Humble beginnings


Long before there were Elseworld stories, there were the old "Imaginary Stories" of the Silver Age comics.

They were all fairly innocuous since they were kept separate from the regular continuity (such as it was), and while some drifted toward the bizarre, most were quite innocent.

Temporary romantic match-ups, fantasy marriages, tales set in different eras or exotic locations were the norm and they rarely appeared as a separate special issue. However, over time that would change.


Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?


This comic from 1986 could be said to be the transition between the old Imaginary story style and the Elseworld comic style. It was a nostalgic farewell to the Silver Age Superman as well a bittersweet farewell to characters who would no longer exist as they had after the revamp of Superman that same year.

While there was nothing that really would qualify as graphic violence by today's standards, there was a high body count in this comic where villain and hero alike fell by the wayside. However, as this genre evolved, violence, both graphic and implied, would become part of its  history. 



Atlas Shrugged


By the 1990s,  true Elseworld stories were appearing regularly.

What if Kal-El's spaceship landed in Gotham City instead of Smallville, Kansas?

That "what if" is the foundation for all Elseworld stories and not coincidentally "What If ..." is the name Marvel Comics uses for its version of alternate reality stories.  The basic premise is the same: take a hero from the comics and give that hero a totally different setting and background history.


Lois Lane and Bruce Wayne in love?  Actually, no ... and yes. Kal-El was Bruce Wayne in the story "Speeding Bullets," so Lois was in love with the man she has always traditionally been in love with, but this type of confusion is a problem that occurs when Elseworld stories mix two heroes' histories together.

While Superman and Batman might be the exception simply because they are heroes known even outside the world of comics, for the most part such stories can be daunting and confusing for fans who don't follow the whole DC universe of heroes even though it often seems such knowledge is assumed by the authors.  




An easier to follow Elseworld premise is the use of classic and neo-classic settings. In this story, a thinly veiled retelling of the Tarzan legend, Kal-El became the feral lord of the jungle.

Since Superman has a very limited rogue's gallery of villains, and the few he does have are not very well known, at least when compared to Batman, Lex Luthor was almost always the recurring villain in these stories.

Also, Lois Lane was the recurring love interest, at least in the beginning, but the Elseworlds were about to take a dark turn.


Atlas Fumbled


An extreme graphic violence started to filter into the Elseworld comics. In three of the four above comics, Lois Lane was killed or already dead. In two of the comics, after a mourning period, Superman then happily bedded Wonder Woman and they produced offspring together. It became the "anyone but Lois" era as well as the never-ending tragic-death-of-Superman era since he made it out alive in only one of the four titles shown.



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