You would think that having the powers of a radioactive spider, or wearing a cape to a fight, would qualify as crazy enough for comic books. Not so. Comics delve into alternate worlds that show different sides of their superheroes – nutbag, wacko-smacko sides. Take a look at the looniest alternate reality versions of superheroes.
10. Ultraman in Crisis on Two Earths
Ultraman is the evil version of Superman. In several different DC stories, he’s a member of the Crime Syndicate, which comprises evil versions of all the Justice League characters. In one alternate universe he murders the President. In another, he sets up a cult and tries to marry his own cousin. Why is the craziest version of him in the animated movie Crisis on Two Earths? Because he has a New Jersey accent. Think, for a second, about that. Kal-El drops down in Kansas, and he’s a loyal friend, a conscientious reporter, a devoted husband, and The World’s Greatest Hero. Kal-El drops down in New Joisey (or possibly New Yawk, I’m not great with accents), and he runs his own superpowered crime syndicate.
9. Hunter Spider-Man from What if Spider-Man Had Killed Kraven?
If you kill the beast, you must become him. And since you don’t want to be alone in your big empty hall with your tiki torches and your tooth necklace, you then have to collar and leash a bunch of your friends. And also a lion. There are a lot of stories that predict dire consequences if the hero has a moral lapse, but this is one of my favourites. The tame lion, the rhino-skull shoulder pad, the absolute erasure of identity, and that indefinable hint of the dork that always sticks to Spider-Man. It’s delicious.
8. The Undead Punisher in Franken-Castle: Birth of the Monster
Frank Castle is one of Marvel’s most popular characters. So having him brutally, and easily, killed by Daken, on of Marvel’s least popular characters, seemed like a bad idea. But that’s what’s great about comics. If you lean hard enough on a terrible idea, it can become great. After Frank got slashed to pieces, he was stitched back together and made into Franken-Castle. Yes, the most stripped-down, gritty, realistic Marvel antihero got bolts in his neck that brought him back to life. Because, that’s why. Franken-Castle bonded with other monsters and fought off monster hunters, all while hunting down the guy who cut him apart. It was a sensationally fun story. If you’re interested – the panel above shows Daken’s expression when he realises Frank has come back for him.
7. Chibi Batman in Superman/Batman #51
Most of the time, when superheroes contact other worlds, they run into more evil versions of themselves. This time, it’s the other way around. The heroes of the regular DC universe are overrun by adorable pint-sized versions of themselves that are so upstanding and sweet-natured it’s almost unbearable – more so when Batman kicks the chibi version of himself across the room. When things settle down, the real comedy starts. You see, in Chibi Batman’s world, he built his identity on a horrible thing that happened to his parents. They were pushed. Pushed down in the street right in front of him! Little Chibi Bruce Wayne swore that no bully would ever push anyone again. When he asks what happened to our Batman’s parents, the hardened, cynical crime fighter doesn’t have the heart to tell him.
6. Intelligent Designer Hulk in What if Hulk had Landed on the Planet the Illuminati Intended?
Not long ago, people decided to shoot the Hulk into space. They had good ideas, but bad aim, and so sent him to the wrong planet. Craziness ensued, and it’s epic craziness – it’s not the deep dark philosophical craziness that sets in when a What If story takes us through Hulk’s existence if he’d gotten to the right planet. After some understandable rampaging, Hulk comes to care for some pikachu-like creatures that roam around his new home. They’re having a tough time, getting preyed upon, and he defends them against their enemies. He does this for a long, long time. A long enough time that they evolve culture and sentience and set up a religion around him, and Hulk roams their forests like a half-god, half bigfoot. So not only is Marvel making the case for intelligent design, they’re also saying the “wrath of god” is Hulk’s fury.
5. Captain Northern America in What if Captain America Had Lived in the American Civil War?
This is what happens people watch Dances With Wolves. After Captain America stumbles away from his regiment, refusing to attack civilians even when a kid stabs him with a pitchfork, he – I don’t even know. There is no way to adequately explain this. I just know that he ends up in that outfit, fighting his old Union commander, Bucky Barnes, who has become White Skull. And that he loves cut-off jeans.
As a note, there’s a nearly identical Superman story, in which Superman fights in the Civil War. Like Cap, he has a crisis of faith. He flies up into the sky, asking God for a sign, and is immediately and directly struck by lightning. After the war he, like Cap, saves Lincoln. Then he crafts his spaceship into a horse and rides it west, saying he needs to save the Native American tribes there. Oh, what a crossover this might have produced.
4. Pilgrim Batman in The Return of Bruce Wayne
Some years ago, Bruce Wayne died. It was an easy death to miss, because he started coming back the next month. The Return of Bruce Wayne featured Batman making his appearance through history, from the stone age to the end of the universe. We had cowboy Batman and Pirate Batman, but, by far, Pilgrim Batman was the nuttiest. He managed to be the biggest cashew in the bowl not because he was so unlike regular Batman, but because he resembled the modern Batman so completely. Seeing him stalk through a bonneted woman’s house, his eyes shining from under his buckled hat, and slowly piece together the clues that showed that she killed her husband was so much more insane than watching him happily eating a turkey leg. This was a particular alternate reality I wish they had stuck with a while longer. CSI: Plymouth was an amazing comic.
3. Pimp Conan in What if Conan Were Stranded in the 20th Century
Comics has had great success with updating classic characters. They adjust their values and their looks, making them fit in with the modern world. Are there limits to this power? Yes. Yes, there are. Conan proves it. In this story about him coming to the 20th century, the worst parts aren’t when he’s stumbling around New York, accidentally mugging people and trying to figure how pizza works. The worst parts are when he learns the ropes and adapts – becoming a character superficially resembling Conan but utterly unlike the Conan we know. Imagine waking up one day and finding that your family has been replaced with lifelike robots. That’s how viscerally creepy it is.
2. The Green Lantern Corps in 1001 Emerald Nights
If you’ve ever thought, “It would be great if we could transplant the Green Lanterns into the world of 1001 Arabian Nights,” you would be the second person in the whole world who had that thought. The first was whoever had the idea for this book. Yes, it is based on the Scheherazade story, with Jade subbing in as the lucky lady who is about to be bedded and beheaded. She plans to kill the evil sultan, Ibn Raynor, but she finds out that he’s a dreamy, disconnected man who leaves ruling the kingdom to his evil adviser. This means, she concludes, that the many abuses that his people suffered during his reign weren’t his fault, because being stupid and passive absolves you of absolutely everything. Instead of murdering him, Jade tells him the story of Al Jhor Dan, who found a magic green genie in a lamp. As a concept, genies subbing in for power rings work quite well, but the rest of the Green Lantern mythology transferred onto a fantasy setting is mind-bogglingly bizarre. In one story, Al Jhor Dan, the fisherman, finds a Guardian of the Universe clinging to rock and about to be drowned. In another, Al dresses in drag to get a tribe of desert monsters to fight over him. To be fair, though, he works it.
1. Evil Centaur Superman in Whom Gods Destroy
Superman becomes a centaur in the book Whom Gods Destroy. The title refers to a quote “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” The book takes that quote literally. To read even a few pages of this book is to lose your grip on reality to the point of vertigo. It seems to be about a chess game played by Greek gods on the world stage – a side effect of which is the Nazis not losing in World War II. The book features Nazi Wonder Woman, and Nazi Adonis tempting an elderly Lois Lane, but Superman goes through the most. At one point he transforms into a blonde female version of himself, but it’s the centaur transformation that’s holds the most morbid fascination. Seeing Superman smack around his harem of centaur women, and hit on a still-very-human Lana Lang is strange enough. Seeing Lana pull out a bridle and literally ride the evil out of him might require a five minute break in reading so you can press a cold compress against your head. The book doesn’t have a coherent story, so there’s no way to accurately describe what happens, but suffice it to say that Lois, Lana, and a re-bipedalized Clark all end up living together. On the moon.