Alternatives to the A-listers

Illustration by Elizabeth Thompson.
Illustration by Elizabeth Thompson.

Alienated by Batman’s brooding?

Unimpressed by the wisecracking, web-slinging Spiderman?

Traditional superheroes aren’t for everyone, and they may deter potential comic
lovers from picking up a book and giving it a shot. Is this you? Perhaps what you’ve been looking for is something a little more unique.

If you bypass the A-list superheroes you’ll find there are plenty of caped and costumed do-gooders on the fringes who might be just the thing to get you into comics.

Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing is Alec Holland, or at least he thinks he is. Holland was a botanist who died in the marshes of Louisiana after an explosion at his research facility. Something else emerged from the swamp—and whatever it was, it wasn’t a man.

A mass of vegetation (moss, twigs and flowers), Swamp Thing carries the memories of Alec Holland, torn between being a man and a monster. Roaming the planet as an avatar of the plants, Swamp Thing is connected to all vegetative life on earth through an ethereal network known as the Green. While the Justice League fights costumed villains and aliens from outer space, Swamp Thing hunts down polluters and clear-cutters and defends the forests from the forces of death.

If you’re looking for a more philosophical approach to the superhero, look no further than the pages of Swamp Thing. Arguably the most notable Swamp Thing run was under Alan Moore, famed author of Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. Moore’s take on the monster is available in collected editions from Vertigo Comics.


Some heroes can fly. Some can shoot lasers from their eyes. Others have super strength, invisibility, or skeletons made of steel. Mudman can turn into…mud.

Owen Craig is your average teenage kid with average high school problems. It’s his first day back at school and he’s struggling to talk to the girl of his dreams, the school bully has it out for him, the principal ran him over with his car, and gold thieves shot him three times in the chest and kidnapped his dad. To top it off, he just discovered that through some freak accident his body has the ability to turn into mud.

The art is charmingly rough, and the writing is a refreshing take on the teen superhero genre. If you’re looking for an accessible story, this is the one for you. Mudman is available through Image Comics.

The Great Machine

Ex Machina is the story of a man who doesn’t want to be a superhero—he just wants to help people. Mitchell Hundred is the world’s first costumed superhero with the ability to communicate with and control mechanical devices. Cell phones explode, guns jam and blenders blend at his command.

Mitchell wants to change the world, but flying around the city with a jet pack and fighting crime as his alter ego, the Great Machine, just isn’t cutting it. Following the 9/11 attacks, Mitchell decides that the best way for him to change the world is to become the mayor of New York City.

In a story that is equal parts The West Wing and The Rocketeer, Ex Machina follows the politics of Hundred’s first term in office intermixed with flashbacks from his superhero days.

The Umbrella Academy

Spaceboy is half man, half space gorilla, with super strength and laser pistols. The Rumor is an uncontrollable liar who alters reality through her fabrications­— anything she lies about becomes true. The Kraken can hold his breath forever and has a knack for accurate knife-throwing. The Seance has mastered levitation and telekinesis, and can also communicate with the dead (but only when he isn’t wearing shoes). The Boy is a 60-year-old man trapped in the body of a 10-year-old. Vanya is the normal one. She doesn’t have any powers, she just really loves music.

Together they are the Umbrella Academy, a group collected and raised by world-renowned entrepreneur and alien in disguise Sir Reginald Hargreeves, aka The Monocle.

The children were all born at the same moment—to women around the globe who had shown no signs of pregnancy—and were adopted and trained to become a fighting force against evil.

Reuniting to mourn the death of their adoptive father after years apart, the dysfunctional family has to learn to work together to battle the terrible evil that threatens the planet.


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