7 Superhero Comics for People Who Dislike Superheroes
Even with the success of Marvel’s cinematic universe (and to some degree, DC’s Nolanverse,) there’s still a little bit of stigma attached to superhero comic books. There are people who would only pick up non-superhero comic books that are targeted towards mature readers due to various reasons, with the most common ones being made up of a.) superheroes are paper-thin, kid targeted franchises, and b.) the franchises are too mired up in their own convoluted continuity that it’s impossible for a new reader to jump in.
Whether the two reasons are valid or not is subject to an entirely different article, but if you are avoiding superhero comic books for one or both of the above reasons, here are a few titles that will you may end up liking regardless of your predisposition:
1. Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come is an Elseworlds (which means it either happened on an alternate reality and/or is simply not canonical material) that follows DC Comics’ vast roster of superheroes during the twilight of their careers, after public support has turned towards a younger generation of heroes who have no qualms about murdering criminals. Over time, this new generation of heroes has become so violent and prone to infighting that there’s very little that separates them from the villains that they fight.
Superman, after being gone for a long time has returned along with some of his former Justice League teammates and decided to police the young heroes, recruiting the willing under their wing and throwing the unwilling in a gulag designed for super-powered individuals. The problem is that some long-slumbering villains have recognized the powder-keg that Superman and his team are brewing, and have taken steps to take advantage when it blows over. And then there’s Batman and the street-level vigilantes that follow his principles. Which side they’re on will affect the oncoming superpowered war.
Why Read It
- Many of the criticisms over spandex-clad superheroics is addressed in Kingdom Come, particularly the issue of how much authority Superman and his ilk could and should have over the world.
- It’s not canonical material, but for people who outgrew DC’s comic books, this comic can serve as a closure of sorts. It works as a fitting end to the DC universe.
- The story works as a criticism of the ultra-violent gritty superheroes that have become popular during the 90s.
- Seeing older versions of the heroes is worth the effort of reading all four issues. It shows what kind of effect aging and the passing of time has on the heroes. Most especially Batman, because you need to remember that he doesn’t have superpowers and will grow old and frail like the rest of us over time.
Watchmen depicts an alternate history in which costumed heroes were real and emerged in the 40s and 60s, helping the United States clean up its streets and win the Vietnam war, respectively. The story then jumps forward to 1985, with the U.S. slowly edging towards a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, with the superhero Doctor Manhattan – who literally has power over time, matter, and space – serving as a deterrent.
In Watchmen’s universe, a law banning costumed vigilantism was passed somewhere along the timeline, with the government only sanctioning two heroes; Doctor Manhattan himself and the mercenary-for-hire Comedian; when the latter is murdered mysteriously in his apartment, it kickstarts a series of events that blow the lid open on the shady goings on in the superhero community, as well as a Machiavellian plot concerning the impending nuclear war.
Why Read It
- Watchmen was already adapted into a movie, but despite the lengthy runtime, there was a lot lost in translation. The story is best enjoyed in comic book format, as scribe Alan Moore specifically structured everything to be consumed through images and text.
- The comic also includes a lot of extra content in the form of mock newspapers, additional reading material, excerpts from a book written by one of the side characters, etc.
- There’s also a story within the story that was not made part of the movie (and released as a stand alone animated movie included with the home video release.) Said story works much better when read from within Watchmen, as the events in the extra story sort of work as a parallel for what’s happening in the framing narrative.
3. Final Night
The premise for Final Night is simple. An entity called a Sun Eater – which is basically what its name denotes: it eats suns – has found its way to Earth’s own sun. With the sun gone, the planet is slowly entering another Ice Age. What’s even worse is that the effects of the Sun Eater will eventually result in the sun going supernova, obliterating the planets near it and propelling the entity to its next destination.
With Superman’s powers waning (remember that he gets his powers from the yellow sun) Earth’s heroes make a last ditch effort to save as many lives as possible, while trying to come up with a way to survive the coming supernova.
Why Read It
- Despite containing every known superpowered being in DC’s roster at the time, everybody is still left powerless against the sun eater because it’s not a malevolent supervillain that can be punched into submission. Final Night is structured more like a disaster film (in the same vein as The Core, or The Day After Tomorrow, etc.) than a superhero story.
- You might enjoy seeing overpowered characters like Superman get taken down a peg or two. Or you might enjoy seeing them still do what they can to save lives despite being powerless against the enemy.
- You get to see some villains work together with the heroes after realizing that they’re all screwed if the planet bites it.
- Minor SPOILER: the day will be saved not by Superman, not by Batman, but by a former hero that has since fallen out of favor with his peers after turning into a mass murderer. Final Night sort of serves as said character’s story of redemption – he sacrificed his own life to save everyone on earth.
4. The Boys
The Boys focuses on a fictionalized version of the present world in which superheroes exist. However, all of the superheroes in the story were the result of a government experiment, but given various backstories and their own comic book franchises to serve as massive cover up. Majority of these superheroes are corrupt and use their celebrity status to engage in reckless behavior and satisfy their base carnal desires.
The titular group in the comic is a group of superpowered CIA operatives who are charged with monitoring the superhero community. If a hero starts going out of line – either by doing something that will break the illusion for the masses or by being a threat to the government – “the boys” show up, take care of the problem, and clean up the scene.
Why Read It
- The Boys was written by Garth Ennis, who has publicly admitted a dislike for the superhero genre, and it shows in this comic book. Many of the superhero tropes are either subverted or revealed to be a farce. A large number of spandex-clad individuals are also killed in the most brutal ways imaginable.
- As implied above, the comic book contains a lot of violence. This is one comic you need to check out if you want mature comics without going past the realm of “offensive just for offensive’s sake.”
5. The Sentry
The Sentry follows the story of Robert Reynolds, an over-the-hill man struggling with addiction and financial problems while trying to keep his relationship with an estranged wife from falling at the seams. One day, Reynolds starts to remember snippets of memory that reveal his own past as Earth’s mightiest and most revered hero, The Sentry.
While piecing together his own memories, Reynolds realizes that nobody remembers The Sentry, despite him knowing important secrets about the other superheroes and having access to some of The Sentry’s belongings.
Why Read It
- The Sentry eventually became part of Marvel’s mainstream continuity and has become some sort of a love-him-or-hate-him character, but The Sentry works as a standalone story and is much better for it.
- The Sentry is one of the most powerful heroes in Marvel’s current universe, and is also one of its deadliest villains. This comic will tell you how that was possible, and why the duality is the reason nobody remembers The Sentry at all.
- The comic also starts and answers a question: if Sentry is such an important part of Marvel history, where was he and what was he doing all these years?
6. The Cape
The Cape follows a young boy named Eric who wished for the ability to fly and subsequently got hold of a cape that gave him said power. And then said ability caused a great accident that scarred him for the rest of his life. After growing up, Eric found his magic cape again but instead of using it for good, decided that he can instead exact revenge on people who have wronged him in the past.
Why Read It
- The story is interesting because it’s told by Eric himself, and throughout the pages you’ll realize that he’s unreliable as a storyteller. He is a few fries short of a happy meal, for lack of a better description. So you end up questioning whether what you’re being presented really happened or were just interpretations of a deeply troubled mind.
- If you don’t want to root for superpowered costumed individuals, The Cape is right up your alley. Eric’s character gets you emotionally invested up to the end, but not because you’re rooting for him.
- The entire story itself is a subversion of a common story structure. It starts out like an origin story for a superhero – from a misunderstood victim to an inspirational role model, but a few dozen pages in and you realize that you’re probably reading the origin of a supervillain.
Irredeemable focuses on The Plutonian – a superman-parallel – that went from being the world’s greatest superhero to a mass murderer intent on slaughtering majority of the population of Earth, and keeping the rest terrorized and fearful. What remains of his former allies have all gone into hiding after being hunted down and killed one by one by their former ally and friend.
The entire 37-issue run delves into why The Plutonian went rogue, and also follows his former allies as they try to put a stop to the seemingly unbeatable enemy. How do you stop someone who can move faster than the speed of light, lift mountains over his shoulders, and hear every word spoken on earth?
Why Read It
- If you’ve every had a criticism of Superman, whether it’s how he managed to fool everyone with a disguise consisting of glasses, or how he can lift an entire mountain without the whole thing crumbling around him, Irredeemable provides plausible (within the rules of physics in comic books, anyway) explanation.
- The comic book is also in defense of Superman, showing that his powers are only part of the reason why he’s DC’s premiere superhero. The other part being the moral base that his parents have instilled in him, which allowed him to fully commit his powers in the service of good. Irredeemable’s the Plutonian also started out serving the common good, but he only did it because it’s what society has encouraged him to do. Without a stronger moral base like Superman’s, it was easy for the Plutonian to snap once he gets fed up with society.
The seven superhero comic books above should be enough to show you that the sub genre is not at all limited to specific approaches that cater to younger readers. There's a lot more out there for you to check out even if you normally equate superhero comics with preteen-oriented narratives.
There are also more examples out there. If you feel that there's another superhero comic book that deserves to be mentioned in this list, feel free to sound off in the comments.