It is known that some of my favorite comics of all time are alternate universe comics. A lot of my favorite stories are ones that take place in a world that’s very familiar to ours with just the right changes to make things interesting, or with people we know in worlds they can’t comprehend. These are fun stories for me.
There was a time when Marvel and DC were both putting out a decent amount of these books either with What if?s or Elseworlds respectively. Occasionally the alternate universe stuff would cross over with or take over the currently timeline of events for something truly special like the “Age of Apocalypse” stuff in the X-men. The most I could ever dream of was a book that regularly explored these ideas like “exiles.”
These types of books (in general) come in two basic flavors with a lot of variants. The first flavor just explodes in your mouth like a big piece of awesome. These books mostly just revel in the idea of being in an alternate universe with very little concern with plot or character progression. A lot of those stories were “Where can we take superman or batman now?” I like these stories. To me they’re just a lot of fun.
The other flavor is the kind that looks at characters and attempts to figure out what makes them tick by putting them in an entirely alien environment. These stories tend to try and figure out something special to say. Some try not to call attention to how different this world is and just make a straight story out of it, and others needle you with exactly how different it is.
What all of these have in common is that the best of them know not to hinge important moments on the death of a character (or even a switching of roles). If you’re going to kill off certain people it either has to be written into the world before we get there or it has to just happen and have us not pay too close attention to it.
Killing off an alternate version of a character I love won’t invest me emotionally in a story. That just will not do it. Now, if I’ve gotten to know this character in the course of reading this book then it’s all good. If that death is poignant and meaningful then okay. But if out of nowhere female Batman takes a knife through the heart by alternate blue haired Crazy Quilt I’m not going to cry. Sorry. The same rules sort of apply to obscure characters. Oh, you killed freedom beast? Look how I weep. Oh, right, I haven’t seen him in a book since 1990. Same thing goes when you dump Kyle’s girlfriend into a fridge.
When you kill someone in a story it’s suppose to say something. Either, “Wow a lot of people sure are dying.” or “Wow, this person is crazy.” or “Wow, this is such a tragedy.” Or possibly not any of those things, but something. When you hinge the entire emotional weight of a book on one scene of someone dying that person has to be someone I care about. Killing off an Alternate X-man in 2099 isn’t that.
That’s really all I have to say. The elseworlds thing seems to be slowly (much to my delight) creeping back in to super hero comics. DC has an entire summer event dedicated and we haven’t seen that since 2005 (aww yeah House of M).
Whatever is below here has little to do with anything, just isn’t enough for an entire post. It is tangentially related.
This applies to something else as well. Here’s the deal. Killing off or drastically changing a character that we see fairly often in our universe is one thing. We’ve seen it a lot and it sometimes works. Hinging the emotional weight of your book on the reveal that a character we haven’t ever seen do anything than die anyway is just boring. I’m sorry. Is it a neat twist when it happens? Yes.
Just know that Martha Wayne has never meant anything to me, so making her into the Joker means nothing to me. Thomas Wayne as Batman doesn’t mean an awful lot, but it does mean more than Martha as Joker. If these were the Kents we were talking about, then sure. We have a long history with Ma and Pa Kent. We absolutely have no history with Martha Wayne. We have at least seen Thomas Wayne cut someone open once or twice in his foyer. Martha just drops her pearls. Then she goes and kills Two-Faces daughter and Commissioner Gordon. Not doing it, guys. I’m not saying the idea isn’t super neat. I’m just saying that playing the story for emotion isn’t a good idea because no one has enough history with the character for this to actually matter. Nazi Guy Gardner? Cool, that works. Joker Martha Wayne? Could be anyone. We have no character to reflect this version off of.