A Sister Trope to the For Want of a Nail episode. While For Want of a Nail explores another fork in the road taken by a character, an Elseworld takes a well-known character and plonks them into a potentially wildly different location and situation. This can add some freshness to a character which allows them to act a different way than normal canon might allow but may also become an excuse to write professional Transplanted Character Fic of the Recycled in Space variety.
Daring writers trusted by loyal fans may do this kind of episode without any warning or explanation. Well regarded elseworld stories generally involve 1) either keeping the characters and their motivations recognizable despite the new setting and situations or 2) working within the confines of the new setting in order to get back to the original premise in a reasonable way.
Comes from the term used by DC Comics for these kinds of stories; they publish one-shots and Miniseries like this. Compare to Alternate Continuity. If a show is all Elseworlds all the time, you've got a Commedia dell'Arte Troupe.
DC's Elseworlds are sometimes grouped into six categories. These categories can be applied outside of DC Comics, of course.
- Historical: The characters are transplanted into a historical context. Example: Transformers: Hearts of Steel (19th-century robots).
- Alternate Real-World History: Some element of real-world history is different. Example: Batman: Holy Terror (where the US is a theocracy).
- Alternate Fictional History: Some elements of the work's fictional history are different. Example: Friends, "The One That Could Have Been" (where Monica is fat, Ross is still married, Phoebe works on Wall Street, etc.).
- Genre Graft: The work changes genre. Example: The Prisoner, "Living in Harmony" (a Western).
- Fiction Graft: The work is melded with a famous work of fiction. Example: Superman: War of the Worlds.
- Potential Future: The story is set in a potential future of the setting. This tends not to be this trope as we use it here (since it's not an alternate universe, just the future of the one we have). Often a Bad Future. Example: Heroes, "Five Years Gone".
In Fan Fiction this is known as an Alternate Universe (or AU), where the characters generally remain the same but the setting changes. High school AUs are very popular, probably because many of the writers are themselves in high school.
Anime & Manga
- Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle consists of multiple Elseworlds with various CLAMP characters, which the characters travel to ala Sliders.
- Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo's ninth episode plucks up the entirety of its main cast and sets them in a modern day world that tells a baseball story instead of the colony warfare one that had been playing out up until then. QT powers are still present despite this.
- Idolmaster: Xenoglossia transposed the characters of The Idolmaster into a Super Robot anime, an anime which is itself a mecha-influenced Elseworlds of a game.
- One Piece uses Elseworld stories featuring the characters in historical Japan as Filler when the anime threatens to get too far ahead of the manga.
- Code Geass spinoff manga Strange Tales of the Bakumatsu shifts the setting to the end of the shogunate, with La Résistance hiding their identities as The Shinsengumi and opposing the Westernization brought on by Britannia - and it still retains the Humongous Mecha.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann had the Parallel Works videos, which were Music Videos that mostly took place in alternate continuities, like one where the characters are in Medieval Europe, play Pachinko Games with Giant Robots, a Samurai Epic, A Steampunk Western Mirror Universe, and a universe bearing suspicious resemblance to FLCL.
- Mai-Otome to My-HiME.
- The DC Universe version is the Trope Namer, and has a lot of them. One of the best and most notable is Kingdom Come, a beautifully painted and surprisingly cerebral graphic novel. Some of their Elseworlds would actually fall under For Want of a Nail.
- Superman: Red Son is a miniseries about what Superman would have been like if he had landed in the Soviet Union (specifically Ukraine, which seems to be the closest the writers could find to a Soviet version of Kansas) instead of the United States; he ends up a Knight Templar. President Luthor defends the United States from the Red Menace with Superman's Rogues Gallery and Green Lanterns. Batman has a very sexy hat.
- I, Joker is a one-shot about a dystopian future version of Gotham where people worship the current Batman (who is also called "The Bruce", but is NOT Bruce Wayne) as a god. It's told from the point of view of a person who believes himself to be The Joker. This Batman likes to take enemies of the state, mind-wipe them, and turn them into carbon-copies of past Batman villains with implanted memories; he then uses them in a yearly bloodsport where the entire city dresses up as Batmen/girls/women and attempts to kill one of the villains so as to get a chance to fight him for the right to become the new Batman. However, after an act of rebellion from his personal doctor/surgeon who converts the rebels into faux villains, this year's Joker gradually regains his memories and, after discovering the original Batcave, defeats the wannabe Bat-god and takes up the mantle of the Bat. He also rescues his girlfriend, who had had her vocal cords removed as punishment for being a rebel; she becomes his Robin.
- Elseworlds itself had been gone for years (as it didn't jive with the then-current canon of there being-no-multiverse-at-all-really). The first hint that the Multiverse might be back actually occurred when one of the Infinite
ChristmasHoliday stories ended with Superman punching Batman in the face for being Santa Claus (It's a fun story) with the last panel having an "Elseworlds" logo on it. It wasn't until months later they confirmed the 52.
- A new "Elseworlds" showed up in autumn 2010, "The Last Family of Krypton".
- JLA: Act of God was a notorious one that involved all the people with inherent superpowers losing them.
- Early on, Marvel Comics's distinctive "What If?" series were stand-alone For Want of a Nail stories based on key events in the Marvel universe. They later ran more Elseworld style stories; these are not usually specifically labeled as either (Marvel Zombies, Marvel 1602, X-Men Fairy Tales)
- Don't forget Marvel Apes.
- In fact, it's implied (sometimes plain told) that every Marvel "What If" is one universe from the full Marvel multiverse. So, Marvel Zombies started as an alternate universe of Ultimate Marvel, then crossed with official 616-Earth. Ultimate X-Men have been spotted in Exiles, on a single panel showing scenes of the multiverse.
- Marvel also had the 5 Ronin, which transplanted Wolverine, The Punisher, The Hulk, Psylocke and Deadpool into Tokugawa era Japan.
- Transformers: Hearts Of Steel was an Elseworld where the some of the Transformers wake up on Earth during the Industrial Revolution rather than in 1984 as they did in Transformers Generation 1, and took corresponding vehicle modes such as trains, propeller aircraft and warships. Human characters in the comic included John Henry, Mark Twain, and Jules Verne. According to writer Chuck Dixon this was meant to be a possible part of regular continuity, but numerous discrepancies (most notably the fact that the Transformers are seen waging war on Earth during the ice age, in the forms of fantastical creatures) contradict this.
- Hearts of Steel was originally meant to be the first in a set of Elseworlds called The Transformers: Evolution. However, the series was never continued as Hasbro wanted to limit the number of alternate continuities (this was circa the 2007 film).
- Durham Red Scarlet Apocrypha took the titular character out of her far-future adventures and reimagined her as existing at various other places and times.
- Back in the Silver Age, DC published "Impossible Tales" for Wonder Woman, in which she teams up with her Spinoff Baby selves (the Wonder Girl featured here is her teenage self, not Donna Troy who was introduced later) and Queen Hippolyta.
- Keith Giffen wrote one The Authority spin-off story with Midnighter and Apollo as samauri.
- 2000 AD ran two "Alternity" specials in the 90s featuring reimagined characters such as "Dredd of Dock Green".
- The Doctor Who Magazine comic strip for Christmas 2010 was "The Professor, the Queen and the Bookshop", a version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (with elements of The Magician's Nephew) with Amelia and Rory as Lucy and Edmund/Polly and Digory, the Doctor as Professor Kirke/Aslan, the Rani as the White Witch (although her Sealed Evil in a Can form is a Weeping Angel), Azal the Daemon as Mr Tumnus, and the Talking Animals represented by Judoon, Cheetah People, Nimons, Hath and Silurians. At the end, it turns out to be a tale CS Lewis is spinning to the Inklings, the Doctor and Amy. The Doctor suggests it would work better with a wardrobe.
- The Beano Book 2010 had a strip called William the Cat, starring a Victorian version of their superhero Billy the Cat. It turns out to be All Just a Dream of the modern day Billy.
- The Suske And Wiske comic "Het geheim van de gladiatoren" (the secret of the Gladiators) is entirely set in Roman times, with the 3 main protagonists as Gauls.
Live Action TV
- Xena: Warrior Princess (and later, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) did episodes like this; Xenites refer to Elseworlds as "Uber" stories, especially ones featuring descendants or just spiritual equivalents of characters in the future.
- An episode of The Prisoner ("Living In Harmony") has Number Six up as a retired US Marshal in The Wild West, where a crooked judge tried to force him to become sheriff. (Of course, it eventually turned out that it was All Just a Dream.)
- The "Benny Russell" episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which Ben Sisko was thrust into a world where he was a 1950s science fiction writer (and possibly going mad), with the other characters recast as his friends and associates (or, for the baddies, racist authority figures).
- 3rd Rock from the Sun did a two-part episode in which the aliens entered an Alternate Universe where they lived hugely successful lives in New York City.
- Played for laughs in Stargate SG-1 episode 200 as depicted above. Several times over, in a myriad of ways.
- The "normal world" in Teal'c's hallucinations in "The Changeling" is also an example, and has even spawned a fanfiction community. So is the Stargate Atlantis episode "Vegas", but it's an actual Alternate Universe.
- In the Stargate Universe episode "Cloverdale", Scott hallucinated a world where the entire cast lived together in a small town, with Scott and Chloe about to get married. It kept the casts' personalities the same, along with many of the interpersonal relationships - for instance, Eli was Chloe's brother, while James was Scott's ex-girlfriend.
- In the fourth season finale of Bones, Brennan and Booth are married, and all their friends and squints are either staff or patrons at their nightclub. This episode was probably the most polarizing ever to be seen on Bones, which is known for its consistency in tone, rivaled only by the last five minutes or so of "The Pain in The Heart". It was stuffed with clever in-jokes and references which would completely incomprehensible to even a casual fan, had a frankly awesome cameo by Motley Crue, and showed Brennan and Booth the way the vast majority of fans have wanted to see them from the beginning. But it was all a dream, and some fans were pissed because the sex between Booth and Brennan wasn't real.
- An All Just a Dream episode of Smallville in which Jimmy Olsen imagined himself as the lead in a Film Noir. Interesting in that his subconcious apparently had a better idea of what was going on in the real world than he did; he later commented to Chloe how weird it was that a lot of his friends and associates (and the storyline of the episode) were accurately translated to the new setting, but then there was stuff like Clark secretly being a crimefighter, or Lana playing Lex and the good guys against each other.
- In the Red Dwarf episode Back to Reality, the crew wake up to find that they've spent the last four years of their lives in a Red Dwarf Total Immersion Video Game. it was all a shared hallucination
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer did one where the usually minor character Johnathon was suddenly good at everything, saved the world from monsters on a regular basis, and adored was by everyone.
- Technically, that episode took place in the normal Buffyverse. Jonathan cast a spell that A) turns him into a Canon Sue and B) brainwashes everyone into thinking he's always been one. Nevertheless, the episode also changed the opening credits to showcase Jonathan as a major character and Badass of the show.
- The Legend of Dick and Dom throws its Fantasy Land heroes into a terrifying and mysterious dimension in the episode "The Mists of Time"; nobody seems to do magic, but the unwary may fall foul of security guards or soap opera addiction... yes, it's a "thrown into the real world" gag.
- On Las Vegas, "Everything Old Is You Again" is an episode in which the same characters operate the same casino, but in 1962. Even the opening credits were time-shifted, with shots of the characters in period outfits and the actual credits in a funky 60s font.
- In a way, all the arcs of Arthur, King of Time and Space are Elseworlds to the others. A bit different from most since there isn't one "main" universe (there's three).
- Megatokyo's various omake chapters are all this, sometimes combined with parody/homages as in "Full Megatokyo Panic." The whole comic, in fact, seems to be several Elseworlds mashed together, with different worlds visible to different characters.
- The "Without Warning Or Explanation" type happened in Ben 10: The episode initially indicated somehow Ben went back in time to before he got the Omnitrix. He was then surprised to find that this time Gwen gets it, and he spends a good portion of the episode explaining to Gwen how the aliens work. The events of the first episode play out with these changes, and it wasn't an Elseworld episode until the very end when it didn't get resolved.
- Futurama has the 2 Anthologies of Interest episodes, each with one of the 3 main characters using the Professor's "What-if Machine" which basically, when asked a question, shows a video of an elseword based on that question.
- Benders questions where what if he were made 50-ft tall, and what if he was turned human. He ends up dead in both.
- Fry's were what if he was never cryogenically frozen, and what if life was like a video game.
- Leela's were what if she was more impulsive, and what if she found her real parents (played with in that she ended up knocked out and dreamed the elseworld, which is a Wizard of Oz parody.).
- Various episodes of Pinky and The Brain would arbitrarily plunk the titular duo down in different historical eras, including the twenties, thirties, fifties, sixties, seventies, Napoleonic, mediaeval and biblical ages, among others. As the show tended towards Negative Continuity, no explanation was ever needed or given.
- The "Darkwing Doubloon" episode of Darkwing Duck makes all the characters into Pirates. Except the Muddlefoots, they're the royal family of England.
- Phineas and Ferb had a few. "Tri-Stone Area" (which featured all characters in a prehistoric setting), "Doof Dynasty" (which featured them in ancient China), "Excaliferb!" (which featured the characters in a medival/fantasy setting, although this was eventually revealed to be a story read to Major Monogram by Carl) and "Phineas and Ferb and the Temple of Juatchadoon" (an Indiana Jones spoof set in the early 20th century)