One of my great regrets with the reign of Dan DiDio at DC Comics (keep in mind, this is only ONE of my great regrets) is that he did away with the Elseworlds concept, ironically at the same time that he officially brought back the multiverse. One thing that I loved about the DC Comics of the 1990s and the early part of the 21st Century was the great Elseworlds stories they were putting out. I love the idea of taking established characters and putting them in new environments or just looking at them from different angles. While there were some Elseworlds stories that were just not very good at all, most of them were very good and some were just downright exceptional. These are the stories that I found to be the most exceptional.
I love superheroes. I love cowboys. I love Chuck Dixon! So what better than the Justice League reimagined as cowboys and written by Chuck Dixon? Not a whole lot. There was a time when it seemed as if Chuck Dixon was writing almost half of DC Comics entire stable of titles. That was a good time. It was in the middle of this time that we got Justice Riders, and Elseworlds tale that took many of the most popular Justice Leaguers and made them cowboys in a wonderful western tale, pitting them against an evil railroad baron named Maxwell Lord and an alcoholic sorcerer named Felix Faust. We have Diana Prince, Sheriff of Paradise City; Kid Flash, the fastest gun in the west; Hawkman, a Native American medicine man; Ted Kord, a steampunk inventor in the vein of Artemis Gordon from The Wild Wild West; and J'onn J'onzz as a mysterious stranger, which is something you always have to have in any good western. J.H. Williams III's art is lovely and fits in very well with the western atmosphere, but the real gem in this story is the writing Chuck Dixon loves westerns and it shows. I would love to see DC go back and revisit this world, which is designated as Earth-18 in the current DC Comics multiverse, but only if Dixon is writing. His gunfights were just amazing and I don't know if someone like Geoff Johns could do it justice.
Written and illustrated by John Byrne, Superman & Batman: Generations tells the story of Superman and Batman (obviously) as if they had both began their careers in the late 1930s (when the characters made their first appearances) and then aged in real time. You get to see Bruce Wayne grow old through the years and be replaced by Dick Grayson, and then by his own son (who isn't Damian Wayne). You get to see Superman cope with not aging while the entire world around him does, and you get to see Superman and Lois Lane's children. Each prestige format issue (4 in total) tells two stories, each taking place in the last year of a particular decade (1939/1949, 1959/1969, 1979/1989, 1999/2919 ). Byrne revisited this world in two sequels, Generations 2 and Generations 3, but neither of them had the supreme power of the original, probably because it was the first time we had been able to enjoy this version of these characters. The sequels are good, because this is an interesting universe, but they can't compare to the first story arc. An interesting side note, John Byrne's Batman/Captain America crossover takes place in this universe, and is not one of the 53 worlds in the current DC Multiverse.
Justice League: The Nail
Justice League: The Nail was inspired by a short proverbial poem, the author of which is unknown:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the knight was lost; for want of a knight the battle was lost; So it was a kingdom was lost – all for want of a nail.
The Nail tells the story of the DC Universe if there was no Superman, who is the figurative nail of this particular story. There is also a literal nail, one in the road that gives the Kents a flat tire and prevents them from being in the right place at the right time to find the baby Kal-El when he falls to Earth. The main characters aren't changed all that much, at least the way they were pre-Crisis, but it is a very interesting look at what a DCU without Superman could look like. Most notably, metahumans are seen as a threat to the populace and are the target of a xenophobic crusade led by Perry White, Metropolis Mayor Lex Luthor and Oliver Queen, who was once the superhero Green Arrow, but who has become a bitter old man after being crippled by Amazo. The original series was followed by a sequel, Another Nail, which tied up several loose ends from the original story and which saw Superman play a bigger role, as he was found in the first story to have been raised by a Kansas Amish couple and became Superman during the first story's climax.
Superman: Speeding Bullets
It's Superman! It's Batman! It's the story of Kal-El of Krypton having landing in a field outside of Gotham City instead of Smallville and he was found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, who were the parents of Bruce Wayne in the normal continuity. In fact, they named the baby that they found in the field Bruce. The Waynes never had a child of their own, which unfortunately was left unexplored. Other than the fact that he has all of Superman's abilities, his origin plays out pretty much the same as Batman's origin. His abilities developed the night of his parents' murder as he incinerates Joe Chill after watching the thug gun his parents down, and even gets shot himself but the bullets bounce off. Another thing they did interesting wasn't just that they made Superman and Batman the same character, but they intertwined the mythos completely. Lex Luthor becomes the Joker, for instance, and Lois Lane is Bruce's love interest in the piece. The art is fantastic, and Speeding Bullets is just all around a wonderful reading experience. My only complaint is that it was done as a prestige format one-shot. I would have much preferred this to have been a four issue miniseries, which would have roughly doubled the length.
This will probably go down in history as not just the greatest Elseworlds story, but one of the greatest DC Comics stories, and quite possibly one of the greatest stories ever written as a whole. Yes, it is a comic book. Yes, it's about superheroes, but deep down this story is legitimate literature. A lot of times, comic books get a bad rap as cheap entertainment, but the truth is that comic books are just like any other literary genre, it has good examples as well as bad examples. There are many comic book stories that are just as compelling as anything written by Tolstoy or Dickens or even Shakespeare and Kingdom Come is one of those. The story is of an alternate future where most of the classic DC Comics heroes have retired and left the public spotlight and been replaced by younger metahumans who don't necessarily have the same values system as the older guys did. Superman has gone back to Kansas and is living as a hermit and is compelled to return to civilization to help take control of the young heroes who aren't doing things the way Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman think is the proper way to be a superhero. In the end, Superman has an epic battle with Captain Marvel, which is one of the best superhero battles in comics and looks absolutely stunning painted by Alex Ross. The Kingdom Come world is currently designated as Earth-22 in the DC Comics multiverse.
These are my favorite Elseworlds stories, what are yours? Leave them in the comments.