The 5 Worst and 5 Best Elseworld Origin Stories with Superman

By Greggory Basore in Comics
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 9:02 am

5. Superman: A Nation Divided

The Rocket Lands In: Kansas, but in the mid-1800s

The concept of Superman fighting in the U.S. Civil War initially sounded like it might end up on the worst list. Then the first page forced a reevaluation of it. Starting off with a letter home by Atticus Kent to his parents that mentions racism in the ranks of Union soldiers instantly sets this apart as a more serious look at the subject matter than might be typically expected.

The level of historical research apparent in the narrative shows that the author Roger Stern had something important to say instead of thinking "wouldn't it be cool to have Superman in this era?" Using the prominent military and social figures of the time, and telling a good deal of the story through journals and letters, a very personal and poignant view of the bloodiest war in U.S. history takes shape. Without revealing too much, the ending sets the entire story into a new light and breaks completely away from a simple black-and-white view of the Civil War.

4. Superman/Tarzan Sons of the Jungle

The Rocket Lands In: Africa

When Lord Greystoke and his wife see what looks like a meteor crash into the jungle, the mutinous crew of the ship on which they've been sailing offers to take them to a different port of call rather than strand 'em. That meteor is of course Kal-El's rocket and he ends up being raised by apes who name him Argo-Zan. After finding the rocket and learning his true origin, Argo-Zan/Kal-El meets a group of tribesmen who he mistakes for Kryptonians, which doesn't go well for him.

Meanwhile however, Lord Greystokes' son is shown in England struggling to adapt to society. His father is disgruntled and concerned about his wayward boy, but has no idea what to do. After wandering the world, young Greystoke ends up as part of a scientific expedition to Africa that includes American reporter Lois Lane and her assistant Jane Porter. The two plots work their way into one another for a satisfying, big finish.

This story by Chuck Dixon ends up being an action-packed yet introspective look at what it means to be an outcast as a child -- and then find your place in the world as a young adult. Now re-read that sentence for emphasis. The vibrant, animated style of Carlos Meglia and rich colors of Dave Stewart come together to make for an adventurous look that perfectly pairs with the tone of the story.

3. Superman: Metropolis

The Rocket Lands In: A sci-fi city named Metropolis, located somewhere on Earth.

Metropolis is the golden-era classic by German film genius Fritz Lang about a utopian city made livable by an oppressed underclass of underground workers. It set the tone for a lot of great sci-fi movies that have come about since. So the notion of turning it into a Superman Elseworlds seemingly out of a shared name for a city might sound like a lame idea at first. The actual product though is better than would be expected even if imagining the best case scenario. R.J.M., Locificier and Roy Thomas tell a dark and moody tale that captures the bleakness of Lang's work and it's made even better by the paintings of Ted McKeever that are some of the most impressionistic abstract beautiful images in the entire landscape of comics.

Retelling the movies tale of a utopian city with an invisible class of workers who never get to enjoy the fruits of their labor on the surface world, while adding Clark Kent as a potential messiah of prophecy makes for a dynamic mix of myth. Jon-Kent is the master of Metropolis, who in turn serves his own master Lutor, who hypnotized him (with machinery engineered from the alien rocket bearing their adopted child) years earlier after murdering his wife Marta.

Extra points go to McKeever for creating one of the most distinctive redesigns of the of the Superman suit.

2. Red Son

The Rocket Lands In: Ukraine

(There will surely be some flak for this not being Number 1, but that will make sense in a shortly.)

This exploration of Superman as a Soviet jingoistic figure that uses the Cold War as a backdrop is genius. Mark Millar spins a fascinating yarn with iconic art by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett that focuses on Superman as hero behind the Iron Curtain. Raised on a humble farm collective in Ukraine and journeying to Moscow as an adult, his presence is revealed to the world during the Eisenhower administration and scares the crap out of the West. Scientific Genius Lex Luthor is put in charge of the project to take him down while his neglected wife Lois sits on the sidelines reporting for the Daily Planet.

Over the ensuing decades, Supes goes from being a hero to a ruler as the communist party pushes him to take over after the death of Joseph Stalin. Slowly spreading communism across the globe by taking in countries that give up on capitalism, Superman ends up as President of everything but the U.S.

Other DC heroes are touched upon in unique ways. Diana of Themyscira is first introduced to the world as an ambassador for a few years, before eventually becoming Wonder Woman. Batman is orphaned by Soviet police rather than criminals and becomes and freedom fighter against communism and Superman. The Green Lantern Corps. under Colonel Hal Jordan appear late in the story as part of a final effort to remove Superman from power.

The story builds to what is seriously the best ending of a Superman remix I've ever encountered.

1. True Brit

The Rocket Lands In: Weston Super Mare, England

What could have been just another boring "the rocket landed in a different place" story is transformed into a hilarious romp by John Cleese... yes that John Cleese. Well, Cleese is actually credited with giving "some help" to writer Kim "Howard" Johnson, still it's got John Cleese involved in the story. While Red Son might be technically better, having a member of Monty Python co-writing a story of Superman as a British character is the coolest, wildest and most nerdgasmic Elseworlds that currently exists and possibly the best of all time. The art by John Byrne and Mark Farmer has a goofy cartoonish feel that fits perfectly with the witty dialog and occasional bit of gory, slapstick violence.

In this tale, Superman's secret identity is named Colin Clark whose family motto is "WWTNT: What Would The Neighbors Think!"

Colin's parents do their best to discourage him from using his powers so as not to bring embarrassment upon the family. After going through college and becoming a tabloid "journalist" along with photographer Bartholomew Owens under editor Peregrin Whyte-Badger, Colin creates the Superman suit so he can help people without his parents being ashamed. Naturally, things don't go according to plan and deteriorate in quite amusing ways.

Sure, Red Son is a well constructed epic and all, but it's just outdone by the hilarity of True Brit.

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