- Age of Apocalypse (Marvel Comics, Earth-295) - What if Professor Xavier died before creating the X-men? The Age of Apocalypse really stuck with me. Created when Legion went back in time to assassinate Magneto, but instead inadvertently killed Professor Charles Xavier, this reality represented a timeline where Apocalypse took control of the Earth. Even more, it represented something I had never seen before in comics. All of the regular X-Universe titles were canceled and replaced by versions from the Age of Apocalypse. Generation X became Generation Next. X-Force became Gambit and the X-ternals. Excalibur became X-Caliber. The universe was likewise filled with off-kilter versions of everyone's favorite mutants. Magneto ran the X-men in Professor Xavier's name. Cyclops was a prelate serving under Mr. Sinister. All in all a tight epic that hit me at just the right time.
- The Kelvin Universe (Star Trek film, 2009) - I have to confess only having a passing interest in Star Trek for the longest time. I could watch the various movies or a television episode here and there, but did not really follow it. The J.J. Abrams Star Trek then was the right entry point for me. Though a complicated plot to create this new Kelvin universe, having new versions of the original crew as well as the continuing Nimoy Spock, it provided enough of a context for me to begin to have a greater appreciation for what Star Trek represents. I have even grown to have a much greater appreciation for the original Trek and to bemoan some of the differences in the later films in the Kelvin timeline.
- Tangent Universe (DC Comics, Earth 9) - The Tangent Universe represented a different take on the creation of an alternate universe. Tangent took the approach that many of the DC creators in the 1960s took, taking an existing superhero name, but going in a widely different direction than the previous versions. Flash for instance was a girl who existed as a creature entirely made of light. The Atom was an atomic powered superman. The Joker was an anarchist heroine. It was a world full of interesting possibilities and one I wish would be explored more.
- Amalgam Universe (DC v. Marvel) - Back in the late 1990s when Marvel and DC played together a little better and engaged in regular crossovers, the company decided to pull out all the stops with a DC vs. Marvel event. The event culminated with the Amalgam Universe, one where the DC and Marvel universes were combined into a single different version. Wolverine and Batman combined into Dark Claw. Superman and Captain America combined into the Super-Soldier. The Iron Lantern. The Judgement League of Avengers (JLA). The Challengers of the Fantastic. X-Patrol. The combinations ranged from wild to straightforward, and the back matter was filled with references to an existing continuity that we only had a glimpse of. Of all the universes on this list, this is the one I would love to see again.
- Squadron Supreme (Marvel Comics, Earth-712) - What if Marvel had its own JLA? Marvel in the 1980s doing a version of the preeminent DC team, to show what would happen if superheros tried to solve real problems like hunger, the criminal justice system, and geopolitics. Written by the master of Marvel continuity, Mr. Alternity, the late Mark Gruenwald, the series was a brighter take on the themes Watchmen would hit. Plus Marvel having their own version of the Justice League has been helpful on occasion.
- Kingdom Come (DC Comics, Earth 22) - What if the Justice League had to fight the Apocalypse? A dark future of the DUC where Superman had retired as the next generation of anti-heroes and darker vigilantes had proven more popular, the series focused on the old guard coming back to restore hope to the world. With a preacher and the Spectre (the embodiment of the Wrath of God) as our narrators, the series frequently makes allusions to Revelation. Written by master of DC continuity Mark Waid and beautifully painted in a Norman Rockwell style by Alex Ross, the series is a favorite of mine.
- The Darkest Timeline (Community, Remedial Chaos Theory) - A great episode of community that explores just how the roll of a die can affect reality. The die determines who will go get the group's pizza and each different variation affects the groups dynamics. The Darkest Timeline refers to the one where Troy goes to get the pizza and everything devolves into a Mirror Mirror evil timeline complete with appropriate mustaches and goatees. A great episode of a fun series.
- Pottersville (It's a Wonderful Life) - Another alternate reality that shows the impact of one man. Here the version of Bedford Falls where George Bailey never existed. Now a slum and a vice den, the community shows that one man really can have a difference. A great movie and an unexpected deviation into alternate realities.
- Earth X (Marvel Comics, Earth-9997) - What if everyone on Earth became a mutant? In this series, mutants have completely taken over the earth and humanity is no more. Another great exploration of world building. Alex Ross painting covers and assisting in plots. Jim Krueger building the world as big as possible. And great moody art by John Paul Leon. To think, it all started from a sketch of a middle-aged Spider-man with a spare tire. The series would then go on to continue into Universe X and Paradise X. One of my favorite parts of the series was a two page spread early on in each issue that would tell the history of a particular character, location, or device in the Marvel Universe. Not as well written of a series as some of the others on the list, but excellent world building.
- Doppelgangerland (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wish) - Buffy's version of It's a Wonderful Life. What if Buffy never came to Sunnyvale. And in this case, without a Slayer to be in the Hellmouth, things got really dark. Willow and Xander as vampires, Giles trying to fight instead. A dark wish made in haste, needing to be undone. Another great episode, allowing the actors to dig into twisted versions of themselves.
To use one of my favorite quotes, a few of my favorite imaginary stories. Then again, aren't they all.
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