Thursday, August 22, 2013

True or False: I Enjoy Tales of Alternate Realities


Edo Bosnar said...

True, in comics at least. I love Marvel's What If and DC's "imaginary stories" and, especially, Elseworlds - in the latter case, I would say they were by far some of DC's best output in the '90s and '00s in comparison to their regular, "canon" super-hero material.

Since you included an image of evil Spock, like most other Trek fans I absolutely loved that episode. However, I really hated it when that alternate reality was revisited in DS9 and Enterprise. Nothing new or interesting was done with the original idea - it was more like poorly done fan fiction.

Doug said...

Two thumbs up for DC's Elseworlds from me as well, Edo. I think what set that "series" apart from Marvel's "What If?" was the high caliber of creative talent on those special projects. Gotham by Gaslight, JLA: The Nail, and Superboy's Legion are among my favorites. I regret that I've never read some of the other noted stories, such as Superman: Red Son. The prestige mini Superman: Secret Identity (I'm not sure if it's technically an Elseworlds tale) is outstanding as well.


Edo Bosnar said...

No arguments about the general excellence of the various Elseworlds stories, Doug. I liked all the ones you mentioned, including the ones you didn't read: Red Son and Secret Identity (I think its "else" enough to be considered Elseworlds). Other favorites: pretty much every one written (and sometimes drawn) by Howard Chaykin, Byrne's Generations I and II, the Batman & Capt. America crossover (which was released under the Elseworlds imprint), Superman: Last Son of Earth/Last Stand on Krypton, JLA: Destiny, JSA: The Golden Age, JSA: Liberty File/Unholy Three...

As for What If, I agree that the quality varied, but there were still some really good ones. My very favorites are issue #3, which you have pictured, the Conan in the modern world story (#13), Daredevil as an agent of Shield (#28), the FF as Challengers of the Unknown (#36), and the all-comedy issue (#34).

Anonymous said...

An intriguing question BABers which, like most of these True or Falses, invites some interpretation. I guess my answer is "False". I think I enjoy alternate "imaginary stories" as Edo puts it, such as What If? I'm not real keen on all the parallel "real" universes floating around out there.


david_b said...

Sorry, not a generalized TRUE/FALSE question but for the smattering of alt universe stories I've read, I'd lean towards True.

I never truely got into the DC Alternate Earth-stories, but I have enjoyed some indulgences into alt universes, noteably both Trek's 'Mirror Mirror' and LIS's enjoyable 'The Anti-Matter Man', both oft cited by fans as the best episodes of both series. In interviews, all actors playing their evil counterparts seem to really enjoy the character change-up. In contrast, by the time fans got the 'Trek: Enterprise' alt universe stories, it had 'tired retred' written all over it.

The only 'What If' story I ever bought was ish 5 (Volume 2) featuring Vision and Wonderman and I enjoyed it quite well. I've been looking at the story about Gwen not being killed by the Goblin, but haven't picked it up yet.

Doug said...

Is Hulk: Future Imperfect considered an alternate reality story? I enjoyed that one. Of course, can you ever go wrong when George Perez is on the job?

I mentioned last week that I bought the hardcover Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, which includes the Superman vs. Wonder Woman LCE "novel". I'm really looking forward to reading that one again, after what - over 35 years?


Anonymous said...

Generally, false, but there have been exceptions. As a kid, I liked the annual Justice League-Justice Society team-ups, and the Earth-One/Earth-Two concept allowed variations on the same characters without violating continuity. I was never a big fan of "imaginary stories," whether in Superman family titles, Elseworlds, or What If. I think some writers may have felt too hemmed in by the complicated canon, and needed alternate realities just to have room to breathe. What annoyed me about Superman imaginary stories was how the writers would congratulate themselves for their arbitrary changes. Captions would say, "Surprise! In this story, Luthor is a hero and Clark Kent is a villain!" So what? Isn't the story supposed to be different from canon? Marvel's "What If" was similar. Sometimes, the premise was valid (what if Rick Jones had become the Hulk, what if someone other than Don Blake had found Thor's hammer), sometimes it was just idle speculation about nothing in particular. The "Wolverine as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." issue was an example of too many arbitrary changes from continuity. The best "alternate realities" take one event that could have turned out differently, either from fictional continuity (what if Krypton had not exploded), or from real history (what if the Nazis had won WWII, what if the CSA had won the Civil War), and proceed from that premise.

Anonymous said...

There was an episode of South Park which featured an ' evil ' alternative universe version of Cartman complete with goatee beard, the joke being that he was much nicer than our Cartman. It was quite difficult to find " What If " as it was a double -sized issue and they were always more difficult to find in Britain. One that I did read was " What If Phoenix had not died ? " which ended with the alternative Phoenix destroying the whole universe. It's a pity there isn't a Marvel Essential paperback of What If. I'd definitely say TRUE to the proposition.

J.A. Morris said...


The ultimate tribute to 'What If' stories was that some of them are good stories in their own right. I hadn't read the Korvac Saga when I read the What If story, it still worked.

david_b said...

Colin, I LOVE all the 'Mirror Mirror' spoofs on South Park and other cable shows. It needs to be done more (if well-written, of course).

Love the goatee's as well..!! It's become such a corny but fun story idea.

I remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine runs into the alt universe Jerry, George and Kramer. Very well done.

Matt Celis said...

Generally false as the tales tend to have no impact since they're just "what if." Some are well done. Kingdom Come I found to be awful, so predictable, I was surprised Mark Waid wrote it.

by they by, that Trek episode is not an "alternate reality," it's a parallel world like Earth-2. At least, I understand an alternate reality to be one that takes the place of our own rather than existing concurrently. Could be wrong.

Doug said...

Matt -- I loved Kingdom Come.

In the end, how many stories are not predictable? We've discussed before that sometimes the lack of permanent change is maddening. Even when the bad guy wins, it's only until the end of the next issue.

I just enjoy the experience of reading a comic -- I don't ever try to play author or director. Of course I reflect at the end, but as I read I just let it all unfold. This is not to say that I've never recognized a lemon for being a lemon, but generally I just want to be entertained with not a lot of mental output required.


Murray said...

Assuming a quality effort in art and writing, I firmly vote "True". Some of the What If/imaginary/Elseworlds have struck such a chord, that I find the mainline source comic suddenly dull in comparison.

Then again, many of these alternate reality tales are such dripping dreck, I've wanted to shove a scrub brush thru my ears and into my brain. But still, I picked up the issue with great anticipation of a "just suppose" taste treat.

I can't nail down a single explanation. Maybe it's the underlying intellectual puzzle of it all. The premise challenges "just suppose this particular butterfly was stepped on". My brain immediately starts wondering. What would be the result? How would history change? Even as I flip to page one, my imagination is offering up a whack of ideas and predictions. Now, let's see what this creative team reckoned...

15 or 20 minutes later, it's either "Cool" or "where's that brain bleach?".

William said...

I depends if were talking about "imaginary" tales like "What-If and Elseworlds" type stories, or "alternate realities" like DC's multiple Earths and Ultimate Marvel U, etc. (It's a fine line, but there is a difference).

If we're talking the former, I would have to say FALSE, because I am not a big fan of "imaginary" stories.

I know that once when Alan Moore was asked if his "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow" was an imaginary story, he said that "They're all imaginary stories." (Meaning superhero comics).

That said, stories like What-If and Elseworlds really just don't count, so it makes them less important, and thus less interesting to me. I used to read the occasional What-If back in the day, but it always left me slightly depressed, because they usually ended quite tragically. In fact, I remember one called "What-If Peter Parker Had Kept Wearing His Black Alien Costume" (or something to effect). Well, the end result was basically the destruction of the entire Marvel Universe. Wow! That's quite a consequence for such a seemingly benign decision.

I read "Gotham by Gaslight" and I thought it was OK, but it didn't make me want to read more Elseworlds books. I think I read "The Nail" also, but not many others.

Hey, isn't Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" considered not part of regular DC continuity. If so, then wouldn't that make it the first "Elseworlds" tale?

Karen said...

Guys -don't get hung up on the term. Alternate reality, imaginary story, parallel universe -whatever you want to call it - the question is do you enjoy seeing these different versions of beloved characters?

mr. oyola said...

This is one of those topics that as I read through the comments I can hardly wait to reply to!

I have to say an unequivocally and unabashed TRUE. I LOVE LOVE LOVE THEM.

And, like Karen, I make no distinction between alternate reality and imaginary story (guess what? they're ALL imaginary stories. Heh.) Anyway, even the supposed "imaginary stories" sometimes get turned into alternate realities (or crossover into the "main" reality) if they are popular enough. (like What if #9 got turned into one of my favorite contemporary -now cancelled- series, Agents of Atlas).

In fact, isn't the conceit of What If? that they are all alternate universes that the Watcher (or his brethren) can peek into?

I would go as far to say that every time a new writer/artist team takes over a title what we have is a shift into an alternate reality - same goes for every 10 years or so when the previous decade(s) are compressed so that Peter Parker isn't 60 years old or whatever - there is no such thing as universal continuity, only the continuity of individual readers who pick and choose what is meaningful about a character to them - it is a fruitless task to try to imagine that serialized superhero comics constitute some kind of coherent world.

Heh. It is a fruitless task to imagine that _real life_ constitutes some kind of coherent world - we just make do with the stories that are most meaningful to us, good or bad.

That being said, of course not ever shift of worlds or What If? story is equally as good (as we all know).

Anonymous said...

I loved the first What If series from Marvel. Not only the already mentioned "What If Korvac won?" and "What If the FF never got powers (the Challengers of the Unknown", but also gems "What if the Phoenix hadn't died?", and "What if Daredevil was and agent of Shield?", and "What if Elecktra hadn't died?". The best were done by creative teams associated with the original story lines, but I agree they could be hit or miss. Some just went for the old "everyone dies at the end" which got old fast. The second series was less impressive, but some of the one-shots recently have been good--"What if the heroes lost the Secret Invasion?" was pretty good.

The DC ones seemed higher quality, but overall less interesting to me. I loved "The Nail" and "Superboy's Legion" (basically anything by Davis!), but thought that "Red Sun" was very overrated. Again, it varied by the creative team---I like Byrne, but his work on "True Brit" was not a high-point for me.

I actually liked the alternate timeline stuff in Trek, a fun departure and obviously a lot of fun for the actors to change things up. The X-men pretty much used this kind of stuff as their corner-stone for the past 30 years or so, right?

Pat Henry said...

True. I have a soft spot for them, especially when they break a tired mold or shine new light on established characters. And what is their point, if they don't do this?

One eddy I particularly liked was the two-part X-Man, "An Age Undream'd Of," when all the Marvel characters were suddenly catapulted into a Hyborean New York. Avenger and X-Men histories completely rewritten, and their powers reimagined in a magical realm. really quite different.

Pat Henry said...

...And I have to say, the ONLY Star Trek: Enterprise episode(s) I liked was the alt universe two-parter.

Like mr. oyola, love em.

mr. oyola said...


Are those X-Men issues the one with Kulan Gath?

I was gonna mention those!

The only two issues I kept when I sold off all my X-Men issues back in the late 90s.

david_b said...

Agreed on Enterprise parallel universe entertainment with Pat and Mr. Oyola.

I mentioned earlier that I felt the concept was getting 'tired' by the time ST:E was using it, that's still true.

But quite frankly, it was the only ST:E episodes I barely COULD watch. :)

Edo Bosnar said...

Eh, I found even those episodes of ST:E groan-worthy and basically unwatchable...

Matt Celis said...

I always liked those "Imaginary Stories" of Superman, Lois, Jimmy, and the gang. Sheer goofiness and fun. Would have liked What If? better if it didn't seem to mostly rely on 2nd- or 3rd-tier artists.

Garett said...

TRUE. I remember liking What If, like the Conan story Edo mentioned. I really enjoyed Elseworlds, as it was a refreshing return to imagination in comics after the literal-minded straightjacket of continuity. Some people put Haney's Brave and Bold in the alternate reality section, and look at the great wild stories that came out of that title.

My favorite Elseworlds are by Garcia Lopez, all solid stories or better:
Superman,Inc.- where Supes is an arrogant sports star instead of hero.
Superman Kal- Kalel's ship lands on Earth in the middle ages.
Batman Reign of Terror- set during French Revolution.

Plus there was Superman Distant Fires, with Chaykin writing and Gil Kane/Kevin Nowlan on art. Also I'd buy a monthly comic of Dr. Strangefate, with his agents "Bruce Banner, Skulk", "Wanda Zatara, White Witch", and a female Green Lantern "Jade Nova".

Anonymous said...

Well, let's agree the "imaginary Superman stories" were a bit of an acquired taste...enough said. I thought that What If was a great idea, not just the Korvac story (which was great) but the Conan stories too. I mean, seeing Thor argue with Crom...
I thought D.C. did some interesting things with the whole "Elseworlds," though let's be honest, D.C. is basically nothing BUT Elseworlds these days. Who even knows who Aquaman, Dr. Fate and Hawkman are anymore. But It's been like that for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Was Howard the Duck an alternate reality to the Marvel Universe in the '70's, or in the same timeline so it was possible that, say Daredevil could look down and say, "well there's a talking cartoon duck."

david_b said...

Spidey was in his first issue, and Howard met the Defenders in his Treasury Edition, so I'd say he was..

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't strictly "bronze age" but I liked Grant Morrison's take on alternate timelines and parallel universes, in "Animal Man," JLA, and later stuff, where Superman visited Limbo and ran into the Inferior Five and the old old Captain Marvel and other cast-off characters from the DCU. It's nice to think they're all out there somewhere, sort of existing, like that cat in Schroedinger's box. He dealt with these characters with a certain affection that was...nice to read.

Fred W. Hill said...

Heck, as long as it's a good story or at least an amusing enough diversion, I can get into imaginary stories. I felt a bit differently as an adolescent comics geek when part of the reason I preferred Marvel over DC was the former's stronger coherence to continuity and realistic characterization. Of course, that began to fall apart with Marvel Team Up, which was hit & miss as far as continuity went, but in my perception things really went off the track by the '90s with Spidey & Wolverine, among others, appearing in so many mags each month and it's become increasingly impossible to fit the events of so many mags into a satisfying narrative. These days I prefer mags that essentially exist in their own reality and mostly ignore whatever's happening in elsewhere in the company, except those titles with the same writer. Morrison's Animal Man is a good example; I didn't latch onto that until over 20 years after the original floppies were published, but I liked the absurdist meta-fiction of Animal Man meeting his greatest foe -- mainly the guy who wrote the scenes that caused Buddy so much torment, including the slaughter of his family, that is Morrison himself, who oh so casually explained the realities of comicbook characters who often outlive their creators and may be brought to life decades after they were shown to have died and if they're popular enough never age more than a few years at most. And every time a new writer or artist takes over, it's as if the character is born again, becoming something different if only subtly. Spider-Man and his supporting cast all changed when Romita took over from Ditko, even if Lee was still supplying the dialogue.
Anyhow, I did collect What If? although it seems many issues took the approach of, "oh, so you thought that was bad, look at how we can make it far worse!" I think we can all imagine scenarios where Spidey saves Gwen and they manage to have some sort of happy ending, even if Pete & Gwen have to move to England to stay with her wealthy uncle to escape the madness of JJJ. But of course it's much more dramatic to show how everything goes to hell as Pete's identity is exposed, etc.
Of course, Pete & Gwen are both still alive at the end of that story so there's still hope, unlike some of those What If's where by tales end pretty much everyone is dead or in miserable straits.

Anonymous said...

I'd say generally true - like Doug, I've always enjoyed the stretching of established canonic boundaries through such stories like Marvel's What If series and the Mirror, Mirror episode of ST:TOS.

When it's well done, such alternate reality/parallel universe stories allow writers and artists to cut loose creatively without having to slavishly follow established guidelines. It gives writers especially free rein to let their imagination run wild. Sometimes the results are mediocre but occasionally we get some real gems. Of course, if it's not well done it just seems stale and rehashed.

I remember George Takei saying that he really loved taping that particular episode because it allowed him to stretch his acting muscles by playing a totally evil and ruthless version of Sulu quite unlike the reserved nice guy Sulu he had to portray every week. You could tell he had a blast just by watching his performance in this episode!

- Mike 'what if .... I chose fish instead of chicken tonight?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

I gotta tell ya, Fred, you got a point there. No sarcasm intended. I think anybody who loves fiction runs the danger of taking these characters too seriously. Still, you do tread a bit heavily, so to speak.

Rip Jagger said...

Love 'em!

Even back when they were simply called "Imaginary Stories", alternate world tales were especially tasty because the sometimes stale status quo would be shaken up well and good.

Rip Off

Teresa said...


"What If... the Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?"
That was my first childhood alternate tale. I was hooked.

"What if the Hulk went Berserk?" That one haunted my thoughts for a long time.

"What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man?"
That was a chilling one too.

Many of the DC Elseworlds.
"Nail" and "Another Nail."
John Byrne's "Generations" All of them. Even the longer series. It may have been hit and miss. But it was a worthy effort.
"Red Sun" stands out.
I am a LSH fan, so the fun spirit of "Superboy's Legion" was wonderful.

Star Trek TNG: "Yesterday's Enterprise." The fact that they didn't know time had changed, made for a great story.

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