Superhero Alternate Universes – The Top 5

For Want of a Nail…

Radio Announcer: “Superman: strange visitor from another world! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands… and who, as champion of the common worker fights a never ending battle for Stalin, Communism, and the international expansion of The Warsaw Pact.”

Superman: Red Son

You make countless decisions in your lifetime. Big ones like whether to get married or what career to pursue. Smaller ones like what to eat for dinner or how you relax on a day off. Even seemingly innocuous choices like whether to turn left or right at a junction. You make all these choices, but what if you had picked another?

Thus emerges the concept of alternate universes. Worlds that are usually similar to ours until something changed, the proverbial fork in the road. Perhaps in another world you are a movie star or a Presidential nominee. Maybe you work 9 to 5 or were arrested for a minor crime. Perhaps in that world, you never even existed. There are literally infinite possibilities and the same holds true for superhero stories. 

There are hundreds of alternate superhero universes, but these are our top 5. The only criteria is that they cannot have previously appeared on our list of The Top 5 Superhero What-Ifs.

#5 Age of Apocalypse

Magneto:Alison, a wise man once said “It ain’t over until it’s over.” We fight until this war against Apocalypse is won — or to our last breath.

Amazing X-Men #1

Plot Synopsis: An insane Mutant called Legion travels back in time to assassinate Erik Lehnsherr before he becomes Magneto. Unfortunately, Erik’s friend Charles Xavier sacrifices his life to save him. With no Xavier, the X-Men were not formed. Even worse, an all-powerful Mutant called Apocalypse takes over the world, slaughtering humans and Mutants he deems too weak to survive.

Years later, a resistance forms to kill Apocalypse and end his regime. They are led by Erik, who took Xavier’s dream of human/mutant coexistence to heart and became a hero. Now calling himself Magneto, he leads a team of Mutant freedom fighters known as the X-Men against Apocalypse’s forces.

Why This Story: Despite the convoluted set up, the Age of Apocalypse is one of Marvel’s most popular alternate superhero universes. There are always more supervillains that will subscribe to Apocalypse’s “Survival of the Fittest” ideology while other stories can explore what became of various heroes in this brutal new world.

Several AOA characters became fan favorites, like the mad scientist Dark Beast, reformed villains Magneto and Sabretooth, and teleporter Blink. The latter two were so popular they starred in a spin off called Exiles, which is basically a three way combo of Marvel, Quantum Leap, and Sliders.

#4 The Justice Lords

President Luthor: “You could have crushed me any time you wanted. And it wasn’t the law or the will of the people that stopped you – it was your ego. Being a hero was too important to you. You’re as much responsible for this as I am! So go ahead. Fix it somehow, put me on trial, lock me up – but I’ll beat it. And then we’ll start the whole thing all over again.
Superman: “…I did love being a hero. But if this is where it leads… [eyes glow red] I’m done with it.

Justice League “A Better World” (Season 2, Episode 6)

Plot Synopsis: In the near future, the world is on the brink of a superhuman world war. President Lex Luthor executes The Flash, leading the Justice League to stage a coup d’etat. While most of the League fights the U.S. military, Superman confronts and assassinates Luthor.

Fast forward and the world is ruled by the tyrannical Justice League, now calling themselves the Justice Lords. Lord Batman builds a portal that will allow them to travel to an alternate past, one where Flash is still alive and the League fights crime the old fashioned way. The Lords plan to conquer this new world as well.

Why this Story: The Justice Lords are an interesting subversion of the mirror universe cliche. Rather than being pure evil to counteract the League, they are shown as Knight Templar-esque figures, more concerned with enforcing peace and justice by any means necessary.

At the same time, the Lords’ extreme methods, which include martial law and lobotomizing supervillains, are portrayed as evil. As often as they pine for the old days, the Lords slowly become more despotic as the story continues. While ultimately evil, the Justice Lords are nuanced, morally grey characters and all the more interesting for it.

Fun Fact: The Justice Lords were conceived when the Justice League cartoon scrapped a movie featuring our next entry.

#3: Earth-3

Ultraman: [to a supervillain army] “You are the strongest there are. You were given your power for a reason. Join us and we will take this world together. Aeternus Malum. Forever Evil.

Forever Evil

Plot Synopsis: In the superhero alternate universe of Earth-3, everything is backwards. Great Britain won its independence from the U.S.A., actor Abraham Lincoln assassinated President John Wilkes Booth, and the Justice League is the Crime Syndicate of America.

Led by the villainous Ultraman, the Syndicate includes Superwoman, Owlman, Power Ring, and Johnny Quick. The CSA has virtually conquered the world, with Earth-3’s lone superhero Alexander Luthor as their only opposition. The Crime Syndicate eventually invades the main DC Universe, Earth-1.

Why This Story: The Justice Lords are fun, but sometimes you want a standard mirror universe story. Seriously, all that’s missing is Ultraman rocking Spock’s goatee. Earth-3 is a useful tool for stories including evil members of the Justice League without needing to come up with a reason for the heroes to turn evil.

Earth-3 isn’t the most imaginative alternate superhero universe, but it gets points for prevalence. It has appeared in several TV shows, inspired the Justice Lords, and was even adapted into the animated movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Guess it’s true what they say: it’s good to be bad.

#2 The Amalgam Universe

Narration: [The Brothers] are starting everything over again. Merging realities, combining universes. They’re creating a single universe out of two… [splash page of amalgamated heroes] but WHAT have they created?

DC vs Marvel Comics

Plot Synopsis: Two beings called The Brothers, representing the DC and Marvel universes become aware of each other. Each brother hates the other and decides to commit fratricide. They realize that a war between them would never end and order the heroes of their respective worlds to fight a proxy war. The battle ends in a stalemate and a war between the brothers seems inevitable. 

As a last ditch effort to stop the war, they combine into one being, fusing the Marvel and DC universes into the Amalgam Universe that is populated by combined versions of Marvel and DC characters. The only one able to return the universes to normal and stop the Brothers is a new hero called Access. But the residents of the Amalgam Universe won’t let their world be destroyed without a fight…

Why This Story: It sounds like the schlockiest of fanfiction, but the Amalgam Universe was an interesting experiment. Fusing the disparate parts of DC and Marvel allowed for fun combinations like Super-Soldier (Superman + Captain America), Doctor Doomsday (Doctor Doom + Doomsday), and Bruce Wayne: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Bruce Wayne + Nick Fury).

The Amalgam Universe is also an example of something that could never happen today: DC and Marvel working together. While there are plenty of fans and creators who would love to see the two industry titans team up again, the higher ups won’t stop their measuring contest. Who knows, perhaps someday Marvel and DC will put aside their differences so that the Amalgam Universe will return.

#1 Battleworld – Our Pick for Best Alternate Superhero Universe

Reed Richards:So, it’s true. It really is you, isn’t it, Victor? It’s amazing, an artificial construct of reality where there should be nothing. Look at what you’ve made.
Doctor Doom:Yes. I did what you and all of your ilk could not. I saved the unsavable in the face of total annihilation. I am a miracle worker. But here you are, so you must be as well.

Secret Wars (2015)

The greatest superhero alternate universe is Battleworld.

Plot Synopsis: The Marvel Universe was ending. After several story arcs dealing with the Incursion and other universes colliding with the main universe, the heroes ran out of time. They could no longer stop the Incursions and spent their last hours coming to grips with the end of the world. The Marvel Universe was destroyed. All would have been lost if not for the unlikeliest of heroes: Doctor Doom.

Doom harnessed the powers of a reality warper called Molecule Man and murdered a group of godlike beings called The Beyonders. He used the power he gained from killing them to grab onto as many universes as he could and fused them into one planet called Battleworld. Even the Beyonder’s power would not have been enough to accomplish this, but Doom was able to hold Battleworld together through sheer willpower.

Having saved the entire multiverse, Doom set himself up as the God-King of Battleworld, holding court over the remnants of the various universes. All things considered, Doom was doing an excellent job of ruling until refugees from the original universe arrived, including his arch enemy Mr. Fantastic. A war began, with Doom protecting Battleworld while the refugees attempted to resurrect the Marvel Universe.

Why This Story: For about a year, Battleworld was the canon Marvel Universe. Everything Marvel made took place in various realms of the planet. Even after the normal universe was resurrected, Battleworld’s influence was felt in everything from conversations to most of the universe gaining new respect for Doctor Doom.

Battleworld featured dozens of different locations, each with their own versions of characters. You could take a hike from Spider-Island to King James’ England then pop into the Age of Apocalypse for lunch. If you were feeling brave, you might venture into The Deadlands to fight Ultron drones, Symbiotes, and the Marvel Zombies. The potential for stories is damn near limitless.

Which of these alternate superhero universes would you like to see on the silver screen? Is there one that is even better? Let us know in the comments.

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