Two short weeks into the New Year and some of you are likely looking for something fresh to pick up. Maybe you want to finally jump into a series you never had a chance to pick up before, or maybe you’re ready to take on the challenge of a character who’s back catalogue always seemed daunting. Normally I’d say feel free to jump in anywhere and you’ll pick it up eventually…but let’s be honest, a lot of the stuff pumped out by the Big Two of comics, Marvel and DC, can be pretty lacklustre. Some books can start off poor, others can start of well and then depreciate in quality. Sometimes it can be because of a new creative team jumping on and changing the tone of something you loved to something, well, not necessarily bad, but to something that isn’t quite your cup of tea. Other times, it might be that the writer has finished an arc and isn’t sure where to go next, or even winds up caught up in 40 years of back story and retroactive continuity and can’t ride out the story they wanted to completion. Fear not! We’ve got you covered here at The Arcade.
This week for Back Issues, I’ll be taking a look at the side-stories and offshoots of the main universes; The Elseworlds. These stories are usually short, often take interesting looks at the characters we love, but are unfettered by the back catalogue and don’t need to worry about where the character has to go next. The exist within their own little pocket universes to give full control to the creative team. For now I’ll be focusing on what DC has to offer…Primarily because I feel their main universes are really weak at the moment.
Without further adieu, let’s get to it!
Injustice: Gods Among Us
Injustice: Gods Among Us was written as a prequel to the videogame of the same name. Don’t let its nature as a tie-in put you off though, this is still one of the finest Justice League arcs that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the backstory for Injustice, it covers the events that unfold when Superman is driven mad, causing a rift to form among the members of the JLA. The ‘Evil Superman’ angle is something that’s been done before, but this isn’t exactly what Injustice is about. Rather, it covers what happens when Superman unleashes his full power for what he feels is the greater good. Plenty of emotional stories come about as the heroes examine what it truly is that they’re fighting for and how for they’re willing to go for it, along with one amazing scene which I affectionately refer to as ‘The Butlering’, because hey, sometimes you’ve just gotta kick someone so hard your shoe explodes.
Flashpoint: Knight of Vengeance
Flashpoint is was a big DC event a few years ago which culminated in the end of what was then the DC Universe and caused it to restart under the New 52 moniker. Flashpoint on the whole was a pretty good arc and is well looking up, but as a main DC storyline, I’m not here to talk about it. As a major event it had plenty of decent side stories, should you chose to chase them down, but one in particular is really worth giving a read. That one story is Batman : Knight of Vengeance. It’s a short story, stretching over only three issues, but in those three issues, so much happens. The Batman of Knight of Vengeance is more of a military tactician than a detective and as such, is less forgiving towards criminals and much more brutal when it comes to dealing with them. Neither does Knight of Vengeance seem to have any problems with killing. While the brutal alternate reality Batman is certainly interesting, the major thing that makes Knight of Vengeance worth reading is the rapport between ultra-violent Batman and his version of The Joker.
So far the alternate realities I’ve talked about haven’t been too much of a departure from the norm. The characters’ outlooks my have changed a bit, but for the most part they’re the same superheroes, in more or less the same worlds, with the same superpowers. DC Realworlds is substantially different in that the heroes are different, they have no powers to speak of and their new world is, well, ours. DC Realworlds does exactly what it says on the tin, a series of four stories where DC heroes are given parallel identities in our world. The four issues each cover one of Wonder Woman, Superman, The Justice League and last, but most certainly not least, Batman.
The Realworld imaging of the JLA is a group of friends who, having not met up for years, decided to go together to a costume party at Halloween. Superman’s Realworld story follows a young guy who wakes up to find that, after getting blind drunk the night before, he’s had Superman’s emblem tattooed across his chest as a prank. A source of constant teasing as life goes on, he needs to grow up tough because of it. It’s a very ‘Boy Named Sue’ version of Superman. They’re both good stories, but vastly overshadowed by the Wonder Woman and Batman tales. DC Realworld’s version of Wonder Woman is an actress in the 1940s, starring in a set of Wonder Woman serials at the end of WWII when fears of Communism were rife. Her story focuses on the difficulties that women can face just trying to get by, especially with the ‘Be seen and not heard’ mentality of the time. It’s very much like Ed Brubaker‘s The Fade Out featuring Wonder Woman.
Finally, we get to our version of Batman, a mentally disabled man named Charlie Duffy who grew up playing pretend with his best friend Clarissa as Robin. As Charlie grew older, he still played pretend, even after Clarissa left home. Then, as an adult Charlie prepares to see his hero return to the big screen in Batman Begins, Clarissa returns home in pretty bad shape. Seeing her like this, Charlie knows that he has to save her. His imagination goes into overdrive as The World’s Greatest Detective tries to track down the evil Joker and return Robin to normal. Realworlds Batman is a book that could draw tears from a stone and for me is one of the hidden gems of the comic book world. Beyond the core storyline, there are some great little cameo’s from other Batman characters plus a cool little bit of narrative involving a small group of lads who’re always hassling Charlie.
If you read any single issue from this list, make it DC Realworlds Batman.
What’re your favourite Elseworld and alternate reality stories? Hash it out in the comments!