Where Marvel Fears to Tread
As I write this, what feels like the entire Marvel fandom is gearing up to see Infinity War at the end of the month. We're about to see the crescendo of over a decades' worth of movies--from Iron Man to Black Panther--and all the nerdy news outlets are speculating on who might live, who might die and which actors might go on permanent hiatus.
By the time you're reading this, all these questions will have been answered, and you might be feeling a little bereft of superhero material. But the decade-long superhero boom hasn't just been from the big two; smaller comic publishers and novelists have been hard at work creating characters that still haven't been represented in a decade of Marvel movies. This list has all the titles you need to get started exploring a whole new 'verse where superheroes can be queer, fat or just not played by another white guy named Chris.
Dreadnought by April Daniels
Danny is just a teen girl trying to keep her burgeoning trans identity secret from her parents... until she finds herself an innocent bystander in a superhero fight. The city's protector, Dreadnought, passes his transforming powers to her with his last breath, and Danny finds herself not only in the body she'd always wanted but with the ability to fly. Unfortunately, explaining the change to her friends at school is going to be just as hard as learning how to fight off super villains.
Faith Vol. 1: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser
Faith is a superheroine with enhanced strength and the ability to fly. She’s also fat.
What makes Faith such a wonderful and endearing creation is that the second sentence in no way invalidates the first. Unlike some novels with fat characters, which revolve around the shame they feel about their bodies and how they’re treated by others, Faith is shown having the same struggles as any other superhero. She balances her job at a Buzzfeed-like website with going out at night to bring criminals to justice, deals with noisy neighbors, and considers joining a new superhero team after healing from her last relationship. Unfortunately, when her ex Torque is kidnapped, it’s up to Faith to save him from a secret Hollywood cult.
The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage, Vol. 1 by Jen Van Meter
Dr. Mirage--aka Shan Fong--can communicate with ghosts and fights supernatural threats with the help of spells, magical tools, and astral projection. Fans of Supernatural and Constantine may be saying "So what?" However, Dr. Mirage differs from the often grim-and-gritty tradition of modern ghostbusting in that she has a strong, healthy relationship with her husband, fellow ghost-hunter Hwen Fong. Meeting at the equivalent of exorcist college, Shan and Fong form an impeccable team that helps clean up haunted houses and sends giant monsters back to the dimensions they were summoned from... until Hwen is thrown overboard during one particularly violent exorcism and drowns. Shan struggles with her inability to contact him…until she receives a message from a suspiciously rich client with a demon chained in his basement.
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
Fans of old-school heroes and villains (like the bombastic Dr. Doom) will enjoy the antics of Dr. Impossible in this biting novel. The evil Doctor--who wears a red helm, a dramatic cape, and suffers from “Malign Hypercognition Disorder”—constantly lets his dastardly plans slip because he can’t help but make speeches. His nemesis, Fatale—a woman who was turned into a cyborg after a tragic accident—alternately fights with him & looks upon her own superhero team with bemusement, describing them as “a gang of…weirdos.” But the true strength of this novel is how it’s a love letter to one of the most endearing tropes of the superhero genre: the ongoing soap opera of team dynamics. If your favorite parts of the X-Men series aren’t the battles but the saga of who dates who and the struggles of newly-minted heroes trying to learn how to work with others, this is the book for you.
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Way back in 1999, author Gail Simone came up with a list of female comic book characters “when it occurred to me that it's not that healthy to be a female character in comics. These are superheroines who have been either depowered, raped or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator… Some have been revived, even improved -- although the question remains as to why they were thrown in the wood chipper in the first place.” The list became famous and inspired the term “fridging,” for when a writer can't think of anything to do with a female character than kill her off to inspire a male one.
Eighteen years later, it was this concept that inspired author Catherynne M. Valente to write a book where six women, based on the most infamously fridged Marvel and DC characters, get their own voice. In her universe, the dead heroines and girlfriends of superheroes end up in a limbo universe called Deadtown where nothing changes. But they can meet together for coffee, and form a group called the Hell Hath Club. As their president, Paige Emery, says, “There’s a lot of us. We’re mostly very beautiful, and very well-read, and very angry.”