One of the defining elements of the Batman mythos is that, to a certain extent, Batman and many of his enemies are far more human than most superheroes. Batman himself is nominally a normal man, who’s simply pushed himself to the extreme limits of human potential. And for the most part, his villains largely have similar power levels.
However, Batman’s adventures and his villains are far more mystical in nature in some corners of the DC multiverse. Across several Elseworlds stories, Batman was more exposed to the mystical and arcane side of the world than the core incarnation of the character, and these supernatural adventures forged Batman into a very different kind of Dark Knight.
In the world introduced in Batman/Demon: A Tragedy by Alan Grant and Jim Murray, Bruce Wayne who ended up bonded with Etrigan the Demon instead of Jason Blood. At night, Etrigan the Demon roams the nights of Gotham, brutally slaughtering criminals. And every morning, Bruce has terrible and grisly nightmares that he can’t shake. Bruce’s girlfriend, Glenda, tries to help soothe Bruce’s nightmares by taking him to visit a local herbal healer named Ivy. Meanwhile, a brutal Catwoman is hired to hunt down Etrigan and kill him. When Etrigan next appears, he’s weakened by the medicine given to him by Ivy, and Catwoman is almost able to defeat him in battle.
To prevent a similar incident from happening again, Etrigan hunts down and kills Ivy. The next morning, Bruce confronts Alfred, who reveals that Bruce is actually the human host for the demonic Etrigan. It turns out that a thousand years earlier, Bruce Wayne convinced Merlin to unleash Etrigan to save Gotham during a massive battle. Unable to lock the demon back into the underworld, the demon was instead bonded to Wayne. Thanks to his incredibly strong moral center, Bruce is naturally able to temper Etrigan’s rage somewhat and make him only target evil-doers.
Alfred is revealed to be Merlin, having lived beside him all these years and wiping Bruce’s memory every once in a while to keep him from realizing his true nature. Etrigan ends up confronting Catwoman and kills her in a battle. When Killer Croc tries to help her, Etrigan uses him as a human shield against the attacking police before slaughtering them all. Bruce is unable to control Etrigan, and a reluctant Merlin is forced to erase Bruce’s memory once again – including that of Glenda, to prevent Etrigan from attacking her.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham by Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, and Troy Nixey imagines a version of the DC Universe that is targeted by creatures similar to the otherworldly monsters of H.P. Lovecraft’s literature. In 1928, Bruce Wayne follows after expedition into the Antarctic. The only survivor is a man named Grendon, trying to free a great and terrible monster known as Iog-Sotha from a frozen prison inside a cave. Alongside his proteges Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake, Bruce seals the cave using explosives. The four men take Grendon back to Gotham, inadvertently setting off madness across the city.
Jason Blood approaches Bruce and warns him that he’ll have to sacrifice much to save Gotham from what’s coming. Bruce discovers that a mysterious woman – Talia – intends to steal the mysterious Testament of Ghul and use it to resurrect Ra’s al Ghul, a true priest to Iog-Sotha. Dick and Jason are killed by Grendon and Talia’s lizard-man servant, while Bruce — disguised as Batman — tries to fight Talia but fails to stop her plans. Ra’s is reborn, a plague of reptiles spread around Gotham, and Ra’s uses Grendon’s life to create a twisted version of Poison Ivy.
Ivy pricks Mayor Harvey Dent and infects him with a strange ailment that turned half his body into a portal to the mindscape and murdered Oliver Queen, who was preparing to join Batman in battle against Iog-Sotha. Batman kills Ivy and takes Queen’s divine arrows to use against Ra’s. Working with Ba psychic Barabra Gordon, Batman speaks to spirits and learns the truth about the dark bargain his father and three other men made to ensure Gotham rose to glory. Along the way, a long-standing curse takes ahold of Bruce and slowly transforms him into a Man-Bat creature.
Batman finds Dent and follows after Ra’s and Talia. Ra’s fully summons Iog-Sotha, but Batman is unaffected by the madness the being causes, having confronted darkness fully in his life before this. Batman uses one of Queen’s arrows to destroy the Testament of Ghul and Ra’s himself, while Talia is grabbed and drawn into darkness by Iog-Sotha. However, Etrigan is freed from Talia’s spell and uses his powers to entrap Iog-Sotha outside of reality for eternity. Batman escapes, having fully transformed into a Man-Bat. He speaks with Harvey briefly before he dies, closing the portal with him. Tim Drake takes over as the face of Wayne Industries, which helps rebuild Gotham. Meanwhile, Bruce remains in hiding, vowing to protect Gotham if he’s ever called upon again.
In Batman: Haunted Gotham by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and John Beatty, readers are introduced to a dark version of Gotham City where the lords of hell hold complete sway over the city. No one enters and no one escapes, and the city has adjusted to the supernatural. Bruce has grown into adulthood with his parents, training for some purpose his father won’t reveal. When his parents are slain by a werewolf, Alfred reveals that his father had been a member of a group dedicated to trying to salvage the city and free it from the influence of hell. Bruce is forced to take up the mantle of the Batman, with the spirit of his father guiding him to become a hero.
Bruce soon finds himself allying with his family attendant Alfred, James Gordon and Cassandra Knight of a GCPD specifically trained to deal with demonic forces as well Cat Majik, a mysterious and flirty fortune-teller who’s hinted to be more magical than she appears. Meanwhile, scientist Emil Varner, an old rival of Thomas, steals Thomas’ head and turns him into a Frankenstein-esque creature that he then implants his mind into. This makes him into the Joker of this twisted world, and he soon travels Gotham raising an army of zombies to spread chaos across the city. Batman eventually defeats and kills Varner, freeing his father’s soul.
Bruce works alongside Gordon, even refusing to kill some enemies and take them to an “asylum” so they may yet prove useful. But for Bruce’s parents to find true peace, Bruce must confront the spirit of his mother. Having been taken by demons and corrupted into a more vile thing, Bruce was eventually able to break through to her and set both of his parents at peace. However, Gotham is not yet liberated from the control of hell, so Batman and his allies vow to continue fighting against the demonic forces that move against them.
In some Elseworlds of the DC Multiverse, Batman has faces threats that are far more mystical than any of Gotham City's criminals.