thehefner: (Default)
[personal profile] thehefner posting in [community profile] scans_daily
The best Elseworlds stories utilize the alternate reality format to gain fresh perspective on the characters and themes they represent. I've always loved the mantra which used to accompany the earliest books in this imprint:

"In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places--some that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't, or shouldn't exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow."

I've always loved that last line. "As familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow." So why are there so many mediocre Elseworlds stories? Why do so many follow the formula of "plug in X character in Y time setting, tell basically the same origin"? Asking "What If?" doesn't really matter if that question isn't followed by, "So What?"

That is not the case with Alan Brennert's last (and only) major DC story, Batman: Holy Terror, the first alternate universe DC story to carry the Elseworlds brand. It's that rare Elseworlds (hell, that rare story) which actually has something to say about its lead character and the alternate reality he inhabits.

In this instance, it's Batman in a Puritanical theocracy.

From what page, you might gather that this story takes place a century or so in the past. But fast forward to the present day:

So yeah, in case you hadn't gathered, this a world where Oliver Cromwell lived on for another decade, thus leading to the Puritan Commonwealth staying in power in Britain and its colonies... including North America and, therefore, Gotham Towne.

I find it interesting how almost all of the names Brennert references are real people: Isaac Singer, Jorge Amado, and presumably Ollie North. This indicates a more direct parallel to our own real world rather that being strictly in the DCU, even with the mention of Ollie's sad fate. And really, even in an alternate universe, who really thinks that Oliver Queen repented? I sure as hell don't.

But where's Bruce in all this? We're introduced to the adult Bruce Wayne saying goodbye to Alfred, as Bruce is about to leave Wayne Manor to join the Priesthood. Bruce has actually found peace in this new path, having abandoned his old "dead-end" dream of being a gymnast. For nostalgia's sake, he practices a few moves in the gym, and an outside voice remarks, "Lost none of your form, I see."

In Gordon's defense, Brennert wrote a whole scene with a magistrate insinuating threats against Gordon's family if he perused the Chill investigation. Also, another neat little touch: Gordon was then newly transferred in from "New Amsterdam."

Digging through boxes in storage, Bruce discovers his father's old journal, the contents of which are briefly dramatized in a manner which reminds me of V for Vendetta. The written contents are as follows:

March 2nd. McNider managed to smuggle out another guinea pig in the state's behavior modification program. Burn marks on his genitalia where he was hooked up to low-voltage electrodes; concomitant motor spasms, neural damage, and immeasurable psychological injury. Patient appears to have been subject to attempts to alter his sexual orientation, with limited success. Martha says at least it's preferable to dying along with the four million other homosexuals the state exterminates every year. I'm not so sure.

April 5th. Caucasian woman, 22, good health, pregnant, drank half a bottle of drain cleaner in an attempt to abort her fetus. Initiated gastric lavage, but toxins had already reached her bloodstream. We lost her.

June 20th. More psych victims, mostly prostitutes, subjected to aversion therapy. One poor woman tried cutting out her sexual organs with a steak knife. Thank God we got to her in time. Sweet Jesus, there are so many of them. So few of us. How much can we do?

November 3rd. Inquisitors found and raided the clinic today. Martha and I just missed being there by half an hour. Nowhere to go now. For any of us.

Bruce decides to track down Dr. Charles McNider, a name which may ring a bell...

I don't know a ton about Cromwell's history, but from what little I know, is there any indication that Brennert was being ironic in having McNider refer to Cromwell's church as "tolerant" and "kind"? If so, it adds a subtle layer of complexity to why Bruce doesn't end up abandoning his faith itself.

This story could easily have been about Bruce experiencing a loss of faith, and waging his war against the Theocracy in the name of secularism and reason, but it doesn't go that route. We see that right away on the day of Bruce's confirmation:

The Bishop, by the way, is none other than Judson Caspian, AKA the Reaper from Batman: Year Two, although the art bears no resemblance to the same character. We actually learn his name when we see Bruce hacking into Bishop Caspian's PC, which twinges at Bruce's conscience. He genuinely dislikes betraying the confidence of a "good man, an honorable man," but he has to find out who ordered his parents' execution.

He soon discovers that the order came from the highest court in the land: the Star Chamber, located in subterrainian levels underneath the Gotham Towne Cathedral. Reverend Wayne gains covert access to the lower levels by stealing Bishop Caspian's access code, and he's disturbed to realize finds that these little betrayals (as well as the violence in attacking guards) are getting easier and easier...

The costume, in keeping with the Golden Age origins, belonged to Dr. Thomas Wayne himself. In this world, the elder Wayne wore it when he played a demon in church Passion Plays.

Down in the Detention Center, Batman discovers a prisoner named Barry Allen, whose speed force powers have made his a favorite test subject of the sadistic Dr. Erdel (another name which should ring a bell, and may also give you a clue as to what the "Green Man" is really about). Batman helps Barry escape, and the latter gives the former a tour in Erdel's other "patients"...

Barry explains that Aquaman was broken after many sessions of torture and experimentation. As Batman passes a series of lead-lined cells for the "irradiated" subjects, he and Barry are both suddenly attacked:

In the battle, one of the prisoners--a half-woman, half-fish creature, the result of a forced breeding between Aquaman and Lori Lemaris--is killed, whispering "free" with her dying words. It's a horrific, heartbreaking scene, and Zatanna revels in Barry's fury.

"Impious fool," she sneers. "To think I was once like you. Godless and profane. You become so much stronger when you stop resisting him..." (as the dialogue is in caps, it's unclear whether she's referring to God or Erdel) "... the power you feel is so liberating." Meanwhile, she virtually ignores Batman, considering the powerless man to be no threat.

As she's about to brainwash Barry with the words, "TSAC EDISA RUOY YSEREH DNA ECNATSISER... EKAT TSIRHC SA RUOY ROVIAS... DNA EHT ETATS SA RUOY--" she's interrupted by a gas pellet to the throat, courtesy of Batman.

But just when the coast seems clear, that's when Dr. Erdel shows up (again, bearing zero resemblance to his comics counterpart; WTF, Breyfogle? He looks more like Jonathan Crane), asking Barry to return to his cell. At his breaking point, Barry refuses and vows to take revenge for every person Erdel has tortured, killed, and dissected.

Seeing the potential for a new test subject, Erdel takes Batman prisoner with the help of Clayface. Erdel explains that he's seeking to isolate the "Para-Gene" which will allow him to create his own army of super-soldiers to spread the Holy Word across the world.

Batman fights back and battles Clayface, realizing that maybe he does have a superpower after all: rage. But all the rage in the world means nothing without intellect and reason, and thanks to using liquid nitrogen, Batman defeats Clayface with the awesome freezing powers of SCIENCE.

But in the name of Evil Science, Erdel pulls a gun on Batman, explaining that he can just as easily run his tests during the autopsy:

Batman enters the Star Chamber, which he explains was used by Charles I to enforce his own ecclesiastical proclamations. It was abolished by the Puritans, who later revived the Star Chamber for their own purposes.

(NOTE: This is another example of Brennert hinting at how the Puritans ended up embracing much of the iconography they abolished. This may explain the historical inaccuracy of the police being referred to as "Inquisitors," a term which would have been far too Catholic for the likes of the Puritans, or so I understand. I imagine you historians reading this have already been rolling your eyes at parts, so is there any room for this explanation to justify the mixed theocratic themes happening here?)

In the Star Chamber, Batman encounters an old man, who commends Batman for getting this far. Playing it for time, Batman tells the old man (who claims to have presided in the Star Chamber for over forty years) that he's looking for records regarding a certain "proceeding."

Over a two-page spread of the Batmobile in action, Bruce narration has taken on a whole new context in recent years:

"There may be no organized resistance, but thank Heaven there are still men and women of conscience... who will risk arrest and execution to build the weapons I will need in my Jihad.

I can do no less.

Like me, they have no special powers... but perhaps that's exactly what is needed: a man with no powers save God's power... against a regime that has long since lost sight of the tenets He died for.

I'm reminded (why didn't I think of it sooner?!) of Frank Miller's aborted project Holy Terror, Batman!, which would have been about Batman versus Islamic Terrorism. I recall Grant Morrison's once responded, and I'm paraphrasing here, "At that point, why not do 'Batman versus cancer?"

That highlights the inherent ridiculousness of a character like Batman waging war against a faceless entity (especially a fictional character versus a real-life problem), but what's remarkable is how that's what gives Brennert's story its power. The difference is, Batman himself is actually the terrorist here, waging his literal Jihad against not against a single individual, or even a group, but the faceless state itself.

The implications here strike me as far more powerful than even Miller's own revolutionary Batman from The Dark Knight Returns/Strikes Again. Batman has essentially become the V of this dystopia.

One last thing, though. The story ends with a moment of reflection, as Bruce swings across the rooftops and thinks:

"Still, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if, on that night twenty years ago, there had been a different ending. A happier one.

Or if, instead of being killed by the state... mother and father truly had been the victims of a
random, senseless street crime.

Perhaps everything would have been different."

The implication, of course, is that Bruce is wrong in his supposition. If this Batman is engaged in a Holy War, it certainly puts our Batman's never-ending war on crime in a different light. Which is exactly what good Elseworlds can do.

Damn it, I want a sequel.

Date: 2011-01-21 02:00 am (UTC)
silverzeo: Chaud thinking "No way!" (WTF?)
From: [personal profile] silverzeo
Holy Nights!

Date: 2011-01-21 02:14 am (UTC)
btravage: (Default)
From: [personal profile] btravage
Isn't "Holy Terror, Batman!" the new name for Frank Millar's long-coming "Batmand and Robin vs. Al Quaeda" project?

Date: 2011-01-21 02:21 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] philippos42
Poor Zee, so twisted. Poor everybody.

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Date: 2011-01-21 02:37 am (UTC)
aaron_bourque: default (Default)
From: [personal profile] aaron_bourque
Why do so many follow the formula of "plug in X character in Y time setting, tell basically the same origin"?

Because "Gotham By Gaslight"; the prototypical Elseworlds did pretty much just that. It had never been done before, it was done excellently, and like always happens, too many followers mimic the superficial without understanding the underlying intelligence of the original work. It looks worse in comics, though, since so much of comics is based on this.

Date: 2011-01-21 03:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I especially liked one minor detail in "The Doom that came to Gotham", by Mike Mignola; the Waynes were killed by knife, and so Batman abhors blades but has no problem using guns.

Date: 2011-01-21 03:26 am (UTC)
blackruzsa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] blackruzsa
Smiling Batman scares me.

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Date: 2011-01-21 03:29 am (UTC)
thanekos: Yoshikage Kira as Kosaku Kawajiri, after the second arrow. (Default)
From: [personal profile] thanekos
There's a fanfic sequel someone wrote, which if nothing else took the easily exploitable character introduction opportunities- Azreal, Hugo Strange, Superboy..

Date: 2011-01-22 09:56 am (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
If Astro City hadn't already used Altar Boy, I'd imagine Robin would have filled an equivalent role.

Date: 2011-01-21 04:05 am (UTC)
aaron_bourque: default (Default)
From: [personal profile] aaron_bourque
I don't know a ton about Cromwell's history, but from what little I know, is there any indication that Brennert was being ironic in having McNider refer to Cromwell's church as "tolerant" and "kind"?

Arguably no. For one thing, Cromwell's England was the most tolerant to Jews at the time, allowing them to exist in England and even openly worship for the first time in quite a while.

forced breeding between Aquaman and Lori Lermais


Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; it has been a while since I read this in full: does J'onn show up?

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Date: 2011-01-21 07:04 am (UTC)
glprime: (Default)
From: [personal profile] glprime
Superman as Jesus. That's original.

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Date: 2011-01-21 08:58 am (UTC)
bliumchik: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bliumchik
Oh, wow, I can't believe I had no idea this Elseworlds existed. I wrote fic in this 'verse... by accident... D:

now i'm going to have to update it to be canon compliant.

PS Ollie's "repentance" was almost certainly meant to be read as a lie :P I mean, they did it do Darwin, why not Green Arrow?

Date: 2011-01-21 09:10 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] psychopathicus_rex
I could be wrong, but I think there IS a sequel. I've been wondering whether or not to read this book for quite a while - I've ultimately chosen not to, as I have serious issues with Christianity and monotheism in general, so it would most likely wind up as purely an exercise in tooth-grinding - so I've paid attention to stuff relation to it, and I'm PRETTY sure I remember hearing about a sequel.

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Date: 2011-01-21 09:32 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thelazyreader
I miss the Elseworlds stories. Why doesn't DC try to revive it? Some have argued that with the multiverse back we don't need 'imaginary' stories, but in that case why not have a similar series with stories like the above set in alternate DC universes?

Date: 2011-01-21 10:43 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] kd_the_movie
the recently resurrected the line with "Superman: Last Family of Krypton". Its tagged as an Elseworlds, logo and all.

Date: 2011-01-21 10:38 am (UTC)
lucean: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lucean
Along with NOSFERATU, this might be my favorite Elseworlds. I even at one point intended to post it here, but couldn't get it to fit the one third rule. Each page simply had that much content.

I agree that one of the strenghts of it is the way it examines a different origin and that way in a way examines what makes Batman Batman, what are those internal factors, what he represents and what is his role is in the world. I actually find it difficult to speak of Bruce as Batman before the Star Council scene, because that is where Batman of this world was truly born. The whole story leads to that, in my opinion, with the travel through the room of horros being almost a crucible for Bruce, testing his capability to withstand the horror of humanity and ability to fight insurmountable odds.

It's actually a shame that the fight with Clayface couldn't be included, because for me the artist really outdoes himself when he has Bruce stand over the destroyed Clayface and you can see the transformation in him, how Bruce has become something truly terrifying.

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Date: 2011-01-21 12:37 pm (UTC)
minyandu: "I made this!" (Default)
From: [personal profile] minyandu
The priesthood thing reminds me of Equilibrium...a lot...

Date: 2011-01-21 01:09 pm (UTC)
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatman
Fascinating. Don't have much to add that hasn't already been observed, but this looks really good. You're right; it does what a good Elseworld should, and it does it to a degree that few manage. Very nice. Thank you.

Date: 2011-01-21 01:22 pm (UTC)
wizardru: Hellboy (Default)
From: [personal profile] wizardru
I have this, somewhere. I remember being surprised by the premise: Oliver Cromwell living for 10 more years? Ooooookay.

But I found the whole thing really well done.

Date: 2011-01-21 01:30 pm (UTC)
greenmask: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greenmask
Good gracious, that's a high bar for later Elseworlds.

Really nice art, too, heightens the intensity wonderfully.

Date: 2011-01-21 03:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Are there any good points about PuritanWorld? At all? I know it's supposed to be conservative in a way that makes Westboro Baptist look like Jon Stewart, but there has to be something. Even Hitler was an environmentalist, for example.

Date: 2011-01-21 09:51 pm (UTC)
karunya: This reverend puts the "fun" back into "funeral" (Default)
From: [personal profile] karunya
I expected this to be more... well, negative toward religion. But it isn't. It's quite favorable to what religion ought to be -- which is why Bruce continues contentedly as a priest. It also explains why at least some of us Evangelicals think that a crack in the church/state wall is a prelude to trouble, not national redemption.

This is the line which gave me chills of recognition and gratitude for my own experiences wearing the funny collar: "Like me, they have no special powers... but perhaps that's exactly what is needed: a man with no powers save God's power... against a regime that has long since lost sight of the tenets He died for."

Still true in this universe. Still what the best of us (which, with exquisite irony, usually means those of us who are willing to serve while living uncomfortably with our own doubts and imperfections) wish to do. Knowing that we do it only with God's help.

Date: 2011-01-22 10:14 am (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
Yes, I was pleased at the choice not to have Bruce give up on HIS faith (Which would have been the easy way out) but to maintain it and use it as part of his motivation, in SPITE of the political corruption at the core.

And I'll take a person of faith who openly has doubts from time to time, over a person of faith who maintain ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY 100% OF THE TIME any day (and, ironically, twice on Sundays). The former are refreshingly human, the latter are usually terrifying.

Date: 2011-01-22 11:44 am (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
This was an awesome issue when it came out, it remains so today.

The worldbuilding, often the weakest point of an Elseworld is, instead of being an excuse to get a known character into period/ethnic attire, fundamental to the plot.

And Erdel is so incredibly easy to loathe.

I even like the Batcostume having a dog-collar "chip" as part it's design, subtle, but a reminder that Batman is Father Wayne.

And as mentioned, I like the fact that it's made clear that it's not the faith itself that's the problem, it's how politically self-serving monsters have used it to create a hell on Earth.


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