The Best of Capes and Cowls (Non-Marvel/DC Edition)

I haven’t really kept up with traditional Big Two superhero comics for a while now. But I do still love a good superhero story! Marvel and DC’s characters have so much history to them though and it can be intimidating to try to jump in. If you want to wet your toes with superheroes elsewhere, here are some suggestions for you:

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks (Dark Horse Comics)

This is one of my all-time favourite books; it’s funny, smart, enjoyable, features great art, and it’s by a fellow Canadian as well as set in Canada. LOVE THAT. For those who might read superhero comics and say, “Gee, I wish there were more slice-of-life superhero stories…” this is for you.

Here is the official synopsis: “What if you can leap tall buildings and defeat alien monsters with your bare hands, but you buy your capes at secondhand stores and have a weakness for kittens? Cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks brings charming humor to the trials and tribulations of a young female superhero, battling monsters both supernatural and mundane in an all-too-ordinary world.”


Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk (Dark Horse Comics)

If The Adventures of Superhero Girl is our slice-of-life hero comic, this is the charming anti-hero companion. It incorporates the story with a similar kind of humour and asks questions about what this person would get up to when they weren’t being a criminal. It’s a lot of fun and while a little more adult than I originally thought going into this, it’s still a blast.

Here’s the official synopsis: “Mary Posa hates her job. She works long hours for little pay, no insurance, and worst of all, no respect. Her co-workers are jerks and her boss doesn’t appreciate her. He’s also a supervillain. And her parents… well, they’re the most famous superhero couple in Crepe City, along with her sister. Cursed with a conscience, Mary would give anything to be something other than a Henchgirl, but no matter what she does her plans always seem to go awry.”


Barbalien: Red Planet by Tate Brombal, Jeff Lemire, Gabriel Walta, Jordie Bellaire, and Aditya Bidikar (Dark Horse Comics)

This isn’t just a great superhero graphic novel but it’s an extremely important one too. This sheds a light on the AIDS Crisis, gay rights activism, and more but all through the lens of a superhero, one Mark Markz aka Barbalien. It’s a limited spinoff series from Jeff Lemire’s wildly successful Black Hammerverse and is easily one of the best stories to date.

Here’s the official synopsis: “Mark Markz has found his place on Earth as both a decorated police officer and as the beloved superhero, Barbalien. But in the midst of the AIDS crisis, hatred from all sides makes balancing these identities seem impossible–especially when a Martian enemy from the past hunts him down to take him back, dead or alive.”


The Pitiful Human Lizard by Jason Loo (Chapterhouse Comics)

Jason Loo is an enormously talented creator that poured his heart and soul into this series. You can tell how much he adores this story and the characters within right away. Not only that but it’s just infectiously fun and delightful! Our protagonist has heart and humour on his side and you truly can’t go wrong with picking this book up.

Here’s the official synopsis: “Toronto’s got a new superhero! And he’s pitiful! Lucas Barrett is an office clerk by day and a struggling superhero on evenings and weekends. Since costume repairs and his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes strain his tight budget, Lucas volunteers as a test subject for a pharmaceutical company’s trial painkiller. After a disgusting ordeal, Lucas realizes that the experimental drug left him with regenerative powers. With his newfound powers, the Human-Lizard is ready to take on any challenge that awaits him – even a supervillain interrupting his first date.”


Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Quill Tree Books)

What can I say about Nimona that hasn’t already been said half a million times? Noelle Stevenson shines here and tells a story that is pure joy to read. Seeing Stevenson’s art progress from start to finish too (it was originally released as a webcomic) is a great inspiration for young artists out there!

Will we ever get the Nimona movie that we deserve? It seems less and less likely…but in the meantime, we have the wonderful graphic novel.

Here’s the official synopsis: “Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.”


Hellboy by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse Comics)

I was hesitant to put Hellboy on the list since so many people already know about him. Heck, there’s three movies out there, a short-lived animated series, and more. But I really love these stories so I decided to do it anyways; it doesn’t really matter where you pick it up, most of the stories feel pretty standalone and you can jump on board at any point. The films do lay a good groundwork for giving you his origin and telling you what his deal is, so feel free to use that as a primer. And then read whatever!

Here’s the official synopsis for the first Omnibus Edition (pictured on the right): “The story jumps from Hellboy’s mysterious World War II origin to his 1994 confrontation with the man who summoned him to earth, and the earliest signs of the plague of frogs. Avoiding his supposed fate as the herald of the end of the world, Hellboy continues with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, fighting alongside Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, and drafting Roger Homunculus into his own ill-fated service with the B.P.R.D.”


The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba, Dave Stewart, and Nate Powell (Dark Horse Comics)

Okay I know this is another one that most people know about at this point. Especially thanks to the Netflix series based on the comics. But I still think the original source material is worth checking out. Like with Hellboy, the series will give you a good primer on everything to do with the characters. And if you’ve seen it, you will be spoiled on the ending of Volume 1. But there are differences and I think that it’s something that you may enjoy, especially if you need a break from more traditional capes and cowls.

Here’s the official synopsis: “In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-three extraordinary children were spontaneously born to women who’d previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, To save the world.

These seven children form the Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.”


I didn’t realize until completing this list just how many comics I love within this theme that are from Dark Horse! Good job, y’all…you’re making some great books!