious red planet Mars, and the last son of Krypton must beat back the alien threat using only the powers available to him in that era (no flight, just very high jumps, often accompanied by the phrase “Up, up and away!”).
5. EARTH 1191: BATMAN & DRACULA
Yes, Batman vs. Dracula, though not like the lost Andy Warhol film that bore the same title. On Earth 1191, vampires are real, the skies rain blood, and the legendary Dracula stealthily feeds on the wretched and ignored of Gotham’s alleyways, knowing the GCPD will simply cover it up. One thing the Prince of Darkness doesn’t count on, however, is Gotham’s Dark Knight.
The Bruce Wayne of “Batman & Dracula: Red Rain” (the beginning of a trilogy set on Earth 1191, later to be dubbed Earth-43 post-“Crisis”) is a skeptic, who looks only for the logical explanation for the killings in Gotham. Yet, in his sleep, he is plagued by the ghostly visage of a woman named Tanya, who imparts on Wayne a gift that will enable him to fight the infamous Dracula, a gift which sets him apart from any other depiction of the Dark Knight to date: a gift…of vampirism. Created by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones,”Red Rain,” as it is alternatively known, pitted a vampire Batman who sustained himself on synthetic blood against the king of the undead. It does everything it says on the tin… with aplomb!
4. EARTH 72: THE FIRST TEENAGE PRESIDENT
Earth 72 only featured just a single superhero; one who was more preoccupied with discussing constitutional amendments and acknowledging the reader than showing any action. Led by a protagonist who exuded unflinching, gleeful optimism about the power of youth in government (during a time when Watergate embroiled the Nixon predisency), the world of Earth 72 is one of the most fascinating curios DC Comics ever published. No wonder the book got cancelled after only 4 issues.
Crafted by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti as a response to the lowered voting age, “Prez” chronicles the adventures of Prez Rickard, a civic-minded teenaged boy who winds up being elected president, in a world that’s joyously optimistic (politically-speaking) without ever veering into overt stumping. Earth 72 also features one of the most outright terrifying and clever villains in DC history, the sinister embodiment of corruption, Boss Smiley. Both characters have transfixed DC creators and aficionados decades after the book’s abrupt cancellation, with one or both appearing in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” “Supergirl,” and most memorably in Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman.” Rickard has also returned as vice president to the new teen president in 2016’s reboot of the “Prez” title.
3. EARTH 1863: A NATION DIVIDED
Admittedly, sometimes it seems as though the entire DC multiverse is made up of “What if Kal-El landed here instead,” but in this particular climate, none of those worlds have quite the resonance of Earth 1863,In it, a young Atticus Kent joins up with a Union Battalion to fight in the Civil War, only to be quickly exposed as an indestructible force, quickly utilized by the Union in order to snuff out the southern uprising in less than two months. Yet, despite a different name and background, the heart of Atticus Kent is as true and humble as that of his Earth 1 counterpart.
In “Superman: A Nation Divided,” we get to see how Superman truly would have dealt with figures like Lincoln and Grant, not as humorous anachronisms, but through thoughtful introspection. He mourns for the tragic death of actor John Wilkes Booth, who falls on his blade after Kent thwarts his assassination attempt. He offers no easy solutions when Frederick Douglas wonders if the existence of such a “white superman” might hurt his cause of proving equality of the races. And when Atticus discovers from his Kryptonian capsule what his true purpose is on Earth, the result is a surprising, poignant and utterly rewarding final page.
2. EARTH 1927: EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS
Easily one of the most distinct and unique worlds in the DC universe, Earth 1927 is featured in a trilogy of graphic novels, each drawing inspiration from a classic German Expressionist film in both story and style. “Superman’s Metropolis”is based on the famous Fritz Lang film “Metropolis,” and has Clark Kent-son, child of a wealthy industrialist, fall in love with the leader of the worker’s resistance, Lois Lane. Meanwhile, the maniacal Lutor perfects a robot woman named Futura.
“Batman: Nosferatu,” drawing from both Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and Robert Weine’s “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari,” follows the fate of the city after Lutor’s fall, as the wealthy of Metropolis find themselves stalked by a creature of darkness; a night-walker from the Cabinet of Doctor Arkham with slender white limbs and a shock of green hair known as The Laughing Man. The final installment, “Wonder Woman: The Blue Amazon,” draws from “The Blue Angel” and the “Dr. Mabuse” films, depicting the seedy underworld of Metropolis and revealing the ultimate truths about this strange world through the eyes of an amnesiac Diana.
1. EARTH 1889: THE RIPPER
The original Elseworld story, “Gotham By Gaslight,” takes place on Earth 1889, more specifically in the year 1889, in the city of Gotham. The port of the city welcomes many new arrivals: Bruce Wayne, orphaned billionaire returned from abroad (having just met with Sigmond Freud), his old family friend Jacob Packer, and most consequently, the mysterious London slasher known as Jack the Ripper.
Inspector Gordon is furious that he can’t track down the killer, while his boss Commissioner Tolliver is convinced that the blame falls on this new vigilante, “The Bat-Man.” Naturally, when it comes time to suss out who committed the crimes, the billionaire playboy with no alibi for his frequent nighttime disappearances seems a suitable candidate. In just one short book, “Gotham By Gaslight” makes Earth 1889 feel as vivid as the worlds we’ve read for decades, in no small part due to the stellar artwork by a young Mike Mignola.
What are some of your favorite worlds in the DC multiverse? Let us know in the comments!