Earlier this week, an image of the upcoming DC Comics Animated movie Batman and Harley Quinn showed that the next animated film was going to be Gotham By Gaslight.
Surprise, surprise. We’re getting ANOTHER Batman film. Of the 30 released or announced films since 2007, 22 of them have involved the Dark Knight Detective in one way or another. TWENTY TWO! Do you have any idea how many other DC Comics characters are being ignored so we can get more Batman? It’s just like with the video games – there’s way too much focus on Batman!
The next rumored movie is Gotham By Gaslight, apparently, which is considered to be the first real Elseworlds story, putting Bruce Wayne into the Victorian Age to hunt Jack the Ripper. Elseworlds were DC Comics’ answer to Marvel’s What If… series, putting familiar heroes in unfamiliar settings, running from 1989 until they were phased out the imprint around 2003.I would say that some of the best stories of the 1990s had the Elseworlds logo attached to it.
With Elseworlds stories published for close to 15 years, DC Comics has a lot of options if it wants to adapt something into an upcoming animated feature. Some of them may even include characters other than Batman!(Looking at the list of Elseworlds, though, geez, Batman is featured pretty prominently…) Let’s take a look at some of the options the company should consider as they move forward (the first two are pretty damn obvious):
Not only is this the greatest Elseworlds story ever written, but it also ranks as one of the best comic book stories of the 1990s. Written superbly by Mark Waid with amazing painted art by Alex Ross, the 4-issue miniseries from 1996 told a story of a future where Superman quit after Joker killed his friends at the Daily Planet. When a new hero kills the Joker and public opinion supports the act, Superman decides its time to leave. The world was not a better place for the lack of his influence. After years of “heroes” just fighting for the sake of it, what happens when Superman and his peers decide to come back into the public eye?
The scope of this story is immense, and would probably require a two-parter, like they did with Dark Knight Returns, in order to tell the tale in 75-minute increments.
Kingdom Come is one of those stories that is mentioned frequently when “dream animated projects” comes up as a topic, because it’s one of DC Comics’ most beloved stories. Even if the animation style is less realistic than Alex Ross’ paintings, I believe the story would hold up well for a new generation.
Superman: Red Son
Given all the talk about Russia in the world, I can’t tell if this is another no-brainer or if it’s a controversial pick. In terms of story and acclaim, it’s certainly a top-rated story and one of the most talked-about Superman tales of the 21st Century.
Originally published as a three-issue miniseries in 2003, Mark Millar’s story showed what happened when baby Kal-El’s rocket landed in a Communist collective in the USSR instead of the Kent farm in Kansas. Instead of standing up for Truth, Justice and the American Way, the Superman grew up to be Russia’s greatest hero, leading the USSR into a period of prosperity while the United States suffered. The story pits Russian leader Superman against American innovator Lex Luthor, as the US tries to counter what the USSR’s rise to prominence.
While this is called a Superman story, its scope includes alternate-Earth versions of most of the Justice League (yes, including Batman) as we learn the story of Kal-El’s rise to power as the leader of the Soviet Union. Red Son is a well-written What If, capitalizing on a well-established trope of changing one thing about a hero’s origin and seeing where it takes you. It didn’t even need the final reveal of where Kal-El’s ship came from (I won’t spoil it for anyone who isn’t aware), but it wouldn’t be a Mark Millar story without it, I guess.
Elseworld’s Finest: Supergirl and Batgirl
In a world without a Superman or a Batman, the planet’s greatest heroes are Kara Zor-El – Supergirl – and Barbara Gordon – Batgirl. Written by Barbara Kessel, with art by Matt Haley and Tom Simmons, this prestige series one-shot pit Supergirl and Batgirl at odds with each other, as Batgirl doesn’t trust metahumans and won’t allow them in Gotham City. But when the Joker kidnaps Justice Society benefactor Lex Luthor, the pair must work together to save the day.
Published in September 1998, this has always been one of my favorite Elseworlds one shots, even if it falls into the trope of explicitly pointing out some of the things that could have been. My favorite part is Bruce Wayne, taking over the role of Alfred for Batgirl. Fleshing out some of the backstory discussed in the book – baby Kal-El’s death, Joe Chill murdering the Gordons, the creation of the Justice Society – would make for a fun 70-plus minute story.
JSA: The Liberty File / The Unholy Three
Even the stories about the Golden Age group of heroes end up prominently featuring Batman! I can’t win.
Written by Dan Jolley and Tony Harris, with art by Harris and Ray Snyder, these stories take the reader back to World War II for a good old fashined spy yarn. The first story, The Liberty File, was published in 1999/2000 and featured The Bat, The Clock (Hourman Rex Ryler) and The Owl (Doctor Mid-Nite) trying to thwart a German superweapon before the Nazis use it to win the war.
The second story, The Unholy Three, published in 2003, moves into the post-War era, and begins to introduce more of the heroes of the world, including The Flash and Green Lantern (these would be Jay Garrick and Alan Scott – this is the JSA, after all!). This time around, the heroes are battling the KGB and a psychopathic Superman, who is certainly not the Last Son of Krypton that we’ve been used to.
Tony Harris’ art is a thing of beauty and should be replicated every chance we get, and I can only imagine how great these stories – either in one set or another two-parter – would look if the animation department managed to copy Harris’ style.
In 1994, DC Comics decided to promote the Elseworlds concept by using all of their annuals that year to tell stories set in different continuities. The company published 23 annuals that year, with a mixed bag of stories throughout the line (as is usually the case with these themed annuals). Some of my favorites that would be great to see turned into short animated stories for an anthology movie:
The Super Seven Part I and II (Adventures of Superman Annual 6 and Superboy Annual 1) – The only two-parter of the bunch is a story about seven superheroes trying to fight back against an alien invasion that long ago conquered the planet.
The Man From LEGION 007 (LEGION Annual 5) – Lobo as James Bond? Sold.
A Fistful of Bastiches (Lobo Annual 2) – Lobo in assorted Western stories. The title alone is a win for me.
The Barry Allen Story (Flash Annual 7) – A crippled Wally West tries to convince a film studio to produce the story of Barry Allen.
Citizen Wayne (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual 4) – A take on Citizen Kane with our favorite billionaire playboy.
What are your favorite Elseworlds stories? Let us know!