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An "Elseworlds" for the Real World!

by Joel Ellis Rea AKA “COMALite J”

“Elseworlds” have become a DC tradition in the past decade; their answer to Marvel’s “What If?”s which in turn were an answer to DC’s earlier “Imaginary Stories.” These involve “out-of-continuity” stories that don’t impact the mainstream continuity, but are held to exist either only in the imagination (the original Imaginary Stories, and of course as all fiction truly does), or in an alternate timeline where some decision or chance went a different way than it did in the mainstream continuity (as per some Elseworlds and nearly all What If?s), or in some wildly different setting from the usual (as in many Elseworlds), though that latter is really a special case of the first.

The middle scenario, that of some decision or chance happening differently and changing all that happened afterwards as a result, is one of my favorite types of fiction in general, called “alternate history” (including novels like “Guns of the South” and comics like “Captain Confederacy”). Those relatively few Elseworlds that are based on such a premise are among my very favorites (e.g. “JLA: The Nail”).

Now Fanzing is going to try something a bit different: an Elseworlds for the Real World of DC publishing history, rather than just the continuity of the characters. What If DC had done something different from what they actually did, about six years ago? Or, more accurately, what if I had not been too cowardly to submit a proposal I’d been playing with already for a couple of years prior at that time, when I had the chance? Now, granted, major companies like DC and Marvel almost never, ever, accept cold submissions from unknowns that would radically change continuity. The odds against them accepting this even if I’d submitted it are extremely small, but still, those odds are greater (if only slightly) than the zero odds they turned out to be in reality because I never even submitted the thing! You can’t blame DC for not doing this, because I never even gave them the chance! But what if I had submitted, and they did decide to actually use it?

About four and a half years ago, in the summer of 1994, DC began Zero Hour, which they said was to be basically a sequel to 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, which totally restructured DC’s continuity. Like the Crisis before it, Zero Hour suffered from poor planning as to its consequences — for instance, a recently introduced character, Impulse, had an origin that ZH basically demolished (they later did an admirable repair job, but with better planning that wouldn’t have been necessary). Supergirl (Matrix) is another example, and her origin still hasn’t been adequately repaired. Perhaps DC should have waited a year, until 1995, which in my opinion would’ve been more appropriate anyway, being a nice round decade after the series it was a sequel to. Crisis in ’85, Zero Hour in ’95. Of course, this would’ve meant that the Legion of Super-Heroes would’ve had to drag out its ruined continuity another year — the complete rebooting of the 30th Century continuity is, again in my opinion, the only really worthwhile result of ZH. But I think it would’ve been worth it.

So what would DC have done in ’94, if ZH was postponed until ’95? Another summer crossover, structured similarly to those that had come before: Invasion!, Armageddon: 2001, Eclipso: The Darkness Within, and Bloodlines. Each of these had a miniseries (usually two issues long) running in conjunction with regular issues (which in the case of the latter three were Annuals), usually as “bookends” with the first issue of the miniseries beginning the crossover and providing the setting for the Annuals/regular issues, and the second issue providing the climax and conclusion. Some had a third issue, which made the second issue a sort of “half-time” sub-climax before the big finish in the third issue.

The new 1994 crossover would’ve been thematically a sequel to all four of those previous ones, not only in form but in continuity. In fact, it would’ve appeared as if DC had done all four of those just to lead into the big one in the summer of 1994. We didn’t get to see this crossover in real life, but here in Fanzing, we’re going to do it in a sort of Elseworlds.

Imagine it’s five years ago — towards the end of 1993. The first rumblings of this crossover are being felt in the trade press, online fan groups, etc. The Web wasn’t all that popular yet, but there were (and still are) active fan groups on a variety of online services, including AmericaOnline, CompuServe, and GEnie (now simply “Genie” since GE sold it), not to mention Usenet, the Internet newsgroups that preceded the World Wide Web (and which also still exist), as well as some services that are now defunct such as QuantumLink and American PeopleLink. Rumors are spreading like wildfire. No one outside of DC editorial even knows the name of the upcoming crossover. It’s only known that it will be big, encompassing storylines and explaining apparent discrepancies in not only those four prior crossovers, but many other DC stories of the time and earlier.

Fanzing will, over the next nine months or so, attempt to reproduce as closely as possible within the bounds of what an online fanzine can do, just what five years ago might’ve been like if I’d submitted my proposal and DC had gone along with it. This issue of Fanzing will contain, for instance, a simulation of events in January, 1994, five years ago exactly. The next issue will do February of 1994, again exactly five years previously. And so on, up to about August of 1999, which will duplicate August of 1994.

The story begins, as it had with Zero Hour and other events, with the Showcase series, a title DC had at the time for showcasing new talent and stories which may or may not be in continuity. The public at large would not know which Showcase story(ies) would be laying the groundwork for the crossover, but would know that some stories therein would. Since it’s already January, and since DC cover-dated books about two months in advance at the time, the Showcase issue being released this month (five years ago) would be Showcase ’94 #3, the February 1994-dated issue, but shipping in January. Already some of the preliminaries have been going on for at least three or four months, dating back to the final issue(s) of Showcase ’93. If enough Fanzing writers accept the challenge, we may show some of those stories after the fact, but for now it’s only important to know that these stories all appear to be self-contained, not connected to anything else, not even each other, except for three similarities to each other:

  1. Each is a solo adventure starring one of the New Blood heroes introduced this past (five years ago, remember) summer during the (significantly-less-than-mediocre) Bloodlines crossover.
  2. All of the stories take place around the time they’re to be released: namely, late 1993 to early 1994.
  3. Similarity #3 I won’t reveal just yet, but it should soon become apparent (if you’re interested in writing one of these stories, #3 is revealed in a Spoiler page in the Writing Challenge section).

In these earlier issues, there may be two such stories per issue. Later, there will only be one per Showcase issue because space for the second will be taken up by a multi-part storyline that also lays major groundwork for the crossover. I’ll be writing that one. (Indeed, I already did, over six years ago. It first appeared starting in December, 1992, on GEnie, in their Comics and Animation RoundTable [RT — Page 1320] Bulletin Board, in CATegory 32 [“Fan Fiction and Parodies”] TOPic 4 [“Editorial Meeting in Progress”]. Those of you who’ve already read that story, please keep mum! I don’t want too much revealed too soon.) Unlike the New Blood (apparent) one-shots, this four-part story is set earlier, about three months prior to the events in the earliest of the New Blood stories. It will be told in the form of a flashback, and the telling of the flashback is what takes place three months prior to the earliest New Blood stores. The events of a set of Interludes in that story will also take place roughly simultaneously with the telling of the flashback. But the events told in the flashback happened some months earlier than the telling of it, and in fact began shortly after the events of Eclipso: The Darkness Within #2. By the time this story ends (in May), the title and nature of the crossover will stand revealed. Finally, starting in June will be the crossover itself.

To give you the best simulation of the experience of actually reading these as comics, my own contributions to this storyline will be written in comics script treatment form, not as prose. Due to legal limitations, fanzines are not permitted to do actual comics (art and pictures together telling a story), since that would compete with the actual comics publishers using their intellectual property against them and without their permission. DC (and Marvel) have given fanzines blanket license to publish fan fiction (text) and fan artwork, so long as they’re not put together to make a comics style story. Thus, the script format is the closest we can come to duplicating the experience of actually reading the comics.

Also, to give you the same chance to figure out where all of this is headed from the clues that would have been available to the actual readers in 1993 and 1994, you might want to refresh your memory by rereading (or reading for the first time if you’ve never done so) or at least familiarizing yourself with the following (in no particular order, not of importance or publishing history or any other):

  • Armageddon: 2001, Eclipso: The Darkness Within, and Bloodlines. To a lesser degree, the events of Invasion! are also important to this.
  • The entire run of the Will Payton Starman, plus the latter part of the Firestorm series (starting with the merger of Mikhail into the Firestorm matrix). You don’t have to read the entire thing — a basic familiarity with the events therein will do.
  • Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing beginning with #21 (or #20 if you want to see the previous plot threads left by Martin Pasko tied up), “The Anatomy Lesson” through the time that Swampy meets John Constantine and learns more of his true nature.
  • Neil Gaiman’s Sandman — one issue in particular, “Façade: The Strange Death of Element Girl.” (I forget which issue that is just off hand.) Basic familiarity with Metamorpho is recommended.

Since many of those will be hard to come by, and not everyone will have them readily at hand, I will compose summaries of their major events to be posted on the Fanzing! web site.

In addition to the above, there are two aspects of DC continuity revealed as of late 1993 that contradict the story. One of them I plead ignorance to, since it had not been revealed in late 1992 when I wrote it. And it would pretty much trash the motivation of the threat to the heroes. These are:

  • On the (redone by DC when they changed the ending on us) cover and in only one internal panel of Armageddon: 2001 #2, a certain character can be seen in the background. These are this character’s only appearances in the entire A:2001 storyline. The character does not appear anywhere else in A:2001 #2, nor at all in A:2001 #1, nor in any of the A:2001 Annuals. On the cover and in that one lone internal panel, the character is not shown to be doing, or saying, or even thinking, anything. The character is just scenery, just drawn in there to show that this is indeed a Big Gathering of DC Superheroes. For my story to work, this character can’t have been there. Consider it an artist’s mistake, and substitute some other character. This character must not have ever even heard of Waverider or Monarch or any other aspect of A:2001 as of 1994 for this to work. (No, I’m not going to tell you which character — figure it out if you can!) And yes, about the time A:2001 was taking place, in this character’s own continuity, something was going on that would’ve indeed made it unlikely that the character would’ve been present for these events.

  • Eclipso’s origin was not revealed in 1992’s Eclipso: The Darkness Within, though it was strongly implied that he is much more than had previously been thought. The actual origin was revealed later, about mid-1993, in the pages of his own series and The Spectre. This origin, quite frankly, sucks. It says that both The Spectre and Eclipso are aspects of the Wrath of God, with Eclipso having gone renegade after enjoying inflicting God’s vengeance on people too much, and The Spectre being created to take his place. Leaving aside just how offensive this is to Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and even worse that this was not done in a Vertigo or even “Suggested for Mature Readers” book, but rather in two titles in DC’s mainstream DC Universe line!) to have any part of God made into a villain1 , the origin simply doesn’t work because it doesn’t explain many of the most important facts of the Eclipso character! For instance, why would the Wrath of God, renegade or otherwise, be vulnerable to sunlight? (They did later try to explain this as “psychosomatic.”) Why is he connected to black diamonds? And most importantly, why is he connected to eclipses (that is, after all, his very name! — duh!) In my original four-part story that I wrote in 1992, I included an origin of Eclipso that explained all three of these things, while keeping him much more than he appeared to be prior to E:TDW and keeping everything about his appearances there intact. This origin is central to the motivation of the threat the heroes will face in the crossover. I came up with it months before DC revealed theirs, and I’m not changing it. So, in this revised version of DC publishing history, both the Eclipso and Spectre books will become bimonthly for a few months, to give them time to revise the issues that would’ve revealed their origins2 .

As I said, I will write the multi-part story that appears in the Showcase ’94 issues culminating in May, but I need others to write at least some of the New Blood one-shots that will appear in those and previous issues. Later, I’ll need writers for the Annuals that form the crossover itself, while I will write the “bookends.” I’ll also be writing some articles, interviews, etc. as they would have appeared in this alternate reality had I submitted this proposal and DC accepted it. In fact, here’s one now:

Friday 1 October 1993
To: Comics Industry Publications and Comics Stores and Dealers
From: DC Comics Group
For Immediate Release

DC Comics Group is pleased to announce a major summer crossover event
that will encompass the Annuals of the mainstream DC Universe comics
titles.  In the past, we have announced the name and nature of such
events in advance, but this time we are keeping this information a
secret for now, as we want to provide our fans the challenge of trying
to figure it out from the clues that will be given as the crossover

Like our three previous summer crossover events, "Armageddon: 2001" in
1991, "Eclipso: The Darkness Within" in 1992, and "Bloodlines" in 1993,
this "Unknown Crossover" takes place largely during the Annuals which
DC publishes each summer.  Only the mainstream DC Universe titles that
have Annuals will participate directly.  Vertigo books and those of our
other non-mainstream and non-DC Universe imprints will not participate,
and neither will books from our sister company, Milestone Media.

Also like "Armageddon: 2001" and "Eclipso: The Darkness Within," the
Annuals will be "bookended" by a two-issue special limited series that
begins and ends the main storyline that will continue through those
Annuals.  The Unknown Crossover (not its actual title) #1 will ship in
the first week of June, 1994, and the story will continue through the
Annuals, concluding in The Unknown Crossover #2 in August, 1994.

As stated above, the exact nature of the story is not being revealed
at this time, but this much we can say:

* The previous four events we've done (INVASION! plus the three others
  mentioned earlier) appear to have been stand-alone stories in their
  own right, and are concluded.  Actually, they've just been laying
  some of the groundwork for this event.  It ties up many of the loose
  ends and apparent continuity conflicts left by those previous events.
  So well is it tied in that it will appear as if we'd been planning this
  all along.

* This event focuses on a very major, very serious, very deadly
  threat to the DC Universe superheroes.  They will be in more danger
  than they've been in since the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Worse,
  they won't even know it.

* The event is already underway.  It begins in SHOWCASE '93, our title
  spotlighting new talent.  One or more of the stories in each issue
  of SHOWCASE '93 and the forthcoming SHOWCASE '94, from now until the
  crossover officially begins in June '94, though they all appear to be
  self-contained and unrelated either to each other or to any larger
  storyline, in fact are preludes to this event.  We won't tell you
  which SHOWCASE stories are preludes at this point -- some are, and
  some aren't.  So if you want to get the earliest clues, you should
  be reading SHOWCASE.  In fact, we promise that by the end of the
  issue of SHOWCASE '94 that ships in May, everyone who reads it and
  who has also been reading the prior SHOWCASE '94 and '93 issues, will
  know the name of the crossover and the nature of the dire threat that
  faces DC’s unsuspecting superheroes.

Diamond Distributors, Capital City Distribution, and other direct-sales
comics distributors who carry DC comics have agreed to accept orders in
advance for Issue #1 of the "bookend" series, even though its title is
unrevealed at present.  Simply place your orders for "The Unknown
Crossover #1," as that is how it will be officially solicited to the

  1. What, were they trying to “make up” for chickening out on publishing Rick Veitch’s Swamp Thing #88 in which the time-travelling Swampy meets Jesus Christ, a decision that cost them many of the British writers at the time, including Alan Moore? Gee, you’d think that revealing in Hellblazer that Jesus is the product of the rape of Mary by Gabriel at God’s orders would be enough for that! (back to referencing text)
  2. Well, The Spectre can keep his for all I care, so long as they removed the references to Eclipso being a “renegade Wrath of God” and The Spectre’s “predecessor.” (back to referencing text)

All characters are ™ DC Comics
"alt.showcase.94" concept by Joel Ellis Rea.
This story is © 1999 by .