10 Must Read Superhero Elseworld Comics

The world of superhero comics is a vast and full one, but sometimes it can be a little stifling. You want to read a story that doesn’t require twelve hours background reading on Wikipedia or you want to see a new take on the character without restraints or limits. Sometimes you just find yourself thinking “Man, what if Superman was flitting around the Victorian era? That’d be so cool”. Elseworlds comics are the answer.  These are comics that show superheroes in an alternate universe, telling stories divorced from regular continuity. They give us a fresh new take on our favorite heroes, putting them in cool situations that would be impossible in the regular comic book continuity. They also sometimes allow us to get a story with a definitive ending, rather than the endless “to be continued” of the regular universe.

So let’s look at some of the best Elseworld superhero comics out there and talk about what makes them great. From superheroes in the 1600s to stories about a Superman who exists in a world more like our own, there’s no shortage of creativity here. What are you favorite Elseworld Comics? Do you have any recommendations that are not on the list? Talk about it in the comments!

  1. Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman

    Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is a miniseries that really captures the heart of the character in a lot of ways. Unrestricted by continuity snags, Morrison is able to “synthesize the best of all previous eras” as he puts it, fully embracing and celebrating the weirdness of the Superman mythos throughout the years while still keeping the emotional core of the character intact. The series is a love letter to Superman, showcasing the compassion that drives the character and honoring him as an inspirational hero. But it also shows him struggling with the fact he can’t solve everything or save everyone.

    The premise of the series is that Superman is dying thanks to a plot by Lex Luthor and now that he has one year to live, he has to figure out how to best use his remaining time. The comic is unafraid of the bizarre sci-fi elements of Superman, showing him palling around with scientists exploring the surface of the sun and chilling with an army of robots in the Fortress of Solitude.

    The series is a really nice read and I’d recommend it for any Superman fan.

  2. Marguerite Bennett's DC Bombshells

    Marguerite Bennett’s DC Bombshells series is a come set during World War II in a world where only female superheroes are around. As an example, Kate Kane aka Batwoman is there to save the Waynes from their killer, so in this universe she’s the Bat-hero and Bruce is a happy eight-year-old.

    The series is a lot of fun. The period setting is a great backdrop for the heroines and it’s utilized excellently. We get to see the ladies of the DC Universe in a variety of exciting new contexts and situations. For instance, we have Supergirl and Stargirl growing up in Communist Russia and having to flee. The series also makes good use of its creative freedom- we finally get a kiss between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy after years of DC hinting about the romantic nature of their relationship. Marguerite Bennett offers a fun take on all the characters as well.

  3. Kurt Busiek's Superman: Secret Identity

    Kurt Busiek’s Superman: Secret Identity tells the story of a boy in a world with no superheroes but one where Superman comics resist. He was named Clark Kent by his parents and he can never live that down with his peers, much to his frustration. But one day, he finds he suddenly has Superman’s powers.

    The story is simply one of the best Superman stories out there, acting as a meta-commentary on the Superman mythos general and showing a Superman grounded in a slightly more realistic context. The art is beautiful, the characters are well-rounded and the relationships between the characters feel real. 

  4. Robert Langridge's Thor: The Mighty Avenger

    Robert Langridge’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger is a completely accessible-to-new-fans take on Thor that is like great comic comfort food- it has fun with itself and full of heart in the way a lot of comics could stand to learn from and the characters are likeable and great. It tells the story of Thor coming to Earth in a way that feels both new and exciting and comfortingly familiar. Thor and Jane’s romance is genuinely sweet and well-paced- it’s understated and real-feeling in a way comic book romances rarely are.

     The series is also incredibly funny, showing Thor’s misadventures as he tries to adjust to life on Earth. The art by Chris Samnee is really nice- it has a bit of a retro feel and is expressive and altogether aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, the comic is was cut short and what was supposed to be a twelve issue series is only eight issues (with a bonus issue featuring a team up with Captain America). But despite that, there’s still plenty to fall in love with for this series- I know I’m in love with it. 

  5. Landry Walker's Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade

    Landry Q. Walker’s Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade is a fun and cute and the perfect Supergirl story to a kid in your life to introduce them to comics. I was a teenager when I read it and still enjoyed it. The series focuses on Supergirl awkwardly trying to adjust to life on earth despite obstacles like accidentally creating an evil duplicate of herself or befriending Lex Luthor’s sister. It’s cartoony in a good way and does a great job combining a lot of old elements in Supergirl’s mythos in a fun way.

  6. Darwyn Cooke's Justice League: The New Frontier

    Focusing on the events leading to the formation of the Justice League in an alternate 1950’s-60 era universe, Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier beautifully explores post-World War II politics and Cold War tension through the lens of superheroes, while telling a warm, hopeful and complex story that pays tribute to DC Comics' greatest heroes. Cooke’s retro art style fits the comic perfectly and his interpretations of the characters really pop. It’s definitely a must read comic for anyone who likes superheroes even a little. You can find out more information about the greatness of this series in my Darwyn Cooke tribute articles here

  7. Mark Waid's Kingdom Come

    Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s four issue Kingdom Come miniseries focuses on a world where a new wave of murderous vigilantes, led by a superhero named Magog, have taken over as the world’s idols. Superman has retired in the wake of this, but is coaxed back into action after a tragedy and tries to counteract the chaos the world has fallen into by reforming the Justice League. The comic has gorgeous photo-realistic art courtesy of Ross and the series was influential enough DC Comics still often references it.

    The story is essentially a love letter to the idealism of superhero comics, making an argument that Superman-style morality and regard for human life are still needed even in the modern age. It’s very interesting to see Waid and Ross’s take on a new generation of heroes. Some elements of the story aren’t to my taste (I’ve never like the idea of Superman and Wonder Woman in a romantic relationship, for one) but it’s definitely an impressive comic with some interesting ideas.

  8. Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602

    Neil Gaiman’s eight issue miniseries Marvel 1602 takes place in the universe where Marvel’s superheroes existed during the Elizabethean era. We see the Marvel heroes and villains in all new roles, interacting with famous historical figures like Virginia Dare and King James VI. “Nicolas” Fury is a knight and mutants are known as “witchbreed” and hunted by the Spanish Inquisition.

    The art for the comic, by Andy Kubert, is gorgeous. A technique called “enhanced pencils” is used where inking is skipped and the pencils are sent off to be colored instead. This meant the lines of the art were more complex. There were also lovely scratchboard covers for each issue fitting of the historical setting.

    This actually might have been the first Marvel comic I ever really read. I remember finding it in my high school’s library and enjoying it even though I didn’t understand most of the things it was referencing, so it’s definitely accessible to new fans and Gaiman’s interpretation of Marvel heroes in an all new era is very interesting.

  9. Brain Augustyn's Gotham by Gaslight

    Gotham by Gaslight is a one-shot by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola that puts Batman in the Victorian era, specifically 1899. When Jack the Ripper comes to Gotham, Batman is framed for his murders and now must hunt him down. Batman vs Jack the Ripper is a pretty cool idea and Mignola’s moody, gothic art fits the era the comic is set in very well. Gotham by Gaslight might be DC’s first modern elseworld comic, too, so it has its place in comic history. 

  10. Wednesday Comics

    Wednesday Comics is a twelve-issue anthology comic done in the style of a Sunday newspaper comic. The anthology collected 15 different stories, featuring comic greats like Kurt Busiek, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Connor, Paul Pope, Walt Simonson and Karl Kerschl. The 15 separate stories are: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Kamandi, Deadman, Green Lantern, Metamorpho, Teen Titans, Strange Adventures, Supergirl, Metal Men, Sgt. Rock, The Demon and Catwoman, The Flash, and Hawkman.

    With such a large range of creators and subject matter, some stories in the comic are obviously better than others. But the vast array of talent, huge range of stories and art styles and the innovative format featured in the anthology make it well worth a read. All the stories are entirely divorced from regular comic book continuity, so the characters are presented on their own merits without need for background reading. The comic is collected in gorgeous giant sized tabletop edition as well.

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