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8 Superhero Comics To Read If You’re Sick of Superhero Media

by Kera Hildebrandt 6 days ago in list / superheroes / comics · updated 5 days ago
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Maybe you’re jaded of the MCU enough to just know that a Squirrel Girl series on Disney+ is all but inevitable. Maybe you’ve just read Watchmen and are dying to read something else that's deconstructive/grown-up like that. Maybe you can’t wait for the next season of The Boys, but have discovered that the original comic (ironically) feels more like a tacky imitation of its adaptation.

Pictured Left: "A gun-runner/criminal lab rat who is equal parts complex, compelling, and entertaining." Pictured Right: "Your standard wacky berserker whose characterization is as flat as Kansas and had lost his dad in a baguette-jousting competition. No, I'm not joking."

You’re tired of the tropes. You’re in need of a new spin on old ideas. Some commentary of caped heroes and satire of spandexed avengers. You're so tired of cookie cutter stories and focus-tested protagonists...

But even then, maybe comics can deliver you from the tragedy of superhero burnout. After all, the likes of Frank Miller and Alan Moore never disappointed you before. (Well, okay, until All Star-Batman and Robin and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, respectively.)

But...where to begin?

Look no futher, my comic crusading chum! Here's a list of eight start off points to help scratch that superheroic cynicism itch!

Also, FYI, most of these titles are hella mature.

For example, we start out wit–

#1 - The Pro

Again, and in spite of a very strong start, The Boys comic is pretty awful. No, even worse; it’s boring. Yes, even the oh-so-controversial, orgy-tastic Herogasm storyline.

"Oh? You have superheroes having constant gratuitous sex on every single surface of a hotel? How QUAINT..." (Source)

Hence why I picked up The Pro mostly out of curiosity and Amanda Conner’s expressive art. Plus, outside of The Boys, Garth Ennis isn’t a bad writer…

While by no means groundbreaking from a narrative standpoint, The Pro actually might have done a better job at bringing superheroes down a notch than The Boys. (Which might sound crazy when considering that The Pro had one issue, while The Boys clocked in at seventy-two.)

The (super) characters are allowed to be anything other than irredeemable psychopaths. The plot is entertaining and even funny. And the protagonist, while hardly the stuff of deep psychological exploration, has just enough shade to make her interesting.

Oh look. She made a point in a single panel that The Boys tried to do in six omnibus volumes.

Oh, speaking of the protagonist, she's a prostitute who gets superpowers and ends up joining some Justice League parody. Not that she’s what you call “right for the job,” being prone to fits of violence and foul behavior.

How foul you ask?

It's impossible to find any picture of it that I can post here without blackboxes. That's how foul.

I think this panel's PG-13, but I'm honestly so desensitized at this point that I probably don't notice f***ing s*** anymore.

But, ha, yeah. Very NSFW.

But then again, this is Garth Ennis we're talking about. So what should we expect?

#2 - Powers

Powers has the same problem The Boys did. Strong start, but ultimately fizzles out. By the time we get to the ending, we're following characters that have gotten boring and fighting an enemy that's hard to care about.

But when I say strong start, I mean strong start.

Powers follows a department of mere mortal detectives that handle cases involving superheroes. Shimmering saviors who end up dead in seedy motels. Dark avengers who are accused of murder. An unknown killer picking off member of a beloved super team one at a time.

In a way, this series is actually a precursor to The Boys, predating Ennis's jaunt by six years. Powers is cynical, gritty, sleazey, violent, and shows us that our superheroes can be quite the scumbags.

This panel doesn't show anything, but that super chick is totally running a super dog sidekick fighting ring or something.

Gritty superhero noir at its finest.

Well, again, to a point somewhere across its ninety-eight issues, which is really up to you to determine where the series started slowly going downhill. (But the correct answer is the Legends storyline.) Again, the series has (as far as I can tell) wrapped up (at least, as far as the original protagonist is concerned).

There was also a Playstation Network series adaption starring Shartlo Copley back in 2015-2016, but it's easy to forget that.

Though, not as easy as it is to forget that original programming the Playstation Network was a thing in the first place, of course.

#3 - Superior

Chances are, you've already seen Mark Millar's stories, even if you've never heard his name or even cracked open any of his comics. Because chances are, you've seen Wanted, Kick-Ass, Kingsmen, Captain America: Civil War, or Logan, which are all adaptions of his work (albeit with varying degrees of looseness). And in all honesty, much of Millar's work would be a perfect fit for any maligned Marvel moviegoers.

Want a graphic, black-hearted story where a loser joins a supervillain Illuminati that includes a bad guy made of fecal matter? Wanted (though don't expect Angelina Jolie or magical future-telling looms here).

Like the idea of a teenager in our superhero-less world becoming a masked vigilante, fighting alongside a child-assassin who talks like your one uncle's facebook feed? Kick-Ass (though the film adaption is far more humanized).

Even some of Millar's Big Two Comics stories are good, Marvel's Old Man Logan pitting a retired Wolverine against a clan of inbred Hulks and DC's Superman: Red Son giving us an alternative reality where Superman ended up in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas.

But one story that never seems to get its well-deserved due would have to be Superior. Like, Amazon hasn't even given it the Kindle treatment yet!

Meanwhile, what Amazon DOES have on the Kindle store.

This seven issue miniseries is a superhero story set in a world without superheroes, and follows a kid named Simon Pooni. Once a basketball player and normal happy kid, Simon develops multiple sclerosis and starts losing the life he once knew. Simon's only escape are movies starring Superior, a Superman stand-in that he all but idolizes.

But one night, a space monkey drops into his room and gives him the chance to become Superior.

"I was Shazaming before it was COOL..."

But hero work doesn't turn out quite as Simon wants. The actor that plays Superior in the movies suffers media backlash, a Lois Lane-expy tries to exploit Simon, and it turns out that his powers...

Okay, obviously I can't go into much detail past that without spoiling much of the plot. But if you're looking for a genuinely heartfelt story that just happens to have superheroes involved, this is the one to look at.

Back in 2014, 2oth Century Fox picked up the movie rights to Superior, Kick-Ass/Kingsmen director Matthew Vaughn set to produce. Interestingly enough, 2016 saw Millar himself voicing his interest in seeing John Cena attached to the project. And this was years before The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, Millar wanting to see Cena play Superior after seeing him in...

Ick. Amy Schumer's Trainwreck.

#4 - Empowered

In a world where Black Widow calls herself a monster for being sterilized and Captain Marvel is as subtle with feminist themes as a giant green woman twerking in a waltz competition, superheroines these days are (sometimes) hit or (mostly) miss.

This is very much not the case with Empowered.

Hey, at least she's not holding a town hostage in a sitcom world like a certain scarlet sorceress.

Empowered is an "associate member" of hero group (the) Superhomeys, and is probably one of the most quintessential of "plucky/unlucky protagonists" out there. While an alien membrane/super suit she wears does give her powers, it clings to her every curve (amplifying her body issues), tears apart really easy (thus making her loose her powers), and takes a long time regenerate (giving her opponents ample time to bind and gag her).

...No, that's Bayonetta. You're definately thinking of Bayonetta.

So...yeah. Worst powers since weaponized kites.

This often-unnoticed gem is written and drawn (barring stand-alone stories) by Adam Warren, who actually has an interesting history as a comic artist. His career began in the 1980's, and was part of the anime/manga movement that started at the time. In fact, he was so attached the medium, that he ended up licensing the Dirty Pair IP from their original creator (after impressing him with his art) in 1988, creating twenty-eight issues worth of original content.

And again, this was in 1988. Atari and Nintendo couldn't even play nice without getting in a legal slap fight that year.

So, yeah, interesting nerd history aside, Warren's art is the stuff of beauty. Gorgeous pencil shades without a drop of ink (excluding colorized stories). Fluid movement. And a manga-influenced style that doesn't feel like a cheap imitation.

The one time motion controls DON'T look stupid.

And at the heart of this story is Empowered herself, who is the sort of heroine that's hard to come by in these times of focus testing and internet eggshell romps.

For one thing: she's allowed to be imperfect and fun. She's relatable and goofy at times. And while she sucks as a superhero, she only does so at first. You actually become emotionally-invested in her during this (often funny, sometimes genuinely tear-jerking) story, and can feel her progress as a character/superhero.

And bonus femisim points: she's allowed to actually enjoy frequent sex. Like, in a completely frank manner and without being slut-shamed.

Also, there's a lot of sex in this series. (Yes, even more than the comic about a super-powered hooker.)

But you don't just have to hear me gush about this title. Because, while print/kindle options are available for this title, Adam Warren had actually been releasing pages online via the Hiveworks label. Meaning: you can actually start reading Empowered right now online for free!

#5 - Brat Pack

Welcome to Slumberg, a scummy metropolis and the base of operations of supergroup Black October and their sidekicks...who are violently dispatched by a supervillain in the first issue. So, the heroes bring in a new set of teenagers to train as replacements.

Oh, and Black October's basically the worst.

Pretty sure this guy was a supervillain in that alt-right superhero movie that tanked a while back. Probably called something like "the Gay Agenda."

Say hello the Mink, a Batman stand-in whose hobbies include wanton acts of violence, hedonism, and pedophilia. His friends include Moon Mistress (a promiscuous misandrist version of Mommie Dearest), King Rad (a careless, collateral damage-prone rich boy), and Judge Jury (a racist whose main mode of transportation is an actual flying burning cross).

Inspiried by the notorious phone poll that saw Jason Todd/Robin II blown to smithereens, Brat Pack does to sidekicks what Watchmen did to superheroes. (Which is hardly a surprise, since writer/artist Rick Veitch was actually quite in the loop during Watchmen's development, even having conversations with Alan Moore himself.) It unpacks a lot of things inherent in old school heroes; commercialism, racism, and blatant hyper-sexuality.

And does so with wonderfully grotesque art...

To put it lightly, this comic is bleak. In fact, it might be the most bleak entry in this whole list. (It even gives the last entry on here a run for its apocolyptic money.) You see the utter (sometimes quite literal) decay of teenagers who get their souls slowly sucked out by dirtbags who make even the Comedian look endearing.

Could be worse. Could be Compound V.

Be forwarned, this comic actually has two endings: one that was published in the original run, and a revised one that Veitch put in with reprints due to dissatisfaction with the first ending. The newer ending's usually the one you bump into these days and is considered the canon ending. (If they start drinking blood, you've found it.)

Cosplay of the main antagonist. Creepy little eye holes or creepy little button eyes? You decide!

Rick Veitch himself also gave one of the characters- Superman expy True-Man- a spin-off in the form of The Maximotal, which is also a good superhero dissection piece.

News of a Brat Pack film adaption bounced around for the better part of a decade, Black Dynamite's producers having optioned the story back in 2010. But the project seemed to have gone the way of the original sidekicks of Black October...

#6 - The Cape

Though the comic script was ultimately handled by Jason Ciaramella (C Is For Cthulu, Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters), The Cape is a five issue miniseries based on the Joe Hill short story of the same name.

We follow a kid named Eric, who- while playing superhero/supervillain with his brother- takes a very nasty fall out a tree. That is, after the cape he was wearing at the time seemingly allowed him to float in the air. Which, of course, is chalked up to imagination. Left with migraines and no ambition, we ultimately find Eric an angry man that’s forced to move into his mom’s basement after his girlfriend leaves him. But he also finds his old cape and- surprise, surprise- it can make him fly!

Now, before I talk about the rest of The Cape, you might want to read the short story it’s based on, which covers the first issue of the series. (Everything past it is new material.) So, unless you care about spoilers, continue.

...You here? Okay, cool.

Right, so, Eric’s actually the supervillain of the story. He viciously murders anyone who’s slighted hin, whether real or (mostly) imagined. Viciously and creatively.

Also a spoiler: murder via dropped bear.

This isn't just a superhero story, reader. This is a superhero horror story, which is a concept that's rarely explored, let alone successfully so. And even if it's not what you'd consider full-blown horror, it's still a grizzly little character study of a bitter sociopath who just happened to get powers. (Not to say Eric is too deep of a character.) We see just how depraved he let himself become in a life of disappointment.

And the results? Ooof...

"This is for showing Twilight during the flight!"

The Cape itself got stretched out into a prequel (The Cape: 1968) and an interquel (The Cape: Fallen). 1968 is a bit of an unessecary origin story, but is still pretty entertaining. Fallen is about as watching seltzer water, but Eric gets a few more (gruesome) kills to satisfy any slasher junkies out there.

Well....satisfy any slasher junkies before they stumble onto this one other comic...

#7 - Irredeemable

The premise in a nutshell: a Homelander-like hero goes full Homelander.

Written by Mark Waid (who gave us the equally-apocolyptic Kingdom Come), Irredeemable follows the thirty-seven issue-long story of the Plutonian, your average Superman expy who one day snaps and decides to kill everyone. In fact, we start right out the gate watching him flash fry men, women, and children…

Brought to you by the guy who also wrote for Archie's Pals n' Gals!

With the whole world wrapped in absolute terror and unable to stop this Not Man of Steel, the Plutonian's former teammates desperately scramble to get a foothold against him. And all the while, the former hero slowly tears the world apart bit by bit, decimating millions at a time.

Which we see. In horrible, horrible detail.

You know. Sandwiched in between other sorts of horrible, horrible details.

This is actually far more terrifying in context.

This is superhero horror and so much more. In between bouts of nightmare fuel, we have twisting characterization and interpersonal conflict almost on par with Watchmen. All against the backdrop of the increasing degredation and madness of a man too powerful to live in the world.

And, naturally, Hollywood's been trying to have a go at adapting this comic too. But while rumblings have been going back as far as 2016, we actually got multiple reports this year that Netflix has picked up this project. Not only that, but apparently combining Irredeemable with Incorruptible (a spin-off/related comic series) into a single film.

Uh...okay, Netflix. Just...let's not have a repeat of Locke and Key, okay?

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Kera Hildebrandt

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  • Chris Riggioa day ago

    Never read The Pro but I love Garth Ennis so I'll have to check that out, nice list.

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