Superheroes are awesome! They shoot lasers and throw bad guys into buildings so hard the bricks crumble, but in the mainstream they’re also all white and pretty bland in terms of who they are as people. These are TV shows and audiobooks I enjoyed that are not blockbuster films with cult followings. They are superheroes of various races, ages and sexual orientations, dealing with mental illness, neurodivergence, family drama and falling in love.
Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark by Charlie J. Eskew (Audible)
This is a novel gloriously dripping with Blackness. It’s brilliant, witty, hilarious, suuuuper meta and unexpected in so many ways. The protagonist suddenly gains superpowers and is navigating the world as not only a Black man, but a Black man with powers, a job (in this economy!), and longstanding friendships –in a political landscape among the other superheroes and related organisations. He finds himself tokenized and white-washed; He needs a costume that can be taken seriously (honestly one of my favourite things in these ‘help im a superhero now’ stories); He needs for people to stop calling him the Black Spark. You can read my Goodreads review of the book here.
Invincible (Amazon Prime)
Watching this show every week made me miss comic book stores even more than I already do. I neeeed to get my hands on all the issues of the comics Invincible is based on! This is the story of Mark, a mixed-race (white dad, Sandra Oh mom) teenage boy voiced by Steven Yeun, who is a late-bloomer powers-wise, and so he’s dealing with sudden-superherodom while also trying to date Zazie Beets and becoming close friends with Britta from Community. The whole thing is so cool! It’s funny, it’s diverse, it’s violent as fuck BUT THEN IT”S ALSO ALL ANIMATED —which allows the violence to escalate tremendously!
The dialogue is littered with a ton of brilliant, hilarious throwaway lines that make my whole heart go !!!!! It’s sharp, sweet, and so much damn fun. The music is badass, the women drive the mystery and suspense of the plot. –Will she dump him, will she care if he’s a superhero? What will the mom uncover and what will she do about it? (Eve’s costume rejecting femininity and also gender was an accident that I hope they never correct because I felt so spiritually connected to it every time it appeared on screen) Also the iconic Jason Mantzoukas voices a terrible dude named Rex Plode, and Seth Rogen has the most wonderful unforgettable cameo as an alien!
I wrote about Zero in this post titled ‘Netflix’s Zero Is Young, Black, And Powerful!’ Zero is a fantastic, powerful Black Italian TV show where the representation really truly matters, and they do so much with dynamic undertones that people of colour, immigrants, and those affected by gentrification will feel connection with. The main character is a quiet, lonely boy who loves drawing comics and discovers he can turn invisible —a skill which a group of new friends convinces him to use for some gentrification-revenge vigilante crime adventures.
If you enjoyed Netflix’s The Get Down and Hulu’s Wu Tang: An American Saga, I think you’d enjoy the vibes, vibrant casting, and killer soundtrack that Zero offers.
The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune (Audible)
Listening to this book had me laughing out loud while I did the dishes and walking around in grocery stores with a huuuge smile on my face. You know that fluffy warm electrified delightful feeling you get when reading amazing fanfiction? That’s how The Extraordinaries feels. And not just because it actually includes in-world fanfiction as part of the story!
This is a Young Adult Fantasy novel filled with bright joy, queer friendships, coming-of-age feelings and superhero antics. The protagonist has a major crush on a superhero who lives in his city, and writes the most fantastic funny adorable swoony fanficiton about it. Michael Lesley does the most excellent job at elevating Klune’s writing with his narration of this book, and I really truly believe it’s the best and only way The Extraordinaries should be enjoyed. If you’re gonna read this book, the audiobook is 30000% the way to go.
A Villain for Christmas by Alice Winters (Audible)
I have this down on my list as ‘gay Christmas villain disaster’ which is really a perfect encapsulation of the book. A Villain for Christmas is over-the-top hilarious, as all of Alice Winters’ characters and their misadventures are. It’s not actually very Christmasy, though. It’s mostly the story of a gay disaster stuck between his ridiculous villainous family and who he wants to be (someone worthy of dating his childhood crush, the city’s beloved favourite superhero).
This book is a chaotic wonderful mess, and it has the MOST emotional ending that really fills your heart right to the brim with family love and wholesome holiday-spirit.
Superman & Lois (The CW)
Superman & Lois brings us the familiar from a new angle. This show takes Superman (the dashing and deserved Tyler Hoechlin from Teen Wolf plays an almost-impossibly endearing Clark Kent) and his wife Lois back to Smallville, now with their twin teenage sons. Together, they acclimate to life away from the big city of Metropolis and overcome numerous obstacles, both realistic and supernatural.
It’s a show truly grounded in Vin Diesel ~family~ vibes, which makes it endlessly wholesome and sweet and hopeful. It also does a beautiful job of incorporating one of the son’s lifelong struggles with anxiety and Lois’ past miscarriage into the storyline in sensitive, compassionate, brilliant ways.
My Comic Shop Country (Documentary)
This documentary is superhero-adjacent. It’s about the dedicated superhero fans, the magnificent community of people who live in and for superhero comic book media. My Comic Shop Country is also a wonderful look into the entrepreneurial side of comic book shops: What keeps the various businesses running? When did a specific shop decide to close down, and what happened to its community when it went away? Who are the people who kept comic book shops afloat?
And the director put the whole thing up on Youtube for free! You can watch it here.
I don’t know whether Norse gods fit into the ‘official’ superhero category, but since this whole list is about things that aren’t usually included in the gate-keeping world of superhero fandoms, Norse gods go here! I wrote an in depth review about this Netflix show for Real Change News, exploring how it takes Norse gods reincarnated into Scandinavian teenagers and turns their story into one of anti-corporation protests, climate change awareness, brotherhood and queer acceptance.
Most impactful for me was the two brothers: Magne, who is dyslexic and uses all kinds of tools to manage school work and read texts and do research in ways that are effortlessly incorporated into his life and totally non-judgmental at school. His brother, Laurits, is an embodiment of Loki, and really leans into his queerness with both endless yearning for boys he can’t have, and embracing the genderqueerness of Loki in myth; the writers go so far as to allow Laurits experience pregnancy and birth the serpent of legend.