Movies & TV / Columns

The Best DC Elseworld Books – Gotham By Gaslight, Kingdom Come, More

July 17, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Gotham By Gaslight

I’m Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to check out 411mania’s Comic Book Review Roundtable, every Thursday! Read up on the best reviews and let us know what you’re reading as well. Click to read the latest Comic Book Review Roundtable! Last week we covered The Walking Dead #193, Superman: Up in the Sky #1, and more!

On with the show!

Last week we discussed The End of The Walking Dead Comic Book Series!. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Negan: “I enjoyed the 90s cartoons with X-Men, Batman, and Spider-Man when I was growing up, but was never a comic reader.

I started the Walking Dead in season 2 and quickly became hooked. I downloaded the ComiXology app and soon read my first comic in decades. I’ve read every issue of this series and fucking loved it! The last issue was perfect IMO.

This has also gotten me to read some of the quintessential issues of my favorite heroes. None of which I would have read had it not been for the Walking Dead.

Thank you Kirkman.”

I’m Tired: “When AMC announced TWD tv show I looked for the comic and instantly loved it. Not everything was great about it (not a fan of rape in fiction but understand because of the tone and setting of the story) but overall still great. Loved the final arc and Rick’s final speech. “We are not the Walking Dead!” I’m not going to miss it because this comic did it’s job and left me satisfied (Loved the ending). So thanx Kirkman. You did ya thing…”

prowriter: “Kirkman to King: Hold my beer.”

DMC: “I definitely appreciate Kirkman’s effort to keep it a secret and end it on his own terms, but I’m sorry, the last issue was a piece of shit. It was, like, a 60 page blowjob for Rick Grimes. That’s a really shitty denouement in my book.

And Rick’s death was also lame as hell for an ending. So another spoiled kid of a new society you introduced kills him? Meh. Honestly I think I disagree with him – his original ending sounds better. Yes, we wouldn’t get All Out War, so there’s that. But otherwise, this was weak, and almost by his own admission he didn’t really have a plan for the end which is why it ended with a whisper (no pun intended) because he just got tired of writing them and doesn’t need to anymore.”

D2Kvirus: “I was on board with TWD from the very first issue, in fact buying it in the same store Simon Pegg bought it from (as he mentioned when he got into the letters page) and for a period it was damn near untouchable, especially the run between leaving Herschell’s farm and the conclusion of the prison/Woodbury arc

However, by the time the comic got to Alexandria it started to feel like it was spinning its wheels and the book went from having some strong characters who it hit hard when they died such as the deaths of Amy, Tyreese, Lori, Herschell, Dale, Abraham and Glenn to a cast of potential zombie chow it didn’t matter if they lived or died and too many arcs that followed the same pattern of showing up, killing a long-established character to appear like a threat, and getting defeated by Rick & Co anyway – which was shocking when the Woodbury arc did it, but when the Hunters, Saviors and Whispers arcs all did the same thing the impact diminished every time, which is why I checked out of the book at the end of the Whispers arc

And to be honest, I lay a lot of the blame for this at the feet of the TV show. As Kirkman himself said, his original plan for an ending (which was posted on 411 last week) was during the No Way Out arc from issues 79-84 – which happened to be between the first and second seasons of the show, and I very much doubt it’s a coincidence that the book started to spin its wheels to stay on the shelves as the show started to become established”

To read all of last week’s comments go HERE! As always, thanks for the input!

This week we discuss…

The Best of DC’s Elseworld Books

You want to get my attention? Tell me DC has another Elseworld book coming out. Or even something very close to it. DC made a an announcement that they plan to put a twisted and terrifying spin on some of the biggest, most memorable events in its history. They’ll be releasing a series of prestige format one-shots called Tales from the Dark Multiverse and while it doesn’t have the Elseworld stamp, it’s good enough for me.

All the news got me thinking about the Elseworld imprint and how I love every single Batman Elseworld story. I own just about every one and was always surprised how easily he could translate into a story, no matter the time period of setting. I could have easily done a BEST BATMAN ELSEWORLD STORY but wanted to mix things up a little.

In case you didn’t know, Elseworlds is the DC imprint for books that take place outside the company’s canon. Existing characters or storylines with a spin. Pretty much DC’s “What If…. Gotham by Gaslight, featuring Batman, is considered to be the first Elseworlds story and it’s probably my favorite one ever. Yes, I know when it was first published that it didn’t carry the Elseworld logo, Batman: Holy Terror was the 1st, but they’ve made it clear that its success led to more Elseworlds and retro made it one. True story: I read it so much that it fell apart and I had to purchase another copy. I used to read that and the Batman/Grendel crossover once a week. Another true story. I just recently had to replace the Batman/Grendel books due to wear and tear.

I don’t go into crazy detail about the stories. The details of the story is what makes them so entertaining. You’ve either read them or you haven’t. If you haven’t, you should! OK, let’s look at a few of the favorites.

I’ll start with The Golden Age. A unique look at the classic heroes of the JSA by James Robinson with art by Paul Smith. It’s the 1940s and DC’s superheroes are hanging up their costumes following the end of WWII. We see how each hero deals with the change, their flaws on display for the reader to see. For example, Hourman fights an addiction to the Miraclo drug that gives him powers, while Starman has a test of conscience when he finds out his staff’s technology helped make the atom bomb. It’s a good mix between the darker feeling of the 90s comics and the lighter stories from another time. A cool update of familiar characters that always seemed out-of-touch to readers. Much of the character development in this storyline actually leaked over into canon, a testament to the outstanding writing.

As I mentioned above, one of my absolute favorite books ever is Gotham by Gaslight. I really just want you to stop reading this and go and buy this book. It’s Batman v Jack the Ripper told in a brilliant style by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, with inks by P. Craig Russell. The art work is a perfect compliment to the story and gives the story a real Gothic mood. I really don’t want to deep into this story because reading it the first time is such an adventure. This book really opened up the possibilities of Batman to me and I’ve never forgotten it.

Another Batman story is Batman: Holy Terror. If somehow they could make this into an actually movie. The United States of America is a commonwealth nation run by a corrupt theocratic government. Bruce Wayne lost his parents 22 years earlier and has decided to join the clergy. Bruce is visited by his friend James Gordon, the inquisitor who was investigating Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder and has come to tell Bruce the truth about what happened. This starts a chain reaction of events and presents a story that is surprisingly heavy in tone. If you’ve ever wanted your Batman mixed with religious overtones, this is for you.

Next up is Superman/Batman: Generations. This was a super ambitious tale from John Bryne and came off great. Generations is the umbrella title of a three volume limited series (16 books in all). The concept of the series is the avoidance of so-called comic book time; it places Superman, Batman, and the other members of the DC Universe in a single timeline, showing the characters aging and being replaced by their progeny. A sprawling adventure that touches on all the things we love about DC’s two most famous heroes and their “families”.

An underrated Elseworld book is JSA: The Liberty File. This was based on characters from the Justice Society of America but portrayed them as covert government operatives in a World War II-era setting, rather than their traditional portrayal as superheroes fighting criminals. This is another one that’s often overlooked and what a shame. In 1940s Europe, the Nazi army is attacking on several fronts, big and small. Whistling Skull and his partner Knuckles work to solve the most bizarre mystery of all and look to the memories of the Whistling Skulls that came before. I’m not doing it justice but this is one to look for.

Superman: Red Son answers the question: “What if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union?” Yes, Superman’s rocket ship lands on a Ukrainian collective farm rather than in Kansas. No “Truth, justice, and the American Way”, this Superman is described “…as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.” A heavy story that feels different from anything you’ve read. That’s not something you can say about a lot of Superman stories.

Right after Gotham by Gaslight, JLA: The Nail is my favorite read. The story’s theme is set in the first paragraph:

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost.
So it was a kingdom was lost – all for want of a nail.”

Jonathan and Martha Kent’s truck has a flat tire and they miss the arrival of a Kryptonian spacecraft and cannot raise the infant Kal-El as their adopted son. Without Superman, we see how the world would be without his leadership and moral compass. The way this book handles these themes can be recognized in a number of stories that have come after, but never attaining the greatness of this book.

An easy one to list is Batman and Dracula: Red Rain. Why? It’s Batman and Dracula! While investigating a series of murders of Gotham’s homeless, Batman discovers that the murders are the work of…vampires, led by Dracula himself! These are two characters that play off each other well and it spawned two sequels. Another book that would translate really well into a movie.

Of course we have to list Kingdom Come, and for good reason. It’s a classic story from Alex Ross and Mark Waid. An epic look at the growing tension between the traditional old school superheroes and the irresponsible new ones. It involves every DC hero you can imagine and introduces us to brand new ones. We get to see an alternate future of what might happen and a cautionary tale of why we need to be vigilant of those dedicated to protecting us. This story is deeply layered and even after numerous readings, I still find something new every time I open the book.

Another underrated book is Batman & Captain America. As World War II rages on, Batman and Captain America, along with their sidekicks Robin and Bucky, must become allies to combat the villainy of their greatest foes, the Joker and the Red Skull. This is just a straight fun, fast paced story by John Byrne. Co-published with Marvel, it shows two characters that you might not think would work together on the printed page come together and deliver. From switching sidekicks to the golden age feel, this is a great read that’s usually overlooked. Someone actually recommended this to me years ago and I was saddened that I didn’t know it even existed. I quickly righted that wrong and, if you haven’t read it, I urge you to do the same.

There’s some solid titles to get things rolling. What are your favorite Elseworld books?

That’s all the time I have. Check out our Comic Book Reviews tomorrow and see you next week!