6 Bonkers What Ifs...? (That Came From DC Comics)
Marvel Comics has been heaving its heroes into heady hypotheticals since the 1970s. Not to be outdone, DC Comics decided it was also going to get in on that goldmine of unhinged non-canon, too. Following the success of 1989's Gotham by Gaslight, a one-shot that had an old-timey Batman hunting Jack the Ripper, the Elseworlds imprint was born.
We've talked before about how Marvel's original What If …? comics could be bleak as hell or dumb as rocks, and DC's no slouch in that department either. Ranging from insane team-ups to drastic misunderstandings of their own heroes to what can only be described as the hallucinogenic fever dreams of a cocaine-addled mind, Elseworlds tales were something else all right ...
What If … Superman Was Batman?
If you'll pardon the inadvertent Chandler Bing impression, could Superman and Batman be any more dissimilar? Being opposites is pretty much their whole dynamic. The former is a Boy Scout, so pure actual saints wish he would ease up a little, while the other breaks legs and faces instead of going to therapy. So, naturally, when baby Kal-El crash-lands in Gotham City instead of Kansas … he just becomes Batman. But even more violent.
1993's Superman: Speeding Bullets opens with the young alien being found by Martha and Thomas Wayne, being christened Bruce, and then getting mugged in an alley, as per tradition. But this time, when Ma and Pa Wayne are shot, little boy Bruce tries to murder Joe Chill in the alley, Cyclops-style …
… but, also, somehow, doesn't figure out he's an alien until he's 30. Meanwhile, because this is a Superman story and DC doesn't want anyone to get confused, Clark/Bruce poaches The Daily Planet staff from Metropolis, bringing them to The Gotham Gazette instead. Lex Luthor is also taking up residence in Gotham for reasons that are never really explored. Neither is why he looks like Kingpin.
Oh, and, by the way? He's Joker now, too.
Lex/Joker kidnaps Lois Lane and flies her to the roof of a nearby building, in a scene clearly meant to mirror the 1989 Batman finale, but with more Penguin-y helicopter umbrellas. Meanwhile, he's also unleashing a literal army on Gotham City for the lols. Super/Batman tries to murder Lex/Joker, but Lois changes his mind, reminding him that murder = bad. At which point Super/Batman single-handedly decimates the entire invading army and absolutely kills a whole bunch of them.
Having gotten all the vengeance out of his system forever, Super/Batman tells Lois his secret identity and drops the whole "bat" act, adopting the name and tights of the classic Superman, except with a Gambit-style cowl now.
Because it turns out what actually makes Superman Superman isn't honor or family or a good upbringing or Metropolis or even a better tomorrow, but his girlfriend telling him, precisely once, to stop being an evil knob. Or maybe it was just the corn all along.
What If … Batman Was an Angry Priest?
Batman: Holy Terror, released in 1991, is famed for being the first officially-branded Elseworlds story. And it was a choice. In the story, Bruce Wayne – famed, as we all know, for his devout Christianity – is reimagined as a would-be priest in a vaguely medieval Handmaid's Tale-esque theocracy.
Following the usual tragic origin story out in the baroque alleys of Gotham Towne, we flash forward a couple decades, and Bruce has found peace in an Old Testament-style God instead of bats and tights and unquenchable revenge. But then Inquisitor Gordon rolls up and explains that, rather than a random mugging, Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered in a state-sponsored hit.
Bruce, naturally, swears revenge against God Himself. It's explained again that, no, it was the corrupt government that did the murder, not a corrupt deity. Bruce is all like, oh, right, and then he digs up his father's old bat-demon costume from a church play, does some proto-Google hacking, and, finally, gets to revenging.
With everyone quoting scripture the whole time, Batman discovers the Flash, Aquaman, and a bunch of other metahumans have all been locked up and experimented on by the government. It's mentioned entirely off-hand that Green Arrow was killed for selling porn. Zatanna's also there as an evil witch. And then Superman shows up, dead from kryptonite poisoning and mounted to a cross-shaped gurney, just to really drive home the Jesus imagery and how important he is to the entire world.
And then this happens:
That's right, Very Dead Superman saves Batman's life when a bullet ricochets off his invulnerable skin, and Batman has some kind of spiritual awakening. Because the only real and infallible religion, folks, is comic books.
And then Holy Terror just ends, with Bruce choosing to be a priest by day and a vigilante by night, lamenting that, if only his parents had been horrifically killed by random crime, things would have been so much better.
Kind of a weird take on senseless murder, but okay.
What If … Steampunk Wonder Woman Fought Jack the Ripper?
Look, on paper, Wonder Woman: Amazonia was a decent idea. In practice? All the feminist iconography of Wonder Woman is ignored and inverted in a story full of rampant misogyny, abuse, and rape. It's honestly a little hard to stomach, so feel free to skip ahead.
Still here? Okay. Imagine, if you will, a world in which the one and only Wonder Woman fills her days as a strong woman in a traveling P.T. Barnum-style circus show. Let's also imagine that, despite choking lions for a living, she doesn't seem to know that she's superpowered until she foils an assassination.
The target was the prince of this strange, sort-of Victorian British Empire – a hyper-misogynist empire where women, even wondrous ones, know their place. In case this is too ambiguous, once the show's over, Diana's husband, Stephen Trevor, chains her wrists and walks her home to their ragamuffin children. Because what says "feminist icon" better than bondage and babies? And, uh … rape.
And then comes the alternate history lesson: as terrible a pilot as he is a person, Stephen accidentally stumbled onto Themyscira and then significantly less accidentally sicced an entire empire's worth of airships and guns on them. Little baby Wonder Woman was kidnapped and dumped onto the streets of England like a Dickensian urchin, where she lived in poverty – until she turned 16 and the honorable Mr. Trevor claimed her as his child bride.
Also, Jack the Ripper's the King of England. And he's American. Don't f*@king ask.
Out on a stroll, Diana saves her childhood friend-turned-prostitute, Etta Candy, from roving kidnappers, accidentally flying for the first time. Despite this new superpower – and, again, the knowledge that she can punch literally anyone's face into paste – Diana decides to talk Stephen into hiring Etta as a governess by promising him even more nonconsensual sex.
Wracked with guilt or rage or … something, it's not really clear, Diana becomes an "avenging angel," saving women from King Jack's kidnap squads. She's then immediately poisoned by him. Diana wakes up in the titular Amazonia, some kind of secret gladiator pit where super-soldiered men murder women for sport.
Dressed in her Wonder Woman stage outfit, Diana decides she's finally had enough of this backward-ass world and goes apeshit, murdering her way through all her own would-be murderers.
We're kidding, of course. What actually happens is that Wonder Woman's "fragile wrist" gets broken despite an enchanted gauntlet …
… and then she gets knocked unconscious. While she's out, all the women in England get imbued with her super-strength, literally breaking their literal chains. The real Wonder Woman wakes up and murders Stephen, while the old man narrating the comic gets to kill Jack the Ripper, robbing Diana of even the slightest hint of agency and the reader of a decent narrative pay-off.
And then the comic ends on the visual pun of Princess Diana (of the Amazons) marrying Prince Charles (of Steampunk Englandtowne) because Wonder Woman: Amazonia literally hates all of us.
What If … Batman Teamed Up With Houdini to Fight Vampires?
Harry Houdini opens Batman/Houdini: The Devil's Workshop with a monologue in which he laments that Gotham's children are being kidnapped by a spooky albino, but, hey, he's got a magic show to put on. Meanwhile, former Rough Rider and current railroad tycoon Bruce Wayne has nothing better to do, so he throws a coat on over his pointy-eared suit …
… and tries to thwart all the child-theft and cannibalism all by himself, only to get a hammer to the head and all the blame pinned on "the Bat." When he bumps into Houdini at a gala, the magician states that he's going to catch this "supernatural" Bat and out him as a basic bro. Bruce, naturally, isn't thrilled by this, but he's got a reporter named Victoria Vale to flirt up, so, whatever.
In between random bouts of casual racism, the albino is outed as Jack Schadenfreude, a grinning ghoul who likes to carve smiles onto his victims while laughing – so, the Joker.
Joker Jack is summarily kicked to death, but not before it's revealed he's working for a beef magnate who – surprise! – is a vampire. Our heroes don't know this yet, though, so Harry Houdini and Batman get into an obligatory rooftop fistfight before deciding to team up against the real villains.
There are some séance shenanigans, and then Houdini and Batman storm Beef Boss's mansion, only to get tied to train tracks. The two famed escape artists trade tips on the art of escaping, and then, finally, they start fighting vampires.
Well, two vampires, and then the previously-kidnapped Victoria stabs Beef Boss with a wooden stake, and he disintegrates. Batman and Victoria resume their flirting while Harry Houdini, noted skeptic, has a crisis of faith that rattles him to his core. So, y'know, your typical happy ending.
What If … Lois Lane Was Old and Cranky and Also Wonder Woman?
Lois Lane and Lana Lang are crotchety, geriatric lesbians, angry about time being linear, while Superman, forever young, is sunbathing on the moon and angry about being a sexy, invincible alien.
That's right, Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy is about the horrors of aging and immortality. Also, Nazi monsters. Buckle the hell in, folks.
At Lois and Lana's place, Superman is maimed by a literal harpy because he doesn't know he's vulnerable to magic. While he's in the hospital, Lana goes to Italy, where she's hunted by trolls. Lois and Clark, following after her, fly coach and get attacked by harpies again. One of the bird-women gets sucked into the engine; Superman saves the crashing plane and lands them all in Nazi-controlled Europe.
The Nazis, it turns out, don't like Superman, so he sneezes them all unconscious.
Meanwhile, the Greek gods are valley girls and super-hot Abercrombie models now, and, also, along with Wonder Woman, they're all Nazis. A few of them aren't, though – you can tell them apart because they're dressed up like dominatrixes. Superman loses a fight to some sea monsters because he refuses to learn anything, then gets kidnapped. Lois is turned into a new Wonder Woman because Artemis is super bummed the real Diana's a member of the Third Reich. Which, y'know, understandable.
Also, because men wrote this, Lois seems more surprised by having smooth, tight skin than being bulletproof …
Eventually, after making out with a ghost, Wonder Lois remembers she's there to fight Nazis. Nazi Wonder Woman rolls up in all her horrible glory. And then we get – drumroll, please – evil Nazi centaur Superman! With a mullet!
Also, Lana Lang, the Oracle of Delphi now, rides Centaur Superman into outer space, dies, and is quickly resurrected by horny goth punk Hecate. Superman's turned into a human lady. Somewhere else, Good Wonder Woman defeats Bad Wonder Woman in a fight that somehow has gratuitous butts in every panel.
Then there's a minotaur with guns, Superman turns back into Superman again, and then everyone starts fighting and yelling until Wonder Lois and Superman cut a truce with the evil gods, because, apparently, the whole Nazi domination thing was just a misunderstanding during a chess game between Zeus and Hera.
Clark goes back home to the moon to finally write his memoir, while Lois and Lana – young and hot again – get busy in Clark's living room because Nazi murder and being turned into goddesses is apparently nature's lady-Viagra.
What If … Superman Was Old Man Punisher
Superman: At Earth's End is so nuts that, of all the other absurdity on this list, it was the only comic we couldn't find online to read. Is it because YouTubers endlessly mocked it a decade ago? Only the Warner Bros. (and their sister Dot) know for sure.
Anyway, the story: after the earth's ended during previous Elseworlds title Kamandi: At Earth's End, roving bands of cyborgs are ending it all over again, under the guise of Making Earth Great Again. Old Man
Santa Claus Superman, chilling in a flying city, goes down to Gotham to prevent the city's atomic annihilation.
Easier said than done, of course, as Superman is besieged first by his cyborg overlords and then by tiny, mutant Batmen, and only saved once a teenage biker gang introduces him to the concept of guns. They explain to him that the actual problem isn't the murder-bots but the DNA Diktators who live in an underground fortress and kidnap people for experiments. They stole Batman's corpse, too, hence the bat-mites.
Oh, and also? The Diktators are twin clones of Adolph Hitler, and they have a whole secret, mutant Nazi army because Germany actually won World War II, and they've been hiding ever since as an old-fashioned mindf*@k.
Sapped of his strength because tunnels, Superman has no choice but to wield the single most ludicrous gun comicdom has ever birthed …
… at which point he shoots all the Nazi mutants and lion-men, punches an enormous zombie Batman to death, and then murders the Hitlers, too, but not before being shot to death himself. Bleeding, Old Man Superman manages to drag Bruce Wayne's corpse – found inside a Batman-shaped coffin, naturally – back to Wayne Manor. He builds a pyre, turns down the cyborgs' offer to cyborg him up, and then sets himself on fire. Like a hero.
One of the child-sized thugs blames guns for everything bad that ever happened, including Superman's self-immolation – despite guns being literally the only reason any of them survived past page five.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s on Twitter a bunch, too.
Top Image: DC Comics