No one does alternate realities quite like DC. Their DC Comics Elseworlds stories are some of the most interesting, mind-bending tales in comic book history, and there's something worthwhile about each title. However, we know that you have a lot of comics to get through each week, so we figured we might help you out if you're interested in Elseworlds. Below we've listed our absolute favorite Elseworlds title, which could be a great roadmap for anyone interested in the storylines. Check out the list we call Brave New Worlds: DC Comics Elseworlds Stories Ranked for more info!
10 Superman: Speeding Bullet
Superman and Batman show up a lot on this list. But in the very first entry, they actually appear as one character. In Speeding Bullet, the rocket ship that brought Kal-El to Earth was found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, not John and Martha Kent. (Yeah, they have the same name, get over it.) However, the change in origin doesn’t save the Waynes from that tragic night in Crime Alley. It’s there that this universe’s Bruce Wayne discovers his Kryptonian powers, which he vows to use to fight crime. From then on, he’s the superpowered entity known as the Batman, taking on Gotham’s criminals with his inhuman powers and menacing image. If you’ve ever wondered what Batman would be like with superpowers, this is a must-read.
9 Red Rain
Both Marvel and DC Comics have used Dracula in the past, but never in a creepier way than Red Rain. In this story, Batman’s only option to defend Gotham from the menace of the Lord of Vampires is to become a vampire himself. What follows is a warped, tragic story of Gotham’s heroes and villains. Not to mention some of the eeriest Batman art to date. If you’re a fan of Batman’s darker stories, or even just horror in general, this is something you should check out.
8 The Dark Knight Returns
For many DC Comics fans, the Bruce Wayne that Frank Miller wrote in The Dark Knight Returns is the Batman. And we can understand why. TDKR is one of the most important Batman stories ever. It established the grim and gritty tone that stories from Tim Burton’s Batman to The Dark Knight would take. And not only is it extremely important to Batman, but to Elseworlds stories as well. TDKR was one of the first, most popular examples of a DC character being removed from their canon storyline.
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Though it’s not as drastic a departure as other entries on this list, TDKR stands out as one of the most influential. For so many aspects of Batman and of DC Comics as we know them today, The Dark Knight Returns was where it all began.
Thrillkiller twists Gotham City lore in two exciting, interesting ways. First, it reduces the flashy superheroics of that town into a smaller, tender noir story. And second, it actually doesn’t include Batman. At least, not at first. Thrillkiller follows Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, masked vigilantes who fight evil in a drug-fueled, crime-ridden Gotham City in the 1970s. Batman eventually enters the story, but not in a way you’d expect. Just like Red Rain, you should read this book not only for its dark and violent storyline, but for some of the best art DC’s ever produced. But I mean, if a grown-up Robin with a goatee hasn’t already sold you, then I don’t know what to tell you.
6 Justice Riders
You can probably gather the premise of Justice Riders just from the title. But there’s still a lot of surprises waiting in this book. Justice Riders follows Wild West versions of some of your favorite Justice Leaguers. Characters such as Wonder Woman, Flash, and Martian Manhunter. This story is great not just for the cowboy reimaginings if its characters, but because it doesn’t lean on Batman or Superman. If there’s one thing that Elseworlds stories do lean on a little too much, it’s the two of those characters. Justice Riders is a refreshing break, leaving Bats and Supes aside for a moment to focus on some other cool characters. If only the DCEU could have thought of that sooner.
5 The Doom That Came To Gotham
Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, wrote this incredible alternate take on the Batman mythos. And if you haven’t read it already, you are seriously missing out. This tale not only reimagines Batman as a pulpy, 1930s vigilante, it also sets the World’s Greatest Detective against some of fiction's worst villains. As you might have guessed from the title, those villains are the monsters of H.P. Lovecraft, Great Old Ones such as Cthulhu and Dagon.
If you’re a fan of Hellboy or any fiction with Lovecraftian influence, this is a book you shouldn’t miss. Heck, you should buy this book for the covers alone, but if you’re familiar with Mignola’s work, you probably already know that.
4 The Nail
What’s DC like without Superman? That question might have been addressed most in the canon DC storyline The Death and Return of Superman. However, the Justice League Elseworlds story The Nail asks a bit of a different question. What would DC look like if Superman had never existed at all? In The Nail, The Kents experience a flat tire on the fateful day of Superman’s arrival on earth. They never meet Kal-El or raise Clark Kent. The dynamic of the JLA is a very different thing in this storyline, with Green Lantern kind of picking up as its most powerful hero. If team dynamics are what you like about comics and you want to see changes to a very familiar one, check out this book.
3 Gotham By Gaslight
We do love Mike Mignola here at CBR, which is one of the reasons we’ve included this second Elseworld tale of his on the list. But even if we didn’t like him so much, this story would still have to be in the top three. Gotham by Gaslight turns the clocks back to 1899, when the infamous killer Jack the Ripper makes his way to Gotham City. Luckily for its citizens, Bruce Wayne is also a part of this world, along with his Victorianized alter-ego. Gotham by Gaslight is a must-read for fans of Batman, especially if you’re drawn to the detective aspect of his personality. Plus, Warner Brothers just recently produced a Gotham by Gaslight animated feature, which you can find on DVD now. Just make sure you read the book first.
2 Kingdom Come
The Dark Knight Returns might have started the “old superhero” trope in comics, but Kingdom Come perfected it. Kingdom Come stands out as one of the most beautiful, emotionally resonant stories in not just DC history, but in comic book history in general. It features a Superman who has gotten tired of saving the planet, a Batman who was crippled and beaten by his worst enemies, and a world on the brink of a super-human disaster.
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This book isn’t just important as an Elseworlds tale, it is a necessary story to read for anyone who really loves the world of DC Comics. Indeed, this is a must-read for anyone who likes superheroes at all.
1 Red Son
If we could only save one Elseworlds title from ceasing to exist, it would be Red Son. It’s the perfect example of what an author can do with an Elseworlds story, reworking familiar characters into an unfamiliar world to draw out truths about both. It’s the story of a Superman that landed not in small-town America, but in Soviet Russia just after World War II. It's a masterful reimagining of DC Comics. It uses real history to bring out deep truths about America, global power, and Superman himself. In all seriousness, this book is a masterpiece. Just ask Warner Bros, who are rumored to release an animated version of the story. Read it now if you haven’t already.
What’s your favorite DC Comics Elseworlds story? Did we leave any really good ones off the list? Let us know in the comments section below!