Similar to Marvel Comics
' What If...?
is where DC Comics
lets its characters
live the stories they never would in normal continuity
. The cover of the comics
then have, besides the normal DC Comics logo, an Elseworlds
-logo, so readers instantly know the story
other stories in the DC Universe
On the inside of each comic, there is a small explanation what Elseworlds is all about: "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."
The first Elseworlds story could be considered to be 1986's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. This is the story about a possible future, starring Bruce Wayne, 10 years after he gave up being Batman. The first story in which an alternate history is told is Batman: Gotham By Gaslight from 1989, by Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russel, about Batman in the year 1888, fighting Jack The Ripper. Batman: Holy Terror, from 1991, was the first story to have the Elseworlds logo on the cover.
Although it is Batman who has the highest number of appearances in Elseworlds stories, over the years almost all DC characters, like Superman, Wonder Woman, and the JLA have gotten an Elseworlds treatment.
Taking the characters out of continuity definitely isn't a bad thing. Most comic book readers will agree with me when I say that some of the best stories ever published by DC Comics were Elseworlds stories. Masterpieces like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross both are Elseworlds stories.
Other Elseworlds examples are:
-JLA: The Nail: a story about what would have happened if Superman's foster parents, Pa and Ma Kent, would have a flat tire on the trip they originally discovered the baby Clark.
-Batman: I Joker: Batman is the bad guy, the Joker is a good guy.