Alternate reality tales have been a long standing part of fiction. When a character or world has been explored for long enough, its creators and contributors are bound to explore a different take on well-worn material. However, making drastic changes to worlds and characters may be impossible when familiar elements are what have made those continuing stories work for so long. So creating an alternate world when anything can be different not only allows unfettered freedom, but it can even explore nuances and aspects of characters that were inaccessible before.
Of all characters in fiction, even beyond comic books, Batman may be the character with the most alternate reality stories. That’s because he’s not only 75 years old with multiple stories published every month, but also one of the most beloved characters in modern popular culture. While DC Comics may have strict policies concerning what can and cannot be done with its characters in canon storylines, they allow a large amount of freedom when it comes to alternate reality explorations. Whether these stories take place in established alternate universes, the one-off brand of Elseworlds titles, or in some time travel tales in the main universe, Batman has been changed into a vampire, serial killer, old man, and even a Russian!
This two-part exploration of alternate versions of The Dark Knight is not a complete list (that would go on forever), but it covers some of the most notable twisted iterations. From the classic to the shockingly bad, these Batmen of parallel worlds are each fascinating in their own right.
Gotham by Gaslight
What if Bruce Wayne was born in the 1800s and took on Jack the Ripper? It’s a fairly simple conceit, but it really injects quite a bit of life and style into the story of Gotham by Gaslight, which has been cited as the first DC Comics “Elseworlds” story. Gotham City has always seemed like a strange blend of the Victorian Era and modern Manhattan, so it’s easy to picture Batman lurking amongst the shadows in the 1800s. It’s a fun and simple setup that casts the character in a slightly different light. All the same elements of the character and his origin are still there, but the old timey setting gives it a fresher vibe. Mood, atmosphere, and quality art by Mike Mignola make this one of The Dark Knight’s best alternate tales. A perfect jumping on point for anyone new to the parallel worlds stories in comics!
The Biggest Difference: Since the story is set in 1889, this version of Batman does not have nearly as many gadgets as the normal version. He’s also not nearly as unbeatable, making him far more fallible.
Decades into the future, the rise of extreme heroes willing to murder has changed the landscape of the world. Every hero has been impacted the change and Batman is no exception. The world of Kingdom Come is set in a future where a new generation of extreme and violent heroes has taken over, leaving the old guard like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman questioning their place in the world. But Batman still protects the people of Gotham. However, his body has broken down, leaving him seriously crippled without the use of an armor exoskeleton. But Bruce has given up life outside of Batman and decided to be The Caped Crusader at all times. To make up for his limited abilities, he’s created giant robotic Bat Sentries, which stand guard over Gotham at all times in an almost totalitarian regime.
The Biggest Difference: Age and ailments aside, it’s this Batman’s abandonment of the Bruce Wayne persona that changes him the most. He’s 100% dedicated to the war on crime at all times.
Superman: Red Son
What if a young Kal-El landed in the Soviet Union instead of the heartland of America? Having the most powerful being on Earth dedicated to the Communist cause reshapes the world and the heroes within. A version of Batman appears, this time a terrorist dedicated to taking down Superman and the Soviets in revenge for what happened to his parents. Also referred to as Batmankoff, this Dark Knight is decidedly more low-tech and has the questionable fashion choice of wearing an ushanka over his cowl. You know, because he’s Russian. His plan almost succeeds, too. As he traps Superman under red light to take away his powers and then beats him brutally. But Wonder Woman’s interference ends his trap. Batmankoff’s response? He blows himself up to escape torture. But a new league of Batmen rise in his wake.
The Biggest Difference: This Batman’s origins involve his parents being killed by Soviet leaders for being involved in the resistance, making his mission focused on overthrowing the USSR. He may not even be Bruce Wayne.
The Dark Knight Returns
In a dark future that could only be imagined in the 1980s, an aged Batman returns to action after having given up the cape and cowl for a decade after the death of Robin and the totalitarian control of the government ended superheroes. This is easily the most well-known alternate reality Batman tale. Most likely because not only is it amazingly crafted, but is far more relevant to both the essence of the character and ideas based in the real world.Batman grapples with his broken down body, a violent world that has changed, and his commitment to justice in the face of almost everyone else turning their back on it. From his battle with the mutant leader in a mud pit to a fatal showdown with the Joker to a final confrontation with the government-backed Superman, each part of The Dark Knight Returns is crucial to the character. Writer/artist Frank Miller really made something special here.
The Biggest Difference: He’s pretty old. This is a Bruce Wayne who is 55 years old, retired for 10 years, and built like a bank vault. Still, he’s very true to the character of Batman, unlike many others on this list.
In Darkest Knight
As if Batman needed any superpowers, In Darkest Knight Bruce Wayne is chosen by the Green Lantern Corps to be their representative on Earth. In this tale, Bruce’s first outing as Batman ends in disaster, just like Batman: Year One, but instead of a bat flying through his window, it’s a Green Lantern ring. These newfound powers change the entire history of Batman, including preventing The Joker from being created and the death of both Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth at the hands of Sinestro. The central idea is simple, just cross pollinate the stories of Batman and Green Lantern, then make it violent and grim. Then again, most of these alternate Batman stories are far more violent and grim than the main ones. That’s what happens when you give comic book writers carte blanche. He’s got a pretty sweet costume, though.
The Biggest Difference: In essence, this is Batman with a Green Lantern ring. Except he never started being Batman in the first place. So I guess there’s that.
Batman has always had vampiric iconography, but Red Rain explores the idea of a Batman who actually becomes a vampire. Told across three separate miniseries, the first, Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, sees Bruce willingly becoming a vampire as it is the only way to beat Dracula, who is slowly taking over Gotham The second, Bloodstorm, sees vampire Batman lose control and drain The Joker of his blood and end his own life by having Gordon and Alfred stake him. But he returns in Crimson Mist and goes on a humongous murder spree that destroys his entire gallery of villains. Finally, Gordon and Alfred work to kill him, but they die, too. The despondent vampire Batman kills himself by walking into the sunlight. It’s a crazy and violent story that has its ups and downs, but the first part, Red Rain, is beloved by many fans.
The Biggest Difference: He’s a homicidal maniac. After giving into his vampiric urges, Batman first feasts upon criminals and then eventually the innocent. And by the end, everyone is dead.
Thanks to DC Comics’ constant rebooting of their universe, there have been many different Batmen who fight crime in the parallel universe of Earth-2. The most recent version is Thomas Wayne, who was a corrupt doctor who faked his death in Crime Alley. After Bruce was killed in action as Batman, Thomas took up the mantle of Batman and used the power-enhancing Miraclo drug to counteract his old age. Miraclo gives Batman superhuman strength, durability, stamina, agility, and night vision for one hour, which is enough time for him to beat up criminal scum, which makes him very similar to Hourman, the hero who first used Miraclo. The black and red color scheme and violent methods show this to be a Batman who is much more on the dark side and even darker than his son, who lived a happier life on Earth-2. While the idea of Thomas Wayne becoming Batman was first explored in Flashpoint, there are enough differences here to make it a unique version of Batman.
The Biggest Difference: He’s Thomas Wayne. That and he’s a total jerk.
In a tale that examines what Batman would be like in the far future, the tale of Batman: Year 100 makes many small changes to the idea of The Dark Knight. The central conceit of the miniseries is that the first Batman appeared in 1939 (the real world first appearance of the character in Detective Comics #27) and now in 2039, he has popped up again in Gotham. The Batman has appeared over the century in many different forms, each representing the approach taken toward the character during his lengthy publication. But his true nature and identity remains a mystery. This future Batman uses low-tech gear despite the futuristic setting and even wears fake monster teeth to scare his targets. It’s a fun an stylish take on The Caped Crusader, with his essential elements still in place, but everything else slightly twisted. Above all, it’s a loving homage to the strength and longevity of the character.
The Biggest Difference: The mystery of this Batman’s true identity leaves much up to interpretation. But whether he’s immortal, one in the line of many who has taken up the mantle of Batman, or some time traveler, this Dark Knight has many little differences.
It’s the event that restarted the DC Comics Universe, but the story of Flashpoint is a thrilling dystopia in and of itself, where The Flash’s efforts to change his tragic past reshape the entire world. Among its many changes, the Batman of this world is Thomas Wayne, who was spurred on to be a symbol of vengeance when young Bruce was gunned down in front of him in Crime Alley. In retaliation, Thomas beat Joe Chill, the gunman, to death with his own bare hands. Not only that, but The Joker of this dystopia is Martha Wayne, who went insane after the murder. This dark Batman throws criminals off buildings, impales them on swords, and is more of a battle tactician than a detective. He also funds himself through a string of profitable casinos, which add to Gotham’s criminal element. But he also helps The Flash undo this darker world and sends a letter to his now-alive son. Leading to one of the most touching moments in Batman history.
The Biggest Difference: This is a far more brutal take on Batman. Thomas Wayne uses lethal methods and isn’t afraid to shoot or stab his enemies to death to get a win.