10.) JLA: Another Nail. After writing one of the truly clever and involving Elseworlds – one that hews more to the “what if” idea by making it more of a What If in the Marvel sense, and rather than setting characters in a drastically different setting just changes one key event in the DCU – Alan Davis and Mark Farmer return to the scene to answer all of the questions nobody asked, to write a story that has such a lack of attention span it makes you wish the pages were infused with Ritalin, and to remind everybody that the reason Grant Morrison killed off the New Gods is because they got used as shorthand for “wild fantasy” so often that they stopped being wild and/or fantastic. Also: Batman is saved from Hell by Ghost Robin.
9.) Batman: The Blue, The Gray, and the Bat. It’s Batman! In the Civil War! And Robin is an Native American! And… yeah. Many Elseworlds suffered sharply from plug-in-the-appropriate-characters-into-setting-X stories, and this is one of the worst: an amazingly dull plot with Bat-elements shoehorned in via the most ridiculous methods possible. (Native Robin is the worst.) Also goes to the “when you have no actual story worth telling, throw in historical references to make it seem more genuine” well. (Mark Twain AND Bill Hickok!) Lovely art from Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, to be sure, but Eliot S! Maggin’s story is just not worth the bother.
8.) Legionnaires Annual #1: “Castles In The Air.” A pastiche of half a dozen old Legion stories set in a slightly alternate future where the Legion are, like, knights or something. But still in the future. Wants desperately to be a grand heroic epic, but the problem with grand heroic epics is that they have to be longer than, say, sixty-four pages of story, so there’s tons of fast-forwarding (“and then THIS happened”) and character development feels arbitrary rather than earned. And the payoff is… The Slightly Different Legion of Super-Heroes? Pass.
7.) Batman: Castle of the Bat. Bruce Wayne as Dr. Frankenstein, animating his dead father to be the Bat-Man. Has potential as an idea, but the murky art makes it almost unreadable and the writing veers sharply into the least interesting kind of pulp. Also: Alfred is a hunchback. Also also: features the only Elseworlds appearance of Ace the Bat-hound.
6.) Action Comics Annual #6: “Legacy.” John Byrne’s participation in the Elseworlds Annual experiment was one of the big selling points: DC plastered “by John Byrne” in all the ads for this. (This was back when people were only just starting to realize that Byrne had lost a lot of his mojo.) The story, where Kal-El is three-quarters human as a result of his Kryptonian grandfather coming to the world and conquering it in the 1700s so the American Revolution never happened and neither did the Industrial Revolution for some unexplained reason, is overexplained at every possible point, and the ending falls extremely flat: Byrne sets up a conflict and then fails to resolve it satisfyingly. A thudding disappointment.
5.) JLA: Act of God. A magic wave of Writer Fiat hits the Earth and everybody loses their superpowers! (You might say “wait, it doesn’t make sense for characters like Superman or J’onn J’onzz to lose superpowers which are based on the inherent properties of their biology, or for Green Lanterns to lose “powers” which are really just weapons” and Doug Moench has a clever answer for this which is “shut up.”) Anyway, some superheroes get real depressed and others train up with Batman to become new-wave powerless vigilantes. If you can get past the stupid idea, the bad characterization and the ludicrous plotting, there’s a mediocre comic in here just waiting to be discovered. On the bright side, though, Doug Moench demonstrates that all it takes to get Superman and Wonder Woman together is really, really bad writing! (Also: Kyle Rayner’s plotline involves him getting heroically impaled on a sharp rock. No, really.)
4.) Wonder Woman: Blue Amazon. So the Lofficier brothers and Ted McKeever first wrote Superman: Metropolis, an Elseworld based on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and it was pretty decent. Then, because that comic did well, they did Batman: Nosferatu, set in the same world as a sort of sequel and basing Batman in it, but now using Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as their influences, and it was still pretty good if a bit clumsy in places. Then somebody decided this should be a trilogy about superheroes if they were in German expressionist films, and you get this piece of tripe supposedly themed after The Blue Angel, a drama which launched Marlene Dietrich to fame. The problem is that unlike Metropolis and Nosferatu, The Blue Angel isn’t sci-fi or horror or anything like that; it’s a straight-up drama, so really the comic is not about anything whereas the first two actually had a real idea motivating them. This is just iteration number god knows how many in the “Wonder Woman is just as important as Batman and Superman no really she totally is” series on which DC will never, ever give up.
3.) JLA: Destiny. A “what if Batman and Superman never existed” story, and the answer is apparently that if Batman and Superman never existed a bunch of really lame superheroes would show up, and they would all be based on minor Golden Age Fawcett heroes nobody really cares about, like Mr. Scarlet and Midnight and the like. Reads like somebody telling you about their “awesome Champions campaign.” The twists John Arcudi puts in his story don’t matter because you simply don’t care about the characters. Remember Triumph? He’s in this comic. Actually, it’s a second-rate version of Triumph, and given that Triumph was originally a third-rate idea that makes this Triumph sixth-rate by virtue of mathematics.
2.) Batman: Brotherhood of the Bat. So when DC was redesigning Batman’s costume back in the 90s post-Azrael to be “darker” (end result: more black), they commissioned a dozen or so artists to come up with new Batman costumes. Most of these were ungodly terrible, as revealed in a gallery book DC published because they wanted to make some more money off Batman fanboys. Naturally, the only course of action was to come up with a story set in the future where Ra’s Al Ghul put anonymous members of the League of Assassins in all of these costumes, and Bruce Wayne’s son via Talia Al Ghul (named “Tallant,” which gives you appreciation for a relatively unsubtle name like “Damian Wayne”) fights each of them individually as he becomes the new Batman. A terrible, cynical comic, the most obvious form of cashout. What could be worse than this?
1.) Batman: League of Batmen. Oh, right, the sequel. Wherein Tallant – a character so boring he makes Geo-Force seem positively dashing – recruits “men of honor” to wear all of the terrible Batman costumes and be a league of some sort, possibly designed to enact justice. And then Ra’s Al Ghul comes back, except now he is a literal demon. You kind of get how readable this is already, don’t you?