A Kingdom Come, A New Frontier, and An Ever-Expanding Horizon (AKA A Man Rambling About Elseworlds)

To this day, I don’t know how I feel about Elseworlds. To a certain extent, I like them because they helped get me back into comics. But, as someone now well-versed in these worlds, I’m conflicted. I’m writing this to help me find where I come down on them, and the help of the community is greatly appreciated. :wink:

I love DC: The New Frontier. It’s one of my favorite comics that I have ever read (and probably ever will read). It’s easily what I consider to be the greatest “Elseworld”. Why, you might ask? Fair question. For now, just keep in mind that I consider this “the best one”.

I think the first time that I realized that I had a problem with Elseworlds was when a friend of mine said that Kingdom Come was his favorite comic. I don’t have a problem with that opinion, really. Lots of people like that story. I just have never connected with that comic, and so I started thinking about why people like it. Is it because it feels fresh? Is it because it’s bold? Even now I don’t understand completely, but this is why I think people like it (let me know if I’m wrong):

The story feels epic. Big, if you will. And it feels like a grand event story. Y’know, everyone loves Infinity Gauntlet and, to a lesser extent, Crisis on Infinite Earths (myself not so much on that last one, but I do enjoy it). The problem with those stories is twofold; one, they require a familiarity with the then-current goings-on of their respective universes to fully enjoy them, and, two, as much as they feel epic, their effects are quickly scrapped from the record. They provide the illusion of mattering, without actually mattering. The difference with Kingdom Come is that the effects stick, and it’s self-contained. It’s a big event story without the two major problems that drag those stories down. You get those powerful moments without the hollow consumerism playing in the background. People like Elseworlds because they can be grand stories that have lasting effects and you don’t have to worry about being bogged down with continuity.

Think about the most popular Elseworlds stories: Kingdom Come, Red Son, The Nail, Flashpoint (sorta). These stories have wide-reaching consequences, they affect the whole universe. And maybe it’s because of that that I take issues with them.

My first problem with Elseworlds has less to do with me and more to do with the appeal of such comics. By definition, isolating these stories means that they matter even less than events. This doesn’t bother me; I don’t read to keep up with the “story of the universe”, I read a comic because I like that story. But I think that it’s important to note that the central appeal of these stories is that they can be world-changing epics where the changes stick, and yet their effects are felt even less outside of their page count than in a 21st-century summer Marvel event.

Now, the other problem I have with Elseworlds is that I don’t particularly enjoy “large-scale” books. That world-ending, earth-shattering thing doesn’t do it for me. And, yes, there are good Elseworlds. I like The Nail, yes, but my favorites are the ones that are small. Gotham by Gaslight, while often feeling restricted by its length, is great. It doesn’t try to do too much, it just has a cool idea, and executes it pretty well (and the art by Mike Mignola doesn’t hurt either). But even the smaller stories can still irk me, for one major reason: the creators also don’t realize these stories don’t matter.

The Elseworlds imprint was started in the late-eighties (‘89, if I remember correctly). So, basically, after Watchmen and Batman: Year One, and The Dark Knight Returns and all those other “mature” superhero comics. And, look, I like WM, YO and DKR as much as the next, but what they inspired in the nineties I think we can all agree was best forgotten. The problem with those stories is not contained in themselves, but rather in the lessons people took from them. Watchmen made people think they wanted “dark” superheroes, when in reality what we wanted were thoughtful superheroes. And I think DC (even though they certainly handled the ‘90s better than Marvel) wasn’t exempt from this core misunderstanding. And Elseworlds, not Az-bats, is the epitome of such an attitude. What really bugs me about Elseworlds? The self-importance.

Batman: Holy Terror. Superman: Speeding Bullets. Kingdom Come. Superman: Red Son. Batman: Red Rain. JLA: Act of God. What do they all have in common? They bill themselves as more than they are. I can summarize their messages in a sentence, all of them:

Batman: Holy Terror: “Sometimes religion is weaponized against those in unstable positions.”

Superman: Speeding Bullets: “It’s not about who raised you or where you came from, it’s what you do.”

JLA: Act of God: “What if the superheroes weren’t super anymore?”

Superman: Red Son: “Hey, what if Superman, but Soviet?”

Batman: Red Rain: “Hey, what if Batman, but vampire?”

Kingdom Come: “Those Image superheroes are DUMB.”

And, look, all of those sound like fun ideas for stories. The problem is that those comics aren’t fun. They’re dark, and bland, and faux-academic. I don’t enjoy myself when I read them. They always just feel a bit out of reach. A bit emotionless and detached. And some people like that aesthetic, and it’s a perfectly fine opinion to have. But I can just never get over the intro to Batman: Red Rain that starts with, “Wasn’t it Prince who wrote, ‘I see the future and it works?’”

So, why do I like New Frontier so much? The simple answer is I just enjoy reading it, but, I’ve written all this. I should probably use it to make a point. New Frontier, even when it is big, doesn’t feel big. It understands that it doesn’t matter, and so it gets its impact from character moments. Green Lantern not remembering how to say “the war is over” in Korean. The story of John Henry Iron. Wildcat being champion of the ring for just one last night. This is all stuff that works within or without continuity. Now, the second reason it’s so good is because is because it actually does matter. It’s a story that encapsulates the changing attitude from Golden to Silver Age. It is a story designed to literalize that ideological transition. It’s telling a story of the real world. How WWII led into the Cold War and JFK and Reaganomics and what that did to the public conscious. And lastly? Even though it totally could, it never takes itself too seriouly. It’s fun. It’s brightly colored and idealistic. It’s not about a DC Universe gone wrong, it’s about how the DC Universe went right. It’s looking to a new future and always finding something to look forward to. It’s superhero-ing at its finest. And I understand that not every comic can be as good as NF. Most comics won’t be. And that’s fine. There’s always a new frontier on the horizon, and someone will be there to conquer it.

And let’s all hope to god they aren’t named Rob Liefeld.

Love to all (even you, Rob),
-Batwing52

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Want to start off by saying I love The New Frontier. It’s one of my all time favorites as well. I was doing an unofficial book club called The Loose Canon book club last month. The first story I did was Justice by Alex Ross and the second installment was The New Frontier but Ajack asked me to change it to just a discussion until I got the official go ahead this February. I think having to re-title it may have been why it didn’t pick up traction, the Justice one had a good turn out. If the club gets the green light I will give Frontier another go and would love for you to stop by.

If I were to nit pick on elseworld stories it would be that I wish they were longer so they could flesh out more of the story. Most of them are no more that 50-60 pg. (I wonder if that was the writers choice or DC’s) I know you mentioned a few of the ones that are longer but still, most of the larger ones are only 100-150 pg. Part of why I love elseworld stories is because the stakes feel more real. They don’t have to play it safe or are restricted by continuity. I have never been a stickler for continuity either though. I have always just kinda cherry picked what I want to be canon. Have you read Tom Taylor’s DCeased yet? I really enjoyed that story and feel if Taylor had to play it safe with continuity the story would have been less meaningful. The gravity of the situation just hits home better for me knowing that everything might not be ok or fixed in the end, that the consequences are permanent. As much as I loved Snyder’s Batman run, his Metal and the first couple of JL arcs are pointless to me. He sets up this epic event and it’s great, but at the end everything feels lackluster and pointless (The world/multiverse is going to end! oh wait it’s ok and all the good guys are fine). Like you and probably all of use here, I just like a good story, but I do think elseworld stories gives the writer more ability to do that. By the way I had a good laugh at your synopsis for Red Son, Red Rain and Kingdom Come :rofl:

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I actually did read DCeased! I tried it in spite of the name because of Tom Taylor, whose work I really admire, and I thought most of it was very good. There were a few things I didn’t like, but overall? One of my favorites of 2019. But that kind of feeds into what I’m talking about: the drama is human. As much as it has a different aesthetic, it succeeds for a lot of the same reasons that New Frontier does. Also, it’s got a higher page count, so Taylor has time to take for those moments.

And thanks for the compliment. :wink:

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yeah it has a bit of a higher pg count. It was a 6 parter with one tie in so around 140-150 pg probably. That plus it’ the most recent one I’ve read is part of why I brought it up. I feel the elseworld theme can allow for great self contained stories that don’t have to fall in line with continuity and if given the chance to be more than 50-60 pg. you can deliver a better/fuller story. I just like the elseworld style I guess. I get tiered of DC stories having this big event where they pitch a epic story set up and most of the time after spending a bunch of money on it, things seem lackluster with the conclusion and a bit pointless in the end. IDK. :dizzy_face:

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It seems as though DC will be going through with this G5 thing. At first I was not for it. But if they are going to take the Trinity and other original character and have them be BlackLabel stories which I guess aren’t technically elseworld but still self contained, I’m all for that. I feel most reboots start off good (minus New52’s Superman and Rebirth JL :grimacing:) but become stale. I do imagine it’s hard to not write yourself into a corner after awhile though. I would love to get a bunch of self contained Superman and Batmann stories that have more freedom to do what they want.

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I’m at the point where I don’t bother with events anymore. I read things that seem interesting to me, either because of creative team or concept, and only touch the “important” stuff if a friend or reviewer I trust says it’s good.

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Also, as for the note about stories being more self-contained. I’m ALL FOR THAT. I don’t really need a large web of all the various series and characters in a universe constantly interacting. I always hate it when a series I love gets interrupted because it has to tie into Civil War II or Metal or whatever event is going on.

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I take it that your a Saga fan? Have you read Image’s Seven to Eternity or Low by Rick Remender? They are really good. StE is probably one of my favorite comics of the last decade.

How could you tell? :joy: I tried Seven to Eternity and it didn’t really connect. That’s just me, though. I’m sure it’s great.

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It is and I forgive you for bailing :wink:
it wasn’t the profile pic I promise ! :stuck_out_tongue:

Another interesting one I just picked up is Vol 1. of Invisible Kingdom. I only read the first issue before buying it but it looked good haven’t read the rest yet. The 2017 X-O manowar by Valiant first 3 vol is another great one. (looks around to make sure DC isn’t listening) I have actually been reading more independent stuff these last 2 years because DC has just felt kinda stale lately.

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Right now I’m working through some weird, obscure Warren Ellis stuff. Injection with Declan Shalvey and Karnak with Gerardo Zaffino and Roland Boschi, to be specific. I find Warren Ellis most appealing when he isn’t trying (which is weird, I know). Also, since you have DC Universe, I recommend going through and finding the stuff that verges on indie (Sleeper, Red, etc.). There’s some really good stuff on here that I think a lot of people don’t know about.

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Don’t think I know any Warren Ellis stuff, at least not by name. Will def check out Sleeper and Red thanks!

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