With Joker receiving widespread critical acclaim, it’s time for DC to consider giving us more Elseworlds films. Here are 5 we think they should consider making!
When Todd Phillips Joker was initially announced, it caused quite a bit of confusion and quite a lot of skepticism. Here we would have a movie that would not only give us a third version of the Joker in a decade, but one that would be completely unconnected with current continuity being built by the DCEU.
Even I — a self professed diehard DC fan — professed my extreme skepticism and reluctance regarding a film that would deliver an origin story for a character I’ve long thought didn’t need one.
I have yet to watch Joker, as it doesn’t release until October 4th to general audiences. However, the film has already built up quite a bit of awards steam due to its showings at the Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival. It won the top prize of The Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, with critics at both that film festival and TIFF raving about Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and Todd Phillips’ direction.
Given the nature of its title character and the controversy already surrounding the film, Joker certainly won’t be for everyone — I’m still not even all that certain that it’ll be for me. However, there’s no denying the buzz or the accolades heaped on this film — both of which have helped push Joker towards a projected $82 million opening weekend.
Of course, that’s just a current projection, and there’s always the chance that the film will walk away with an opening weekend total that’s more in the range of $65 – $80 million, which a number closer to Warner Bros. expectations.
Still, given the fact that the reported budget for Joker was a mere $55 million, the film could then easily make back its budget in its opening weekend alone.
Warner Bros. took quite a risk with Joker, and so far, it seems that risk has paid off spectacularly — both critically and financially (we predict, at least).
And while audiences have come to expect interconnected universes from their comic book movies these days, Joker makes the case that such a model doesn’t have to be the only model for comic book movie storytelling. In fact, the film is a representation of what DC used to do with its Elseworlds branded stories that it published from 1989 to 2003, and what it’s trying to do with its current DC Black Label imprint.
These are stories that give creatives access to iconic DC characters, but free them from the constraints of canon DC continuity — which is exactly what Joker is.
Given the current and forecasted success of Joker, it’s a good time for Warner Bros. to start considering some other characters and stories to adapt as an Elseworlds film.
For the purposes of this article, I’ve chosen potential films based on the fact that they would use a specific character in such a way that it wouldn’t fit into current DCEU continuity, the timeline or universe in which that story takes place, or some combination of the two.
Gotham by Gaslight
What it is: Gotham by Gaslight is considered to be the first Elseworlds story. As you can tell by the title, it’s a Batman tale — one set in the 19th Century. In this alternate universe, Bruce Wayne comes up against Jack the Ripper, who has recently begun terrorizing Gotham City.
Why it should be an Elseworlds film: Gotham by Gaslight has actually already been adapted as a DC Animated feature film — and a damn good one at that. It adds a bunch more cameos to the story — like the batboys and Selina Kyle in a lead role — than originally existed in the comics, and is just a lot of fun all around.
However, Batman is so much fun to see transplanted to the dingy 19th century that I’d love to see a live action version of this story. There are plenty of ways to remix the specific plot details of the story so that both comic book readers and those of us who watched the animated version are still surprised, while also keeping the setting and overall plot arc the same.
For example, the comic book had Bruce Wayne’s friend Jacob Packer as Jack the Ripper, while the animated movie had Jim Gordon as Jack the Ripper, which means a live-action version could go with either of these or a new character — ahem, Jason Todd — revealed to be Jack.
This would be a great ‘true’ Elseworlds story to adapt to the big screen, and one that would likely be quite profitable, as nearly all Batman stories tend to be.
What it is: Kingdom Come is the gold standard not only in Elseworlds storytelling, but comic book storytelling in general. This 1996 Mark Waid written, Alex Ross painted Elseworlds future tale has been on just about every “Best Graphic Novels Of All Time” list that’s come out in the last two decades or so — and for good reason.
It’s a superhero deconstructionist tale set in a future in which Superman has retired, Batman has an underground superhero army and Lex Luthor runs the MLF — the Mankind Liberation Front. It pits the old, traditional superheroes against the frenetic, amoral new generation of superpowered beings, all while thoughtfully exploreing the roles and responsibilities of those we dub to be superheroes.
Also, it has a ton of fantastic and beautifully rendered action scenes that would look beautiful on the big screen.
Why it should be an Elseworlds film: Kingdom Come is such an epic — and epically loved — story, that it seems nearly impossible to adapt it into a film.
But, damn, I sure would love to see someone try.
Preferably someone accustomed to telling epic stories on screen in a way that’s beautiful, evocative and impressive, but is also able to deliver smaller, more intimate moments that reflect on the burden of responsibility and the weight of power.
That’s a tall order, but Kingdom Come is no ordinary story. Unlike Joker, which is a low-budget (especially compared to other comic book movies) character study, Kingdom Come would require a massive budget, along with a huge — and hugely talented — cast.
By its very nature, this movie wouldn’t be an indie darling — it’d be a blockbuster event, which means it’d be an even bigger risk as an Elseworlds film.
Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained — and a Kingdom Come movie done right would have a lot to gain for Warner Bros.
Who he is: Vandal Savage is an immortal supervillain who has been responsible for a hundred different wars and atrocities throughout the course of human history. Though we know him as Vandal Savage, he’s also gone by a few other names you might recognize — Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Blackbeard, Vlad the Impaler, and Jack the Ripper, to name just a few.
Vandal Savage began his life as an ordinary caveman living his life as the leader of the Cro-Magnon Wolf Tribe in 50,000 BC. However, that all changed when a meteorite bathed him in mysterious light, giving him super strength, super intellect and immortality. Since then, Vandal Savage has been involved in all sorts of villainy and gone up against all the different iterations of the Justice Society and the Justice League.
Why he should be an Elseworlds film: Vandal Savage is no stranger to being adapted for the small screen, having made appearances in Smallville (under the name Curtis Knox, since the CW then was not allowed to use the name), the Arrowverse and in Young Justice. He’s never been adapted in live action for the big screen, though he would certainly be a formidable antagonist against any of the current roster of DCEU heroes.
In fact, I almost didn’t put Vandal Savage on this list at all, because unlike the rest of the properties on this list, he would actually make sense as part of the DCEU continuity as an antagonist. However, the character of Vandal Savage is so interesting and so filled with potential, that I think nothing less than a history spanning, epic solo movie would do him justice. Freeing him from the constraints of whatever mess the DCEU currently considers its continuity would really be the only way to be able to do that well.
I’d love to see Vandal Savage as a historical science fiction film, one which takes advantage of the many names Vandal Savage has used over the years to perpetuate violence and war over the course of human history. It would be a film that would jump from time period to time period, and focus on the skills, strategies and motivations of one of DC’s best supervillains — which are all interesting enough on their own that it wouldn’t require the film to directly include any superheroes.
Or, if it did, let the movie flash forward to the 31st century, and give us a glimpse of the lesser-known (to general audiences at least) Legion of Superheroes. That’s definitely a movie I’d love to see.
Who he is: Michael Cray comes from the Wildstorm imprint of DC Comics, which exists in its own continuity and comes with its own cast of superpowered heroes and supervillains. Though Wildstorm was initially created by Jim Lee as an independent publishing company, it became a part of DC Comics in 1999. DC then shut down the imprint in 2010 and integrated several Wildstorm characters into the main DC Comics continuity with the New 52 reboot. However, it’s always a wild ride with DC, and the company revived the imprint with Warren Ellis’ The Wild Storm in 2017.
With that revival came a solo book focused on Michael Cray, alias Deathblow, a former special forces soldier turned professional assassin. Though he was once employed by International Operations, he quit when he realized they were using him to further their own selfish goals. Now he works as an assassin for Executive Protection Services, hoping to use his skills to do some good in the world.
Why he should be an Elseworlds film: I have three words for why Michael Cray needs to be an Elseworlds film — Evil Justice League.
Of course, the idea of an evil Justice League members isn’t new — and has been explored in stories like the ever popular Flashpoint Paradox and Injustice — two stories that have been rumored to become a part of the DCEU continuity now and again. However, what sets apart Michael Cray’s story is that the Justice League heroes didn’t slowly become villains — they were always villains to begin with. In the Wildstorm universe, these characters’ trauma didn’t motivate them to become better versions of themselves — they turned them into the cruelest possible versions instead.
Through the course of his story, Michael Cray goes up against demented funhouse versions of the Justice League, including: a cruel Oliver Queen who never really came back from the island; a cannibalistic, monstrous Arthur Curry who spliced his genes with aquatic animals; and a megalomaniacal Diana Prince whose obsession with summoning the mythological Greek Gods leads her to murder indiscriminately.
It’s an incredible series, not just because it’s fun to see alternate universe versions of our favorite heroes, but because Michael Cray himself is such a fascinating character — one who deserves his own Elseworlds movie where he systematically hunts down and kills the evil Justice League.
Who they are: DC Bombshells was initially a line of DC Collectible figurines which re-imagined popular DC Comics superheroines as 1940s pin-up girls, based on the 2011 designs by Ant Lucia. However, the design of the bombshells became so popular that DC Comics decided to launch a comic book series based on them, thus gifting us with Marguerite Bennett’s digital-first series.
DC Bombshells ran for 100 digital issues, and is a complete re-imagining of the DC Comics heroes and continuity. It focused solely on female superheroes and was set in the context of both the war front and home front of the 1940’s. It features heroes from all over the world — Batwoman is an American spy, Batgirl is a member of the French Air Force, and Supergirl is initially part of Russia’s Soviet Air Force — who are all fighting to stop the Nazis.
Why they should be an Elseworlds film: DC Bombshells is both an alternate universe story and a complete re-imagining of popular heroes, so it could only make sense as an Elseworlds film.
And what a cool Elseworlds film it would be! Those put off by the darker, grittier story of Joker — or even my imagined Elseworlds films featuring Vandal Savage and Michael Cray — would be absolutely delighted by the brightness and fun of a DC Bombshells film. Not only does Bombshells put a twist on each of the origin stories of the heroes, the story arc itself is all about how our favorite female superheroes are fighting bad guys abroad and on the home front during World War II.
The story is one in which the female superheroes are front and center. That means seeing a whole lot of female friendships on the screen — something we are solely lacking in films in general and within comic book movies specifically — and seeing women be heroes in a variety of ways.
Marguerite Bennett really had fun with the time period and made good use of it, positioning each character within a different genre of that decade — Batwoman is an adventure story while Wonder Woman is a war story; Supergirl is a propaganda film, Zatanna is a Hammer horror film, and Catwoman is a noir spy story.
Finally, one of my favorite things about this alternate universe version of the DC superheroines is that they don’t exist as female counterparts of male heroes. Marguerite Bennett explained that “in this alternate history World War II the women came first. No heroine is derivative of a male counterpart. They are the heroes.”
Which means there’s no Batman and no Superman who did it first. This is a story about women saving the day and looking fantastic while doing it. In short, it’s exactly the type of movie we all need right now.