Written by: Ed Allen It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that there’s a whole galaxy of superhero comics outside of the publishing giants of Marvel
or DC and it's a galaxy that's rich in thrilling stories and incredible artwork. Unfortunately many of these comics are often overlooked by dedicated fans of the Marvel or DC universes, while some readers of indie comics automatically assume that the problems they have with the output of those two publishers are still present in less popular examples of the genre.
For the sake of encouraging superhero diversity, here’s a list of five outstanding cape comics from outside the 'big two' that are more than deserving of your attention...
Glory (Image Comics - ongoing)
Under the capable hands of Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell Glory has gone from being the generic Wonder-Woman ‘inspired’ eye-candy she was in the 1990s to one of the most remarkable female characters in American comics. To call her “imposing” wouldn’t do justice to Glory’s physique - she’s a 8 foot tall tank of pure muscle and she puts that power to good use throughout the series. Born from the union of two warring alien races, Glory was raised to rule the planet Thule but grew restless and left home to fight evil on Earth during WW2 and as relations between the two factions on Thune turned sour our world is drawn into their conflict. The story so far has covered a lot of ground very quickly, with moments of touching pathos give way to Campbell’s astonishingly well drawn combat scenes, which are among the most viscerally satisfying I’ve ever seen. Rumour has it that Glory is set to be cancelled after issue #33 and if that’s true I’m going to sorely miss it when its gone. It’s an epic story spanning over 500 years and I would love to see it reach its natural conclusion. Marvel and DC pay attention: Glory is dark superheroics done right.
Glory is published by Image and currently available in trade paperback form, with more monthly single issues still to come. Like the other Liefeld/Extreme properties relaunched this year the series continues its numbering from the 90s - so be sure to start your reading with issue #23.
TMNT (IDW Publishing - ongoing)
Forget any nostalgia you might have for the cartoons, movies or older comic book incarnations of the Turtles - IDW’s ongoing TMNT series is the real deal and is strong enough to make this list even if it weren’t part of a beloved franchise. TMNT is never short of action but it’s also got a lot of heart to it as well and the artwork so far has been nothing less than phenomenal, you owe it to yourself to check this comic out. It’s co-written by Kevin Eastman, one of the Turtles’ original creators, so it should feel suitably authentic to fans of the old comics too.
TMNT is available in trade paperback collections and monthly single issues from IDW.
Mudman (Image Comics - ongoing)
Written and drawn by Paul Grist, Mudman is his personal take on the teenaged superhero sub-genre. It’s a fun, breezy read with a healthy mixture of action and humor, set in a sleepy English seaside town. It also manages to be suitable for all ages without resorting to childishness or patronising the reader and that alone is worth celebrating. If you’ve ever wondered what a British Spider-man might be like, Mudman is the comic for you.
Issues 1-5 are available as a trade paperback, with more monthly issues still to come from Image Comics.
God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls (Fantagraphics - graphic novel)
Jaime Hernandez, famous for his Love and Rockets work alongside his brother Gilbert, has produced God and Science, a weird and charming handling of the superhero genre. Set in a world where only women have superpowers, the Ti-Girls come out of retirement to save the world after its most powerful hero becomes its greatest threat. Hernandez plays around with the familiar genre tropes of cape comics but does so in a way that’s unique to his storytelling talents. Fans of the Hernandez Brothers might be surprised by Jaime’s decision to play the superhero genre straight - especially since most of his work covers more ‘realistic’ subjects - but God and Science is just as quirky and deeply personal as anything else he’s produced.
Currently available as an original graphic novel, published by Fantagraphics.
The Bulletproof Coffin (Image Comics - miniseries)
In terms of plot, I’m not sure if there’s any comics more difficult to describe than David Hine and Shaky Kane’s The Bulletproof Coffin; it’s a surreal, multi-layered and self-referential story within a story within a story which pays homage to the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby era of superheroes as it simultaneously celebrates and parodies the genre. Hine’s script does a fine job of making such a potentially confusing story flow seamlessly while Kane’s artwork - made up of thick lines and extremely bold, lurid colors - creates a dynamic retro-grotesque aesthetic that’s clearly inspired by Kirby’s work. Nothing I can say will really do justice to this masterpiece of a miniseries (or its follow-up mini The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, where things get even weirder), so you’ll just have to check it out for yourselves.
The Bulletproof Coffin and The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred are currently available as two trade paperback collections from Image Comics.
So there you have it folks, that’s my top five list of alternative superhero comics and each one is well worth your time and deserves your support. An honourable mention should go out to Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s Invincible which could easily have been included but it’s already popular enough that it doesn’t need any help from the likes of me. If you’re feeling tired of Marvel and DC’s fare or if you’re just looking for a fresh superhero experience you can’t go wrong by trying one of the comics I listed above. Happy reading!