Thursday, September 22, 2011

Batmen in Elseworlds – The best of Bruce Wayne in alternate universes.

When I write about comic books, I tend to write about Marvel. I've declared my allegiance there, but that doesn't mean I don't like DC. I could do without most of the DC Universe, but c'mon... Batman. When thinking about my favorite heroes in all comic books, I don't usually even bother listing him. Batman is just assumed to be at the top of that list. One of the things that got me into the Marvel continuity was What If?, as I've mentioned before. That said, my very favorite DC titles come from a similar source, in their elseworlds imprint. In fact, my favorite single issue of a superhero comic is probably the final issue of the Elseworld title Superman: The Nail. Over the years, however, I've made a point of tracking down and reading almost every one of the Batman Elseworld one-shots and limited series. These titles are the best of those, in my estimation.

Batman: Holy Terror – This book was the first ever to be published under the Elseworlds logo, and one of the many that takes familiar characters from Batman's corner of the DC Universe and places them in a new time and place, re-telling their origins through trappings of the transplanted genre. In this story, the Reverend Bruce Wayne of Gotham is told by his friend James Gordon, an inquisitor in charge of investigating the deaths of Bruce's parents that their deaths were part of a state conspiracy, and not a random mugging. His crusade to bring those responsible to justice in the Dark Theocratic Government brings him into contact with Barry Allen, and a witch whose spells are cast backwards, reminiscent of Zatanna. In the cape and cowl as a servant of God and Justice, he runs into the conspirators in the midst of "Project Green Man," involving a certain alien who crash landed in Kansas.

Gotham Noir – This one I rushed right out to purchase, as I'm a huge fan of detective stories and Film Noir. In some ways, this tale is more about Jim Gordon than it is about Bruce Wayne. We see Gordon, a washed up drunk and private investigator trying to deal with his demons when he gets pulled into a mystery. He has to find his way out of the bottom of a bottle and find out what really happened to the girl he failed to protect. Along the way, he has to confront what happened back in the war, and deal with criminals and thugs around every corner of the darkened streets of Gotham in the late 1940s. We meet several incarnations of classic characters from the DC Universe, including Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle and a version of The Joker. Batman himself is present, but it is unclear by the end if he is real, or hallucinations brought on by Gordon cracking under the pressure.

The Doom That Came to Gotham – Mike Mignola, of Hellboy fame with Dark Horse, spins a 1920s tale of a Bruce Wayne that could have come straight from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft. All of the looming cosmic horror and pulp adventure, with secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know lurking behind the mystery of it all. There are shades of much of the Cthulhu Mythos in this, most notably The Mountains of Madness near the start of the tale. Oliver Queen and Harvey Dent make cameos, and we are treated with 1920s versions of Mr. Freeze, The Penguin and both R'as and Talia al Ghul. Throughout the three volume series we also meet Alfred, James and Barbara Gordon and all three pre-Stephanie Brown incarnations of Robin – Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake.

The Batman Vampire Trilogy – Starting with Batman and Dracula: Red Rain, this series gets darker and darker as it progresses. Rather than putting Batman in an alternate time or genre, we see what happens when the Dark Knight gets involved with the Lord of Vampires. From the initial books dealing with his battle against the Dark Prince of the Undead through his own struggle against his nature upon contracting vampirism itself, we see Bruce Wayne's dark side through the lens of horror. The story plays with Batman's already tortured psyche and inner demons and shows us what happens to that character we already know when he is gripped by something inside him he cannot control. Bruce Wayne is already compulsive, tortured and extraordinarily driven to the brink of insanity, add to that a unholy thirst for human blood and we have a great superhero/classic horror crossover tale.

Batman: In Darkest Knight – This series resembles the Marvel What If? Line more than the others because it is based on a simple question, and following the answer to that question to a possible logical conclusion. The question is, in this case, what would happen if instead of the power of the Green Lantern passing to Hal Jordan, what if it had gone to Bruce Wayne? We get a very different take on classic moments in the Green Lantern canon with a different bearer of the ring, and some of Wayne's past interact with the problems facing the Green Lantern Corps in unexpected ways. Sinestro is, in this Universe, responsible for the creation of supervillainous versions of Harvey Dent and Selina Kyle, completing a triad of Green Lantern villains tainted by Bruce Wayne's own past.

These stories are not in any way the whole of the Batman Elseworlds tales, just a few of my personal favorites. Though I never read all of it, Gotham by Gaslight is also worth a nod, and technically Frank Miller's classic The Dark Knight Returns could be considered an Elseworlds title, but I think that story might deserve an article all its own. I may at some later date return to the topic to revisit the Superman Elseworlds which also occupy a special place of honor in those few DC Titles I actively pursue and read whenever I can get my hands on them. 
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Jay said...

these sound intriguing. :)

Alpha said...

Batman? With a Power Ring? Outrageous

neatfit said...

I like Marvel more than DC too. I'm thinking about reading Batman IDK.

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