Following 1986’s Crisis On Infinite Earths, DC decided to do offshoots of imaginary, ‘what if’ stories known as ‘Elseworlds’ tales. These stories would often be darker in tone, more bizarre in their imagination, and would give the reader an alternative take on their favourite characters. Superman is no stranger to the Elseworlds treatment, with some of his alternative stories proving both head-scratching and entertaining, often at the same time. Here are five of the most noteworthy Elseworld Superman adventures…
This story by Dave Gibbons and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez finds the now famous Earth landing of Kal-El taking place in medieval England. Known simply as Kal, this version of the character becomes a blacksmith by trade, hiding his abilities on the advice of his father. Ever the romantic, Kal ends up entering a tournament to impress the apple of his eye, Lady Loisse. The only problem is that pesky Baron Luthor holds Lady Loisse captive. What’s holding Kal from destroying Luthor? Why, that would be the glowing green gem that Luthor holds in his necklace. This story also features Luthor discovering Kal’s spaceship, making him forge a suit of armour and a sword from the wreckage. Events finally lead to a bloody, deadly climax in this alternative telling of the Superman myth.
Superman: Red Son
From comics favourite Mark Millar comes this alternative story where our hero actually lands in the Soviet Union rather than Kansas. Set in the shadow of the Cold War, Superman is raised as a Soviet hero, guided by Stalin, and complete with hammer and sickle replacing the famous S on his chest. To quote the source, in Red Son the character is seen “... as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and international expansion of the Warsaw pact.” As a result of Superman’s new upbringing, the Cold War arms race becomes less of a nuclear battle, and more of a superhuman fight. Along the way, the story features Bizarro, S.T.A.R. Labs’ Lex Luthor, the CIA’s Jim Olsen, Batman, Doomsday, Parasite, Braniac, First Lady Lois Luthor, the death of Stalin and a whole bunch more.
Superman: True Brit
One of the more bizarre Elseworlds tales, this is the story of Kal-El landing in Weston-super-Mare, England. From the minds of Kim Johnson and John Cleese (yes, that one), the young Kryptonian is found by the very British family, the Clarks. Whilst the infant is accompanied by technology explaining his name and origins, the seemingly simple Clarks mishear Kal-El’s name as Colin, leading to our hero-in-waiting becoming Colin Clarks. Colin takes on the stereotypical self-deprecating, socially awkward, generally negative British outlook to life, causing various problems. This story also has variations on Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and the Daily Planet... not to mention an absolutely horrendous outfit for our hero. Let’s just say that it makes Captain Britain’s outfit look Fonzie-level cool in comparison.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Whilst not a direct Superman story, this alternative tale of an elderly Batman features some of the most iconic Superman panels of all time. From the crazed genius that is Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns sees a retired Bruce Wayne step back into the cape and cowl after a 10-year absence. Where does Superman come into all of this? Well, the President of the United States doesn’t take too kindly to the return of the Caped Crusader, initially sending the Big, Blue Boy Scout to have a gentle word with the Bat. Refusing to back down on his stance, Batman holds his will, causing the President to order Superman to take down his long-time friend. What follows is a brutal, brilliantly written piece of comic book history that I urge any fan of Batman, Superman or simply good storytelling to read. Despite not being the central character of the story, this story is one of the best examples of Superman as both a moral compass and as a government lapdog.
Seen as one of the greatest Elseworlds stories, Kingdom Come is the brainchild of Mark Waid and comic book demigod Alex Ross. The story tells of a time when there is a new generation of heroes coming to the forefront; a brash, violent, dangerous generation of heroes. The uprising of these heroes, in particular of a reckless ‘hero’ called Magog, sees the older, traditional heroes go into a self-induced exile of sorts. With Superman seemingly putting himself in further exile than some other heroes, it comes down to Wonder Woman to seek him out and convince him to return to take down the young whippersnappers. Putting together a new Justice League with heroes old and new, Superman sets out to stop the brutal methods of justice that Magog and his cohorts are applying. Whilst the likes of Green Lantern, Flash and Red Robin (Dick Grayson) join Superman in his fight, Batman is notable by his absence. Resenting Superman for walking away from humanity when it needed him most, the Dark Knight sits firmly on the fence, taking the actions that he feels need to be taken against those he feels are culpable. To add to the mix of this epic story, a certain Lex Luthor also loiters mischievously in the background.
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