Batman: How Elseworlds Dropped the Dark Knight Into Classic Literature

By any standard, Batman is one of the most versatile characters in superhero comics, and he can feel at home in almost any manifestation of the genre. This holds especially true in the Elseworlds stories that explore the other worlds of the DC Universe and push Batman into new settings and locations, unlike anything he’s ever encountered in the core DC Universe.

While some of them transplant Batman into unique time periods or different genres, some of them even threw Batman into classic stories of western literature. While Batman has crossed over with plenty of comic book characters before, this is what happens when Batman faces classic monsters in some of the most famous classic Gothic stories of all time.

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Batman: Castle of the Bat, by Jack C. Harris and Bo Hampton, combines elements of the Batman mythos with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. After his parents are murdered, a young Bruce Wayne dedicates himself to becoming a doctor like his father. However, his studies become darker, and his experiments into creating new life lead him to be threatened with expulsion by his mentor, Doctor Seltsam. Bruce also begins to develop feelings for the beautiful Julia Lavenza and even saves her from a mugging by the same man who killed his parents. Bruce comes to the conclusion that living creatures contain a specific and unique biological energy that — when properly transferred and amplified with electricity — could be used to give life to new creatures and even potentially transfer the lifeforce of others into new bodies.

Discovering his father’s brain donated to the university, Bruce and his assistant Alfredo construct a body from other cadavers and give it to Thomas. As his experiments continue, Thomas’ new body is given a serum that makes it more intelligent but also increasingly bat-like. Eventually, this Bat-Man escapes and roams the countryside, attacking criminals. It kidnaps Julia and uses her as bait to lure Bruce to Dr. Seltsam’s lab. It’s revealed that Seltsam has been running his own experiments and that he’d been the one to arrange for Thomas’ death to prevent him from interfering. Seltsam is killed, and the Bat-Man remains behind to hold up the crumbling building. He’s able to last long enough for Bruce, Alfredo and Julia to all escape, and even calls Bruce “son” before being killed.

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In Batman: Masque by Mike Grell and Andre Khromov, Batman ends up in a version of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Set at the end of the 19th Century, Bruce Wayne is already serving as the vigilante Batman. While pursuing a group of criminals, an accident occurs at the Gotham City Opera House. Harvey Dent, one of the actors, is heavily disfigured in the events. Bruce attends the Opera and speaks to Dent, suggesting he can become a teacher. He also catches the eye of Laura Avian, one of the dancers with the company. While Bruce juggles his time as Batman with a growing romance with Laura, Dent starts orchestrating accidents around the Opera House and secretly practices with Laura as he develops feelings for her.

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Laura eventually finds out about the truth of Bruce after Batman saves her from attackers, but she refuses to heed Batman’s warnings of someone threatening people at the Opera. She takes a leading part in the new production but is shocked to find that Dent has killed and replaced the intended star of the show. Batman chases Dent into the rafters of the Opera House, and the pair duel. Cornered, Dent cuts the line of the chandelier in an attempt to kill both of them. Batman saves her, but her near-death at the hands of Dent convinces him to end things with Laura so she can lead a normal life. Despite her pleadings for Bruce to abandon the mantle of Batman, she eventually leaves the Mansion and Batman to stand on their own.

Batman: Two Faces, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Anthony Williams, introduces a Victorian-Era incarnation of Batman who goes through his own version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. In 1886, Bruce Wayne hosts a gala to showcase a rare flower known as the Twilight Orchid. The criminal Two-Face raids the gala to steal the flower and kills Pamela Isley, despite the best efforts of Bruce. Blaming himself for her death, Bruce develops a serum that could potentially cure Harvey Dent of his darker half. But after testing the serum on himself, Bruce develops a great deal of strength, endurance, and agility. Deciding to fight Two-Face on his own terms, he becomes the Batman and targets Dent and his associates.

However, a serial killer also seems to arrive in Gotham – killing women across the city and mutilating their faces to create a ghastly smile on the bodies. Batman ends up working with Catwoman, who knew the latest girl to be killed. After an encounter with the Joker leaves Catwoman overwhelmed and paralyzed, Bruce drinks more of the serum to try and contend with the Joker and comes to a series of revelations. Calling Gordon and Two-Face together, Bruce reveals that he is both the Batman and the Joker, a latent homicidal personality that the serum unleashed. Bruce convinces Two-Face to become a better man and allows himself to fall to his death to stop the Joker once and for all. Flipping his coin one more time, Dent decides to honor Bruce by becoming a new version of the Batman.

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From Frankenstein to Mister Hyde, Batman has faced versions of fiction's famous monsters in his adventures through the Elseworlds of DC's multiverse.

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