A low-level villain known as the Key once almost broke the entire Justice League by throwing them into unexpected twisted realities.

The Justice League has been forced to contend with a lot of unique threats over the years, even being shunted across the Multiverse in the years since that concept made a return to prominence. But one of their wildest excursions into alternate timelines was actually all in their heads, and thanks to the manipulations of a minor villain making a nearly catastrophic return.

What were the surprising — and short-lived — realities featured in the “Imaginary Stories” and “Elseworlds” two-parter from JLA #8 & #9 by Grant Morrison, Oscar Jimenez, Chip Wallace, and Pat Garrahy?

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A classic DC villain, the Post-Crisis incarnation of the Key, reinvented himself in the era of JLA. The villain adapted to the constant victories of the Justice League, instead devising a plan that could use that to his advantage. The Key designed a “Psycho-Virus” that can cause vivid and unique hallucinations in anyone affected. Each member of the Justice League ends up in their own unique and bizarre reality as a result, where their histories are altered and their heroic personas transformed by the changed circumstances. Superman is shown a world where Krypton was never destroyed, and Kal-El instead grew up on his homeworld before eventually being chosen to replace a mortally wounded Tomar-Re as the Green Lantern of Sector 2813. Batman is shown a world where decades have passed since he and Catwoman hung up their capes and cowls with Tim Drake assuming the mantle of Batman while their son Bruce Jr. serves as his Robin. Wonder Woman is turned into a World War II-era hero alongside an Indiana Jones-styleSteve Trevor, fighting against the Nazi leader Baroness Paula Von Gunther and her hordes of Nazi Zombies.

The Flash was the new avatar of the Speed Force, using a living metal suit that’s a personification of the Speed Force itself. Aquaman is a defiant freedom fighter in a world overrun by the oceans, fighting against armies of Manta Raiders. Kyle Rayner isn’t a Green Lantern but rather a murderous Weaponeer for the Qwardians in a reality where they supplanted the Guardians of the Universe. Slowly, the Justice League are all able to break loose of these false realities, which is exactly as the Key planned. This way, the surge of psychic energy from all six powerhouses will be enough to open a gateway to another dimension and allow the Key to absorb it into himself, more or less transforming the obscure villain into a living god.

The only chance for the world turns out to be the new Justice League recruit Connor Hawke, who at the time had just taken on the mantle of Green Arrow from his fallen father and was still establishing himself as a hero. Using the trick arrows he was able to steal away from the JLA armory, Connor is able to bring down all of the Key’s androids. Even with assistance from the Flash (whose quicker metabolism awakens him first), Green Arrow barely reaches the Key as the others awaken and fuel his plans. The ensuing surge of energy creates the gateway for the Key to pass through, but a well-placed boxing glove arrow ends up knocking out the villain before he can make his way to godhood.

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While each of those realities was quickly revealed to be false, it’s fun to consider how each one actually reflects the past and potential future of the characters. Wonder Woman’s costume from her adventure references her spy-heavy days from the ’70s, while Flash’s design ends up incorporating elements of Jay Garrick’s original Flash costume. On the other hand, Batman’s potential future with Selina Kyle became a major element of the character during the Tom King run on Batman, while a Parallax-corrupted Kyle Rayner would threaten the world just years later during the “Sinestro Corps War.” At a time when the multiverse had more or less been removed from continuity, it’s a fun way to introduce other potential realities featuring the Justice League.

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