SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman: The Red Death #1 by Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico, on sale now.
A decade or so after DC Comics reinstated the concept of its multiverse back into continuity, Dark Nights: Metal has expanded its scope even further than once imagined. The limitations of containing alternate possibilities within 52 realities has been instantly extended with the addition of the Dark Multiverse, potentially doubling, or more, the number of alternative dimensions ripe with storytelling possibilities.
In the 20+ years that the events of DC continuity took place within a single universe, though, the company had another solution for addressing variant scenarios or variations on its heroes, and one ironically without limitations. That solution was its line of "Elseworlds" comics, focusing on concepts that, according to the publishing line's credo, "can't, couldn't, or shouldn't exist," and over that time, freely explored a wide expanse of realities, unencumbered by any kind of continuity restrictions.
Some Stories Just Belong On The Dark Side
Demonstrating further irony, the realities of some of the those better-remembered stories, such as Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and Superman: Red Son, have been folded into the new multiverse, each given one of the available 52 worlds as their very own (Earth-19 and Earth-30 respectively, for those wondering). Other stories, though, have been forgotten, either by readers, by DC, or both, and remain as "imaginary" stories with no Earth in the multiverse to call home. These orphaned "Elseworlds" stories include Batman: Holy Terror, Superman: The Dark Side, and James Robinson and Paul Smith's classic The Golden Age featuring an alternate Justice Society.
Since the youngest of these stories is going on 20 years of age, and not all readers might immediately recollect some of these, a recap of each might be in order. Alan Brennert and Norm Breyfogle's Batman: Holy Terror was set in a world where America was run by a corrupt theocracy, and whose government conducted horrific experiments on incarnations of various DC heroes. Superman: The Dark Side, by John Francis Moore and Kieron Dwyer, explored the idea of a Superman raised by Darkseid, after baby Kal-El's rocket crashed on Apokolips instead of Earth. And The Golden Age featured the postwar saga of members from the Justice Society, many of whom faced tragic ends after being regarded as heroes during World War II.
There's No Reason An Imaginary Story Has To Be Happy
While the bulk of the stories featuring these heroes in the conventional DC Universe (that would be Earth-0) are largely ones of triumph over adversity replete with happy endings, such is often not the case in "what-if" or "imaginary" stories. With a wide-open yet finite canvas to work with, writers are free to kill, maim, and destroy their characters, with no repercussions on their mainstream counterparts. This leads to a disproportionate number of alternate-reality stories, "Elseworlds" included, that are decidedly dark and gloomy, full of despair, often taking place in a dystopic setting that sometimes itself doesn't survive beyond the scope of the story.
Among the unpleasant fates that befell some of the characters featured in the aforementioned examples, Superman is murdered as a child via a fatal dose of Kryptonite, Hawkman's wings are severed from his body, and Lex Luthor is forced to become a sex slave to Granny Goodness. These circumstances are hardly the stuff of bedtime stories – even supervillains don't deserve what happened to poor Lex. Apparently, darker stories like these haven't been deemed worthy of inclusion in the new DC Multiverse.
But maybe they'd be right at home in the Dark Multiverse.