With epic multiverse-spanning events like DC’s recent Convergence, and Marvel’s ongoing Secret Wars, I figured it’d be a great time to look back at some of the best alternate realities in the history of the nerd-verse!
15. Gotham by Gaslight
This graphic novel is an intriguing Elseworlds Tale about what if The Batman existed in the Victorian era?
14. Marvel NOIR
A dark Depression-Era, Film Noir take on the mythos of the Marvel Universe. The series featured: a Daredevil who was blinded by having his head smashed into a brick wall and grew up to become a murderous vigilante, Deadpool as a schizophrenic WWII vet, Iron Man is a Nazi-fighting adventurer who discovers a mysterious emerald mask, Wolverine is a private detective working on a case involving a man named Creed, and Peter Parker became Spider-man, a masked gun-man in a trench coat, after being bit by a strange spider that endowed him with mystical abilities.
13. Batman Beyond
A futuristic follow-up to the stellar 90’s Batman: The Animated Series, ‘Batman Beyond’ was the story of Terry McGinnis, a teenager who first meets an elderly Bruce Wayne after a run-in with a biker gang known as ‘The Jokerz’. Terry stumbles upon the Bat-cave and decides to steal a high-tech bat-suit in order to look into the conspiracy surrounding his father’s murder. Eventually Bruce takes Terry under his wing and guides him to become a new Dark Knight for Gotham’s future. With Bruce’s mentor-ship, Terry took on dozens of new high-tech super-villains including Blight, Spellbinder, Inque, and even the original Joker himself… sort of… (see: ‘Return of the Joker’) The official end of the series was actually featured in the ‘Justice League: Unlimited’ episode, “Epilogue” – an absolute must watch!
12. Kingdom Come
“Kingdom Come” (1996) is one of those graphic novels that transcends the medium itself. This is a dark, apocalyptic epic about what could happen if the DC heroes really lived among us. Ultimately these larger than life battles are metaphors for the clashing philosophical ideologies that we face in our day to day lives. Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s masterpiece is required reading for any comic fan. (Click here for my full Retro Review!)
During the recent Spider-verse cross-over, which featured various incarnations of Spider-man across the multi-verse, a new web swinger was introduced: Spider-Gwen (first appearing in ‘Edge of Spider-verse’ #2). This is an alternate reality where Gwen Stacy was bit by the destiny-altering radioactive spider and it was Peter Parker who tragically met his end early when he became The Lizard!? Gwen is a very different web-head, and offers a new perspective on what it’s like to have great power and responsibility. (For more, read: Secret Wars – Spider-verse)
10. Marvel 2099
In 1992, Marvel released a series of comics about a hypothetical future where the legacies of the original heroes live on a century later in a high-tech New York City that’s run by corporations. Brilliant geneticist, Miguel O’Hara, is involved in an experimental accident at Alchemax that causes half his DNA to be overwritten with that of a spider’s, becoming the new Spider-man of the year 2099! Other re-imagined characters featured included: The Punisher, a laser-toting cyborg who hunts illegal organ dealers, Ghost Rider, a hacker-possessed android, and a new monstrous creature roaming the irradiated wastelands, known as The Hulk. The original Dr. Doom also makes an appearance with an upgraded suit of armor.
9. Age of Ultron
Not to be confused with The Avengers movie of the same title, this Marvel event, by Brian Michael Bendis, followed in the wake of Avengers vs X-Men, featured a dystopian alternative future where Ultron had conquered the Earth and most of the heroes were barely surviving underground. During the course of the story, we see multiple variations of the future thanks to some convoluted time travel related shenanigans. It eventually ends with Wolverine and Sue Storm heading back in time in an attempt to stop Hank Pym from creating Ultron in the first place, which leads to a series of divergent time lines with disastrous consequences.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
First appearing in X-Men #141, created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne in 1981. Another classic tale about a dystopian future and time travel. This time, mutants are nearly hunted to extinction by an army of Sentinels, and the remaining survivors are herded into concentration camps. With the help and guidance of Wolverine, Magneto and Colossus, Kitty Pryde manages to send her consciousness back in time to prevent Mystique and the Brotherhood from assassinating Senator Kelly, in order to prevent this apocalyptic time line. The latest X-Men movie of the same title was loosely based on this storyline and although isn’t exactly the same, is considered one of the best movie adaptations of a comic storyline. (For more, read: Secret Wars – Years of Future Past)
This storyline features an alternate timeline of the DC universe, created by the Reverse-Flash, in which Barry Allen never became The Flash, and his mother is still alive, but everything else is way worse because of a ripple effect in the time stream.
Emperor Aquaman and the Atlantians are at war with Wonder Woman and her Amazons, with the UK as their battleground. Baby Kal-El’s ship crash landed in Metropolis, leading to his capture and imprisonment by General Lane and Lionel Luthor. Oliver Queen is an arms dealer, Captain Cold is a ‘hero’, and Abin-Sur is still the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. But perhaps the strangest change of all is that this world’s Batman is in fact Thomas Wayne, who went mad with vengeance after the death of his son, Bruce.
Written by Geoff Johns and penciled by Andy Kubert, this was the storyline that ultimately launched DC’s line-wide New 52 reboot in 2011 and was later adapted into one of the Best DC Animated movies!
6. Ultimate Marvel
This is a tricky one to summarize. First started in 2000, and ending earlier this year with Secret Wars, the Ultimate universe was a modernized reboot of the entire Marvel universe. It all began with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s impressive (must read) run on Ultimate Spider-man, which began with Norman Osborn creating a genetically engineered spider, and eventually ended with the tragic death of Peter Parker, and the subsequent introduction of Miles Morales stepping into Spidey’s webs.
It was quickly followed up by Mark Millar’s Ultimate X-Men in which Magneto became a full-on terrorist and Wolverine was a hit-man hired to infiltrate the Xavier’s school and assassinate Professor X. It all culminated in The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, a new take on the classic Avengers, which featured a Nick Fury (that looked suspiciously like Samuel L. Jackson) assembling a super-powered team under SHIELD, including a recently unfrozen Captain Rogers, Tony Stark, and a hippie with a hammer who calls himself Thor, to take on a cannibalistic Hulk rampaging through New York.
The Ultimate Marvel titles continued to reinvent classic Marvel characters, until it all went off the deep end with Ultimatum, an event that killed off 90% of the characters, caused Reed Richards to become a super villain, and irreparably damaging nearly all the potential that the Ultimate comics once had…
5. DC: Earth 2, Earth 3, etc…
In DC comics, the multiverse began with The Silver Age Flash comics, Issue #123 (1961) to be exact. In the storyline, ‘The Flash of Two Worlds’, Barry Allen met the original Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick from an alternate universe, dubbed Earth 2. Earth 2 was originally populated by the Justice Society characters, which would occasionally cross over from time to time.
Then in Justice League of America #29 (1964), a universe of evil doppelgangers was discovered: Earth 3 – home of the Crime Syndicate! – a fiendish band of super-villains with the powers of the JLA – Ultraman, Owl-Man, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring! This storyline was most recently revamped in last year’s Forever Evil! – where Lex Luthor must gather a team of super villains to take on the Crime Syndicate from ‘Earth 3’ with the absence of the Justice League.
4. Old Man Logan
An eight-issue miniseries by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. Here’s a worst-case-scenario post-apocalyptic future of the Marvel universe as told from Wolverine’s perspective. 50 years in the past all the world’s super villains finally teamed up to take out all the heroes once and for all, leaving behind a barren wasteland of destruction in their wake. The endless desert (roaming with symbiote-infused dinosaurs) that was once North America has been fractured into territories controlled by villains like The Kingpin and Dr. Doom.
Logan, the man formerly known as The Wolverine, hasn’t popped his claws in years and instead is instead laying low in ‘Hulk-land’, taking care of his family, and attempting to make an honest living in a dystopian hellscape. One day, a blind Hawkeye offers him a job to transport a secret package across the country to ‘New Babylon’. Throughout the journey, Logan faces off against an army of Moloids, a Venom-T-Rex, The Red Skull, the Hulk’s creepy grandchildren, and a dark secret from his past…
I can’t say much else without spoiling it, but there’s some insane moments throughout with tons of references to the Marvel mythos and one crazy twist. An absolute must read!
(For more, read: Secret Wars – Old Man Logan)
3. Superman: Red Son
Another seminal graphic novel by Mark Millar, this time with Dave Johnson. What happens when Kal-El’s rocket crash lands in the middle of Soviet Russia? Rather than becoming a protector of ‘Truth, Justice, and the American way’, Superman becomes a champion of communism and the international expansion of the Warsaw pact.
Throughout the story, we see the Man of Steel take over after Stalin’s death and joining forces with Wonder Woman to conquer the planet, for it’s own good in an attempt to create a utopia through force. The only ones standing in his way are a Russian Batman, and Lex Luthor, an American scientist working for James Olsen of the CIA. Over the years, Lex teams up with Brainiac, forms the Green Lantern Marine Corps, and becomes President all in an attempt to stop Superman once and for all. It all culminates in one of the most mind-boggling endings I’ve ever read.
One of the most ground-breaking graphic novels of all time, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 masterpiece is a deconstruction of American superhero comics. It’s also about a parallel world where the Cold War was exasperated by the presence of super human beings, specifically the all powerful, near-omniscient Dr. Manhattan. Some of the differences in this timeline include the Vietnam War being an unparalleled success, Vietnam becoming the 51st state of America and Nixon being elected to FIVE terms! Not to mention the presence of masked vigilantes like Rorschach running around.
“Watchmen” is ultimately about larger than life icons falling to very human failings; about super villains masquerading as heroes. In my opinion, Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation is probably the best direct translation from page to screen.
1. Star Trek: The Mirror Universe
The quintessential parallel universe, the Mirror Universe was first introduced in the original ‘Star Trek’ series, in an episode called “Mirror, Mirror”, featuring an evil version of the Enterprise crew and Spock sporting a goatee for some reason. The Mirror Universe has been expanded on significantly in subsequent series, books, and comics.
One of the best episodes of the series “Enterprise” (‘In a Mirror Darkly’) actually took place entirely within the Mirror Universe and showed the origins of this divergent timeline beginning with a very different version of ‘First Contact’. Basically instead of a positive version of the future featuring the Federation of Planets exploring the unknown and making peace with other alien civilizations, the Terran Empire of Earth is on a mission to conquer everything by any means necessary. This philosophical shift is reflected through the characters of the ISS Enterprise who instead of working together, are constantly attempting to assassinate one another and usurp power for themselves.
Honorable mentions: Marvel 1602, The Dark Knight Returns, All Star Superman, Marvel Zombies, the ‘Nolan-verse’, The Manga-Verse, The ‘DCAU’, The ‘MCU’, Spider-man Reign, Age of Apocalypse, Squadron Supreme / Supreme Power, Earth One, Earth-X, House of M, Invincible, Star Wars Infinities, Fringe, Back to the Future – Part II, etc
Erik Slader is a blogger, barista, web tech, digital artist, gamer, comic book aficionado, history buff, part-time nerd, and full-time husband. Creator of “Epik Fails of History” (@EpikFails.com) and writer for SuperheroBeach.com, MovementMagazine.com and ComicZombie.net – check out his digital design portfolio at ErikSlader.com