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Elseworlds is the publication imprint for a group of comic books produced by DC Comics that take place outside the company's canon. According to its tagline: "In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places - some that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow." Unlike its Marvel Comics counterpart What If...?, which bases its stories on a single point of divergence from the regular continuity, most Elseworlds stories instead take place in entirely self-contained continuities whose only connection to the canon DC continuity are the presence of familiar DC characters.
For several years from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, particularly during the 1960s Silver Age of Comic Books era, DC Comics published various stories about their title characters which did not take place in their regular continuity. Most of these stories were labeled "Imaginary Stories" and featured alternate histories of characters, such as "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman Blue!". Although the majority of Imaginary Stories were published in various Superman comics, a few Imaginary Stories appeared in Batman comics and other DC publications. Wonder Woman had her own series of stories called "Impossible Tales" which featured the same principle.
The last official "Imaginary Story" ever published—"Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"—was written by Alan Moore and appeared in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 (both September 1986). The Elseworlds series of self-contained stories are essentially Imaginary Stories under a newer label and a wider scope of possibilities.
The first Elseworlds title was Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (1989), by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola and edited by Mark Waid, which featured a Victorian Age version of the superhero Batman hunting Jack the Ripper, who has come to Gotham City. This title was not originally published as an Elseworlds comic, but its success led to the Elseworlds concept and this title was retroactively declared the first Elseworlds.
The first book to feature the Elseworlds logo was Batman: Holy Terror.
DC sporadically published various Elseworlds titles up to 2005. Around the time of the release of Batman Detective No. 27, editor Mike Carlin noted that DC had scaled back the production of Elseworlds books in order to "put the luster back on them." Several titles that were announced as Elseworlds books prior to this have yet to see publication, such as Generations 4 (announced by John Byrne, but possibly back-burnered due to lack of good press for & low fan response to Generations 3), Superboy's Legion 2 (rumored sequel by Alan Davis; presumably planned after he finished JLA: Another Nail) and The Teen Titans Swingin' Elseworlds Special (cancelled, possibly due to controversial material concerning John F. Kennedy).
It is important to note that, even though they do not take place within continuity, the majority of intercompany crossovers are not considered Elseworlds, but take place in their own, for the most part self-contained continuity.
Other Elseworlds titles include:
- JLA: The Nail, which theorizes a world without Superman, in which the Justice League of America has still been formed, but chaos reigns without a proper champion of the world's ideals;
- Superman's Metropolis, a trilogy, based on German Expressionism cinema, written by Jean-Marc Lofficier, Randy Lofficier and illustrated by Ted McKeever;
- Batman: I, Joker, where a futuristic Gotham City is led by a cult that follows Batman's descendant, a self-proclaimed god known only as "The Bruce";
- Flashpoint, where Barry (The Flash) Allen takes a bullet meant for John F Kennedy, paralyzing him from the neck down.
- In Thrillkiller, Batgirl and Robin fight a female Joker in the 1960's, while detective Bruce Wayne becomes the Batman after Robin's death.
- Superman: Speeding Bullets reimagines the story of Kal-El as his ship crashes at Wayne Manor in Gotham City instead of Smallville, thus making him Batman instead of Superman.
- Batman: In Darkest Knight reimagines the story of Bruce Wayne as the power ring of Abin Sur selects him to be the next Green Lantern of Sector 2814 instead of Hal Jordan, thus making him Green Lantern instead of Batman.
- Superman: Red Son ponders Superman growing up in the Soviet Union and later succeeding Joseph Stalin as Soviet Premier.
- The Batman and Dracula trilogy, written by Doug Moench with Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, in which the infamous vampire lord comes to Gotham City and is confronted by Batman, who subsequently becomes a vampire himself.
- One of the most famous Elseworlds titles is Kingdom Come, a miniseries in which a new, violent generation of superheroes replaces the aging idealism of DC's classic heroes, and the conflict between the two groups ignites an apocalyptic battle. The Kingdom is the sequel to Kingdom Come.
Titles like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (1986), The Batman Chronicles #21 (May 2000, solicited as Elseworlds, but has no logo), Bizarro Comics (June 2001, which featured the story "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter" from the cancelled Elseworlds 80-Page Giant), Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001), Batman: Digital Justice (1990), and Superman: Secret Identity (2004) were referred to as Elseworlds in the DC Universe without the name brand logo.
Except when otherwise noted, most of the stories in the monthly series Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight are considered canon, even though some have tales of Batman in the future, which are deemed non-canonical. In 1994, DC Comics Elseworlds collaborated with the DC yearly summer Annual edition comic books. The last Elseworlds series published was Batman: Year 100 in 2006, which did not have the Elseworlds logo printed on it.